A year ago, four bikers set out to better themselves and test their endurance. We should note they did it at a rate of about 100 miles a day for 16 days straight around the entire Upper Peninsula — completely relatable, right? The distance may not be, but challenging yourself is a story we can all understand. Now, there’s a film with footage from their journey, so you can witness the highs, lows and the moose around the bend. 

We spoke with each of the four riders about their experience soon after they returned last year, including one who pulled out early (Liz) and two who made the trek before (Todd and Marc). Torrey Dupras joined the ride last minute but dropped out along the route because of a pulled muscle.

Read their unique perspectives brought on by miles of cycling with Project Adventrus (Adventure + Us).

Riders included: 

  • Todd Poquette, organizer, 47, from Marquette, MI

  • Marc Salm, 47, from Winneconne, WI

  • Liz Belt, 39, from Marquette, MI 

  • Kelsy Kellerman, 41, from DePere, WI

How did you get involved with Project Adventrus?

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Kelsy: My family and I love the U.P. We started coming up regularly about 10 years ago. It has a special place in my heart, so that’s the number one reason I got involved. The other is I started to get involved with Todd’s endurance events in 2019. I was hooked — I realized my body is kind of an endurance body. Todd said that Project Adventrus 2.0 was happening and they would love for some women to join them. I had a conversation with my husband who's extremely supportive of me and my journey where I'm at in life right now, and he told me to do this, that it would definitely fulfill me in many ways. The last piece was that my manager was very supportive of me taking three weeks total off work.

Liz: I own a cycling studio where I train people in eight-week training blocks, and being in Michigan, group fitness was on the same shutdown schedule as restaurants for COVID. It was my second year of business and the pandemic hit, and I was already building up my clientele and doing really well, and then we got shut down. It was really one of the most difficult years that I've ever had as a professional. 

When I committed in December 2020, I thought what better way to close out the most awful year than by doing something that seems impossible. That's why I kind of went into it thinking this is going to break me, and I wanted something to break me and I wanted something to challenge me to the last inch of my being.

How did you train for the Project Adventrus ride?

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Kelsy: I hired Rob Lee, who is the same coach that Todd has worked with. He's a professional endurance biking coach from the UK. We developed a training program for my body, and then I did a lot of endurance events. Your mind needs to be trained, too. I pictured different places in the U.P., knowing that I could always come to those places of comfort because I'd already been there. I also actually wrote out and studied the entire route from start to finish — the roads, turns, cities, where the water was and where we could do some resupply. That way, my brain had already done the ride before we started.

Marc: Training is kind of a funny word to me because I didn't really train specifically for anything. I don't really use the word training because cycling is such a big part of my life just by default. If there was any training, it was learning about different types of nutritional approaches, getting more familiar with how my bags were packed on my bike, preparing for the unique weather situations, and learning and learning how to make it so I could efficiently get at what I needed when I needed it. So it was more process-type training just getting all of those things in order.

Liz: My training going into it was based on my mentality of wanting to make sure that I wasn't the weakest link. I rode as hard as I could and as many miles as I possibly could for as much time as I had available.

Keeping in mind your original goals, how do you feel about how you actually performed over the ride?

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Todd: From a statistical standpoint, I think short of exactly hitting the numbers, we did really well. I don't know what the percentage of variance was, but we were close to all the numbers, whether it was the 100 miles per day, 12 hours of riding per day or 8.5 mph average. We did really well. 

What did you learn about yourself on this ride?

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Kelsy: I found a new place pushing myself physically and mentally that I didn't know that I could reach. It was really helpful for the others to be there, riding the same ride, experiencing the same thing, talking to one another and supporting one another.

Marc: I fully saw my ability to teach. My biggest takeaway, I think, was seeing others’ desire to learn from my years of experience in the cycling world.

What were some highlights of your experiences along the way?

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Todd: This is going to sound cliche, or like I'm hitting the easy button, but it was having the opportunity to get up every day and knowing that my only job for that day was to ride 100 or more miles. It was pretty darn special. The other highlight is that when you ride around the entire U.P., you get a mental image of how diverse the landscape is. We got to see everything wake up from winter the first two days, budding and greening. Most people in their lifetime won't spend multiple days outside when they can watch the seasons change right before their eyes. We did, and it was pretty darn cool.

Kelsy: My mind immediately goes to the human connection, including sponsors and our videographer Aaron Peterson and his crew. Their positive energy whenever we saw them was incredible. And then we had support along the way, people that would just show up on the side of the trail or bring us a snack. Seeing the U.P. was, of course, a highlight, including untraveled places and places I had not been — like the northeast near Whitefish Point and Sault Ste. Marie. 

Marc: Certainly seeing the moose just outside of Watersmeet — that was a pretty exceptional moment. Coming down the road into the south side of Houghton and seeing the Keweenaw Bay coming into L’Anse, then getting up into Houghton on the Keweenaw Peninsula, and it really hit that we had just gone all the way around the U.P. Those are pretty shining moments. It was emotional.

How much sleep do you get on a ride like this?

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Liz: I was averaging about four hours to six hours partly because your adrenal system and physical system were so fatigued. I remember my heart rate would go up when I laid down and I’d get a stuffed nose from a histamine reaction. It’s just part of your body saying you need to slow down because it is overtrained.

How did the weather affect your ride?

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Todd: It was incredibly dry. We had some really interesting, extremely high temps and low temps. We had zero precipitation basically. That’s positive from a standpoint that the bikes suffer less mechanical wear and damage. Because when there's a lot of precipitation of any form, it combines with mud and dirt and really grinds on your bike. But the downside to having almost record-setting dry conditions is that everything becomes loose. Because Marc and I have done some of the sections twice now, there were some familiar landmarks, but the route was entirely different from what it was like in 2020. It was crazy. Also, going from 90 degrees during the day down to 30 degrees at night is particularly physically draining. For three of the last four days, at midday, my Garmin was reading 110 degrees. Extreme heat doesn’t make nice for Northern folk, but we got through it.

What led to you choosing to stop before you finished the total distance?

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Liz: I don't have any regrets about my decision to stop at 1,350 miles. I was at peace with that decision. Emotionally, it was difficult, because any time you put that much time and effort into an event, a decision to stop is a big decision. Also, the depletion that your body and mind have gone through once you stop — it all hits you like a wall. I have a really bad lower back. And one thing that I learned out there was, and I knew this about myself going into it, I have to keep a certain cadence and pace. And that pace will actually give me less pain. We weren't able to keep that pace in that zone and the longer I was sitting on the bike, the worse it would get. That's really what was a determining factor for me, and I couldn't keep a fast enough pace for myself to stay out of that pain zone. As the group went on, I just realized that that wasn't going to be able to be a thing. So I pushed it for days and days and days, and it just got to the point where I decided the best thing for me and the team was probably just to be done.

What was the most difficult moment on the ride for you?

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Todd: The most difficult aspect of a ride like Adventrus this year is something only experience can teach you. You have to understand that through a 16-day trip, let's say for instance the first three days are really hard, and the terrain is really difficult and very slow. You're probably going to come out of those first three days behind schedule. I think we're sort of conditioned to overreact sometimes to being off-target. So you have to always be realistic in the moment about where you're at and going forward thinking the next few days will be good and those averages are going to come back up. It's managing that human tendency to be very critical and judgmental of yourself. You can't get too attached. Two of our riders had never done a ride like that, so we were coaching them through that and understanding that even if we aren’t averaging 100 miles a day right now, three days from now we might be. It’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around that. 

Kelsy: Because my body hadn't done something to this caliber before, I was concerned that I would get to a point where physically something would happen whether it be dehydration or an injury or something that I couldn't continue. When we were on the ride, my concern more so was slowing the team down, so I was riding kind of at or above my threshold the whole time while the others were riding below the threshold, the whole time. And so it was just trusting my body and making sure to just focus on eating, drinking and body mechanics.

Marc: I didn't have any low moments really throughout the entire trip other than the departure of Torrey and Liz. Each one of their departures from the whole thing was a little hard to swallow to change the dynamics of what we were doing pretty significantly.

What type of conversations did you have along the way?

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Liz: I would drop back and ride with Kelsey quite a bit in the first week, and she and I talked about everything under the sun because we were the only two women. And then when I was with Marc, we talked about group riding, and he taught me a lot about drafting and just different tactics because I've never done group rides really, and he's really good at that kind of stuff.

What effect does seeing family along the route have on you?

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Todd: It's a big boost for anybody when you're able to see your spouse and kids, especially if it happens to coincide with a time you're experiencing a low moment. It can be huge.

How did it affect you to leave family behind?

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Liz: My family ran support for the first seven days — my two-year-old, my husband and my daughter. You miss them like crazy. I remember being very emotional to start going, thinking how the heck am I going to leave my two–year old for this. It's a slippery slope because you want them there, but it's easier when they're not there. And I'm not really afraid to say that. When they're there, and you’re a parent, and you see your kids, you automatically want to go into mom mode. When they're not around, you can emotionally shut that off and focus on your ride. So, it was awesome. I loved having them there every minute of it but then at the same time, it was a little bit easier when they weren't there because I could focus on the ride.

What were the final miles like emotionally?

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Todd: We ended at 1,624 miles total. The emotions actually started the night before though. Three days from the end, we came through L’Anse and were descending into Baraga, and the Keweenaw Bay opens up on your right-hand side. Both Marc and I boded later that we were sort of in our own little personal space, overcome with emotion at that moment. The realization hit us for the first time that we were almost done. That evening, 13 days came to a head all at once. We talked about it in the last couple of days working toward Brockway. The group's consensus was things like this and the impact they have on our life — it never ends. You know we might go our separate ways in a couple of days. But as we go our separate ways into the days ahead, that is a continuation of the story; it's basically just the next chapter. And now it becomes a question of what can you do with the gifts you've been given from this great opportunity? How do you leverage this great experience in your life, and maybe, how do you help others experience similar adventures? I think it was in the last mile, I looked over at Marc and Liz because the three of us were going up side by side, and I just said, “Let's agree this isn't the last day. Tomorrow's a new chapter.” And there were not that many words. We kept pedaling.

What kind of adjustment was there after returning to the “real world?”

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Kelsy: So many things shifted within me in a good way. Fortunately, I did have about four or five days off before I had to go back to work. That was also my sons’ first week off of school, so it was really great to have that time with them to reconnect after being gone for so long. 

Marc: To some degree, I don't feel like you really ever come back from it because you always want to be there. I've got kind of kid gloves on with the normal world because I prefer to be in an environment where I can take in nature as it comes to me. The adjustment from something like this certainly takes some time because you stop thinking about your alarm clock and you stop thinking about all the conveniences that you count on in the world. And then you can get away from it and you don't need any of it, you realize how self-sufficient you can be. Some of that stuff you just don't want in your life anymore, and the biggest lesson for me is that we live way too conveniently in a regular world, and I like to stay kind of on the fringe. And I can just see the world from a different lens when I keep that time from Project Adventrus up in the U.P. close to my consciousness.

What impact does this have on the riders’ children?

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Todd: It can't hurt for them just to see this as a positive reference. My son Cable said his official statement is he will do Project Adventrus 2070. He will be in his sixties by then, so it looks like he is starting later. But he is entrenched in this mindset of doing hard things with basically no excuses. A lot of us don’t establish it until later. If you can associate the struggle and working hard with something fun like bicycles, it reestablishes foundational groundwork for kids, behaviorally. They won't grow up to hate doing the hard stuff. These are essential building blocks that create more resilient and confident people who celebrate important little wins in a way most tend not to.

Kelsy: My sons were both in school still when I did this. We are friends with my youngest’s teacher, and she had the class follow us each day and write out our route. I came home to this lovely thank you from them. My 12-year-old encouraged me not to quit every time that I saw him or talked to him on the phone. It was his way in the moment of providing me love and support, knowing my end goal was to finish. They both still talk about it from time to time and their experience of following along.

Have your goals changed going forward?

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Liz: My goal every day of my life outside of Project Adventrus is to help other people who want to do those things and to help them get prepared, educate them and coach them. This was more of a selfish mission, just to go out and do something insane. But as soon as I was off my bike, then I was right back to focusing on getting other people to do things like that.

Experience the journey at home

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The next Project Adventrus is still being planned out, but you can experience last year’s NOW! Watch 1,600 miles unfold across the Upper Peninsula’s drastically ranging terrain and beautiful array of backgrounds in Aaron Peterson’s documentary Unforgettable. Approximately 40 minutes long, this movie puts you on the bike and takes you through the highs and lows of their journey, with some views you may never see yourself. Then stay tuned for updates on the next Project Adventrus on its Facebook page!