Tonight is the first time I am going to sleep scared. I don’t know where I am and it is very unsettling. Funny how my sense of safety is partly about where I am and partly about knowing where I am. That is something rather ancient, I think.
I am lost on a series of meandering “unimproved roads” which are twisted winding gravel trails through anonymous woods that meet and split off again without any clues as to where they are going. It doesn’t help that it is raining. Still, it feels good to be back on the trail after my extended detour in Marquette.
As of today, I’ve been on this trip for a full month. With every milestone comes renewed humility. I actually lost my way THREE times today. The first time I backtracked, the second time I took an alternate route, and the third time I bushwhacked until I found something resembling a road.
This is true backcountry. My GPS and phone do not know where I am. I am not on the trail and, even if I was, it would do me only so much good because I don’t have the map for this segment of the trail. That map is in a box somewhere. I left Marquette without my mail after it failed to arrive yet again today. I didn’t think the map mattered much because I thought I could follow the blazes but that doesn’t work around here. It’s too overgrown, the blazed are blacked out by ill-wishers, and it’s been dark and rainy. I think tomorrow I should backtrack to where I saw them last and try to find the trail.
I do hate go back though, and I chose the route I am on for a reason! Firstly, the blue blazes seemed to end suddenly at a junction that could’ve led me East or West. I chose West since that’s my general direction. Secondly, I’m not staying on the trail for that much longer anyway, as it continues west into the Porcupine Mountain, and I’m heading North into the Keweenaw. Then again, the trail is a lot better than whatever I’m doing now, and even a mile of bushwhacking or being lost is torture compared to the pain my ego suffers when I un-do misguided steps.
My shin is much better though. Yesterday, while I was limping around town in the rain, I saw a hair salon that advertised pedicures. I walked in there and asked for one. It was a mess. First, I told her I didn’t want my nails polished. Then, I protested when she tried to sand off my callouses. It came down to an admission that I just wanted a massage. She was amenable, but I soon realized that my feet and ankles still bear the signs of poison ivy. I felt like a leper. Basically, I paid a woman to rub my rash. I felt horrible, tipped more than I could afford.
I was tired hiking today because I got almost no sleep last night. I took my host Jesse out to dinner, as a thank you and she took me to a local bar where her son works. I had to run back to her house and grab a long-sleeve shirt and, when I joined her at the bar, there was a very conspicuous gap between her and two men. An unabashed set-up! I didn’t mind. I talked to the guy next to me quite a bit and we got along really well, but his friend was cuter. Jesse went home and I stayed out until the bar closed. I was sort of hoping someone would make a move, but it was all very polite. We all went back to the guys’ house and listened to old-timey Cowboy music on record and drank Hamm’s (this is basically Wisconsin). Then, at 3 in the morning, the cute one asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. Turns out I did!
He took me to “the breakers,” which is a long strip of rocks that protects the harbor from waves like a very scenic sidewalk. It was innocuous enough but I definitely had the feeling I was walking to a classic make-out point like a thousand Marquette high schoolers have done before. We were shy until we got to the end of the breakers and then, what else was there to do? We turned to each other. We made out, we laid down, and rolled around for awhile on the break wall. I was beyond turned on, it was overwhelming. All these days of loneliness and build-up and then finally, an outlet!
We soon decided to go back to his place. As we walked, he flattered me like crazy. It was so nice to feel sexy after being on the trail for so long. My hairy legs and armpits didn’t bother him. I swear he thought my insect-repellant khakis were hot. I was extremely grateful and I thought he was damn fine too.
We hardly slept but I set my alarm so I could get up early and hit the trail. What’s wrong with me? I was anxious to get on the road after so much leisure time. I left him in his bed and headed to the post office. Once again, no mail. I couldn’t tolerate staying another day, and there was no guarantee my package would come tomorrow or even the next day anyway so it was time to leave. I stopped by the library one more time to print off some maps and hand-written directions that would be my guide when I left the North Country Trail for the Keweenaw.
I can’t believe how far away I am now, just a few hours later. I left a soft bed with a warm body and none of the supplies I had been waiting for to get myself triple lost in the wilderness.
I was a little embarrassed to go back to Jesse’s house knowing she would know I didn’t return last night but, I had a feeling she would be supportive and hey, I’m a big girl.
This evening, as I walked down these strange roads in the gloomy pre-dusk rain trying to find my way back to the trail, I heard a car engine. I wasn’t sure if I should avoid the car or approach it to ask for help, but it rolled into view before I could decide the best course of action. In the cab of a pick-up truck was a man, woman and a teenage boy, each the epitome of white trashiness. I asked them about my route and they didn’t have much to offer in the way of advice but, before leaving, the lady told me I had “huge balls” to be out here. So there was that.
I’ve taken more pictures than on any other day. It is truly beautiful here. On my way out of Marquette I took a break and swam/waded over to Little Presque Isle. As I sat out there, I thought about how I have yet to have my “big cry” yet. I wonder if it will happen. I wonder how to make it happen. I see it as a how-far-I’ve-come! type of moment but I’ve fallen into old habits again with food so I’m not feeling overwhelmed with my progress.
Another milestone for the day is that I ate my very first thimbleberries! They are beautiful delicious red berries that are a hiker’s dream. Let me count the ways: 1) No bending necessary- the bushes are pretty tall 2) High yield- the fruit is reasonably large 3) Pain-free-no prickers like raspberries 4) Awesome factor- trying a fruit for the first time and picking it myself is pretty neat. What a gift!
I am apprehensive about this part of the trail. Overall, the North Country Trail is volunteer-maintained, and I’ve had enough trouble staying on track through the parts that are “finished.” From what I’ve heard, the section I’m approaching now is patched with decidedly unfinished areas which will be less maintained and there are some sections without any blazes at all. On top of that, I don’t have a map. On top of that, I will be deviating from the trail at some point. On top of that it is rainy. On top of that, I am sleep deprived from a long night with my yooper cowboy- but was it worth it? Yes it was.
While I was walking today, I composed this little poem in my head:
Way past the main street thoroughfare
Earlier today, after being lost, and getting rained on, and bushwacking, I found a beautiful blue blaze on a tree and my heart soared. How incredible! I took a picture out of sheer appreciation. Then, almost immediately after regaining the marked path, I have to abandon it again because the markings end. Still, I’m so glad I saw what I saw because it was a sign that I am on “the part of the trail that has no blazes” rather than “the part of the world that has no blazes.” It’s a meaningful difference!
I have been so unafraid this whole trip but my nerves are catching up with me. Tonight it got darker before I expected it to because it’s so rainy and the forest is thick. Lost as I was, I avoided setting up camp until I found my way but it became impossible to delay any longer. As I approached the area where I am now to set up camp, I saw a person hiding behind a tree. His body was sticking out on either side of the trunk so I called out “hello!” and “I see you there!” On closer inspection, it turned out to be a tree with a weird growth on the side, but the whole experience spooked me.
I remember being a little girl afraid to go down to the basement. I would announce “I see you! You better leave! I’ll give you 30 seconds to get out of here.” and then close the door. Count. Reopen. And enter the space knowing that if there had been a bad guy, I had flushed him out. Apparently, that’s still in my back of tricks 20 years later.
I have the rain fly on my tent and don’t like that I can’t see outside. What if something is out there? Will I have to unzip to find out what it is and how close? Why does knowing what’s out there matter anyway? What could I possibly do to intervene on someone who wished to harm me?
I wonder what my parents would do if I were to die. I have a feeling they would hold a Christian funeral and the thought really bothers me but, then again, if I’m dead and it would make them feel better, does it matter? Time to sleep and put an end to these anxious thoughts. Noises outside are making my stomach flip.