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.

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