Next week I am moving to a place that will allow me to formally adopt Corner Gas's opening music as my own personal theme song. It's a place so tiny it doesn't even pretend to be a town. It proudly proclaims itself, legally and otherwise, to be a village.
This will be a new chapter of life. However, one can't start a new chapter of life without closing an old one. In this case, at least three old ones. Well, four if you count living at home with your parents, but that isn't the primary focus of this post. The three focuses of this post are my church, the Distress Centre, and Tim Horton's.
I'm not leaving church, mind you, just the one I've been attending since I was twelve. They don't have a satellite church in my village, so attending would be difficult. I had my final shift at the DC the other afternoon. I will miss that place. And Tim Horton's I actually left in May and just neglected to mention the fact. I don't miss it and don't intend to ever go back, but I do have many fond memories of the place.
There are a lot of memories from both places, with many similarities and many differences. I could write a book comparing them, but I'll keep it short.
At my church, I shredded quite a bit of paper.
At the DC, I made a lot of paper for someone else to shred.
At Tim's, I swept up pieces of ripped up napkins.
At my church, I usually wore at least kinda nice shoes.
At the DC, I wore whatever random shoes I felt like.
At Tim's, I wore the same stinking pair of second-hand shoes for five years.
At my church, I knew how to get into almost anywhere, whether I legitimately had a key or not.
At the DC, I had a card key but could only get into the phone room.
At Tim's there was only one room to get to. But I did know the supposedly secret code to manipulate the registers.
Moving away will really confuse me. Timmy's and church camps have been my pretty steady provider of sleeping t-shirts for a good number of years. Where am I supposed to get my pajamas from now?
A person is changed when they spend large amounts of time in the same few places. As it is, I now have phantom phone syndrome. The phantom phone syndrome is kind of like having phantom limb sensations, except instead of feeling like you should still have all your limbs, you feel like you should be picking up the phone.
Being the temporary church secretary meant that I was constantly running back into the office, believing that I heard the phone ringing when in fact, it was silent. Being a crisis line volunteer meant that I was constantly checking my system during slow shifts to make sure I had remembered to log in, as if the seventh time I checked wasn't sufficient.
Working drive-thru at Tim's didn't contribute to the phantom phone thing. That headset would go
in my ear so loudly that I'd jump whenever a car pulled up. I had no problem telling when that sucker was on or off. But it did contribute to my inability to answer the phone correctly. I told several distressed crisis callers they had phoned Tim Horton's. In my desperation to not ask coffee customers about their crises, I stumbled through the drive-thru greetings so poorly that sometimes it barely sounded English. My international coworkers sniggered at me. And I had to actively remind myself of my church's name whenever I answered the office phone because my pastor could hear me talking.
I don't know how long this effect will last. If you call me and I pick up but don't immediately say anything, it's probably because I'm trying to remember where I am.
Each place had its own quirks, personalities, and dangers. Tim Horton's was easily the most stressful of the three places to be. I mean, sure, the Distress Centre had the occasional, "No, no, please don't
kill yourself!" moment, but not every call was like that. At Tim
Horton's, the stress was constant. In fact, it was at Tim's that I first learned to identify whether I was stressed or not. For at least several hours every shift, there was considerable pressure to go fast, do it correctly, interact politely with crazy customers and simultaneously do seven other things fast and correctly and politely. Plus, there were exploding creamers, shattering coffee pots, jets of boiling liquid, sharp knives, and toasters hot enough to brand you. You took your physical well-being into your own hands every time you showed up to work.
The church also had a few dangerous points over the years. A random creepy man that turned out to be a criminal hanging out in the foyer. An angry neighbour that shot his pellet gun at kids in the youth group. A not-quite-dead pet animal someone abandoned in the dumpster. That time I used Sharpies in an enclosed room for way too long. Not to mention the ever-present hypothetical possibility of someone drowning in the baptismal tank. But Timmy's wins hands down for being the toughest job. Though, they did pay me.
These three places changed me in other ways, too. They
were all learning experiences. I took away a lot of knowledge and wisdom
from the Distress Centre. I had to exercise considerable mental
energies to navigate sensitive
conversations and help the callers begin to sort through their messes of
life. I got some of that at church, too. We had interesting and
challenging conversations on ethics and theology. I got a lot of
practical experience leading people and being on a team. After five
years at Timmy Ho's, I still don't know how to make a pot of coffee.
Don't look at me like that. It's rather more simple at Tim's than in
real life, you know.
It is time to move on. As much as I hate to say goodbye and maybe our paths with cross again, for now I must bid farewell. To the people involved with my life in these places, thank you. I'll see you when I see you.
"It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." J. R. R. Tolkien
It was a dark and stormy night. Part of our group had gone to bed so early that they didn't notice the incoming clouds, but Dad and I prepared for the worst. That is to say, we made sure our shoes were inside the tent before we went to sleep.
"Does it look like it'll rain much tonight?" Dad asked.
"It might rain," I said, "but I don't think it'll be too hard, or at least, not very hard for too long."
It poured for hours. The clouds spewed down and the sky flashed and the air rumbled and grumbled and my sister, in her half-awake state first thought someone was setting off cannonballs beside her tent. However, there were no casualties and we all survived until morning.
We ate our last breakfast and set the four fast guys loose. Here was the plan:
1) Four guys start early and go fast. They beat us to the end of the trail by a considerable margin.
2) They use that margin to drive in Andrew's car to the trail head and pick up the other two vehicles.
3) Andrew leaves for Kamloops because that's where he wants to go. Meanwhile, the others come back in the other two vehicles so we can all drive to Jasper.
4) We'll go to a restaurant together.
5) We'll go to the hot springs together.
6) We'll carpool home in our vehicles.
So Justin gave me the rest of his athletic tape and took off with the others. Thanks to the giant storm of the night before, the first thing they had to do was cross what used to be a stream.
Luke looked at the river and calculated in his head. "There are ten of us," he said. "The odds are good that at least one of us will fall in." He found it understandably regrettable that he was not going to be around to watch the six of us cross.
All four of them made it across without incident. The back group hung out, taped our feet, finished breakfast, and took down our tents. Then we also crossed the stream-that-wanted-to-be-a-river.
It was rather anti-climactic. No one wiped. Take that, Luke.
Of all our days hiking, this final day had us cover the most ground, with a good 15 kilometers we had to tuck under our belts. The morning was pleasant and interesting. Alpine meadows in general are pleasant and interesting.
Then, about halfway, we found a bike rack and it turned from a hiking trail through meadows into an old forestry road through thick trees. At least it claimed to be an old forestry road. It was so overgrown in some places I'm convinced that nothing but a motorized unicycle would be able to drive all the way up.
Thick trees are beautiful, but get a bit monotonous after a while. Plus, since we had climbed so high on the other days, we had a lot of elevation to lose, meaning the entire thing was downhill. My feet were mostly ok, but one person's knee was acting up so we were moving fairly slowly. It got tedious. We played 5000 Questions a few times. Oh, and we found some clothes that someone dropped along the side of the path and also something's skull.
And then we passed some hikers going the wrong way down the path. And then we passed some more. And a few more. A bit confused as to why, my dad stopped to chat. All I caught was him saying, "Well, that'll sure change our plans."
Indeed. Thanks to the mega-storm during the night, there had been a mudslide along the only road that linked to the trail head, meaning that once we got off the trail, we would be effectively barred from collecting our other vehicles. And also from driving home - at least until the road crews cleared the mud away.
"They're hopeful about reopening the road tomorrow," said the other hikers.
"Looks like we'll be staying in a hotel tonight," said Clary.
But my dad remained optimistic. "People usually give a worst-case scenario," he said as we continued on our way. "We'll find out how bad it is when we get into Jasper."
"Andrew wants to leave for Kamloops," said Clary. Andrew's car was the only one not blocked off by the mudslide. "What if he leaves and we can't get into Jasper?"
"I am not walking to Jasper," said Gillian. "If we have to walk, I am just going to pitch my tent at the end of the trail and you can leave me behind."
Some of the motivation to finish the hike sapped away with the knowledge that we wouldn't be going home that day. But Clary tried to remain cheery, thinking of all the things she would do with her extra day in Jasper.
"I have a fresh pair of shorts and a shirt," she said with a dreamy smile. "I can put them on after soaking in the hot springs in my bathing suit..."
"Your stuff is all in our van," I said.
The dreamy smile disappeared. "Ah," she said. And we slogged on.
"I think I hear the highway," I said.
"I see cars!" said Clary.
I whooped. Someone in the parking lot whooped in reply.
"Run!" said Clary, "Run the last few yards!"
So the two of us jogged in raptures to the parking lot. My sister contemplated crawling. Meanwhile, Andrew hooted like a maniac and jumped around waving enthusiastically, giving us the last oomph we needed and welcoming us to the finish line.
With a big smile he told us to sit down and take off our boots and then fed us all Oreo cookies. And then he told us that, yes, we were going to be spending the night in a hotel. He stuffed three people and their backpacks into his car and deposited them in Jasper. Then he came back and stuffed my dad, sister and me into his car and drove us to Jasper, too.
He had already taken the other guys there. They ate KFC together and had a nap. Then, despite the fact that he was late heading out for Kamloops, Andrew came back and waited by himself in the parking lot to play ferryman for us. Then he stuck around even later to make sure we didn't need a ride to a hotel. He was our hero.
We learned later that the guys had not received such a warm welcome as we had.
Apparently Justin, having enjoyed his Lord of the Rings music so well the day before, found that singing along to it while he ran gave him the motivation to keep up his speed. Before long, all four of the boys were humming out LOTR as they dashed dramatically around corners and out the exit. They told us about it when we were at Earls afterwards.
"There was a middle-aged woman unloading stuff in the parking lot when we got there," said Justin. "She watched us come out and told me, 'Well, that's stupid.'" He glanced down at his plate. "I thought she must be joking, so I stared at her, expecting her face to crack into a smile, but it didn't. It's happened to me a few times lately."
"What song were you singing?" I asked.
"The main one," said Justin.
"Which one?" I asked.
"Hey," said Brianna, "it sounds kind of like you're saying 'bear'."
"Oh," said Justin.
"Now it all makes sense," said Braden.
Note to self: Do not crow "bear, bear" while dashing maniacally to a trail exit.
At any rate, once we were all reunited in Jasper, we learned from the information desk that the other hikers had not, in fact, given us a worst-case scenario. They had severely understated the case and things would be interesting for them when they ran out of food on the other end of the trail. There had been not one but multiple mudslides and the authorities were hopeful that they would be cleared not by tomorrow, but by the end of the week. Assuming there wasn't any more rain.
One night in a hotel is doable. Five or more is not. Andrew left for Kamloops. Luke had already hopped on a bus. The rest of us rented a couple of vehicles and got home that night, minus a few personal belongings. We unloaded, showered, and showed Mom the pictures from our trip. The next day we unpacked and Dad set up the tent again to sweep and wash it clean. With that, the hike was officially a wrap.
We are soon to be reunited with our lost belongings and vehicles. My blisters look disgusting but are healing. My muscles are no longer sore, despite not making it to the hot springs. I got halfway through Notes from the Underground and am enjoying it very much.
Next time, I'll bring my own foot tape. And I will use that foot tape before I ever spawn blisters. Assuming I can handle that, I assume I could handle another backpacking trek. Maybe, given my experience, I'd even move up in the ranks from Pippin to... well... Pippin 2.0. Until that day, I have pictures.
"Ah! The tent is blowing down the road!" my sister, seeing the tent jump the fence from our backyard and make a break for it. Our across-the-street neighbour caught it flying for a fairly busy intersection.
By some strange alignment of the stars or something, Dad and I were the first up the next morning. Dad chatted with a backpacker who wasn't a part of our group while I soaked my feet in the stream, psyching myself up to do the most difficult climb of the hike. When I eventually shuffled my way over to the picnic table, Dad introduced me to the other backpacker.
"She's already done the hike a few times," my dad said to me.
"This is the third time," the woman said, "but the last was in 1997."
"Show her your heels," said my dad.
"Ouch," the woman said with a matronly smile. "You'll survive."
For some random reason, I believed her. Maybe I figured she was credible, having done the trail twice already. Maybe I was tired of summoning up despair every time I contemplated the next leg.
Feeling a bit better, I helped make breakfast. Breakfast each morning consisted of maple and brown sugar flavoured instant oatmeal. It was kind of like sludge. We also had thick slices of marble cheese from Luke, who had packed an entire slab. I'm guessing they were so thick because he wanted us to eat the weight away. Also, he was probably tired of making it resolidify in the stream each day after the hike.
This morning, the instant oatmeal and cheese was not enough. I decided I was still hungry. And given that this next stretch of the hike was considered the most difficult, I was not willing to try it on an empty stomach.
"I'm still hungry," I said, hoping someone would offer me their food.
"Have some peanut butter," said Andrew. Clary had lifted a few peanut butter packets from the restaurant we ate at the night before the hike. Andrew, on the other hand, had packed an entire jar. I think he was also looking to have us eat the weight away. I used my spoon and dug in.
After breakfast, we taped up my feet again. This time, we held nothing back. There were 7 layers:
1) polysporin over the blisters
2) bandaids over the polysporin
3) athletic tape over the bandaids and the rest of the tender skin
4) duct tape over athletic tape to make sure it stuck
5) duct tape strips to tape the first layer of duct tape so it didn't shift
6) thick socks
7) another thick sock on my right foot
Yes, that does mean I was visibly wearing mismatched socks.
I do believe I now qualify as the blister wrapping queen. It was like having sandals within my sandals.
Plus, I laced my boots just a little more than they were the day before so my heel didn't lift out all the time. Happily, this cozy foot arrangement seemed to work. After the initial few tender steps, I forgot about my blisters and they hardly slowed me down.
Still, it was a long way - a very long very uphill way - to go, so I was worried.
"I think," I said to the group as we broke after breakfast, "I will have to pretend that I am escaping from Nazis over the mountain to keep me motivated to go on."
"From the Nazis?" they replied.
"Yes," I said. "Unless someone motivates me by, I don't know, bribes or sweet promises to carry me part of the way."
"We're interested in this Nazi story," they said. And they genuinely were. They asked for periodic updates on how far behind us the Nazis were and whether they had been bright enough to discern our trail. Maybe they needed the motivation themselves. I was happy to share it. The trail was sitting easily at thirty degrees, at least. And that was before we got to the steep part.
Then we did get to the steep part.
At least, I found it steep. Braden whistled happy tunes all the way up. Those of us who couldn't do that had different tactics. My tactic was to push forward until I was gasping and couldn't catch my breath, then to pause, take a drink of water and start again. It worked pretty well. Gillian, on the other hand, didn't like restarting, so she never stopped moving forward. She was like the Energizer Bunny. Not a very energetic Energizer Bunny, mind you, but she sure had that going... and going.... and going thing down pat. Basically, I'd push forward, pass her, then pause for a gulp of water. Meanwhile, she'd shuffle past me. Then I'd start going again. We pretty much leapfrogged up the incline.
One of those leaps brought us to the Notch, the most highlighted feature of the entire hike. It's also the physically highest point. My first thought upon realizing we had crested the Notch was, "What? That was it? The most difficult part of the hike, and that was it? That was nothing compared to yesterday!" The second thought was, "There's no way those Nazis are getting us up here!"
As relatively fresh as we were, we were still not as fresh as Braden. Upon climbing into the Notch, he casually dropped his backpack and proceeded to run up the peak. He was basically prancing. Gillian and I shook our heads, then dropped our own backpacks, and proceeded to sit down and snack. Then Braden came back with what is probably my favourite picture of the entire hike. The dark splotches in the middle are us, by the way. Click to enlarge if you don't believe it.
The view was incredible.
And then Braden became a gremlin and photobombed our Notch family picture.
For whatever reason, the Notch was also the only place along the hike where we got cellphone service. I'll let you imagine how people spent their lunch break.
Following a brief lunch at the Notch, we kept moving. This is the part of the hike that gave the Skyline its name. It was an incredible walk on the ridge. If you turned your head to the right, you saw down one side of the mountain and everything beyond it. If you turned your head to the left, you saw down the other side and everything beyond. I really did feel like I was on top of the world.
But it wasn't just me up there. Up where there's nothing but harsh winds, driving elements, extreme temperatures and rocks... there were flowers. Not giant fields of them, and not big ones, but they were beautiful, brightly coloured pinks and yellows. Up where strong and majestic trees were unable to survive, up where weeds and grass couldn't even find the sustenance to grow, these fragile little flowers blossomed.
Nobody tended to them. Nobody planted them. As far as those flowers knew, there wasn't even the guarantee of people walking by to see them. Most mountain wildflowers are probably never ever seen by any person. They had no reason at all to fight for survival, grow, and bloom except that they wanted to. They bloomed because they could, to bring beauty to an otherwise barren place. Even with nobody watching.
I found it inspiring.
Though, perhaps my personification of plants is what makes it a psychological ordeal to prune my bottle gardens.
Shortly after this ridge walk, Clary decided the trail wasn't difficult enough, so she took Gillian and added a hike to their hike. The rest of us stuck to the path. Believe it or not, that little blip along the edge is them. Again, click to enlarge if you must.
Then I arrived at a little bowl along the ridge. The four guys had made it there earlier and were taking a break when I arrived. They cheered my arrival. Not having expected to see them until we got to the campsite, I was mildly surprised. I was also surprised to discover that the rest of the group wasn't quite on my tail, either.
"I wasn't aware they were so far behind me," I said as I came down into the bowl.
"That's because you're a speed demon," said Andrew.
"Or just naive," said Justin. Then he paused and reconsidered. "No," he amended, "you're a speed demon."
I guess in comparison to the day before, I was a speed demon. It's all relative. I'll take it.
This little bowl was my favourite part of the whole hike. As soon as you took a few steps up the side, you had a spectacular view and understood just how high up you were. But in the bowl, it was like a tiny little world of its own. There was a snow patch that was melting, and the melt-water was forming a pool large enough that we were able to skip rocks and refill our water bottles. It was a treat, seeing as we had been told that there wasn't going to be any place to refill our bottles for some distance yet.
The rest of the group arrived and we hung out for a while. It made sense. We could hang out there or we could hang out at the camp later. Skipping rocks seemed a nice alternative to mini-cards. Then Andrew started throwing bigger and bigger rocks. He tried to put one in Braden's bag. Then they fondly recalled throwing rocks at Andrew's mom. It was time to go.
Then Gillian hit on an idea.
"Let's walk out today," she said.
"Pardon?" we replied.
"I don't want to spend another night camping. We should just hike out today," she said.
As relatively energetic as I still was, I was not enchanted with this idea. Neither was just about anyone else, with the exception of Clary. She would have hiked out that day if she hadn't felt obligated, as the hike organizer, to stay with her group of charges. She would have hiked out and then spent the extra day hiking back in and then out again. She likes hiking. But it would have been bad form, so Gillian was overruled.
The next day she even had the grace not to say I-told-you-so.
The rest of the day was full of meadows and marmots, one of which I had a conversation with. It was delightful.
As we were walking, Justin put on his headphones and started listening to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, giving us periodic updates of his location in the score. You may recall, on the first day we had all claimed various LOTR characters to be. I was Pippin. Mike was Gollum - his choice. So in addition to being Aragorn, Justin was also our theme song guy.
Naturally, with him giving us updates on where the orcs were and me giving updates on the Nazis, a debate broke out about whether it would be worse to be hunted by Nazis or by orcs. My vote was for Nazis. Orcs are weak in daylight, travel in giant smelly hordes, lack any semblance of stealth, and will kill each other if left to their own devices for long enough. Also, they have to physically catch you to kill you. Nazis have brains, wear camouflage, and can shoot you from afar. Even having cleared the Notch, I was wary of rock ledges where snipers could be hiding.
When the day's walk was finally done, we settled at the camp and made supper. Supper always consisted of freeze-dried food and dehydrated fruit. It was ok for a while. The males all thought it was gold.
"Next time I have to cook for someone," said Andrew, "I'll just make a few of these and not tell anyone!"
"Yeah," agreed my dad. "This is pretty good."
"I know how to wet freeze-dried food. It's easy!" said Andrew.
Meanwhile Gillian sat there glum that her meal was runny yet again.
Then Luke started making noises. "Woooo-eeee-arrrrr. Hoooo-waaaaa!"
"Luke is making airplane noises," Braden offhandedly pointed out.
"Oh. I thought he was having a conversation with a fly," said I.
"I thought he was being Chewbacca," said Gillian.
"I think Carla is closest," said Justin. "Which was it, Luke?"
"I don't know," mumbled Luke. "I was just making noises."
And that was more or less the end of the third day, which more than made up for the painful second day. But there was still one more day to go.
"Climbing is as close as we can come to flying." Margaret Young
Morning broke, as did the blister on my right heel. Determined to begin the day with protected feet, instead of leaving it too late like I had the day before, I began asking people for stuff with which to wrap them up. Andrew had a blister, too, so there was some competition for supplies. Braden, being a good friend of Andrew, offered him his moleskin. Then I hiked up my pants and Braden caught sight of my blister.
"That's disgusting!" he exclaimed. Without a further thought, he reneged on Andrew. "I'm giving it to Carla instead," he said. "She needs it more." Andrew used tent repair tape.
I also claimed a whack more athletic tape from stillnotmybrother!Justin and used a sizable portion of Dad's duct tape. We spent a good deal of time attempting to protect my heels from further destruction. Then I put on my boots. As far as I was concerned, someone was standing behind me with a blow torch aimed at my feet, turning it on every time I tried to slide my heels into place. But I managed nonetheless, hoping to live up to the moniker "Woman of Iron Steel" that I had earned in ballet class years before. Of course, I earned that moniker for never getting blisters to begin with, not for valiantly dealing with them.
At any rate, we set off. Three things happened within the first twenty minutes:
1) I called a company halt, as the prospect of a full day's hiking in my condition was altogether too daunting. Dad and Brianna both offered me a pair of thicker socks to add another layer. I took Bri's.
2) Justin called a company halt because he noticed I was limping. He and his dad, Mike, argued over the best way to tape blisters and then redid my feet with an assortment of various supplies. Meanwhile, Braden took pictures. Clary was probably looking for extra hills to scale.
3) I called another company halt, because I still wanted to cry every time I put a foot down. Dad suggested I partially unlace my shoes to take some of the pressure off my blisters. This finally seemed to make a difference.
A person can be the cause of only so many company halts within a twenty minute span before feeling extremely self-conscious. However, everyone was very gracious.
"How are you doing, Carla?" they would take turns asking. "Do you need to stop?"
"You realize," said Brianna, "that we're asking mostly because we want an excuse to pause for a break without admitting we need one."
"We're only feigning concern," said Mike, "because we need to rest ourselves."
"That's what I did when I went hiking with Rachel," said Brianna. "'Hey, Rachel! Let's pause for your asthma,' whenever we went up a hill. I needed it."
"Oh, is that so?" I said.
"Totally," said Mike. "We are just using you."
Plus, I overheard someone saying to someone else that I was a trooper, so that was encouraging. And once my blisters had been dealt with, the morning was actually quite pleasant. We were hiking mostly through alpine meadows, which Braden later referred to as, "The Meadow of Wonders". Every twist, turn, or rise in the path seemed to open up to some new and interesting or beautiful feature.
"Wow," said Bri, noticing this snow drift and creek.
"Wow," I agreed.
Dad didn't even wait to see what we were wowing at. "Picture time," he said.
Photographs do an exceptionally poor job of demonstrating
the breathtaking depth of the views. Not to mention completely exclude
the charming sounds and breezes of the actual thing.
We broke for lunch at the next campground, then kept going. Andrew, Luke, and Justin took off ahead of us. Apparently Andrew actually ran to keep Luke from catching up. They ended up beating us to the campsite by at least an hour-and-a-half, and that was after they climbed a peak for fun and doubled back part of the distance to search for the cell phone Luke lost in a field of rocks. But this is what happens when the pace for the back group is set by a gimped girl who essentially tip-toes the entire way.
Braden, though perfectly capable of traveling with the crazy trio, got stuck in the very back. By the time he realized how slow I was moving it would have been awkward for him to leap past the crippled girl to join his friends. So he hung out taking pictures and I didn't hear him complain once.
"This is actually kind of nice," he said. "Refreshing. I'm in it mostly for the scenery, anyway."
The scenery may have been as pleasant in the afternoon as in the morning, but I was not appreciative at the time. We covered almost 12 kilometers on this day, but I'm convinced they were all in the afternoon. In my head, the only thought was, "This path just keeps going... and going... and going... and I'm NOT the Energizer Bunny!"
Most of it was uphill, and I had to climb pretty much exclusively on the balls of my feet, because my heels came out of my boots. All of me plus my backpack on just the balls of my feet for an extended time... it wasn't a good scene. Then when we'd go downhill, my toes were squashed because of the multiple socks and it wasn't really much better on the balls of my feet. Not to mention my blisters, of course.
It turns out I wasn't the only one hitting my limit.
"Well," said my dad, exhausted, as we crested hill number six hundred and thirty-seven to see yet another long expanse of rolling hills, "I can see why you'd want to drill holes in your toothbrush."
But we finally made it to the end of the trail. From there we could see our next campsite... way down in the bottom of a valley.
"It's only three hundred metres away," said Mike. Wordlessly, we all slogged onwards.
Fifteen minutes later, I said, "I don't think this is just three hundred metres."
Ten minutes after that, my dad said, "I don't think this is just three hundred metres."
"I think," said Mike, "that the fold in the map made a point eight kilometres look like a point three kilometers."
It was the trail that never ended. And we would have to reclimb it before climbing the purportedly most difficult part of the hike first thing the next morning. I was not a happy camper. When we finally (finally!) stumbled into the campsite, Andrew cheered in welcome. Clary told us to soak our feet in the creek.
Then Andrew said, "Isn't it great to think that you don't have to do that again for another eighteen hours?" He was totally serious. He found that great to think about. I just tried not to cry. Here I am, trying not to cry:
And here are my blisters, so you can feel some sympathy:
The campsite itself was beautiful, though. On one end was a creek and on the other there was a view of a mountain waterfall. And there weren't any mosquitoes! So we made and ate supper, Clary went for another walk, and several of the guys washed their hair under a waterfall.
We killed time with a limitless question version of 20 Questions, and fought in front of other backpackers while playing mini-cards. Brianna had tried on the trail to start a game of I Spy, but it went like this:
Brianna: "I spy with my little eye something that is yellow."
Clary: "A flower."
Brianna: "Which flower?"
Clary: "One of them somewhere in this field?"
Clary: "That one?"
Braden: "That one?"
Justin: "That one?"
The game lasted only one round.
So rather than revisit the world of I Spy, we then settled down for the night, again at about eight-thirty. No bears pawed at our tents. No Sasquatches screamed in the night. No helicopters came to my rescue.
And then it was morning.
"In life as in dance: Grace glides on blistered feet." Alice Abrams
Forty-four kilometres of hiking may seem like more than enough for some people, but our hike organizer, Clary, didn't think it was quite enough. Given that we only had to hike 8.3 km on the first day, she thought we might as well take in Maligne Canyon before setting off on the Skyline Trail.
The name "Maligne" should remind you of the word "malignant". And so it was. While the canyon and waterfalls were beautiful, notmybrother!Justin later dubbed that little walk, "The hike where Carla prepared her blisters". More on this to come.
After hiking in and hiking out again, we dropped off Andrew's vehicle at the Skyline Trail exit, so that we'd have a car waiting for us when we got there at the end of the weekend. Then we took the other two vehicles we had used to carpool and drove to the trail head.
Hiking, while interesting in its own right, is even better if you imagine yourself to be someone from Lord of the Rings. My sister claimed the hobbit Merry, which left Pippin for me. We figured these were the most appropriate characters for us to be, given our complete lack of experience and our utter reliance on the rest of the group to keep us alive. Except, I might note, hobbits have tough feet and are presumably blister-hardy. Justin had to give me some of his athletic tape within the first hour to keep me from crawling the rest of the distance.
It may be true that the first day was only 8.3 km, but most of it was a long series of upwards slanting switchbacks. Plus I forgot that Andrew and Braden were marathon runners. I'm not usually one to go chasing after boys, but all I knew at the time was that the guys were getting pretty far ahead and my wounded self was already earning my Pippin label of uselessness. So I did my darnedest to keep up. Didn't quite succeed, mind you, but I was fast enough to occasionally catch a whiff of their relaxed conversation. So this is pretty much what the hike looked like on the first day (click to enlarge):
And then we suddenly arrived at the first camp. We bunked with about ten million mosquitoes at Little Shovel for the first night. Clary rubbed Citronella cream all over her face. My dad put on his beekeeper suit. The rest of us slathered on insect repellent, wore long sleeves and wrapped our heads and necks in whatever pieces of fabric we had available. Except for Andrew. He just hung out in shorts on his makeshift couch.
For those of you who have never been tenting, campsites usually have some form of a bathroom, or at least an outhouse available for use. The Skyline Trail was no exception, except the facilities here were more "out" than "house".
When I first made the trek down to use it, Clary and Gillian saw where I was headed.
"The outhouse is pretty interesting," they said as I passed them.
I continued on my way, crossing paths with Braden.
"Good luck," he said.
You always needed good luck, because you could never be sure that someone else wouldn't come bounding down the path just as you were standing up. I don't think I mooned anyone over the course of the weekend, but it's impossible to know for sure.
"Just sing," said Gillian. "I'm going PEEEEEEE now, don't anyone come DOOOOWWWWN HEEEERRRE!"
What you can't see in this picture is the paper notice tacked to the armrest. It was the same at each campsite. On the paper was a hand-drawn, smiling poop-shaped character that waved at you. His name was Lumpy. He explained to you how to change the waste barrels when one of them got too full and told you that at some point, a helicopter would come replace the full barrels with empty ones, but only if park authorities were notified that the waste in each had reached six inches from the top.
Given that we didn't really like to hang around the outhouse, except to take pictures, we had to find some other thing to do to amuse ourselves once we reached the campsite. We poured water into freeze-dried food packages. We used more matches than we should have trying to light our camp stoves. We swatted mosquitoes off one another. We hung up our food and baby powder in bear bags.
My sister, Brianna, wasn't sure of the effectiveness of these bear bags. "Bears can climb," she pointed out.
"But they can't fly," said my dad.
We pondered the profundity of their conversation. And then we didn't know what to do with our time anymore.
"Well," I offered, "I brought a deck of mini-cards."
It was our only option. So we all played Four-Card Golf and Ninety-Nine on my 2" by 1" cards. We had
to weigh them down with pebbles and I used my teeny-tiny notebook to keep score. Between the ten of us, and each of our thirty-pound backpacks, we had the foresight to bring exactly one item for recreational use. Well, two if you counted my Notesfrom the Underground, which Brianna suggested I read out loud, but nobody else jumped at that one. So mini-cards it was. I guess when you're counting every gram, a ratio of 140,000 grams of functionality to every 4 grams of entertainment is about right.
And then we went to bed at eight-thirty. I must have heard every fart made by someone in our group. Tent walls don't exactly dampen sound. And then I dozed off and on until morning.
"We do this so we can appreciate our desk job." Andrew, pontificating on the reason for our hike.
It all started when I realized that my work schedule prohibited me from taking a week off for summer vacation. Disappointed, I was eager to jump on any pseudo-vacation opportunity that presented itself, because a summer without any summer activities isn't truly a summer.
"Would you like to go backpacking with the church's outdoor club this August long weekend?" asked my dad.
"Sure," I said. University students are good at carrying backpacks, aren't they? Even if they've never been officially "backpacking" before?
"Sounds good!" said my dad. "I'll sign you up."
When all was said and done, there were ten people signed up for this outdoor adventure. We consisted of:
- 4 (four) members from a family that goes on major hikes almost every weekend
- 2 (two) twenty-something guys that run marathons for fun
- 1 (one) guy that has the build and stamina of a Sasquatch
- 3 (three) never-been-backpacking Heinrichs family members, including two females who do not even pretend to try to work out
Packing bags with everything you need to survive is an interesting task. I was resigned to being a she-mule, but my dad kept stressing that every pound counts and not to bring anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. He himself was foregoing deodorant.
"Dad," said my sister and I, "If you don't bring deodorant, we may not want to walk beside you during the hike."
He grumbled. Then I slid Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky into my sack.
"Carla," said my dad, "If you bring that book, you will be the only person on the trip reading. Every pound, every gram counts."
"But I need it to survive," I whined.
When my sister and I put on our packed backpacks for the first time, we nearly fell over backwards down the stairs. That may have been when Mom started to get worried.
"I'll be praying for you," she said as we piled into the van.
Six hours later, we pulled into Jasper National Park. We poked around, found the public washrooms, met up with the rest of the group, and learned from the information desk that a bear had pawed at the tent of a group of backpackers on our trail just a few days ago. Then we played Scrabble and spent the night at a hostel.
Then it was morning and we had breakfast in the hostel's cookhouse. Thinking I had better get help from the experienced, I asked the trip organizer, Clary, to check what I had packed and possibly fix it so that I wouldn't fall backwards down the mountain. She referred me to her son, who was drinking something from a mug at the time.
"Justin will tell you how you packed," said Clary. "He's good at that kind of thing."
"Luke will help, too," said notmybrother!Justin. "We have mugs, see? We're the official packing panel. It's like we're judges on TV."
"But you don't have brand names on your mugs, so you aren't being sponsored by any corporations," said my sister.
"Hush," said Justin. "You don't have a mug. You're not on the panel."
Seeing as I'd soon being peeing in bushes, I figured it shouldn't be too weird to show a couple of guys my age all the personal things I'd packed.
First they nixed the tea towel.
"What do you plan to use a tea towel for?" asked Justin.
"To, you know, dry things. Like our dishes," I replied.
"Use your pants," said Justin.
Then I showed them my grocery bag of clothes.
"You won't have that bag by the end of the weekend," said Justin. "What clothes do you have in there?"
"Um, pajamas, socks, a hat..." I said.
"Does she need anything else?" Justin said to Luke.
"No," Luke said.
"And I have two sweaters," I said. "A zippered jacket for ease of use and a warm one I lifted from my brother."
They looked at each other. "Should we make her choose between them?" Justin asked Luke. They conferred with each other about the situation and eventually decided that I could keep them both because I was a girl.
Then I pulled out my bag of toiletries.
"That's too many toiletries," said Justin.
"But I'm a girl," I pleaded, hoping the same reasoning would work in this situation. It didn't.
"You won't need the pit-stick," said Justin, "I'm not bringing any, either."
My sister and I cried out in anguish as our dad triumphantly announced his foresight. I took out the deodorant stick of lead but retained the Dr. Mist for its stink-fighting properties.
"Every gram counts," said Justin. "A friend of ours used to drill holes in his toothbrush."
"That seems a little excessive," said my dad.
"Also," said Justin, "That baby powder looks heavy. Put some in this Ziploc bag and leave the rest behind."
By this point I was rather nervous for his take on my book. Still, in the interest of honesty, I pulled it out to show him. He barely missed a beat.
"That's fine," he said. "You're allowed to bring a book. I brought an economics textbook once. I stored it in the same place."
I rejoiced inside. Then they looked over the consumables I had packed, told my dad that I was not allowed to be carrying his water bottle, and reluctantly allowed the large number of granola bars. Luke repacked my sleeping bag by stuffing it into a place I didn't believe it could possibly go. Then they gave me a passing grade in packing and finished whatever was in their mugs.
Having removed the tea towel, pit-stick, and most of the baby powder, I didn't fall over the next time I put on my backpack. My shoes, however, were to cause me a bit more grief...
In our mule state.
Mom wanted to see pictures of the Notch and didn't want us running down the batteries of the camera prematurely by taking pictures of people's backs. We compromised by taking pictures of goat bums instead.
“Don't forget to pack your courage for your journey to greatness.” David Weinbaum
"O! Wanderers in the shadowed land despair not! For though dark they stand, all woods there be must end at last, and see the open sun go past: the setting sun, the rising sun, the day's end, or the day begun. For east or west all woods must fail...” J.R.R. Tolkien
"All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost. From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken: The crownless again shall be king." J.R.R. Tolkien