Friday, December 19, 2014

I'm Behind Quick Review Round-Up

 Being a bit behind, I will go quickly:

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is so carefully written, so sparse and brutal and bare. It is beautiful. The Slow Regard of Silent Things will not make any sense if you haven't read the King Killer trilogy, which you should do immediately. A spare novella of Auri with hints but no stories, back or otherwise, only Auri and the Underthing.

Frances Hodgson Burnett: The Unexpected Life of the Author of the Secret Garden by Gertrude Holbrook Gerzina: It is important to put The Secret Garden in the title of every FHB biography (like Beyond the Secret Garden by Anne Thwaite), otherwise, nobody will know whom you're talking about. I can't help comparing the two because they were really damn similar but Beyond the Secret Garden has more zip. This FHB: TULotAofSG is perfectly fine, but goes over the same material with few new insights, except on her son Vivian's death and the extremely tentative good qualities that FHB's second husband may have had buried deep inside. On the other hand, Ms. Gerzina discusses A Lady of Quality without warning people not to read it and flies past most of the books in favor of Mrs. Burnett's social circumstances.

Aid and Other Dirty Business:An Insider Reveals How Good Intentions Have Failed the World's Poor deserves more attention than I will give it. The only appropriate amount of credit to give this is to read it, and that is mandatory. Giles Botton gives a distressing account of the troubles in Africa by presenting you, yes, you!, with your own African country for the duration of the book. Your country, Uzima, is blessed with natural resources and incoming tax revenues beyond the dreams of the president of, say, Uganda, but still squarely in the middle of sub-Saharan African economies. Your liabilities are massive, and you lack the most basic infrastructure. As well, you lack an educated workforce from which to hire more government functionaries to meet with all 90 or so governments and and NGOs who want to bestow aid upon you. Compounding that, many governments and NGOs only commit to project aid, rather than direct assistance. The USA only invests in project aid and spends a flipping 47% of aid money on consultants. Beyond that, our food aid resembles a combination of dumping agriculture surplus and propping up our wimpy shipping sector. Meanwhile, the US and Eurozone subsidize their own farm products to a point where no small farmer in the Ivory Coast can possibly break into the international market. Add unfunded Western promises and the new Chinese development with strings and then fix your country, Mr. President.

Missie will hate Miss Cayley's Adventures for the same reasons she hated Name of the Wind. Miss Cayley is too damn good at everything. But Name of the Wind was funny, there was real swashbucklement, the plot moved forward, it wasn't racist. Missie recommended Miss Cayley's Adventures to me based on this glowing Toast article: and it is a whole hell of a lot better than most New Woman literature, but that's not saying much. Miss Cayley shoots one tiger, but mostly she relies on her extensive wits and serendipity to travel around the world. On the train to Germany, she foils a jewel thief. The old lady with the jewels provide Miss Cayley's start-up capital and Miss Cayley is fallen in love with by the lady's rich nephew Harold. Miss Cayley wants to be not an adventuress but an adventuress so she refuses Harold's hand and continues her travels by winning a bicycle race and becoming a commissioned sales agent of a piston-action bicycle company. After foiling another plot by the jewel thief brigand, she and her friend set up a typing shop in Milan. Bicycles and typewriters are both extremely modern inventions to be embraced by the New Woman. In Egypt, she rescues a white woman from non-white people, and in India she meets a young potentate with the manners of a European and the soul of a dusky savage. With trouble brewing between Harold and the villain who's dogging her, Miss Cayley heads to Vancouver on a steamer, crosses Canada by express train, and disembarks at Quebec in time to take the speedboat back to London, thus ignoring North America in her round the world adventure, and foiling the villain once and for all in a clever courtroom maneuver. Miss Cayley's Adventures is not at all a bad book but it's not a good book either. It's "better than," if I may damn it with faint praise. Better than so many books of its era, but if you want overt, bad-ass, 1890s feminism, read The Shuttle. (And for globular circumnavigation Around the World in 80 Days is the obvious choice.)

For some reason, In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson always seemed daunting, nay, forbidden, to me as a child. It looked interesting, but it was on display at the library and the librarian and my mother would notice if I touched it, so I obviously couldn't. Nowadays, it's stuck in the corner of the audiochapterbook section of the library, where I found it when I needed an audiobook I could get through in three days before I went to Boston for Thanksgiving. ItYotBaJR has Themes. I rather felt like I was reading a mine of lesson plan ideas for a fourth grade combined English and Social Studies class. We've got immigration, race, friendship, inclusion, baseball, Chinese customs, honesty, integration, New York, and dreams. There were some funny situations and sticky situations and it all ends happily.

Then I read another Discworld book while taking a hiatus from something boring. Maskerade has the witches out of Lancre and into Ankh-Morpork where they solve an opera house mystery roughly based on what I assume is Phantom of the Opera, because I haven't read it. Perdita is in this one, which makes me want to go back and read all the Discworld books chronologically. Good stuff. Bloody hilarious, really.

Meanwhile, in my car, I was reading Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, which won some stuff. Billed as a "Cloud Atlas for teens," Midwinterblood has nothing to do with teens except, possibly, its novella length. Eric and Merle are two souls reuniting seven times backwards in seven narratives, some beautiful. My problems were that a) the two stories at the end, taking place in 1000AD and before time begins (circa 800AD), were the weakest and the book ended on a drier note than it would have otherwise and b) Sedgwick takes the lazy historian's way out: Eric and Merle are reincarnated in 800AD and 1,000AD, their love then skips a millennium to rekindle five times in slightly over two centuries. Eh? Yes, any romances on the Isle of the Blessed between 1000 and 1848 probably would have been circumscribed by a lack of off-island transportation and a sheep-based economy, but try. Also, the audio was terrible. Julian Rhind-Tutt, the book actor, drops his voice at key moments so I was listening to a lot of, "The old man bent his head towards Eric and murmured, "I have something important to tell you. It will cut you to the very slow. Listen carefully: *inaudible whisperings*'" Me: Turns up volume on car stereo to 40, skips back forty seconds, goes deaf, gleans general gist of cryptic whispers, switches to MPR.

Lady Audley's Secret gets referenced quite often on certain internets so I was excited to read it and it's damn good. I assumed it would be more of a tale centered on Lady Audley, but it's mostly Robert Audley, Lord Audley's laconic nephew, trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance of his friend George Talboys. Lady Audley's Secret adds strong support to my theory that pre-World War I England only had 500 people in it, as if you needed more proof. George Talboys disembarks a ship from Australia and bumps into his old Eton chum Robert Audley twenty minutes after landing. Mr. Audley has probably bumped into nine or ten old Eton chums already that morning, but Talboys is in need of a beard trim so Mr. Audley takes George to his apartments in the Temple where they discover a newspaper announcement that Mrs. Talboys is dead. George grieves in Mr. Audley's apartments for a good year and a half (and an inexplicable winter in Saint Petersburg. Why would British people winter in Saint Petersburg?), until Lord Audley invites them to Audley Manor for the hunt. At Audley Manor, we begin to suspect that Mrs. Talboys is not, in fact, dead, but has married not any uncle in the world, but Robert Audley's uncle, who is probably the only uncle in England, by my tiny population estimates. George Talboys disappears that afternoon, and was last seen strolling the lime walk with Lady Audley/ne Lucy Graham/ne Mrs. Talboys/ne Miss Maldon. Robert Audley spends months traveling from Southampton to Northfordshire in a single day, popping home for a shave, to the further proof that England is much smaller than its citizens believe. Is George Talboys dead? in Australia? down a well eating rats? in California? even deader? Solid sensationalist literature full of scandal and bigamy.

Finally, I read/listened A Christmas When the West Was Young while I was doing iStore yesterday. A good example of the hagiographic literature dedicated to the early pioneers, two cheerily unnamed young archetypes struggle manfully (and womanfully) to establish their little farm on the prairie. A baby is born, but it dies, and the man (in a blizzard) stumbles upon an immigrant wagon torched by drunken Indians. Reminiscent of Fanny Kelly's, "Why are you trying to kill us? We just want to kill every single one of you" attitude, but so it was. The man brings the orphaned baby home on Christmas Day and it replaces the dead baby, probably. On Christmas!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Empire and Its Spoils

Define an empire by its destruction. How many people must die? Hundreds? Thousands? How many cities destroyed? How much culture lost? The Hagia Sophia rumbled into dust by the nip of a single flea, and... No. Hagia Sophia is still there, in mosque form. So is Constantinople. (Istanbul, not Constantinople.) This is the problem with Justinian's Flea by William Rosen. Mr. Rosen argues that the bubonic plague was a significant contributor to the downfall of Rome in late antiquity. Okay. That was one sentence. What about the other nine hours? (I listened to the audiobook.) We begin with Justinian leaving a hick town in the Balkans to join his uncle in Constantinople and, after a jump, and he's emperor. His wife Theodora ascends from theatrical prostitute to empress along an equally obscure path. There's loads of topics: the rise of Christianity, the Aryan heresy, the Hagia Sophia, Goths, and Justinian's Code, which is a founding pillar of modern law and the second best part of the book. But tying it all together in a relatively short book with a plague-based thesis doesn't work well. If I was already on cuddly terms with late antiquity, Justinian's Flea would be a new perspective on an old friend, but this is the first time I've read up on the Roman world circa 450 and all I got were brief sketches on huge topics, until the plague fells a third of everybody. Yes, it contributed to social and economic instability and population movements already exacerbating the problems of a crippled empire, but Rosen doesn't have much to say about its direct effects.

The best part of the Justinian's Flea is two discs devoted to the science of the plague flea: from the evolution of bacteria to the flea's mad need to bite anything as it starves to death. In the last third of the book, the plague is rarely invoked as Justinian's reign winds down. The plague was a factor in the decline of a declining empire, but few conclusions are drawn, unlike in 1491, where Charles C. Mann compellingly argues that the arrival of Europeans and their diseases in the Americas likely killed off twenty percent of Earth's human population and reduced the descendants of urban and farmer MesoAmerica to a culturally impoverished wanderings in the newly unmanaged wilderness, where Europeans assumed they had been since the dawn of time and tried to genocide these survivors. Kathleen Born mentioned this book, and then Edward referenced it, so I knew it must be good. Highlights: Peruvian cities contemporary to the rise of Sumer, many cities in Southern Mexico, big urban complex at Cahokia. Extensive farming, extensive burning, extensive land clearing, extensive soil maintenance techniques. The Amazon may have been densely populated and managed as orchard. Also, Native Americans did not walk from Beringia to populate the Americas between an anomalous gap in the glaciers; they probably had boats. Everybody has boats. The Europeans were hopelessly filthy and undereducated and they had boats. Mann occasionally takes the popular archeological writer's low road and recaps the archeological spats of the 1800s. Archeologists spent whole decades and scientific journals sniping at each, and their exploits are more easily chronicled than people whose only surviving records are stones and pottery. But Mann cleverly uses the egos of archeological discovery to demonstrate how extremely likely theories of the pre-Columbian Americans were ignored for decades after being shot down by grand old men who disagreed with them. Reading 1491 is both excellent and mandatory. The effects of successive European plagues on the people of the Americas were, of course, compounded by waves of European colonizers, violent and otherwise, but to clock the effects of European colonization on an indigenous population not decimated by Old World diseases, we must turn to South Africa and The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner (reinvented as the 2004 film Bustin' Bonaparte, the movie that inspired whiners on Amazon to give it no stars because it's not about talking animals). My pen pal Peter recommended the pants off this book and I am deeply sorry that I didn't like Story of an African Farm as much as he does. As soon as he recommended it, I downloaded it off Librivox, and started listen-reading. It does have merit, but it also has rough patches and serious issues. The book opens on a bleak landscape of red dirt and stunted shrubs that is, somehow, also a working farm. Three children are playing hide and seek in the emptiness of the vast African plain, and over the next few chapters the reader slowly realizes that farm's isolation is relative to the dozens of farm employees of who live onsite but are native Africans and don't count. The farm is an indisputable hole and the people who live on it are bound by poverty and notions of their own superiority. Em and Lyndell are English children. English being the best race. Lesser in ethnic virtue are Otto, the kind Christian farm manager, and his son Waldo. Tant Sannie is a fat Boer who owns the place and is inferior to other white people, but she is better than the Hottentots, who are better than Kafirs, who aren't allowed indoors. Lyndell is the mind, Em the body, and Waldo the spirit.

TSoaAF is divided into two parts: Childhood and sort of a bildungsroman, divided by a looooooooong, second person meditation on a child's religious awakening. Childhood is mostly the story of a bad man named Bonaparte Blankins who turns up on the farm and bamboozles the adults into thinking he's an English peer and relative that other Bonaparte. The kids are onto him, but he's only busted when Tant Sannie's younger, prettier niece turns up and he proposes to her while Tant Sannie is stuck in the attic, because she's fat.

In the second, less frustrating, part of the book, everyone is in the later stages of adolescence. It took me a while to notice that Em wasn't the cleverest ostrich in the ostrich camp because I am always rooting for Em people, but Em is fat and sad now. There's apparently tension between the African appreciation for the voluptuous woman and the English antipathy towards it. In any case, Emma is huffing and puffing and hoping someone will turn up and marry her. Waldo goes off to seek his fortune and remains a steady moral compass and a person of simple beauty and compassion. Lyndell has been away at school and then comes back with new ideas about womanhood and rights and oppression. She has a lot of dialogue. There's one moving feminist speech, in particular, which completely blows apart when she compares something to a Hottentot with no ability to see beauty, or think. Yikes. Lyndell refuses to marry the man she wants to marry out of principle and fornicates, thus slowly dying from complications related to childbirth. The new farm manager, who also loves her, travels to the veldt and spends months cross dressing to nurse her. So there. It's not a bad book if you can get over the appalling racism. South Africa didn't get over its appalling racism until the 1980s. There were many moments of wonder. Waldo and his father are beautiful souls. I learned more about South Africa than I knew before, although I did meet the director of the Capetown Y once. Also, South Africa has penguins. Olive Schreiner does not mention penguins. The atheist declamations may have been a little to much for audio; it might be better to read this in paper book. The story of childhood on the barren outskirts of the British Empire is night and day to the childhoods of middle class British because, "A British nanny must be a general. The future empire lies within her hands. And the person that we need to mold the breed is a nanny who can give commands." I hated Mary Poppins, the book, so much. A customer has been calling every week asking for Mary Poppins on Cherry Tree Lane and the other, later ones in the series that nobody ever gets to. We don't have any, but she keeps calling, because someone told her once to keep calling and they may come in eventually, which is strictly true, but for the much harder to find titles, you're going to save yourself years by ordering them online. So I started complaining about Mary Poppins by P.J. Travers because I'm still traumatized, and Missie said, "Another British nanny book... Nanny McPhee movie... Emma Thompson... on the shelf," and the next thing I knew, she was bringing it to me. So I had to read Nurse Matilda. It is not in any way called Nanny McPhee, but it is quite good. Basically, the Brown children are very naughty so Mrs. Brown hires Nurse Matilda to sort them out. When she arrives, they are being simply horrid, and Nurse Matilda thumps her stick and they all have to keep doing whatever naughtiness they're doing until it becomes simply awful and they're immune to doing it again. For example, they eat too much porridge and jam and buns and bad-for-you things at breakfast, and Nurse Matilda thumps her stick and the children keep eating and eating until their insides are filled with porridge and they all have stomachaches. There's an impossible number of children, big ones, little ones, and the Baby. Nanny McPhee does become prettier as the book progresses, but doesn't marry a widowed Colin Firth, which Missie says is a thing in the movie. I tried reading the next book in the series because the book Missie handed me was three Nurse Matilda books in one volume, but you can't read the same book twice in a row, deserving though it may be.

And our final book on empire is about the gays, because they're taking over. Gay marriage is legal in Minnesota now, and I'm single. Coincidence? I think not. Laura, who is gay and married, recommended The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher on audio and I took her up on it because she has good taste when she's not reading hillbilly incest threesome erotica. The titular family Fletcher happens to have two dads and four kids who happen to be white, black, East Indian, and of the Irish race, respectively. TMotFF does a good job of not beating the reader over the head with an inclusivity stick; it's more an ensemble piece on the travails of late elementary school. Sam is cool, but he wants to be in the school play. Jax's best friend turned cool and left him behind. Eli is going to the smart kids school but he hates it. And Frog has a friend who everyone thinks is imaginary. Plus, Jax needs to interview a veteran for his school project and the grouchy Vietnam vet next door hates all of them, probably because they're a multiracial, rainbow family, but also because they're loud and their balls keep knocking over his daffodils. Minus points for occasional, inexplicable sexist comments, but overall solid middle-grade book.

In conclusion, our shared legacy of twined empire and bondage rages in our breasts, in the endless conflict between government and governed, citizen and state, bread and circus, master and slave. What threads can we unravel from the sweater of time? What conclusions can we draw from reading five books?

Disease is fatal for empire. (Justinian's Flea)

Disease is benign to super for empire. (1491, Nurse Matilda)

Europeans are historically racist but can improve. (1491, Misadventures of the Family Fletcher, Story of an African Farm)

Empire brings civilization to the savages. (The Story of an African Farm, Justinian's Flea)

The savages had civilization and you ruined it. (1491, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher)

People die. (The Story of and African Farm, The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher)

Lots of people die. (Justinian's Flea)

Everyone dies. (1491)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ice Age Trail in September: Part 2

I walked on for at least forty five minutes, through mud and past logging until, finally, on my right, there was a clearing. I'd been paying attention to clearings and odd looking wood because I needed to spot the ruins of a lumber camp, but this big grassy clearing had a great wooden sign out front that said Historic Lumber Camp. Here I probably was! I walked into the clearing to look around and there was the Hillbilly Hilton, in all its root cellular glory. Right next to, but not visible from, the road, tucked into a hill like a hobbit hole, with one little window and a stovepipe, and Hillbilly Hilton written on the front door. There were four crumbly steps down to the door. I turned the latch and, I was in. And it was fantastic. I'd been worried that the root cellar of the abandoned lumbercamp might be gloomy, or haunted, but it was a cozy little place. I suppose nobody gets murdered in root cellars, they just pop in to fetch stored vegetables. Right inside the door, I was already warmer than I'd been outside. I looked around the cozy little shelter and the first thing I did was decide not to set my pack on the bed. The two adorable board beds were set on opposite walls with foam padding and couch cushions lying comfortably on them and teetering close to moldy. The table between the beds had a cloth draped over it with a little candle in a dish set on it, and a drip dropping from the ceiling every two minutes and landing on the tablecloth that was already rotting and definitely not a place to put bedtime articles down on. It was an adorable arrangement until you noticed the mold. I moved the cushions off one bed and on to the other and then everything was fine. Besides everything made of fabric, the Hillbilly Hilton was tidy. A little broom stood in the corner by the woodpile and on the other side of the door was a woodstove and a little kitchen with utensils, plates and cups, and an ice cream bucket full of candles, all set on a red-checked tablecloth. There was a shelf of canned goods just in case, and there was water. So much water! I needn't have worried at all, and I was lucky, because without that water, I would have suffered. There were gallons and gallons of water in jugs and all kinds of milk and juice bottles set on shelves underneath the kitchen. Then there was a rod with clothes hangers over the table between the beds, shelves above each bed with bug spray and sunscreen and extra pillows, and a trail journal. I organized my stuff and sat down. It crossed my mind that I could've walked the three and half miles down to Highway 52 and tagged out the segment, but I was here and I wasn't moving again today. I had a trail journal to read, and it made me feel happy and supported by all the other people who'd passed through. They were a diverse and motley crew. The journal went back to 2010. Jerry the Wood Tick, who keeps up the Hillbilly Hilton, started it off, and from there it was a collection of everybody who's anybody in northern Wisconsin. Deer hunters, Boy Scouts, thru-hikers, day hikers, ATV people, and a few folks who just liked the Hillbilly Hilton and came out whenever they could. One couple spent their honeymoon night, which is a little extreme. It's a great place, but it smells like eighty years of basement, plus the rotten tablecloth, and mice running all over. I first heard a rustling, and I thought it was a murderer, then I looked up and straight into the eyes of a deer mouse eating a plastic bag.

I didn't light a fire because I didn't want to die of carbon monoxide poisoning, but I set up my stove and cooked a big supper of mashed potatoes. The thing about instant mashed potatoes in a Sierra cup is that they keep growing. You pour half the packet into the cup, add boiling water almost to the top, and the potatoes swell up. You shovel a few mouthfuls into yourself quickly so they don't spill over. Then you stir the potatoes up a bit, eat a few more spoonfulls and realize that the potato flakes near the bottom are still dry, so you pour in a bit more water and suddenly your cup is full again. You eat half the cup, stir the potatoes up a bit more, and decide they could be be wetter. Adding more water, you're confronted with a third full bowl of potatoes, and you have to add water once more to get it all mashed potato consistency and into your stomach. And you still have almost half a packet of instant mashed potatos left; if you don't eat them now, they will spill in your food bag and make a giant mess no matter how carefully you seal them up. So you top off the cup with more potato flakes, eat, refill the cup with water, and eat, and add water, and your cup is full again. At the end, I was full, and I realized I hadn't been eating as much as I wanted to on this trip. I'd eaten at all the mealtimes, but on the Mantario Trail and other trips in warmer, dryer weather with a less gruelling goals, I would eat my breakfast peanut butter and follow it off with a few handfuls of craisins, or follow up lunch with some sun dried tomatoes and an extra piece of cheese, or kick back after supper and leisurely eat a whole chocolate bar, whereas on this trip it was: peanut butter, walk!; lunch, walk!; supper, shove four squares of chocolate into my mouth, get warm! I wasn't hungry; it's amazing what a hip belt compressing your stomach will do to reduce your appetite, but more food would make more energy for me. So, this night at least, I kicked back with snack vegetables and my chocolate and drank two cups of cocoa. I could see my breath and I wondered how cold I would be in the night, but when I stepped outside for the last time, it was colder outside. Three deer were grazing in the clearing while I brushed my teeth and they stayed looking at me for a long time before they ran off into the twilight. I hung my food on a nail so the mice wouldn't get it, hung my clothes to dry, got onto my board bed, and I slept warm and well.

It was hard to leave in the morning. I liked my little new root cellar house and wanted to live there always. Outside, there was frost in the ground. My breakfast was cozy inside, and I dawdled a bit more than I should have, but I did leave finally, to walk the unexciting part of the IAT again. The frost went away, but it was cold and I had far to go backwards to where my car was. I walked hard out of the Lumbercamp segment and crossed the highway. The Peters Marsh State Wildlife Area was beautiful in the morning, but it was also flat and constant and I'd just hiked across it yesterday. The grass had grown since then and I was annoyed about the uneven ground and the constant careful stepping. I fell over once. Everything was quiet and lonely and my InReach clearly wasn't working. I was hurting. I was hiking another twenty mile day. And Tim didn't love me. It was after noon when I crossed the road from Peters Marsh and got back into county forest. That was an easier trail at least. I got lost once, when the trail ended at a logging road with no indication of where to turn next. Turns out I had to go downhill a quarter mile to pick it back up again. I walked and walked and walked and walked on logging roads and ATV trails and finally the trail went back into the woods and crossed the spot-logged hills and descended down to Game Lake. I crossed the pretty board walk and tried to enjoy the view, but it looked like another lake in Wisconsin and lunch couldn't come soon enough. Past the Game Lake campsite, the Ice Age Trail splits off from the Veterans' Memorial natural trail and it took me five minutes to realize I'd missed the turn-off. I could've stayed on the IAT, but I wasn't going to pass up unlimited potable water and a bathroom. I backtracked the five minutes and crossed the little footbridge between Game and Jack Lake and that's when it started to rain. The rain pitter-pattered on my hat and I could appreciate the sprinkle, but then God really turned on the faucet. I didn't want to freeze to death again, so I stopped in the middle of the deluge and pulled on my rain jacket. The campground bathroom, with its roof, was a welcome site. I used the toilet, the sink, the hand dryer, the mirror, all of it. I brushed my teeth again. But there was no question: Eating lunch in the women's restroom would be weird. I had to go. I went around the building and sat on the bench and fished my cheese and flatbread out of my pack. The cheese was getting moldy. The rain was pounding down on the roof and Tim didn't love me. I was cold. I started sniffling looking for my knife to cut off the moldy bits and then I was crying. Eating and sobbing. A week later, when I was home and warm, I had two people in one day tell me that they admired me for adventuring alone like this. If anyone continues to be impressed, they should picture me crying and eating old cheese on a bench outside a restroom. It wasn't even the women's restroom. I was on the bench outside the men's restroom because the women's restroom didn't have a bench. And I was getting too cold. A middle-aged couple drove by and drove by again and I thought about asking them for a ride back to my car. I ended up texting Dan and venting and that got me calm enough to get up and move on. I decided to roadwalk to 4-H Camp Susan and its environs. County Road J and Kosperick Road run parallel to the Ice Age Trail along the Old Railroad segment. A lot of RVs passed me on the way out of the campground road, so Veterans' Memorial Campground isn't so empty in September, just on the weekdays. I tried cutting back to the Ice Age Trail at the end of J and realized that raindrops falling on my pants were annoying, but raindrops on the tall grass could saturate my pants in less than a minute and start the coldness that I was trying to shake after sitting so long next to the bathroom. So I stuck to the road, took a right on County Road B, and found the gate to 4-H Camp Susan, with a sign out front that said, "You're finally here!" I hiked up long driveway. I'd been thinking about camping near the drive, but there were cars passing me, not a lot but three or four, more than you'd expect to see. So 4-H Camp Susan was having an event. The woods here were still stunningly beautiful, maybe more so in the rain with everything glistening in the pale green light. I was warm by then, perfectly warm, but if I stopped walking I would freeze. My right leg wasn't flexing again. I limped into 4-H Camp Susan right behind a car, and I was thinking about leaving. Just bumming a ride back to my car and driving home to the bunnies and the warms and dries. I followed the car around the main building and it parked in front of the camp office. A lady got out and went around to unload some things. I walked up to her and said something stupid and confusing, which was, "I'm hiking and I don't know if I should ask you for a ride or keep going." She looked confused. I said, "What kind of event are you having here this weekend?" She said, "It's a family reunion." Then she said, "Where are you parked?" I said, "County Road B in Lincoln County, it's about twenty five miles." She made the facial expression of a woman who doesn't want to drive an hour in the rain to help this weirdo. She said, "You know what? You could stay here. No one's staying in Bunkhouse B because the kids said it smelled like skunk. You could have it all to yourself." Huh. This was a turn of plans. I'd more wanted a ride than anything, I hadn't reckoned on a building to sleep in. This was also a family reunion. I'd assumed this lady was the camp director or the caretaker based on age and parking spot, but she was just a woman from a large, organized family, who had no idea she was twenty feet from a National Trail. Nonetheless, I let her lead me into the dining hall, and I was shocked. The dining hall was detail by detail identical to YMCA Camp Warren's dining hall in Evelth, Minnesota. You know, you go somewhere and you think you're in a uniquely romantic expression of northwoods architecture, and then you walk into a cookie-cutter building six hundred miles away and realize that there were probably only one or two architectural firms building summer camps in 1922 and they didn't vary designs much. (Thank you again, Abigail Van Slyck!)

There were kids running around the dining hall, and some people at the middle table chopping vegetables. My new protector introduced me to Katie, definitely the older sister, and Katie wasn't expecting a sopping wet hiker either, but she agreed that I could stay in Bunkhouse B and even come have supper with them. I wasn't so sure by now. Sleeping in Bunkhouse B was an imposition on this large family of kind people giving me funny looks over their colesla;, and I wanted to be tough, too. I could take another night in the forest. I made some apologies, filled up my waterbottle in their sink, thanked them, and left the family reunion a little more confused than I had found it. I went on my way down the Ice Age Trail. I didn't get that far. I only went about ten minutes down the trail, back to the educational forest of birches. I could have gone back to Camp Susan in the night and curled up in their dining hall if I'd felt like it. There's only about twenty minutes of trail between 4-H Camp Susan and the four-mile Forest Road segment. Also, I was on an esker between three lakes in one of the most beautiful little forests in the world. I chose a spot off the trail and set up my tent wet.

It was so pretty in the rainy twilight under the birches. Since Wednesday when I got soaked through, I'd been wearing this weird, mid-weight wool, '80s, short-sleeved sweater as a t-shirt, plus I had my long underwear on. Tonight was colder than Wednesday, and I was warmer than Wednesday, but I was chilling rapidly. I ate a quick supper of cookie butter, dried onions, chocolate, and a mini peach vodka, and got beautifully drunk for fifteen minutes. Crouching on the ground organizing stuff into my foodbag, I looked up and the trees were so vivid, everything so bright, and I was warm again. Warm! I picked up my foodbag and it was like dancing. Now, this was camping. In health class, they told us alcohol makes you feel warm but it actually makes you colder; that's clearly a silly thing teachers tell young kids to make them doubt themselves years later while they hang their food in trees. Food hung, I realized I was getting cold again and the colors weren't shimmering and stunning anymore. Ah well, warm tent next. In the tent, I realized I had only managed reading twenty-two pages of my book in four days. Twenty mile days take up all the time to do other things. I'd only taken six pictures, mostly of the Hillbilly Hilton, my journal entries were short, I didn't have time to eat enough. But I was in my sleeping bag now and, with the sun going down, I could find my head lamp and read for a few minutes, and... Oh no, my headlamp. Where was my headlamp? Was it in the clothes bag? No? Was it in the... There wasn't anywhere else for it to be. Was it in the Hillbilly Hilton? I'm not that careless. Did I throw it in the foodbag this morning? Um... There was only one thing to do: Go get it. It wasn't raining any harder than it had been while I was eating supper, but I was wearing my bed clothes and I needed to stay be dry because if all my clothes got wet in this rain at this temperature, I wouldn't get warm again. Then I realized I had the ultimate raincoat: a garbage bagl. Two arm holes later, I was winching my bearbag down from the tree and digging through it in the dark. Here was my headlamp! I needed to never do that again. Back inside, I realized that, even with the stupid mesh walls, my tent is still much warmer than the outdoors. Cozily, I went to sleep.

In the morning, I wore my garbage bag and I wore all my long underwears under it, because it was cold. The rain had stopped and there was no frost like yesterday, but I could see my breath. Wearing a garbage bag made me toasty warm on the inside, though. I ate my sensible breakfast squatting because my chair was soaked, forwent my sopping hiking pants for a day in long underwear, doffed my makeshift poncho, and hit the trail. Not so much trail though. Ten minutes of hiking brought me through the sylvan forest with its labeled trees and deer poops and out onto Forest Road, where people live. Nobody was up yet, however. The cool felt good while I was walking and Bogus Swamp had a glow of early morning tamarack wetland. Then I was in a more residential zone, with all the houses a quarter-acre away from each other and plenty of woods out the back. Some were trailers with foundations, some were proper built, and people were starting to wake up and do some yardwork. I took a right on Kleever, and passed a house with two men, one old, one young, standing in their garden pointing at things and discussing. I waved at them but they didn't notice me. A spaniel-type dog bounded out of the yard and ran right past me onto the fire road. This was right where the paved road ended and the forest began, although I'd be on fire and logging roads for the next 5.8 miles. The dog bounded and gamboled in front of me while I hiked through the trees, past the antique truck and someone's deer stand. Looking at this dog made me pity every sorry, pudgy canine I've ever seen, because this dog was sleek, solid muscle, barrel-chested and taut. Not an extra ounce of fat on her, and not a bit skinny. She ran up to me and sniffed, rushed off to sniff a leaf pile, she ran behind me to mark a tree, and back to sniff me. I said, "Shouldn't you go back to your people, Ms. Dog?" but she stuck around. I was almost at the next turning when a truck pulled up next to me, with the two men from the garden in it. The old man rolled down his window and said gruffly, "What are you doing with my dog?" I froze. There was no way to tell whether he was an angry old man who thought I stole his dog, or a friendly old man feigning gruff for laffs. I erred on the side of, "Sorry. She just followed me. Sorry about that." He laughed. Phew: friendly, feigning gruff. He said, "Are you hiking around here? Aren't you afraid of bears." I said yes I was afraid of bears, showed him my bear mace and asked if he'd had any bear problems. He laughed but didn't tell any stories. The young man in the passenger seat called the dog and she straightaway hopped into the backseat and they drove off. It wasn't eleven in the morning yet and I'd hiked at least six miles. So I hiked some more, and it hurt. It turned out I was wearing the pair of socks that slide down all the time, my long underwear slowly flayed the skin on my inner thighs, my heart was broken, my right hip was acting up, and my pack wasn't fitting right. And I had so far to go. I stopped at the south fork of the Eau Claire for a snack/water/sock adjustment and a guy drove by me on a souped-up four wheeler with a gun case on the back. We waved, and he forded the river on his giant tires. The next two hours walked uphill in boring terrain: logging roads and jumbled forest. I was pushing it so I could eat lunch by Townline Lake. According to my calculations, I could make Townline between 1:00pm and 2:00pm, and I did make Townline at exactly 2:00. I threw my pack on the picnic table for a full break with toilet facilities and water bottles and texting and Kool-Aid. The wind was blowing off the lake, so I put an extra sweater on top of my other sweater, my mid-layer, and my fleece vest, and five minutes later I was shivering as I spread my cookie butter. The sun came out and warmed me while I ate dried onions, and then I was off again, up that long segment that had fooled me into thinking I was closer to Townline than I was that first night. It was beautiful up there, with views from the fire roads, forest walks over trickling streams, birch farms, and this little anonymous lake. I stopped to take pictures of it this time. The stretch of moss down to the shaded water and everything so emerald green. I thought about camping down in the emerald green, or up in the sunlight where I could find a nice spot to kick back and dry out my stuff before another cold night. On the other hand, there was no grilled cheese in the forest. If I wanted to camp, I should camp now. On the other hand, I could hoof it and subsequently grilled cheese it, and be sad about Tim at home where there are distractions. I hiked on, up hills and through a rushing stream of piney brown water. It was almost 5:00pm when I came to Five Cent Road and I knew what I had already chosen: Grilled cheese. God, my feet were tired. The Ice Age Trail crosses Five Cent Road and runs a bit north to the Prairie River ford and the miniature town of Parrish, Wisconsin, where it crosses County Road H at a bar. Five Cent Road runs west to County Road H and from there I could walk H north, cut through Parrish's other residential street to Highway 17, walk southwest on 17 for two and half miles to Lincoln County Road B and walk another mile and half up B to my car and drive to the grilled cheese. I could also drive to the french fries and maybe I could drive to the Vaseline because my thighs were burning. Finishing my hike today, taking the road was much better than the trail: if i was caught by the dark, I could make my way on the road. I took a left at Five Cent and waved at some ATVers zooming by. They waved back at me. There was supposed to be an ATV water and toilet stop here, but I didn't see it. Plenty of ATV people though, men and families. For the next hour, my hike went: nature, nature, nature, vroom, vroom, vroom, wave, wave, wave, nature, nature, vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom, wave, wave, nature, nature, nature, nature, nature, nature, vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom, vroom, wave, wave, wave, wave, wave, wave, wave, wave, head nod. It's hard to wave and control an ATV at the same time. Finally, I limped off the ATV track and into the parking lot on H and thought really hard about asking someone for a ride, but a combination of timidity and stick-to-it-ive-ness dettered me.

Parrish, Wisconsin has a street with houses on both sides of it, and a sign that says "Welcome to Beautiful Downtown Parrish." It has a store-shaped building that isn't a store anymore. From Parrish, I turned left on 17 and it was torture. My feet ached and the roadside was hard and beating the poor things everytime I stepped down. Plenty of cars went by and I even vaguely tried to thumb a ride once, but she didn't stop. I considered caching my pack, but I didn't like the idea of trying to find it again in the dark. Finally, I remembered that my head is a vast repository of bawdy songs and I kept my feet moving for over an hour along the side of the highway until I finally found B. I wasn't walking fast now, and I took a sitting break to fix my socks and gaze at some horses. A car went by and I jumped up fast to thumb a ride but thought better of it and confused the car people. I could do this. There were only so many footsteps to go. So many footsteps. My feet burned. I walked as best I could because I couldn't stop. I did stop. I needed to stand and drink water and fix my socks, but I couldn't stop for good. I need to walk further. I needed to go where the road curved, but the road fooled me and curved again. I needed to walk. I needed to shuffle if I couldn't push myself. I needed to move even if my feet were dragging and the road went on forever. There was a hill that could be the hill, but it hadn't been the hill already and it probably wasn't the hill. My feet thumped slowly and brought the dull pain, and the chafing thighs, and no Tim. I was hobbling around the bend and here I was. A parking lot. I put my feet down again and again and I barely could. I was at the mouth of the parking lot. I was in the parking lot now And my car. A cheer went up from the crowd! I was confused. I hadn't ordered a crowd. I looked up and there were six or seven ATV friends sitting around having a last chat before they all went home from the evening. "How far did you go?!" a lady called out.
"Eighty-seven miles!" I said. "In five days."
"We went fifty nine miles," she said. "On ATVs!"
We laughed. She asked me what I ate, and I said, "Chocolate!" We chatted while I shuffled around getting my clean clothes bag out of the car and arranging my pack in the hatchback. I was not moving at my normal walking speed, not even when I switched from boots to sandals. My feet were in rough shape. Five hot spots and swollen, which has never happened to me before. My thighs were raw and my hips weren't bending like they usually do. I was hobbling. My cheering section left while I was in the bathroom, so they didn't have to watch me slowly grunt my way to the car and lift up my right leg with my arms and place it in the car because I couldn't raise it more than five or six inches off the ground. I did twenty-four miles that day. I have never gone that far before, and it hurts. Twenty mile-plus days are for Backpacker magazine, and ultra-marathoners, and people who've gone on more than four walks since their hiking trip in June. I waved goodbye to the Ice Age Trail and drove to a beautiful diner where they served grilled cheese and coffee and they refilled my coffee so many times and it was warm there, and wonderful. Then I drove somewhere, took a nap in the gas station in Thorp, Wisconsin, because they have an Amish community. The woman behind the counter gave me free coffee at midnight. I sang along with the Buffy musical twice and some BBC, and got home around 2:00am. The next day Bethany gave me a Thai massage on that fixed my hip. And that is how I hiked 87 miles in five days.

Ice Age Trail in September

When I was hiking the Mantartio Trail, I couldn't take one step without carefully weighing where I should step next, which hummock, which crackling moss, which depth of water in the path, which patch of slick mud, how that rock's canted, whether that's slippery, and I kept saying, "Next trip I take, I am going somewhere flat on the Ice Age Trail and I am going to cruise." So I chose the Langlade County segment and I kept thinking, "This is going to be cake." I knew in my head that I faced an arduous journey fraught with the same risks, and special, different risks, than the Mantario Trail. I hiked 100 miles of the Lincoln and Langlade County IAT in 2012 and it was not cake by any means. The 2012 trip is the longest I've done alone; I arranged to be away ten days and completed my route in eight, partly because I was lonely. I parked at the lot on Lincoln County Road J near the Dunfield Townsite and hiked to the Veterans' Memorial Campground (and tagged out County Road A on a dayhike): that was a hundred miles. This September I planned to park at the ATV shelter off Lincoln County Road B (turns out you can't park overnight in Langlade County) and hike to the Kettlebowl Ski Area for a total of 93.8 miles, with the usual caveats that I can turn back any time I want, this is my hike, I have only myself to answer for, strength in weakness, I don't have to do this at all if I stop wanting to.

I did not end up hiking 93.8 miles in six days, but I did hike 87.6 miles in five days, which is damn good. I stayed up too late cleaning the night before and decided to sleep past my planned five a.m. leaving time. I was okay with that, really, because every extra hour of hiking on your first day is an hour of extra hiking on your last day, and I like my last days short. So I woke up at six and petted some bunnies for an extra long time. ChooChoo is a widow now; it was hard to leave her, but I arranged multiple rabbit visitors for the week to give love and treats. Also, Tim was taking a two week break from me, while he decided whether he wanted to be my boyfriend or not. (No, he doesn't.) I'd been keeping busy, getting ready for the trip mostly, but now I had a whole week ahead of me alone in the forest wondering whether I had a boyfriend or not. (No, I don't.) Spending the week holed up in my apartment drinking may have been the better option, but I went to northern Wisconsin instead. My drive was thoroughly uneventful. I stopped for a roll and a coffee at Isles Coffee first thing, so I didn't even need to stop anywhere unfamiliar for food on the way up. I finally got to the ATV shelter on B around 11:30, which was fine with me. When I drove up, there was a woman in a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources car in the parking lot, but she drove off while I was in the bathroom. I'd been to this ATV shelter before. In 2012, I came down the hill and waited for some ATV guys to drive off before scurrying across the open space to use the toilet block, and the parking lot simply reeked of blood. This time, it was not saturated with sanguinity, and I shouldered my pack. Then I stopped and took a compass bearing to make sure I was, in fact, pointing east not west. Assuredly eastbound, I headed out on the trail.

The trees were green with the just a hint of fall colors coming on. Birds sang, the sun was warm on my arms, and there wasn't a single mosquito anywhere. This trip could go well, if I remembered to keep my mood up and not focus on Tim. I walked a footpath through the woods and, as I began going uphill, I remembered that, Wisconsin though it was, I was on the Harrison Hills segment of the Ice Age Trail, the next segment was called Parrish Hills, and I was two miles east of a place called Lookout Mountain. The trail was easy but not flat. Coming up on a big hill, a motor ground through the trees. I must be coming up on a road? The trail got steeper and I hydrated my way up until, hey, a giant logging machine came into sight, chopping up a moderately-sized tree I was below him downhill so he couldn't see me, and if I kept on up the trail, I'd walk right into him and be crushed. I slowed down and looked around for a way to go into the forest and stay away without losing the trail. But the logger spotted me; he stopped his giant logging vehicle and hopped out so it was clear I was in no danger from swinging stump grinders. He said, "Are there any more of you?" I said, "Nope, just me," and passed him, and he went back to his growly machine. The whole hill was being denuded of trees. The trail was still decently marked with blazes and flagging, but there was destruction and fallen branches and bleak emptiness and dirt and piles of tree. It was a good reminder that I was in a managed forest. It was sad to see all the little trees that had gone to the chopper, but if I'm going to shop at IKEA or wipe with toilet paper, I have to accept that wood products come from somewhere, and better a managed forest than something else. The trail went around the side of the hill and past a man having a smoke break. We said hi, then I was back in the woods. The two campsites at Chain Lake looked kinda boring, but at least someone had labelled them since 2012, when I'd walked right by them with a "Huh, there were supposed to be campsites here," and then it was all chugging along through trees and furrows and grasses and sunshine, all well-blazed with good tread. I climbed uphill a long time and found myself on Baldy Hill, true to its name all tall grass and scattered red pine. It was nice and sunny up there to flop down and eat a Pearson's Nut Roll. Descending the hill and the warm sunny field at the bottom were beauteous too. I liked it there, but soon I came to the highway, and a woman in yoga pants talking on her phone and I said hi to each other. Then I spent twenty minutes in a forest of giant red pine, all uniformly planted, but so tall and dark and majestic, walking in beauty until I emerged across the street from someone's house. There were four houses in a row, the suburbs of Parrish, Wisconsin, and it took me a bit to figure out where the trail went: past the houses and across an interesting mossy moonscape to the Prairie River ford. Like I said, I hiked the Langlade County segment there-and-back in 2012, so I know the Prairie River ford is cake. It should be a wide bit of creek, slow-moving and calf-deep, but Wisconsin had the same rainy season we did, so this time the Prairie River was fast and above the knee, but nothing like fording Portage Brook on the Border Route Trail (which was terrible and the bridge was out and I had to swim the last four feet). I got a pokey-balancey stick just in case, and made my excessively cautious way across. Everything was fine, if laboriously slow. Everything on the other side of the river was mud for another half mile. I was still enjoying myself, though, and managing to keep happy thoughts. I made the disused picnic shelter where the IAT crosses a network of ATV trails, and began looking for a campsite. It was five o'clock, and I was on a network of logging roads passing thick stands of adolescent birch that were never going to have any tent-sized gaps in them. This is managed forest, these trees were planted to be harvested. I kept chugging along. There had been a few metal maps of the Ice Age Trail posted at the shelter, at an intersection, and at the bottom of the hill, and I thought I was farther along the trail than I was, so I was setting myself up to be disappointed the next morning. And I kept chugging along. I tried one clear area on the roadside, but quickly realized it was a beautiful bog with little red and gold moss flowers and nowhere to stand without getting my feet wet, so I pushed on. At a downhill, the forest changed from farmed birch to older, mixed deciduous, and a little bit further, the trail turned off the logging road and up a hill. There was one campsite option practically in view of the road, a disused turnaround for logging vehicles. I dropped my pack there, and decided to see if I could find anything better up ahead in fifteen minutes there and back. So I had seven and a half minutes to walk ahead, and seven and a half minutes to walk back, and it was slightly after 6:00pm already, so that was all I got. Daylight was burning. I went five minutes up, through lovely green forest and found another clearing right off the trail. The other sight was fine, but I was happy to sleep somewhere less gravelly. I went back for my pack and set up all my nice tent and food and eating and brushing my teeth and I was in my toasty sleeping bag while the darkness settled around me. I was only wearing one set of long underwear, and I was so comfortable that I left my sleeping bag unzipped until four in the morning. At five, the rain started. I listened to it pounding on my roof, realized there was nothing I could do about it, and rolled over. I'd known it was coming. I got up at 5:30 and got my inside-the-tent jobs done while waiting to see when it would get light out: A bit after 6:00. Not too bad. I ate quickly in the wet. I brought Trader Joe's cookie butter instead of peanut butter and jelly this time, because cookie butter is yummy and it eliminates the jelly spreading step. To be clear, I was using shelf-stable, fruit-flavored, HFCS, squeeze jelly so I don't regret the dearth of dietary camping fruit, but I found myself missing the peanut butter's protein.

I thought I was pretty close to Townline Lake, based on You Are Here dots on the metal signs, but it took a good two hours to get there. The rain was coming down intermittently and the weather wasn't cold. I'd made the morning decision to not wear my raincoat. If wore my raincoat all day, I would be a steamy, sweaty, damp mess with no rain layer to keep my dry clothes dry at my camping spot that night: Veteran's Memorial Campground, twenty miles away. Fortunately, I couldn't stop hiking without getting cold, so I had good impetus to push myself and get there. The stretch between wherever I was and Townline Lake was absolutely beautiful, although my mood was not. The trail past my campsite kept uphill, then dipped into a wide pine bog with so much green and followed that up and down to a little lake ringed with the softest carpet of bright green moss and tall pines. I hoped that it was the other end of Townline Lake, but it wasn't. The trail kept on through woods and rolling hills and then came back out on a logging road with a serious view of a valley resplendent with fall colors. From then on, I descended on logging roads and ATV trails until the IAT jogged off and crossed the stream that fed Townline. The approach to the lake is an amazing steep hill covered in red pines. Townline Lake picnic area is beautiful too, especially the outhouse. I was cozy and warm in there. I dropped my pack outside and texted Edward, since I hadn't heard from mom on my InReach yet. Edward was doing well, and hearing from him made me happier. I pulled water from the lake and crossed County Road T to the less interesting logging road between Townline Lake and the south fork of the Eau Claire River. I camped down there in 2012, on an abandoned logging road a few hundred feet off the active logging road. I cooked supper in the main road because everything else was tall grass and it was seven in the evening. I had my bowl of beans in my hand, and my stove put out, and my bottom in my chair, in the road, when I heard a truck coming. I leapt up, grabbed all my stuff, and moved to the roadside. Some guys drove by. We waved. I sat down again, ate up my beans, and decided this was the night to make the dehydrated apple brown betty. So I boiled water, added betty, and left the stove to burn out its fuel pellet in the middle of the road while I was enjoying my desert food, when I heard that truck again. I ran and kicked the burning stove to the side of the road, and I was standing next to it making sure I didn't burn down the forest when the truck came by. One of the guys rolled down his window and awkwardly said, "Do you need a ride anywhere?" I said, "No, thanks. They drove off, while I tried to look cool, like I just stand next to logging roads looking cool in my spare time and I didn't have a small fire next to my shoe. This time, I walked past my former campsite and waved at it.

The bridge was out on the Eau Claire River, but it didn't matter because the Eau Claire is maybe four feet wide and eighteen inches deep. There are stepping stones in case you're not feeling bridgely, but they were too slippery to trust in the rain. From the Eau Claire, the Ice Age Trail follows logging roads and crisscrosses public and private land. The forest is thicker and greener and flatter than the logging roads from Townline to the Eau Claire, where it's all a bit dry and gravelly. I liked this segment, and I liked being back in the land of good trail markers. I stopped for lunch under a pine tree, where the branches didn't shelter me from the rain but they pretended to try. The temperature was still in the low º60s or upper º50s, but I was well soaked. I really did like this segment of the trail, the way it felt remote yet the roads were easy and the woods were so thick. Then the trail turns right onto an unpaved road slowly growing some driveways that lead to houses or cabins, and a broken down trailer and fifty-year-old truck and deer stand in the distance. This is the beginning of civilization, and the four mile road segment. Four miles is a long way to walk, in the rain, in public, past the houses of people who bathed last night and don't have big backpacks on and are not wearing slightly silly hats, but almost nobody was home; it was Tuesday afternoon. About a mile and a half along, the houses stop on the right hand side and become the Bogus Swamp State Natural Area, which doesn't look like much from the road but would be amazing in pontoon shoes. On the left, the houses turn into cabins and move back from the road among the trees. There's a whole chain of lakes in their backyards and a public boat launch, but I didn't stop to pull water. I kept chugging along until the lovely gate that pulls you back onto the Ice Age Trail proper and the area around 4-H Camp Susan, entirely suffused with a lush, pale green light. Thin birch forest slopes along an esker between two lakes and a deer stopped and stared at me. Most of the trees along the trail are helpfully labeled with laminated, framed fact sheets. "White pines have bundles of five needles." I didn't stop to read all the signs because I still had a ways to go, but I allowed myself to learn about conifers, and then I came to to 4-H Camp Susan's dumpster. I don't know much about 4-H Camp Susan and the internet doesn't help, but, based on my appreciation of summer camp architecture (thanks, Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890-1960 by Abigail Van Slyck!), it was built in the '20s on land too marshy to do much with. It's situated between at least five lakes, one with a nice little beach. I made a note to sniff around more on the way back.

The 4-H Camp Susan driveway is long. Looooong. At least a mile and a half long, and dappled in a soft green light spilling between birches and little white pines between wetlands and a lake or two. I tried to enjoy my walk as much as I could and eat a nut roll, because it was still raining and I was getting cold. I was also having trouble with my pants button. I mentioned that the original button holding up my pants fell off on the Mantario Trail, and I'd replaced it with a pink and purple flower-shaped button that I got off a blazer. (I' look sharp in the blazer now I've replaced the button with something more mature.) I sewed it on my pants for a bit of bug-resistant-pants-flare, but I was realizing that one's cold, wet, mittened fingers must negotiate every petal of a flower button through the button hole, when one is trying to use the restroom that is a place underneath a tree, in the rain, with the temperature dropping, and one might as well be doing brain surgery, in mittens. This was my burden. I walked hard to get my blood going, crossed County Road B, had a hop, skip, and an ATV trail to Highway 64, and made the Old Railroad segment. Nearly there. The Old Railroad segment is, of course, an ATV trail built on the back of the olde railroad that carried wood out of the lumbercamps back before Langlade County managed its forests. When I hiked the old railroad segment before, it was lovely to step from one railroad tie to the next on the grassy grass pitted by stupid ATV manouevers, but in the rain, the Old Railroad segment was a complicated mess of historical hummocks, foot-deep puddles, tall grass and mud. The trail goes east, so I went east, then it goes due south, so I went due south, then it crosses the old rail switching, which is a mowed clearing with a plaque now, and goes east. I went east for thirty seconds and a deer looked at me. I looked at it. It looked at me. I said hello. It looked at me. We looked at each other. I looked at it. It ran off. I walked on for another minute and a half and checked my map. Here I was at a place where the trail turned right and went about twenty feet to County Road J. The campground was off County Road J. I would walk along County Road J and not navigate a bunch of railroad ties and puddles and disturb that deer. So I did. By that time the temperature had dropped significantly. Not wearing my raincoat had been the right decision for most of the day, but, now, no matter how hard I walked, I was cold. I was wearing my new yellow shirt made out of sports fabric and I was under the impression that it had wicking powers. Maybe if I was jogging in the sunshine working up a light sweat, the shirt would pull moisture off my skin, but, saturated, it did nothing. Over the yellow shirt I had my orange bug-resistant shirt made of camping fabric. It has no hydropowers, but it's never sucked in rain before. Now it was trapping all the cold water falling on my body and holding it against my skin. I had to wring out my gloves every five minutes. I was freezing, and there was nothing I could do about it except walk harder. It was somewhere on County Road J when I noticed that my right leg wasn't working like it usually does. That part of walking where you pick one foot up and swing it forward and the other foot goes next. I couldn't swing my right foot up more that a few inches, and when I did, it hurt . On hills, I was shuffling. I turned right at Park Road and my tired feet kept moving, and then I was at Half Penny Road, and then I was at Veterans' Memorial Campground. I had to walk another quarter mile onward to the campsites, but I could do that. It was okay. I was here, that was the main thing. No one was at the check-in kiosk, but the ranger's house had a light on. Because it's the Veteran's Memorial Campground, there's a big weird mural of US soldiers in various wars set up on the main lawn, next to a tank. There's the Revolutionary War guy, then the Civil War guy, the WWI guy in his gas mask, the WWII guy, and then there's a gaunt, screaming Asian man wearing a blanket. He could be an Asian-American soldier in combat, he's probably Vietkong, but why paint one enemy into your mural? Then there's a soldier who's either aiming at blanket man or representing the covert wars of the '80s, and there's a desert camo fellow. Past the mural is tee one of the frisbee golf course, then the dumpsters and RV station, and then the campground proper. The bathroom was my goal. That bathroom! (I've blogged about this bathroom before.) It was heated slightly and the lights were on and it was home. I walked in there with my pack on and changed out of my saturated clothes as quick as I could. My wet clothes could hang in the bathroom overnight and hopefully not inconvenience anybody. Besides the ranger and his family, I might be the only person in the campground, and I decided to stash my food in the bathroom too. I didn't want to do a bear hang if I didn't have to. It's awkward hanging your food in a tree in an RV campground where everybody else puts their food in their refrigerators. But there were no RV people here tonight. I always avoid camping alone in places with road access. Most tent camper attacks are perpretated by non-campers who drive to frequently used campsites to commit their crimes, but this had a ranger on premises, and men driving around looking for trouble on, say, a hot Friday night in July, are less likely to be driving around on a rainy Wednesday in September. Eventually I had to leave the bathroom and set up my tent. My night was cold. My clothes dried out in the bathroom, but I didn't warm up. It was kind of a shitty morning. I hadn't heard back from my parents on the InReach yet, so I texted Edward to see what was up and packed slowly while waiting to hear back from him. I didn't want to start walking in the wrong direction if something bad had happened at home and I should be walking back to my car. Edward did text me back but he hadn't talked to mom yet. However, if something dire was afoot she would have called him, so I slowly started on my way throught the campground's maze of nature trails in the direction I thought would bring me back to the IAT. One of the unique features of the Veterans' Memorial Campground is that all the metal campground maps have You Are Here dots indicating that you are near the woodpile by frisbee golf hole number eight. Whether you are by the lake, the bathroom, the camper cabins, frolf hole number seventeen, or the arboretum, the campground map you are scrutinizing has a You Are Here dot by the woodpile near frolf hole eight. This is fine if you're by the lake or the bathroom, but if you're walking one segment of the Veterans' Memorian Campground's extensive network of nature trails trying to find the right one, it quickly becomes frustrating. The Veterans' Memorial Campground's nature trails all have intermittent laminated signs detailing the habits and habitats of animals you might see in northern Wisconsin. I learned about swans, otters, bears, and beavers as I walked along. Soon, I came to three forks in the path. The map showed a two-fork way, so I approximated in the direction that looked most correct assuming I was where I thought I was. Over a hummock and through some woods, I learned about snowshoe hares and ended up behind the dumpsters at the entrance to the campground. Shit. I walked back to my campsite and tried again. This time I went by the new camper cabins, across a spot-logged zone, down a winding trail, learned about deer, and turned up on the other end of my campground looking at some RV neighbors whom I hadn't seen the night before. We said hi, and then I took another fork, ignored facts about Canadian geese, and found the Ice Age Trail. It was almost ten o'clock in the morning already, but today would be shorter than yesterday and I was back where I should be. I crossed a little footbridge over the creek between Jack and Game Lakes, bore right past the backpacking campsite on Game, and crossed a magnificent-marvel-of-backwoods-engineering, showcase-of-a-campground-with-many-unique-features boardwalk-of-unusual-length across a the marshy lake. It was somewhat worse for the wear after the wet summer, but it was sturdy and I was feeling better as I left it, admired a Muir bench, and continued walking around the lake. Quite around the lake. The lake was long. Was I going in the direction I'd already come in but on the other side of the lake? Where were the yellow blazes? Oh, look, a bridge. The same one I crossed twenty minutes ago. Stupid lake, being circular. How did I miss my turn? My feet hurt. I sat down and bridge-cried because I was tired and my family wasn't responding to my texts and my boyfriend didn't love me and the lake was dumb. Then I took myself in hand, I texted Edward, got up, and went over the boardwalk again. The Ice Age Trail was right at the other end, straight up a hill. Up to a nice, spot-logged forest, and I kept on chugging and waiting for a text from my brother. My mood was shot. Why didn't Tim love me? The rest of the day was like that. The single-track trail came out pretty quickly onto a logging road, the end of what I'd hiked in 2012. That time, I camped at Veterans' Memorial Campground and took a day hike to tag out County Road A and complete a hundred miles. When I hiked here before, there were tree trunks stacked in the clearings and logging trucks parked on the sidings, but coming back, I couldn't tell where I'd seen logging. A forester could probably tell by eyeballing it, but it's nice to get confirmation that when Langlade County posts a historical plaque that says "First county in Wisconsin to manage forests, regrowth, habitat, paper products, blah blah" they mean that when something gets cut down something else gets planted, even if it's going to be cut down again in a decade. They're literally tree farming.

County Road A marked the end of Old Railroad segment and the beginning of Lumbercamp, named for the lumbercamp I was heading to. A farm turned up on my right. Bethany texted to say the rabbits were okay and that cheered me up a bit. I passed one tiny lake on my left and didn't realize that would be the last good water I'd see all day. The woods thinned out. Into Peters Marsh State Wildlife Area the trail changed from logging road to rough truck track. Someone probably drives up it twice a year and mows the grass. Edward finally texted. He'd been in a meeting (sorry, Edward), but he talked to mom and everything was okay but she hadn't heard from me either so the InReach wasn't working. I hit County Road S in the early afternoon and switched from marshy grassland with choppy walking to a forest of no particular note with mud roads and easy walking. I could do this. I was getting there. I could walk three miles, four miles. My water situation was bordering on dire. Since I missed the lake, I hadn't filled up since the morning and I was down to one liter. The map didn't show any water and it was dawning on me that there wouldn't be adorably random trickling streams like there are in the Parrish Hills segment. I thought about pulling water from one of the rainwater tire rut puddles in the road, but I was lucky enough to find a seasonal run-off pond that was less bad and I pulled a bottle. If I found better water later, I could dump it out. Water accomplished, I had to keep walking. And walking. And walking. Someone had been walking their dog on this road earlier. Recently, I'd say, since the rain stopped last night. The person must have been walking on the grass on the side of the road, because there were no shoe prints, but the dog walked steadily down the middle of the road, for a long way. It was a huge dog. Massive. And badly needing a claw clipping. This dog had hooked claws. Like a bear. Now where was this building I was supposed to be sleeping in? I looked at my watch. Based on how long I'd been walking and where I thought I was, I had at least half an hour to go. I was drinking mud water. Tim was going to break up with me. How would I know when I found my secret root cellar if it was buried in the ground?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

All Cousins, All the Time

 These British. I tell you. I submit this blog as further evidence of my "Britain had a population of five hundred people during the 1700s and 1800s" theory. Why else would people devote this much energy to wooing and marrying their close relatives? The important thing is that we're going to go from most cousiny to least cousiny here, so we need to start off with The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox, the bloody great groundbreaking 1752 proto-novel with the same premise as the male Quixote, which I haven't read yet. If Hilary McKay, Frances Hodgson Burnett, the Brontes, and all Mary Wollstonecraft's friends hadn't been invented yet, I would dig The Female Quixote more than I did. Jane Austen was a fan. The Female Quixote mocks the French romances whose shoulders it rides on, the preposterous novels that gave young ladies stupid ideas. Sixty years later, Pushkin wrote, "Marya Gavrilovna read French novels and was, consequently, in love..." So Arabella is raised in isolation at her father's country estate, and she's found the shelf of French romances her mother amused herself with before she died. In the first chapter, Arabella weirds out an attractive man who's visiting the area by concocting a scandal, commanding him not to kill himself, and banishing him. He leaves, confused. In the second chapter, Arabella's father hires a gardener with good deportment, so Arabella assumes he's royalty in disguise and he plans to carry her off. In the third chapter, her cousin comes for a visit. Glanville is one of the good guys of literature. He's nice, he's pleasant, he tolerates Arabella's whims, and he's generally a good chap to have around, but he unconsciously commits a slight and Arabella banishes him. She does regret it, so she's pleased when Glanville turns up again six weeks later with his sister in tow. They all go to the races, with Arabella rambling on about their similarity to the Olympic games (which haven't been rebooted yet.) There they meet Glanville's friend Sir George, who read romances in high school, as it were, and knows what Arabella's on about. One of the best slices of the book is the recitation of Sir George's history, with all the requisite battles, single-handed combats, captivities, lady loves, and near deaths. Meanwhile, Arabella goes around assuming that everyone man she sees wants to carry her off. The weirdest part is when Glanville's father, her paternal uncle, tries to pull her aside and encourage her to marry Glanville now and stop mucking about acting crazy, and Arabella assumes that he has fallen in love with her.

I was really curious at the beginning how Arabella would manage to go tilting at windmills when a lady of her status could barely leave the house unescorted and the answer is: she doesn't. Except for an episode when she's convinced the gardener is going to carry her off and she runs away and gets in some random man's cart, Arabella's adventures are confined to her father's estate until Glanville takes her to town, where she throws herself into the Thames to avoid some gentlemen passersby. There's also an episode where Glanville comes home in his cups and pokes fun at Arabella for being a crazypants, which was probably the last time in two centuries when a non-scoundrel had a few beers. Lennox wins firstmost by writing a novel during the reign of George II that is still listenable today, even if it goes on and on and on and on and on and on, but what else are you going to do on a dreary evening in 1752 when none of the great authors have been born yet and you have nothing else to do but snog your own cousin?

Another seminal work of cousinish yearnings is The Melting of Molly. To be fair, Molly's cousin is only one of her several potential suitors and I'm wearing a bit thin on the cousin romance already, now that I've declared it a theme. It seems like I'm always reading some cousin-wooing nonsense but my trough runneth low. In any case, The Melting of Molly is both hilarious and short, so there's no reason not to read it. Written in 1912, when people were swallowing weight loss tapeworms, Molly is a twenty five-year-old widow of joyous disposition and buxom girth. She lives in the same fictional town that A Fair Barbarian was set in, populated by "old tabbies." Alfred, Molly's old beau who went off to seek his fortune in the colonies, sends Molly a letter saying he'll be back in Hillsboro in four months time and he remembers the while muslin with the blue sash she wore when they said goodbye. Now Molly is 5'3" and 160 pounds. What to do? She runs across the yard to her neighbor doctor and he presents her with one of those amazing diet books from the 1900s with a regimen of breakfast toast, lunchtime meat, and supper toast with one apple and a cold water bath. Molly needs to record her trials in a blank book, which is the novel. At work one time I found a Flat Belly Diet! Journal with two pages filled in. The first page said, "This is so hard. I ate a cup of spinach and a slice of lean turkey today. I ran a mile and a half. I want to loose weight, but this is the hardest thing I've ever done." The second page said, "Today I cheated and ate two Tic-Tacs." The rest of the journal was blank.

Molly slims and sulks and romps with the doctor's adorable half-orphaned son. The doctor is a widower. What's going to come of that, eh? The hunky judge stops by for a chat, and Aunt Adeline calls Molly inside and tells Molly that she disgraces her mourning garb by chatting with men in the front yard like that, so Molly puts all her black clothes in a drawer and buys a whole set of new outfits, and she's tickled when the shop assistant calls them a "trousseau." Then the local bachelors start sniffing around, but who to choose? There's the judge, Molly's own dear cousin (cousin!), and Alfred writing "from Rome this time, where he had been sent on some sort of diplomatic mission to the Vatican, and his letter about the Ancient City on her seven hills was a prose-poem in itself. I was so interested that I read on and on and forgot it was almost toast-apple time." Or is there some other older but not creepy-old man about Hillsboro? Who's loved Molly the whole time? And lives next door? The Melting of Molly is hilarious, short, and on Librivox.

Now I'm running out of cousins. George III was inbred enough to be his own cousin on both sides. I always thought he was mad from one of the usual causes, inbreeding and syphilis, and that was why he lost America, but it turns out that America was a sideshow to the unresolved questions of power in a constitutional monarchy. George's "search for a sound ministry" was similar to Lincoln's search for a winning general, if Lincoln had been a thoroughly average man of no particular ability. George's mentor and favorite was a wash. Pitt the Elder was a strong minister who repealed the Stamp Act, hence Pittsburgh, but they clashed. The British parliament would not hold together and there were issues of the day to be dealt with, like the abolition of parties and George's lousy, profligate children. George did go mad later, of poryphria probably, and had a terrible last few decades, hence The Regency. John Cannon's 114-page biography, George III, does "justice to a man who found life difficult and whose suffering was appalling."

I've run out of cousins now. I'm sorry. I promised you so many romantic cousins that a Ptolemy would stop smooching his sisters, and now all I have are boring middle class teenagers who would be just as squicked about cousin-dating as we are. Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher co-wrote The Future of Us in alternating chunks. Imagine the conversation they had planning it:

Carolyn Mackler: Hello, Jay! I look forward to co-writing a book with you. What should we write about?
Jay Asher: Well, Carolyn, why don't we write our book about teen sexuality, obesity, rape, veganism, suicide, bullying, sexual harassment, depression, sibling rivalry, feminism, drug use, perfectionism, car accidents, death, divorce, abandonment, masturbation, loneliness, single motherhood, or alcohol abuse?
Carolyn Mackler: Um, Jay, between the two of us, haven't we already written books about all of those topics?
Jay Asher: Well, let's write about time travel then.
Carolyn Mackler: Should we write about ancient Roman teens who travel forward in time to the 1890s?
Jay Asher: I don't really know anything about Rome or the 1890s.
Carolyn Mackler: What if we write about modern kids serving in the Plantagenet court?
Jay Asher: What's a Plantagenet?
Carolyn Mackler: What if our characters travel back in time to medieval Japan and become samurai?
Jay Asher: That sounds like a lot of research.
Carolyn Mackler: Well, if you don't want to do any research, then maybe we should just write about two kids named Josh and Emma who travel between 1996 and 2011 on Facebook.

Yeah, basically Emma's family gets a computer and Josh brings over an AOL disc that his family got in the mail for free and when they boot it up, they can see their Facebooks in the future. Josh thinks it's a prank, then they kind of figure it out. They can see other peoples' Facebooks too, so they know what their future friends' cats look like, but future Emma is one of those people who posts all her personal problems; her future marriage is falling apart, so she has to figure out how to not marry this guy, or the next guy, or the third guy. She ends up having a golden retriever and an It's Complicated in the Bay Area and that's her best possible outcome. Josh, meanwhile, is future-married to the hottest girl in school, whom he's never even talked to, and he thinks he's supposed to woo her now and date her through college, instead of waiting a decade and hitting it off with this girl at their mutual friend's barbecue when they're in their mid-twenties. Meanwhile, Emma's best friend Keegan is the future parent of a teenager, so she's about to be made pregnant now, but Emma can't figure out how to change the future and unimpregnate Keegan, and that plot line just dies. I didn't like The Future of Us as much as other Carolyn Macklers. It took no risks. Knowing the future is not an end in itself, and the characters did not make dramatic changes to their suburban white people futures during the one week in eleventh grade in which this book takes place. Emma was boring enough to be a fan of both Green Day's first album and The Dave Matthews Band. Josh was a little skater kid, but he didn't have that much going on. I've said it before: high school is boring and there are thousands of books out there that trick us into believing otherwise, but reading about high school kids causing minor ripples in the fabric of space-time that only affect themselves isn't much. No cousins anymore.

Surfeit of Books Update: Remember the summer before last when I was complaining about the awkward dialogue and overlong comic arcs in Bless Me, Father? Well, I checked out the DVD set and it's way better than the book. It turns out that snappy pacing and quick punchlines save funny stories told ponderously. Welcome, Bless Me, Father to my short list of movies and TV shows that are better than the book.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Saga of the Mantario Trail, vol. 2

My next day, I got up at 5:30am like a winner and had peanut butter on a burrito for breakfast, because burritos are soft, delicious, versatile, and, if you buy the ones from the white people grocery store and not from the quality Hispanic grocery store, shelf-stable. I didn't try too hard to pack up quickly, but I tried to get ready within my allotted two hours. I sat on my picnic table and read Soul Music while drinking my coffee instead of drinking my coffee while packing up my tent, which is the only time savings I can find in the morning. The trouble with solo hiking is that you can delegate nothing and each task must be done in an order, with the exception of drinking coffee and simultaneously packing. You have to roll up your sleepy bag, stuff it in the stuff sack, change your shirt, put away your clean shirt, change your pants, put away your sleepy pants, put away the clothes you were using as a pillow and your iPod and your book and your headlamp and all your in-tent gear, walk down the trail, get your food bag, find your stove, light your stove, find your burritos, spread your peanut butter, squeeze your jelly, lick your spoon clean, pocket your snacks, pack your food, take down your tent, pack your tent, pump your water, and check your map, otherwise who else will? The deer? One could buy a faster pitching tent or eat energy bars instead of a burrito, or drink cold coffee, but that is not for my hiking purposes. I did manage to leave the campsite a little before 7:30, which was a win. Regardless, Wednesday morning was less scary but more challenging than Tuesday. I would be crossing little bits of civilization, and I had the comfort of Mike and Tyler's footsteps to follow.

Past the campsite, the trail stayed low and wove between lowlands and marshes, but there was a gentle wind to keep off the mosquitoes off. The first place of note was a portage and the footprints of other people, not just Mike and Tyler. Other people still existed, or had existed the previous weekend. There was also a small segment of earthy, alkaline, deciduous-tree hosting ground. If someone was crazy enough to farm this chunk of the Canadian shield, that small segment would be the only spot on the trail with enough topsoil to grow a crop. The portage crossed the power lines and so did I. Both directions, as far as the eye could see, a strip of mighty steel and wire cutting through the forest and the hills, and the barren rock and little plants beneath the lines drying in the merciless Canadian sun while the rest of the forest was moist and complete. It was a bleak landscape, but someone must run under the power lines with a mower a few times a year to keep the forest from coming back. Survivorman said that if you're lost in the Canadian outback, don't follow the power lines, because they might go on for tens and hundreds of miles before they get to the place where the power is going. So I continued on my trail. The segment between Mantario and Alice was probably the least well maintained part of the Mantario Trail, but it was still pretty good. Overall, the trail maintenance and markings were wonderful, especially for how damn deep in the wilderness it is. There were places where I had to pause and look around for a cairn, or walk six feet over a hump to see the next cairn, but that's normal. That morning, I had a few spots of confusion: Mainly, the trail would descend a hill into a swamp, and I would walk downhill on a deer trail into the swamp and stand there saying, "Where is the trail? Am I in the trail? This looks awfully swampy." Then I would walk a foot out into the swamp and conclude that this was definitely a swamp and not a trail and then I would look around extra hard for blue flagging. No flagging. Then I would walk the eight feet back up the thing that really looked like a trail to the other trail that probably was definitely a trail and notice another trail-looking path through the alders that skirted the swamp, and I would take that and be on the trail. That happened at least four times. After lunch, I was thrown by a swampy bit of forest with a tree that the beavers had chewed into an hourglass shape. There was the beaver tree, and a bunch of other trees, but no path, just a notable tree and some less notable trees. Where was the path? It ended right here, in front of this tree. It took a bit of work to realize I had to walk around the big beaver tree. I had lunch at the campsite at Peggy Lake, where Mike and Tyler probably spent the night. Like all Mantario Trail campsites, it was beautiful beyond belief, but with two caveats. One was that it was out on a rocky promontory stretching into a lake that looked perfect for swimming, so there weren't many trees and in consequence, no privy trail and outdoor toilet. Instead, there was a real live outhouse, which might seem like a good thing to confused people but was full of wolf spiders the size of my fist. The other was that the bear box was across a teeny tiny beaver dam crossing, so you would end up getting your feet wet as you went to put your food away before bed. The water was maybe a foot and a half deep and a beaver had propped up some mud and saplings to make a little dam in its special beaver way, and one could walk across the tiny, tiny dam, but it was simpler to walk in the ankle-deep beaver pond. I did splash around a bit in the crossing, but my feet were already so wet from the lowlands that they were like kettle lakes in their own right. Later, I saw two deer grazing in a marsh, the kind of thing that used to be a lake but then a beaver dammed it up so it was a thick, grassy bowl of deer nibblings. I watched the deer for minutes, until one deer decided she didn't like the looks of me and convinced her friend to run back into the forest until I left.

In the afternoon, I ascended and walked across the tops of hills. This is what they mean by Canadian shield. Big, flat stuff. The major glaciations of the last 100,000 years scraped the soil off a freaking ancient volcanic mountain range and left these barren, rocky ridges all over everything northeast of us. They're granite, so one is effectively walking across a rugged countertop. The granite ridges rise and dips, and there are trees and plants growing on edges that roll down into the piney valleys where the mosquitoes live. There's moss on top of the ridges and hills, lots of different kinds. Some is moist and slippery, but that's in smaller quantities, and there's dry brushy stuff that looks like it might snap when you step on it, which is why one avoids stepping on it. Then there is grassy moss and mossy mossy moss and patchy moss and rocky rock and sparkly rock and pinky rock and greyish rock. And the views. Obviously, when you're on top of something, there are things down below, and most of those things are either lots and lots and lots of trees or pristine blue lakes sparkling in the sun. It was great to be up on the tops with a little bit of wind and all the sun and no mosquitoes. I descended something around 4:00pm and came upon the best rustic bridge ever. It was weathered and sturdy and I wasn't afraid that I was going to die while I walked across it. The campsite at Olive Lake was right there and it was beautiful. Small and nice, a little bit dark because it was in a valley and the day was getting on, but lovely. I had a sitdown on the picnic table and went on to the most perilous part of my trip. This was the thing I'd been dreading during weeks of research and beaver dam fear: a bad beaver dam. It wasn't even that bad, but it was not the lovely berm of soil and grass that I'd walked across several times already. I walked out about fifteen feet and stopped. The dam started out fine, if a little chunky, and then the ridge, the miracle of beaver engineering, the visible part, went under water, and the trail became two saplings resting on a couple chunks of mud, then there were some mud clots above the water that you could hop from one to the other of, or you could risk it and put your feet down into the water and assume there was better dam under the surface, and then there was one sapling the width of my arm, floating, suspended by something, and that was fifteen feet of the trail. I didn't want to fall into the water and die, and if not falling into the water and dying meant not crossing, I could make that decision, even if I was already here and didn't want to leave. But falling in didn't necessarily mean search and rescue efforts and inconveniencing a lot of nice people with helicopters. On one side of the dam was a lovely clear beaver pond and on the other side was a shallower, marshy lake. This is a still pond. I'm a good swimmer. But what if there was an undertow? Falling in might not mean pulling a Bridge to Terabithia, but I might have to throw my pack to swim out, and I didn't want to leave $1,000 worth of gear at the bottom of a beaver pond. My DeLorme, my iPod, my new tent, my long underpants, my burritos, my book. I had my car keys in my fanny pack so I could still leave Canada if I had to, but I didn't want to lose all my good hiking gear for no reason. I could see the sense in trekking poles for the first time ever. Besides stabilization, which is a meh reason to carry something cumbersome with you a hundred percent of the time, a trekking pole allows you to poke at whatever's in front of you and see if it's solid, like Mike and Tyler did while I was encapsulated in muck. With that, I walked back to solid ground and sat on the picnic table, debating. Then I looked around for a big stick, unclipped my pack so I could drop it if I fell in, and started across that beaver dam again. It was sucky, but I poked carefully ahead of time to see what was stable and what was floating mud. And I slowly progressed across the damaged dam. Later, in the trail journal, someone said that "the beaver was lazy." So true. I walked carefully across the single log with one foot in the water and made it to the other side and I was crossing the next pair of floating saplings when my stick broke and I went into muck up to my knee. My other leg was kneeling. I hauled myself up and kept going. And going. And going. The dam didn't just cross between the lakes. It snaked around and walled off a whole 'nother portion of the marsh that the beavers hadn't needed to bother with, in my opinion, but they did. The dam looked better here, it was above water and covered in grassy grass that was growing, but I wanted to be off it. I was finally, and now I knew that I would have to walk the whole damn dam again in a couple days because it lay between me and my car. The land on the other side of the dam was nice, sloping, soily tree-laden ground and I liked it. I was super-pleased when, half an hour later, I was at my new campsite and home and everything was fine. The campsite on Moosehead Lake is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. The shoreline runs straight and flat for nearly a quarter mile and the campsite is on the edge of the forest and right on the beach. The swimming must be excellent there. The shoreline rises up and forms a flat granite shelf fifteen feet across, then ridges up again to a more wooded shelf with cleared campsites. There were three kitchen areas with fire boxes: one by the picnic table on the lake shore, one with two picnic tables up in the woods, and one about forty feet away, where the last people to use the site had taken the picnic table and moved it to the central, now two picnic table'd kitchen. The spot with two picnic tables had a box stuck to the tree, and in the box was a trail journal. It was the funnest thing to find. I hadn't seen anybody all day, but many had passed that way since last fall when this journal was started, replacing an older journal that had had some bear issues. The journal entries were great and a whole range of people went by on the trail: naked people, a man alone, some guys, some friends, a man and his dog, people who wanted a beer, a meditative person, girlfriends, news of bear trouble up at Ritchey Lake, and a school group whose inside joke was "Camping is in tents!" Mike and Tyler checked in at 1:50 in a cloud of mosquitoes. It was 4:50 when I got to Moosehead, so they were only three hours ahead of me the whole day. They weren't traveling much faster than I was then, and the only time they'd gained was the three hours of hiking between Marion and Peggy Lakes last night. Poor guys. But it was good to know that they were okay. I chose one of the many, many spots where a tent could be pitched and poked around the site. The privy trail went back from the lake and almost into a marsh on the other side and the mosquitoes were incredible. While using the privy, I counted fourteen mosquitoes from my knees up. I had two bear boxes as well, and somebody had stashed a tarp in one of them. I guessed it was for the school groups, and why not leave some equipment cached if a person was going to be back soon? Then I went back to the shore and soaked my feet in the water and got ready for an evening of relaxing on the beach. I ate my boil-in-the-bag palaak paneer and some chocolate. A deer ran through the other kitchen and I made some noise in case it hadn't realized I was around already. And I decided for real that I was going to head back the day after tomorrow. The trail was too hard to get any good pace going and making it to the end and turning back would be too much of a slog. I also didn't want to put myself in a position to choose whether to cross any more beaver dams like that or not. And I have rabbits at home who miss me. I decided to day hike up to Mantario Lake the next day and then pack it in. Five days is a respectable hike. I've done eight days before and I started to get lonely and bored. Tagging out the whole trail would have been nice, but it wasn't in the cards and you can't feel shame for not doing something that most people wouldn't even attempt. Also, being in the real wilderness is scarier than being in Wisconsin where at least they have roads. On Thursday, I was going to pass by a dot on an island in the middle of Mantario Lake that was called the Wilderness Education Center. I wondered if I would see humans there. At this point, I was also getting rather excited about checking my DeLorme InReach for texts from my boyfriend and family, which seemed to slightly diminish the trip's authenticity. I could sit by a lake and read a book at home, although this massive private beach of mine was special. I loved it, and I stayed out until nine'o'clock.

I slept in a bit on Thursday morning, as I was only doing a day hike. The nights were cold but comfortable, and when I got out of my tent, I was every so slightly cooler than usual and the sky was confusing. I mentioned that North Dakota/Manitoba and the prairies have very big sky, and that didn't end just because I was surrounded by trees. The sky was huge, and one half of it was blue and full of sunshine and brightness and perfect weather and the other half was grey and swirly and looked like it was threatening me. The wind had kicked up overnight, and I couldn't tell if it was blowing the clouds towards me or away from me. I had a relaxing breakfast by the lake, and then I took my foodbag over to the two picnic tables to pull out what I needed on dayhike when I heard a loud rustling coming up from the direction I wasn't facing. I started vocalizing nonsense syllables and clapping because I assumed it was another deer, and then a wolf came running through the brush at the edge of the campsite, very fast, in the direction of the privy. I had time to think that if he came towards me, I should get up on the picnic table and mace him, and then he was gone. That was my wolf. I think he was as alarmed to see me as I was to see him.

Slightly shaken by my encounter with a North American predator, I made ready for my dayhike. I started walking along the shoreline continuing from my own campsite, which must have gone on a quarter mile of solid granite shelf with hardy grass and mosses growing on it like a lawn. I noticed wolf scat, which was interesting. This stretch of land was one of the most beautiful places I've ever been, and the whole way from Moosehead to Mantario was amazing. Eventually the open shelf ended and there were only about five minutes of buggy forest before I came to the next beaver dam, which was so old and well established that it had pine trees growing out of it. This dam was long too, although there was nothing remotely alarming about it, except when I had to bash through some calf-high shrubs. The beavers did a good job on this one. I said hi to a turtle who was hanging out, but then I realized he wasn't doing so well; in fact, he was decomposing. Poor turtle. Again, the the hyperbolic map says, "Grab your water bottles and prepare to climb- this can be one of the most demanding sections of the trail." Basically, I went uphill, and then I was on top of a huge granite rock. There must be a specific geological name for rock hills that have been shaved by glaciers. For three hours, I was walking across flat rock marked with cairns and looking at some of the best views in the world. Now that I was dayhiking and leaving, I relaxed a bit more and took a million pictures. The trail had a view of an unnamed little crystal kettle lake to my right, and then Mantario Lake came into view in all its vastness. The sky was still half sunny, half ominous, the sun was shining on my head, the wind blew the healthy Canadian air, and everything was basically perfect. Then the cairns jogged off to the right and started getting better. The cairns I'd been following were three-rock cairns, which is the minimum number of rocks if you want to make a cairn look good, and then I looked right and saw a cairn as tall as my thigh. Somebody was working their cairn-building skills. I veered to the right and started following the cairns downhill, at which point they bore right, back the way I had come, and I realized I was following the loop trail across from the Wilderness Education Center. I strained my eyes for people, in canoes maybe, or a building, but I couldn't see anyone. So I turned around. The side trail looped, but I didn't feel like walking a buggy shoreline unnecessarily and then backtracking. The view was magnificent from up on the tops. I trod carefully so that I wouldn't crush the pretty, delicate moss up there. A rock is a rock. You can put it in your pocket. But then you find yourself on a rock the size of Lake Street end to end and it blows your mind. How something can be so solid and so permanent for so long it might be Pre-Cambrian. Successive glaciers scraped off different amounts of rock in different places. Apparently, the really old exposed rocks are in the deepest north. Eventually the trail did descend, and there was a bit of forest. By now, it was too windy to be buggy. The Mantario campsite was windward, and I had an incredible view of a wave-battered rock fifteen feet from shore. The sky was about two thirds grey now and I texted my mom to find out the weather forecast. She texted right back and said it looked rainy. Then the drops started falling. I ate a nut roll underneath a tree in the campsite because the wind was a bit too much for eating at the picnic table. I looked around a little, and the site would be great when it wasn't grey and wind-lashed. Nice tent area. I thought about pushing on a little farther, and I also thought about walking across wet granite, and I headed back towards my tent. It rained a little while I was heading back across the tops, which were still majestic, but it didn't start pouring until I was walking back across that nice beaver dam, which I appreciated. Now I was back at my campsite, it was 2:00pm, and I had my own beach, damp though it was. I sorted out my clothing situation so that I was warm enough and dry enough without getting too many of my sleeping clothes wet. And then I went looking for firewood because I was camping and sometimes when you are camping, you should make a fire. There were a bunch of charred logs in all the firepits, so I made a goal of burning them down so they wouldn't be a nuisance to the next people, and burning all the little paper garbage that was lying around from the high schoolers. I, of course, made an awesome one match fire out of the birchbark and firewood I had gathered, and then I built it up so I could burn nuisance logs. I chilled out and watched the lake and the wind and the trees and the fire. Ah. Such a lovely day deserved a special meal, so I decided to go 1950s classy. I ate garden herb Triscuits as an appetizer, cinnamon-flavored bourbon as an apertif, then a mashed potato and Brussels sprout entree, and a bar of Swedish chocolate (from IKEA) to finish. Quite nice. By evening, the wind had died down, although it was still drizzling. and the mosquitoes were thick away from the lake. The inside of my tent was starting to show bloodstains, and I was, and continue to, strongly question the wisdom of vestibules. I got a new tent this year, and the universal consensus in tent design nowadays is: vestibules. Basically, weight-saving dictates that a tent should only be as wide as the number of people it's indicated for lying side to side with no room for their packs and personal belongings. But no one actually wants to leave their packs and all their stuff outside in a tree, as much as tent manufacturers tell them that's what they should do. So you can't widen tent floor space, because that increases weight, but you can extend the fly past the tent body and make a vestibule big enough for a pack. My Northface Talus 2 has a "gear locker," which means I have a small zippered window on the backside of the tent, so I can put my pack outside and open the window to reach anything I've left in it and want now. The front of my tent is also a'vestibuled, which is probably nice in the mind of someone who designs tents for Northface, but in early summer in Canada, the vestibule is a mosquito trap. The stupid things fly into the vestibule and can't get out. The way to get into a tent with a vestibule is to unzip the v., crouch up next to your tent as small-ly as you can make yourself, and zip the vestibule up behind you. You are now sandwiched between the vestibule and the tent. You then unzip the tent as quickly as possible and hurl yourself inside, but the mosquitoes who've been trapped in your vestibule for hours don't fly out when you open it because they're stupid and they like you. You smell like potassium. So they follow you into the tent in their dozens before you've completed your hurl and zip maneuver. Then they drink your blood, die in the night, get smashed when you take your tent down, and their blood sacs stick your walls, and that's why my tent has blood stains.

Friday was a long hiking day, but I was on my way out and feeling like I'd done amply well. I crossed the weak beaver dam in the morning, almost first thing. It's amazing how much quicker things seem when you're going in the other direction. I got a sturdy poking stick this time, and poked my way across the difficult bits. The sun was out, and I hoped it would stay that way. It did for the morning, although the mosquitoes clearly loved yesterday's rain. They were out in their millions, buzzing around my head whenever I went off a hilltop into a valley. I liked everything I'd seen even more the second time around. The incredible views, the solid beaver dams, the magnificent campsites. The Mantario Trail is something I'd gladly do again. I had an early lunch of peanut butter somewhere on the top of a granite hill beneath a grey sky with the wind ruffling my hair and the forest all below me. It was great. The rain started after lunch, and that made everything harder. I was walking across what was basically a large, wet countertop. It was as slippery as anything, and I did fall down twice, once gracefully, once less so. The mosquitoes loved the rain. I walked along and pretended to be Degrassi characters, which is culturally appropriate. "I'm Erica and either I had an abortion or my twin did." "I'm Emma and I like a bit of rough." "I'm Nancy and I never get any episodes." "I'm Kevin Smith and I ruined TNG." I made it to the Marion Lake campsite, where I'd spent my second night, around 3:00pm. I swung by the privy at Marion and find the moist wipes I'd accidentally left there on Wednesday morning, which is totally non-LNT and irresponsible. I don't know how I dropped them, although I'm sure I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes at the time, and I was glad to see them again. I thought about staying at Marion, but I'd hiked so far on Tuesday and I didn't want to do the whole distance again on Saturday. I had Winnipeg to see. I was making good time, and I could get to Caribou Lake by 6:00, and I would have friends there. I was getting lonely, and it was Friday. There must be friends up ahead. If I didn't get to Caribou Lake, I wouldn't meet them. I'd also lost my pants button. The button had come off my pants near Mantario Lake and I'd put it in my cargo pocket, and now it was gone somehow. I was bummed because I'd accidentally littered, and now I would need to buy another button. So I pressed on. It was definitely raining. I passed the train tracks again. There was a red light flashing, and I wasn't sure if it was a DO NOT CROSS or permanently flashing, but I hung around until a train went by and got a nice picture. Then I safely crossed the train track and went on past the power lines and the portage. About an hour later, I was in a muddy pine forest contemplating crossing a piece of trail that was really water with the some sticks floating in it. I thought, "I wonder if this is the same place..," and then I went up to my knee in muck. I braced myself and pushed up and my whole foot, boot and all, came out easily because there were no cute boys watching. I vaguely remembered that I had another obstacle coming up and I should keep my eyes out for scattered fur, but I walked right past that and saw a big damn skull. The skull belonged to those ribs I'd seen coming the other way, but I didn't stop to put the whole bleached skeleton together, I hustled out of that clearing. Forty-five minutes later, through thick forest, I could see the line of a lake and ten minutes after that, there was a little sign stuck to a tree with a picture of an arrow. Caribou Lake! I was home. Were my friends here? On first approach, I didn't see anybody. The rain was picking up a bit, but I listened for voices. I came off the trail on a big flat spot that would have made a perfect tent pad if it wasn't solid granite. As I walked across the flat, my heart lit up. A little blue tent was pitched next to the picnic table down by the lake. My new friends weren't bear safe! They were going to be eaten alive! I went carefully down the hill to the tent and said "Hi" in a loud and friendly voice. There was a bit of surprised scuffling in the tent, and then the window zipped down five inches and a girl's voice said, "Hi." I said, "Do you mind if I camp here?" She said, "No. Of course." and we chatted a bit. I couldn't see her, but her name was Melissa and her boyfriend Brody was in there too. They were trying to do the trail in three days, but the mosquitoes were too bad and they might just pack it in. I was being eaten alive as we were talking so I could feel her pain. I set up my tent and changed out of my wet clothes. The site had a clothes line, so I hung my pants up even thought the rain hadn't stopped. Then I went about getting supper ready. The rain and the mosquitoes and the last night on trail were the time to eat the freebie freeze-dried meal I got for attending the Backpacker Magazine Get Out There More Tour Women's Edition. (I also won a Prahna hat that's too small for me. Does anyone want a hat?). I boiled some water and added it to my meal, and then I boiled some water for cocoa. I wasn't sure how to offer Melissa and Brody cocoa, because they probably didn't have their mugs in the tent and I only had my one mug. I figured they'd be out at some point and I could share some chocolate or booze with them, but they didn't emerge, not while I was eating my underdone pasta primavera, not when I was eating enough chocolate to get me unhungry without enjoying it too much because I was all bitten and cold, not when I was putting my food away. I didn't see Melissa and Brody until I was up on the flat spot brushing my teeth and Melissa came by on the way back from the privy trail. She was an Irish-looking nineteen-year-old with flipflops and no socks on, and I felt for her because the mosquitoes were eating my feet through my socks and it fucking hurt. We had a good chat in the rain. She said she'd first done the Mantario Trail in high school with her wilderness class a few years ago and she'd done it a few times since, but they probably weren't going to make it this go because they'd brought musk ox sputum as an insect repellant and it didn't work. I told her my story and we said goodnight. I had a cozy sleep, and in the morning my pants were still wet, because it was raining. I put them on anyway, because they're quick drying and there was sunshine in the other half of the sky. I dawdled around and ate a good breakfast and checked out more of the campsite and picked up a little garbage. Melissa and Brody didn't come out of their tent, even though I waited until after 8:00am to say goodbye. I left my bottle of Deet in the bear box with their food bag and started on my way. Today I would be retracing my Tuesday hike that I had already forgotten. The rain did clear up after an hour, and the sky turned lovely and warm. I crossed that hardy beaver dam, and I went up and down hills that weren't actually that difficult. It was about ten and I was pressing through some thick alder bushes when something came lurching up in the trail ahead of me. It was at that moment I realized how fucked I'd be if a bear came out of those bushes, but it wasn't a bear, it was two older gentlemen who were doing an overnight to Caribou Lake East. They jumped a mile when they saw me, too. We had a nice chat about trail conditions and the mosquitoes that were killing us. We said goodbye and, as they were walking away, I realized I should call back, "How far to the parking lot?" One of them said said, "You're almost there." And his friend said, "Don't get her hopes up." I crested another hill and reentered the pines that were probably planted after their blowdown. It would have been beautiful if I'd been able to pause or look around. I kept thinking, "I am never, as God is my witness, going to get a mosquito up my nose again." "I am never going to get a mosquito between my glasses and my eye again." It didn't work. "I am never going to get a mosquito in my mouth again." The pines were thick and red and splendid and I was in so much itching pain. It was a long stretch of woods, but it ended, and I went downhill and came to a beaver dam and the sun was so perfect and the weather was so good and I was still on vacation on my hike in the woods, so I sat down and took off my boots and soaked my toes in the water and enjoyed the sky and the trees and the puffy clouds and it was perfect. I stayed there for a long time, and then I noticed that my whole left hand had swollen up to about twice it's normal size. I relaxed a little while longer and continued on my hike. I ran into another set of people on a hill, a man and woman in their forties, wearing new clothes. He was telling her about the forest and hiking and how to do it and she was listening because he was the expert and he knew what he was talking about. We said hi but they didn't stop to exchange words, which isn't normal trail etiquette. Not too long after them, I ran into three guys bouncing along the trail like ultrafit young people. They asked me how the Whiteshell River bridge was. I'd just crossed it, so I said it was fine, bridge-like. They said they'd hiked the trail three weeks ago, and, when they crossed it, the water was pouring over the bridge up to their waists. Maybe one of them was the girl at the outdoor store's brother. I went up a series of pretty hills and passed the spot I'd slept on the first night, then I went downhill, uphill again, I could hear dirt bikes by now. The trail widened out into a dirtbike trail, then an ATV track, and then there was the Mantario Trail sign and the obligatory selfie and then I was in the parking lot and my car was still there! I had done it. I'd hiked something. I opened my car up and dropped my pack and tried to strategize how best to wash myself. I had an outhouse and a pump, a pack of moist wipes, and a clean pair of clothes. Top half first. I took off my shirt because sports bras are shirts too, right?, and I was walking towards the pump with my hairbrush when an SUV drove up right up to pump and a middle-aged couple got out. The lady said, "You look wet!" I wasn't wet at all, but I had spent five days sweating and wearing a hat. I knew how my hair looked. They started pulling out jerry cans and filling them one by one. I don't know why they needed to fill six jerry cans right then, but I got so tired of waiting for them that I went and changed into jeans in the outhouse and then I couldn't wash my top half like I wanted without getting my pants wet. I eventually got reasonably presentable and put a bandana on my hair to hide it, and then I drove away from the Mantario Trail, which I will miss and go back to someday. I wanted to eat grilled cheese. I drove into West Hawk Lake and spotted the diner at the intersection and pulled up. I was super-excited even though I was gross and dirty. I used the indoor restroom to wash my hands and face more thoroughly and then a waitress seated me, but unlike on television, all the main characters in the diner weren't Muslim. I ordered the grilled cheese and my fries had a poutine option. I know the word but I didn't know what poutine was so I asked. The waitress said, "You've never had poutine before?!?!" and told me that I absolutely had to, but then we figured out that poutine is a meat-based gravy substance. She told me that I should go to Quebec because they would have vegetarian poutine, and I will someday. My grilled cheese and my malt were amazing and I loved them. I started for Winnipeg warm and happy. I had a used bookstore map for Winnipeg but most of them closed at 5:00pm and I knew I might not make it. I drove carefully, because the TransCanada is weird. I stopped at a rest stop with an educational display of a fire that destroyed everything in the '50s and killed three people who were found twisted in agony right nearby. Got back on the road, and then there was a freak hailstorm. The sky over there was blue and sunny, and above me grey and stormy, and then the torrential hail started. Everyone pulled over. The hail rained down on the cars for ten minutes while the sky over the eastbound lane was blue and peaceful, and then it let up as suddenly as it started and the sun came out on our side of the Transcanada too. I wasn't going to have time for used bookstores then.

Winnipeg is home to only 700,000 souls, so downtown is close to the edge of the city. Population 700,000 means 700,000 there. It's not like Minneapolis where we have 350,000 people but St. Paul and the rest of the eleven county metro area make us twice as populous as Northern Ireland. I finally made it and I followed the other cars going into the city and drove past a ring road row of chain stores and down a nice wide street with a lot of dentists and florists and into the downtown. First there was a park, and the river, then a bridge and what looked like a hip area of bars and restaurants. The main downtown looked like it wanted to roll up its streets, but there were high school graduations going on and highschoolers and their families walking around all dressed up. I wanted to get out, but it was pay parking and I didn't have any loonies and I was extremely aware that I hadn't bathed in six days, so I looped through downtown and headed back to the commercial zone. I drove by one of those Targets that isn't doing too well, and I stopped at Canadian Tire, which is like an outdoor store for car camping. Souvenirs bought, I made it out of Winnipeg on the second try and drove south, to America. I did stop at the duty-free to see about buying cigarettes for Nicole, but all they had were disgusting brands like Benson & Hedges for $75 a carton. Then nothing notable happened until I hit Fargo and could call my parents and tell them I was safe. It was getting dark by then and I knew I wasn't going to drive all night, so I followed a campground sign and got a site. It was a really nice campground and most of the sites in the zone they sent me to were walk-in. I took one of the ones near the parking lot because I didn't care. I had elderly neighbors on one side and sleeping neighbors on the other side. I tried to be quiet while I was going back and forth to my car. Then I went for a walk to the bathroom and met a pleasantly buzzed couple who wanted to hang out with me. They were nice people but they were already in their own happy place, so I chose sitting in my car and reading by headlamp instead. And I glamped. For those who haven't heard about glamping, glamping is what happens when you combine "camping" and "glamor." If, for example, you decide to bring along a double-wide air mattress and a fuzzy pink bedspread and set them up in your giant purple tent, you are glamping. If you change your outfit from lounging to hiking to sexy while camping, you are glamping. If you need to put your make-up on correctly and check your outfit so you bring a full-size mirror to the campground, you are glamping. I sat in my car and drank a mini-bottle of blue raspberry vodka and ate crumbled Triscuits, and I glamped. And I wondered if I was violating North Dakota's open bottle laws. Then I accidentally hit the car horn with my knee and woke up all the neighbors. After that, I went to bed. Nothing else exciting to report. The next day, I stopped at a small fiberglass teepee and buffalo fandango that marks the Continental Divide, and I thought about buying a gas station sandwich but didn't. Made it home. Everything was fine. And that was my hike on the Mantario Trail.

*I've tried loading pictures and the website won't do it.  Sorry.