Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sometimes Love is Not Meant to Be, Sometimes Love Dies


Sometimes love fades. Love is untrue. People change. People can't change enough. Things end wrong. The love that should have lasted forever is over and you are still here. Love is circumstantial. Love is an illusion. Your love was wrong. The best example of this is Blankets by Craig Thompson. I finished reading it in the morning, and then I went to work and told people, "I'm sad because I just finished reading Blankets," and they said, "Ohhh."

A lonely, smart, artistic boy who believes fervently in God, his dour parents, his little brother, and a shitty childhood in rural Wisconsin. Nothing happy. Craig matures to high school in the 90s, and falls in love with a girl from Michigan at church camp. 'Tho she's a girl, he's allowed to stay two weeks at her family's house in the middle of her parents' divorce. Raina's parents are fundamentalists too, and in thanks to God for giving them two healthy children, they adopted a boy with Down's syndrome and a severely disabled girl, so Raina spends too much time taking care of her sister. Walks in the snowy forest and first base-equivalent spooning cross with flashbacks to Craig's Sunday school humiliations and molesting babysitter, and he and Raina's relationship is so tender it breaks your heart that Craig must go back to teenage hell in Wisconsin. In the end, he grows up, moves away, loses his faith, and becomes an illustrator and autobiographical graphic novelist. But Raina's love is the happiest piece of the his story, and they grew apart, without wanting to, without trying to. They lived in different states. It was inevitable. Weekly letters and long distance phone calls became occasional became nothing at all, and they both moved on, and grew up so sadly. Because sometimes people seem meant to be together and then things happen, things they don't understand, offscreen, and then those two people are nothing to each other. Their relationship can't work because of who they are. Like if one is a witch and one is the son of a baron. In Terry Pratchett's Wintersmith, Tiffany Aching is still an apprentice witch up in the mountains getting letters from Roland, the baron's son. Miss Treason, who's 115 years old, wants to know if Roland is Tiffany's beau, but Tiffany won't admit because she's not sure. Miss Treason takes Tiffany up the hill to see the Morris dancers welcome winter, and Tiffany jumps into the gap in the dance and The Wintersmith spots her. He is beguiled, even though, being an element, not a person, he's not even a "he." He seeks to court Tiffany with snow, and the people in the village can't get wood, and the trees are freezing and popping, and the lambs are dying, and Tiffany needs to stop him, but it's flattering all the same. Annagramma, apprentice to Mrs. Earwig, who does witchcraft "the way another lady would embroider kneelers for church," wears all black and a lot of silver jewelry with moons on it, inherits Miss Treason's cottage. She's full unprepared for and doesn't understand the real business of witchcraft, it being mostly about delivering babies, changing bandages, and visiting old people. Tiffany needs to mind Annagramma and her steading, do all her own work, and the denouement, with Tiffany and the Wintersmith in a typically Pratchettian flurry of action (get it?), runs a bit roughly. Tiffany is so comfortable and capable at age fourteen, it's alarming when one sets down Wintersmith and picks up I Shall Wear Midnight and finds Tiffany at sixteen, a witch on the Chalk where she was born, no longer attached to Roland, who even has the audacity to be engaged to a girl called Letitia. And the people of the Chalk are beginning to speak in whispers about witches doing evil in the land. A malignant spirit is spreading fear and Roland accuses Tiffany of killing his father, who's been ill for a good half-decade. A side trip to Ankh-Morpork leads to cameos from the City Watch, and Tiffany teams up with Letitia who has Power, but never thought she could be a witch because she's blond and slender like a storybook princess. Roland, forgiven, can be Tiffany's friend, but what could have been never will be and Tiffany might have a different beau, but "something that is was not meant to be is done and this is the start of what was," or will be if Pratchett survives to write the fifth Tiffany Aching book, which is due out next year, God willing. I Shall Wear Midnight is a better book than Wintersmith, but that doesn't mean a person would ever skip over one for the other.

But back to our topic. Sometimes love ends in disgrace and ruin and death and shame. Honestly, failed romance in the Regency/Victorian period is usually hilarious. Somebody sees somebody else's ankle, or swoons and winds up emigrating, or their cousin turns out to be a rake, but this is deadly serious. Mary Hays is another of MaryWollstonecraft's friends and her second novel, A Victim of Prejudice, blows away people like me who read Gothic romances ironically. As Sir Peter Osbourne would say, "D–mn." I hate Sir Peter Osbourne. Mary Hay's protagonist, Mary (they didn't have a lot of names back then) begins as the happy child of a loving foster father called Mr. Raymond. Mr. Raymond takes a pupil called William who grows up alongside Mary in idylls of childish bliss until he induces her to steal grapes from the neighbor's hothouse, wherein Mary first meets Sir Peter Osbourne, who tries to kiss her. Mary has her first negative emotion, and from then on, Sir Peter makes a hobby of sexually harassing the neighbor kid whenever he runs into her, which is often enough. But Mary has William as her companion and protector, until Mr. Raymond pulls Mary aside and tells her that she's seventeen now and, though his heart breaks to do it, he must send her away because she cannot marry William, as he will inherit a title of rank and his father would be loathe to see him marry someone so base as herself. Mary goes, William follows, and they pledge themselves to each other and tell Mr. Raymond, whereupon he explains that Mary is the illegitimate daughter of a murderess who died on the scaffold, which is even worse than being a poor orphan, and William's father sends him to the continent for two years, during which time all Mary's friends in the world die or emigrate. Mary makes her way to London where, summoning a hackney cab to take her to the address where she's been recommended as a lady's companion, she finds herself led into the house of... Sir Peter Osbourne.

Mary refuses to marry Sir Peter Osbourne, destitute and friendless though she is, so he locks her in his house for nine days and rapes her in one of the most violent scenes ever come from a Regency novel. She doesn't even swoon. After the rape, Sir Peter makes it clear that, now that she's ruined, she has nothing more to lose and might as well marry him, but Mary escapes and rushes out onto the London street, destroyed and penniless, and bumps into her William, William!, who returned from abroad and didn't bother to tell her. He takes her to a lodging and nurses her while she suffers PTSD and fever. When her health is recovered, he confesses all. He did dabble in worldliness abroad but never forgot his Mary, and inquiring of her when he returned, he found that Mr. Raymond was dead, and her whereabouts unknown, where, when his father arranged a loveless match for him, he married the lady just three weeks prior. He sort of suggests that Mary becomes his mistress, but Mary's pride will not let her and she runs out into the street again with ten pounds William gave her for immediate expenses. Here, Mary's financial troubles begin. Mary's creed is "Death before dishonor," but most people who say that are in a position to die quickly by sword; Mary isn't so lucky. Mary's an archetype like Mary Magdalene or Sonia in Crime and Punishment or Nell from Oliver Twist, the ruined woman still pure of heart. Mary maintains her pride, and her name, which is a terrible idea, because Sir Peter Osbourne has been telling everybody that Mary Raymond is such a loose, disgusting woman that she'd even have sex with Sir Peter Osbourne. No one will hire her as a lady's companion or a governess. She finally finds a job at a print shop, and pays William Pelham back his ten pounds. SERIOUSLY, MARY! WILLIAM IS A LANDED NOBLE. HE LOVED YOU. HE LOVES YOU STILL. HE CAN AFFORD TEN POUNDS. She's constantly doing things like this after her ruin. At her next financial exigency, she nearly gets thrown in debtor's jail, and, later, she does. Sir Peter Osbourne writes her a check for fifty pounds, and she returns the money in a blank cover and runs, forgetting that she owed a neighbor fifteen pounds, and the neighbor has her locked up. KEEP THE MONEY, MARY! PRIDE IS GREAT, BUT YOU SHOULDN'T GO TO JAIL OVER IT! YOU COULD HAVE EARNED ENOUGH TO PAY BACK SIR PETER OSBOURNE DURING THE FOUR MONTHS YOU SPENT IN PRISON, AND THEN, THEN!, YOU COULD HAVE THROWN IT IN HIS FACE! In 1799, it must have been important to Mary Hays to show that her heroine would not debase herself one iota by taking unearned money, but I hope no one followed Mary's principled example in real life. Her tale is feminist, and Mary has an incredible amount of discernment and agency for a woman of her time and class, and it's class that kills Mary as much as Sir Peter Osbourne does. William Pelham's class prejudice sets Mary on a road that, as an unprotected woman, she's already halfway down when her rape occurs. Does anybody remember the terrible movie The General's Daughter? No? Good. In the trailer, a raspy-voiced soldier says, "Do you know what's worse than rape? Betrayal." It's not, but in a world where principles are more important than eating, it's nearly as bad.

William betrayed Mary. They should have been together, but he took the easy road of an unexamined life and their relationship was ripped asunder, rather like African-Americans and the American dream. They wanted to be together, they could be together, but Winning the Race is as close to our topic of jilted love as any popular non-fiction commentary on the state of the African-American experience in contemporary culture can be. John McWhorter writes a scary book about race. I thought Winning the Race was supposed to be the optimistic rebuttal to his own book Losing the Race, but it isn't, oh boy. McWhorter contends that the state of black America from the 1960s onward is the result of what he calls "therapeutic alienation," the result of a cultural meme created in the last years of American apartheid that's stuck around for multiple decades because it's a convenient shorthand for a peoples' experience of why they aren't doing as well as they should. McWhorter points out that black poverty was actually on the decline in the 1960s and 1970s when open-ended welfare was championed by a certain set of academic sociologists who viewed blacks as incapable finding adequate employment and also considered welfare to be a back-door way of reparations. McWhorter argues that while some black people were pulling themselves up, the people who chose the not-terribly-admirable-but-all-too-human easy way found themselves in a culturally detrimental cycle where women could have as many kids as happened to happen to them and raise them at a subsistence level, where men, no longer needing to provide for their families in any meaningful way, could behave in a way that was, a generation previous, reserved for the bottom of society, and that this cycle became quickly established and easily self-perpetuating, as sixteen-year-olds are not the best judges of their own fate. Therapeutic alienation became a way to explain this state of being without blaming the actors. He agrees that racism does still exist, but that the systemic racism of American up to the '60s is passed, and that experiencing overt discrimination can be traumatic but lower class black experience over-relies on explanations of racism, when an unwillingness to engage with formal society is also in play. McWhorter takes down the common arguments explaining the state of Black America, that the jobs left, that drugs came in. A black man can certainly still be arrested for sitting in a chair in St. Paul, but McWhorter calls foul on a university president's moaning that his hotel room is too far from the elevator because he's black. Winning the Race is more universal in its address than Losing the Race, which focused more on higher ed, a topic no doubt close to McWhorter's heart. Very interesting, very good, made me feel racist for agreeing with parts. McWhorter has another short popular book on linguistics out and he's not writing for Time anymore. What is he up to?

Love fails, love slides away, love dies, and love is wronged: If you need to murder your cousin on her wedding night and assume her identity to be with the man you love, don't. Your relationship won't be happy, regardless. The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katharine Green takes place before the inn is forsaken, it's actually quite prosperous. Set before and after the Revolutionary War, which has nothing to do with the story, the woman innkeeper is first skeeved out by a creepy man and his timid bride who spend the night in the Oak Parlour with their big heavy luggage box. Years later, a tourist shows up and says, "I'd like to see your hidden room." "What hidden room?" "One night, years ago, I was at a tavern and a man told the story of an old innkeeper/smuggler and his hidden room. I said if I was ever in the area, I would like to visit this inn and see it." So they pop open the secret door of the hidden room and there's a woman decomposing. The innkeepstress stays at the inn and the tourist rides off on some very efficient detectiving to find a man who's been living in a cave for several decades because the woman he loved threw herself off a bridge. Cave-man's story explains the illogically complex love affair between himself, bridge suicide, nice cousin, and the villain. The innkeepster and the interested tourist let the hermit know that the woman he's been living in a cave over is not only not dead, but a murderess and alive in France, and he throws off his cloak of solitude. Then a woman arrives from France at the inn and seems desperately interested in the Oak Parlour, because the murderer always returns to the scene of the crime. As someone on the internet said, "There's no mystery." Anna Katharine Green wrote dozens of books in the late 1800s, none of which are read nowadays.

And maybe, sometimes, there's a happy ending and everything works out like in a fairy tale and everything is happy. Even if it's fraught in the middle, there's a silver lining and every boy gets his handsome prince, because Fairy Tales: Traditional Stories Retold for Gay Men by Peter Cashorali. I never would have read this on my own, but Laura read it and she told me Rumpelstiltskin, which, to summarize:

A miller brags excessively: "My nephew can turn shit into gold." The king happens to be walking by and says, "My son is total shit. Send your nephew by the castle tonight." The nephew goes to the castle, and is left in the prince's room full of destroyed furniture. The nephew cries because he can't turn shit into gold, when a funny little man dressed all in leather appears. The funny little man says, "I know how you can fix the prince, but in exchange, I will take all your happiness." The nephew decides that's a fair trade, considering, and he says, "How do I turn the prince into gold?"

"Well," says the funny little man, "when he comes back into the room, he's going to try to hit you."
"Should I hit him back?" says the nephew.
"No, then he'll fight you and win."
"Should I not him back?"
"No, then he'll think you're weak."
"Well, what should I do?"
"Ask him to spank you," says the funny little man. Then he disappears, the prince comes in, raging, the plan works, and the prince and the nephew are happy, until the funny little man takes all his happiness, and there's more! This book is a amazing. All the stories are spot on re-tellings with a twist for the fairy tale aficionado(Missie). I like it when a man and a talking chicken walk through the forest and come upon a gym, a trendy patisserie, and a men's clothing store on their way to the next castle. Peter Cashorali mines multiple sources and the depths of Grimm; he gives you Beauty and the Beast, The Ugly Duckling, and the Frog Prince, but there's also The Golden Parrot, Two Apprentices, and some other ones we've never read before. Romaine (Rapunzel) includes that second part everyone forgets where the prince goes blind, and the Ugly Duckling is a brutally tender AIDS metaphor. Laura is my friend who is like a catfish of literature. She lives in the bottom of the recycling bin and filters all the scummy bits for the benefit of the ecosystem. Polyandrous incest; your children, rock music, and the devil; Lurlene McDaniel; the Greek billionaire's virgin mistress: she's read it all. Hurray to her for stumbling on a good book! Because we all need love, and happy endings, and the aforementioned books won't give them to us.

Next time: The continuing story of how I survived outdoors for several days by bringing lots of food.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Saga of the Mantario Trail, vol. 1

I hiked the Mantario Trail in eastern Manitoba for six days starting on my birthday. I had originally planned to leave the day after my birthday, but I decided that I would be better off driving to Canada on my birthday than spending my birthday hanging around cleaning and then going out for drinks that would necessarily have to end by nine in the evening so that I could be up early to drive to Canada the next day. As it was, I managed to be out of my house before six in the morning. I petted my rabbits goodbye, which is always very sad, and I went, and I was pleased to make Fargo by eleven. I remembered reading that, on one's birthday, one receives a free meal from Denny's. Fargo has a Denny's just off the freeway, near the Hobby Lobby, which I, of course, snarled at. The good people at Denny's were very kind in their bestowing of free food. On a birthday, one recieves a Grand Slam, which is a breakfast combination platter. I was nicely full of pancakes for the rest of the drive, which was convenient as I didn't feel compelled to stop at any more chain restaurants.
After Fargo, it was all prairie. The sky did get bigger; the horizon spread out and rushed out to the edges of the sky and there was nothing to break it but the occasional tree or bit of farm and I wanted to stare at it more than I could because I was driving. It was smashing. I crossed the border around two, and forty minutes later I was being confused by Winnipeg. Winnipeg has the Trans-Canada and a ring road, but they're both in rougher shape and oddly bendy. The road signs are confusing as well. I was looking for Highway 100 and the speed limit was 100. The highway signs and the speed limit signs were identically shaped and white in color. When I finally got to Highway 100, I could only guess that it was the Highway and not another speed limit sign because the number was in a cartouche. I needed to leave the highway, go to Wilderness Supply, buy a Manitoba Parks Pass, and get back on Highway 100. Wilderness Supply was great, and I got my parks pass and a headnet. Buying a headnet was one of the best decisions I've ever made. The kids at Wilderness Supply were nice, helpful, and had serious Canadian accents. I asked them if they'd ever done the Mantario Trail or knew anything about it. The girl said she'd hiked it years ago, and it was up and down all the way. The guy said that his brother hiked it a few weeks ago and it was bad, like fording water up to his waist bad. That scared me. The main thing I'd been worried about on this trip was water crossings, either attempting them or assessing them too dangerous and turning back, and I was going to die now. Or leave early. I crossed a river up to my waist last year and I didn't like it at all. I probably shouldn't have, but two British girls were ahead of me and I could assume they'd made it as they weren't still standing on the riverbank when I got there, so I did it, but it wasn't a good time. Most backcountry fatalities involve bodies of water. I'd found the Manitoba flood report and asked people on the internet, since Minnesota is all flooded up right now, but on the other side of the Laurentian Divide, they said, everything was normal to dry. Now I wasn't sure. I spent the two hours driving on the Transcanada (which is narrow and has stoplights) deciding whether I should attempt this or just drive on top of Canada to Wisconsin and go hike there. I decided to stick with it, but if something was too dangerous, I'd leave.

West Hawk Lake is the cutest holiday town. I loved it. I stopped at the gas station to buy expensive Canadian gas, and it was the perfect vacation supply store, with all the little food and souvenirs and a book rack and toothbrushes and postcards. The store was across from the RV campground and signs for the tent campground. There was some other vacation infrastructure, and deer grazing across the road. I drove another seven kilometers to the big sign that said Mantario Trail. Three other cars were in the lot. I double-checked everything, ate my banana, put on my pack and went.

The first twenty feet of the trail were wide and gravelled. Then I was on an ATV trail for ten minutes. Two dirt bikers stopped and I stood by for them in case they were going in my direction, but they turned around. The ATV trail ended and then I was on a footpath in the wilderness, well-marked and deep tread. I had, however, some days of impracticality and danger ahead of me and I was in Canada. I spent the winter of 2012 marathoning Degrassi Junior High, so I know how dangerous Canada can be. Rick and Tara taught me about the danger of slippery rocks. Shane taught me about the peril of water crossings. Lucy and Wheels taught me not to drive in rural areas. Emma taught me never to talk to strangers or be nice to be people I already know. Plus, I know what happened to Franklin, Mackenzie, David Thompson and the rest. I do have a fear of dead things, and I've run across some in my travels. The worst was a decomposing moose that Raia helped me get around. That was the worst thing ever. I almost stepped on something's skull once, probably a deer, and it's something I'm aware of, and wary for, all the time. So: water crossings, dead animals, lighting, people. I worry about my rabbits when I'm gone. They're at the very upper limit of rabbit age. I worry about my house catching fire. Hiking by oneself is terrifying and there's nothing to do except wait until the fear ends. So I was scared, and I was hiking away from my car into the great Canadian outback. My wonderful dad and brother gave me a Delorme Inreach for my birthday, so if I broke my leg out there, I could press the big red button and a nice helicopter would come for me, which is better than my usual emergency plan of plaintively blowing my whistle and catching rainwater, but I was worried that the safety of the big red button might encourage me take unneccessary risks.

Forty-five minutes of hiking was enough for that day. I'd been up since five and I'd driven nine hours. I passed two good tent spots by and settled on something decent a little down the trail. I set my tent up on some lovely soft moss, the kind that won't die if you sleep on it, and did all my little camping things, and then I kicked back with Soul Music by Terry Pratchett and ate some peanut butter and jelly. It was a good place to be, even though the mosquitoes were viscious. Thank God for that headnet. I hung my bear bags badly, as always. (I generally divide my food into two bags and do two bear hangs, as I have such bad luck finding trees with branches more than six feet and less than thirty feet up, that I simply hope a bear will find and eat only half my food and leave it at that.) My sleeping moss was soft. I did have that "Oh no, what if I'm on an animal trail?" panic as I was getting into my tent for the night. The trail crested a hill and everything to the east of the trail, including my tent, sloped gently downward. I was camped in a grassy, mossy area as big as my parents' backyard, with trees all around except to the south, where the grassy, mossyness continued. Clear areas can mean animal trails and I could've moved my tent a bit, but there wasn't much of anywhere to go and I was probably fine, so slept well and cozily until 5:30 in the morning, which is the proper time to get up when hiking.

It took me my usual two hours to get ready. The problem with solo hiking is that you can't share tasks or delegate. When you're camping with somebody, they'll make breakfast while you pack up the tent, but when you're alone, you need to do every little thing one by one. The only time savings I've found is boiling my coffee water while I'm doing something else, and drinking my coffee while I'm taking down the tent. That is the only way I can shave ten minutes off the two hours it takes to get packed up. But I was ready at 7:30 to face the obstacles on my path, the nearest of which was the Whiteshell River, which I assumed was one of the things the guy at Wilderness Supply's brother had forded up to his waist, and I would turn back there. It took an hour to get there, meaning I'd barely gotten anywhere the previous evening, and when I saw the Whiteshell, it had a bridge. I was so relieved. It wasn't the best bridge in the universe: one side looked like it was cobbled together with whatever pieces of tree the trail maintenance crew had handy after some damage, but it was bloody sturdy bridge and I got across it fine.

The thing about hiking is that nothing very much happens, and so it's difficult to write about without going in any one of a number of directions that are painfully tedious to read about. I don't remember every stump and loose rock I walked across. The terrain was easier there than it would be later, although the official map says, "These steep valleys are a challenging portion of the trail." They were, but only in the sense that I'd descend, then ascend a valley every half hour and they were indeed steep, but nothing that a ten-year-old in good shoes couldn't get up safely.

To be clear, everything was beautiful. There was a long run of red pines on fairly flat terrain. Manitoba had a big blowdown in '05 and there were vast expanses of downed timber, although they'd managed to keep everything from catching on fire. I was mostly walking on dirt, with some of those muddy pine lowlands that are so stunningly beautiful but you can't stop moving to gaze at them for more than two seconds at a time because the mosquitoes come after you. The muddiest patches of trail had two or more saplings layed parallel so that a person can walk across those instead of sinking into the muck. It's mostly shallow muck, but it's ever so mucky Which is better: balancing on two saplings while walking forward, or being wet to the ankle? It's a different decision every time.

The distance between the trailhead and the airfield tower was 7.2 kilometers and I got there midmorning. The airfield was one of the person-made historic sites on the trail, along with two sets of train tracks, and the brick oven from an old logging camp that I walked right past without noticing (twice). The airfield was built in 1937 and closed in the '50s. The base of the tower was still there, and it had a sign pointing left for the easy overnight campsite at Caribou Lake East and right for the rest of the trail. I went right. At around noon I made Caribou Lake and the first official campsite on the trail. It was beautiful. I came in by the bear box and then I found the tent pads and a picnic table for real. The Boundary Waters doesn't have picnic tables. I sat down at the table like a dignified adult and dug around for my lunch food. And I heard voices. Voices! People voices. I was quite excited considering I'd last seen people less than nineteen hours ago. I figured they might be paddlers and looked around to see if I could spot a canoe without getting up, but there wasn't one. Had a good lunch and explored the campsite a bit. It was gorgeous. And huge. There were three fire grates in different areas, and a random rowboat tethered to a tree. I also found a lot of little garbage and tampons lying about, although none, thankfully, were used.

I was leaving past the bearboxes when I saw people looking into them. People! I could tell by their high-end clothes and packs that they were too invested in outdoorsmanship to be murderers. I said "Hi there!" quickly so I wouldn't come off as some kind of weird sneaking woodland shadow pervert, but I scared the hell out of them anyway. Their names were Mike and Tyler and they'd spent the night in the parking lot to do a three day hike of the Trail. They worked at Mountain Equiptment Co-op, which is an outdoor store in Winnipeg, and they were both heavily into climbing, although Mike said Winnipeg doesn't have anything to climb. Tyler said he made it out to the Canadian Rockies once a year. We started hiking, Tyler leading, and they were going faster than I would. Besides being in more of a time crunch than me, they had light packs, twenty-five pounds, Mike said, and freeze-dried meals, and they were just generally more put to together than I ever am. Mike and I chatted but Tyler was a little too far away for me and him to have a conversation. He did ask me if I was a Vikings fan. I wasn't sure how to put it, but all I could say was, "That fucking stadium." He said, "It got you a Superbowl though." I tried to remember when we'd last won a Superbowl and realized he meant that shower of morons who're going to descend on Minneapolis in 2018. I was surprised that they both had egg-crate style sleeping pads strapped to their packs; Mike said the advantage to inflatable was that you could stab one of those four or five times with a knife and it would still work. Fair point, although I don't believe in sleeping pads. We ascended a hill and passed some ribs sticking out from behind a downed tree. You don't see ribs lying around very often, but when you do, you know they're ribs. I took a wide bearth and noted the fur all over the rocks there. It looked like a wolf kill. I made a note to watch for fur and avoid the spot again on the way back. We'd been hiking together about an hour then and I wasn't paying as much attention the the trail as I wanted to be, I was just following Mike's back and trying not breath heavily like an out of shape person, so I told them that I was going to slow down a bit and let them go on ahead. If I saw them again, that would be great, and if I didn't, have a wonderful trip. They told me to have a great trip too. I tried to hang back a bit, but I had just followed them into a muddy stand of pines and we weren't sure if we were on the path or not. It turned out that we weren't. The place Tyler had walked us onto was a muddy patch of ground, and the Mantario Trail was water with a couple parallel logs floating in it. We about-faced, so I was first. I said, "You guys go ahead," so I could take my time, but they were polite so I had to go first anyway. Like I said, you get your feet wet on a muddy path but you never know how deep the mud is until you find out the hard way. I stepped down and went up to my knee in muck. I pulled up on my foot, and it started to come, but my boot stayed where it was. My boot was stuck in the muck. I put my foot back down and tried force my foot: I pointed my toe up and shoved, but the muck was too thick for me to kick slowly up through at a bad angle. Mike and Tyler were watching me with concern. I needed to pull my leg out with my toe pointed up so my boot wouldn't slide, but the mud was too hard to be shoved through with my toe. I tried to rotate left and push but there was no give. My foot was free to go but my boot might be lost forever. Tyler said, "I'm glad I wore hiking boots." He must have thought I was wearing trail runners, but I had solid hiking boots up to my ankles just like him. I braced myself on a log and heaved and my foot stayed where it was. Tyler asked if I needed help, but I didn't think so. He could pull me up with my toe pointed to keep the boot but I might torque my foot that way. I could lose the boot and stick my arm in up to the shoulder and find the boot before the mud oozed in and my boot was entombed forever. I rotated my foot a quarter turn right, braced myself on a root and pushed up. My foot, boot and all, slid out of the splodge. I got back up and balanced on the logs to the end of the mucky patch. Then Mike and Tyler made their careful way over the oozing mud. They had trekking poles to test the depths. We wished each other luck and said goodbye, and then I was alone, but it was comforting to follow their footprints for the rest of the trip.

All by myself, I slowed down to a happy pace and walked. I was scared, of course. My map said I was coming up to a "difficult creek crossing." This was where I was going to face fording water up to my armpits, I was sure. Turning back would be the right decision, but it's hard to give up on something you've driven nine hours to get to. And safety. I could try the creek crossing, but how? And then I crested the hill and saw the crossing and wanted to punch my alarmist map maker in the face. This creek crossing was unbridged because it didn't need a bridge. Everything was fine. To cross the creek, which was really one lake pouring into another, lower lake, I had to descend a hill of boulders, which is fun, then I needed to extend my foot about eighteen inches, step over the creek, and stand safely on the other side. Not difficult. Ascending the hill up from the crossing was a bit of a bugger. A big slab of granite at a seventy five degree angle with a ridge of soil and bushes clinging to its upper shelf below a bit of cliff face. Should I walk up potentially slippy granite or abuse the topsoil and grab some plants who were trying to eke out their marginal existence on a slightly less exposed patch of rock? I decided to bash plants and ascended carefully, trying not to step on anything. From the top, I could see that if I'd crossed the creek a wee bit further down, there was a wider patch with stepping stones and some grippier terrain on the other side of the granite slab I'd avoided ascending. Live and learn. And that was my difficult creek crossing.

There were two tourist attractions coming up, a survey monument and the brick oven from an old logging camp. The survey monument was a circle painted on the rock with a pole sticking out of it capped with a sign that said "survey monument." I walked right by the brick oven, although I did see wide, flat spots of trail that ran over the old logging railroads. I was on my way to Marion Lake, the next campsite. Marion Lake is huge, and I skirted buggy hills for quite a while before the trail dropped into the campsite and I met... Mike and Tyler. Tyler was turtled out on a rock and Mike was sitting on a picnic table looking at the water. We were happy to see each other. Tyler shared his Skittles with me. Skittles are his camping thing. They were resting prior to pushing on to Peggy Lake. I was impressed. Peggy Lake was an estimated three hours away and it was five'o'clock already. It crossed my mind that I could push it and get to Peggy, but I didn't want to enough. I was told once that most canoeing injuries happen after five and I have taken that to heart. One needs to get up early and relax in the evenings. Mike and Tyler were impressed by my newly acquired picnic table, as I was staying at Marion so this was my campsite. Little did we know, all the sites on the Mantario Trail have picnic tables. We said goodbye for the last time, and I went about setting up camp, which was easy because all the sites on the Mantario Trail have bear boxes. I set up my tent and relaxed, which is an important part of camping. I had my own beach and granite bottomed-lake. I don't swim alone, but Marion Lake would be killer for swimming. I did dandle my toes and wade a bit. Trains kept coming by on the other side of the lake, with big train whistles hooting in the distance. They were too far away to wave at by a lot, but it was nice to know there were people over there. The weather was warm and a slight breeze blew the mosquitoes off as long as I stayed near the lake. The futuristically-designed toilet was a molded plastic testament to what outdoor restrooms can be, and it was bilingual. Oh, Canada. I ate mashed potatoes with dehydrated vegetables and was in bed by nine.