Grand Portage Trail, MN – July 14, 2012
The trail is all utility. It doesn’t rise to a mountaintop or follow a ridge. It isn’t seeking out a perfect view or diving into a canyon. There are no waterfalls, caves, or cliffs to distract your attention. It’s trees and dirt smeared into a green-brown blur that never changes. It’s a toll road and you have to pay.
You have to hear your backpack’s frame snap in half and the hip belt rip open under the weight of equipment. You need to feel the pack’s straps cutting into your shoulders, the way your arms go numb then tingle when blood flows into them again.
You have to listen to the approach of thunder and watch the sky flash white, knowing there is no escape as rain falls to soak the world. You need to feel the hard packed dirt turn to mud under your feet and they way it grinds like sandpaper between your toes until the skin is raw and bloody.
Then you have to drop your pack and walk back to wherever you left that huge piece of yellow plastic. You have to lift one end and fight your way underneath it, steady 17 feet over your shoulders, and walk again, walk past your discarded pack as branches rip at the hull.
You need to count each step to keep your mind working, to distract you until you reach 500 and your back and shoulder are lit on fire. Then you have to wedge one end of the boat into a tree so you can walk back to the pack and do it all again.
You pick up the pack. You walk. The straps cut. You drop the pack. You walk. The dirt grinds. You pick up the boat. You walk. Your spine lights on fire. You drop the boat. You walk. The rain falls. You pick up the pack. You walk. The straps cut. You drop the pack. You walk. The dirt grinds. You pick up the boat. You walk. Your spine lights on fire. You drop the boat. You walk.
Read it all again. Read it again and again for fourteen hours. Read it until the words smear together into a blur of black and white that never changes. Read it until the sun dips low and your eyes feel heavy with the weight. Read it until you can’t anymore and you know you’ll have to read it again tomorrow.
Read it, read it until you love it because that’s the only way to stay sane.