When Melaina Mrozek Stypulkowska ('16 BA) was an NMU freshman, she and her mother made a pact to bike the scenic route from their home state of Minnesota to Marquette. They planned to tackle it her senior year, but the dream was deferred by injury and a study-abroad program that led to an extended stay overseas. The women finally achieved their goal at the height of a heat wave in June, traveling 411 miles over seven eventful days.
“It was the most beautiful ride you can imagine,” Stypulkowska said. “At one point a bald eagle was flying above us on a Wisconsin road with no cars around. It was euphoric to make it across the Michigan border and the best feeling ever to arrive in Marquette. My mom cried a bit when we were done. We were both so happy we made it because a few people we told didn't think we would. It confirmed for us that we can accomplish what we set our minds to and overcome physical and other challenges.
“The final leg on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail from Ishpeming to Marquette was the best part. The temperature cooled off and we stopped a lot to take in the amazing scenery before we finished downtown by the ore dock and took a triumphant picture. I also took a photo by the Wildcat statue on campus. Our husbands met us and we went out to eat to celebrate, then stayed in Marquette a couple of extra days to hike.”
Stypulkowska said it was an opportune time to pursue the challenge. Her life will become noticeably busier after she finishes her final semester at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul this fall. And her mother, Jennifer Mrozek, had recently completed a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. Their shared goal was to bike to Marquette, a place they both loved, over a distance that would challenge and empower them.
The women trained over the past year with frequent virtual rides together through an indoor cycling app. They also met in person more recently for a 60-mile outdoor ride. When their June departure date arrived, the duo left from Forest Lake, Minn.
They were joined by two of Jennifer's co-workers, whom they were able to convince by regaling them with highly favorable descriptions of the Marquette area's beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities. The group rode a few trail segments, but otherwise did mostly road riding.
Her dad is also an active cyclist, but he respected their desire to make it a women's-only ride. As a civil engineer who designs roads, he and her mom scoped out the possible routes in advance, looking at road conditions, the width of the shoulders and other safety factors. They could not have predicted the disaster that struck only four hours after the foursome departed on their first day.
“My mom and I were taking turns pulling a trailer that was hauling 50 pounds of camping and other gear,” Stypulkowska said. “She was going uphill with it and suddenly her chain fell off, two spokes snapped and became stuck in the derailer and the wheel ended up crooked. There was no way of fixing it. We thought the trip was over soon after it began. But it turned out a co-worker of one of the women's husbands lived nearby. He gave my mom a ride to a casino. My dad drove there and swapped out his bike for hers; it was a similar fit. We spent the night and got back on track the next morning.”
The group narrowly averted tragedy on the third day in Wisconsin. A flag person at one end of a road construction zone offered assurances she would hold vehicle traffic to allow them to bike through the one-lane section. As they pedaled on the middle of the road, traveling uphill, oncoming vehicles released from the other end of the construction zone suddenly crested the hill and nearly hit the group.
“We got out of the way, but it was close; we could have touched the vehicles with our hands. That rattled us quite a bit. We shortened our planned distance that day and took an extra day for relaxation to collect ourselves. After that, it was much smoother sailing. But heat was a consistent factor, so we ended up camping less than we wanted—three nights—and stayed at motels for some A/C the remaining three nights.
“One funny incident happened at a restaurant on Highway 41 near Champion. Someone told us you could get on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail [IOHT] right behind the building. We discovered it really wasn't part of the trail and we ended up walking a few miles on very loose gravel that wasn't ideal for our road bikes until we hit the crushed limestone on the IOHT. We told our husbands we took ‘a little extra hike' so they wouldn't laugh at us too much.”
Stypulkowska is a native of Paynesville, Minn. She earned her bachelor's degree in political science with a minor in German in 2016. She planned to enroll in law school after a study-abroad program her senior year at Carl von Ossietzky Universität, NMU's partner institution in Oldenburg, Germany.
That was delayed after she started dating a nice man from Poland who attended the same school. She joined him in Poland for three years afterward, working for FedEx. The couple married and moved to the United States in August 2019 so that she could begin her studies at Hamline.
Stypulkowska plans to take the bar exam in February, but is unsure of her next step. She is applying for positions at various law firms and also considering a military law career through the Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps.