So, in the time I’ve been in the woods, you all have been very cautious. I have been duly warned about everything from frostbite, to wolves, to bears, to axe handling, to leg breaking and zombie management. I have only to whisper that I am headed into the woods and sixty-five of you counsel me on every possible bad thing that could happen to me, and advise me of the caution I should use, should I wish to survive. I appreciate it too. When you’re all alone in the woods you just can’t hear enough about the impending doom lurking around every corner. I’ve taken it all with a grain of salt, learned a great many things, and proceeded with caution. Which brings me to my point.
Where the hell were you people yesterday? I announced with all possible clarity my intention to walk into town for a full FOURTEEN KILOMETRES and not one of you, not a single person, left a comment saying “Holy Mary Mother Of God What Are You Thinking?” Nobody. Not a single person typed a comment that contained the words “For the love of wool, don’t do it.” Nada. It makes a girl wonder who’s side you’re on, you know that?
I left the house in the woods at a about three. I walked and walked in the direction of the store. It’s a dirt road (or more properly this time of year, a dirt and ice road) and I walked briskly along the twisty, hilly one lane road that leads into town. (Actually, they don’t have the audacity to call it a town. It’s a “Village”) I walked and walked. The sun was shining, it was only -3, I was warm and cheerful. I greeted chipmunks, I frowned at a squirrel, and then I walked some more. After a while, a long while, it occurred to me that I had been walking a long time. A really long time. Although I’m in pretty good shape and I walk far all the time, I was starting to feel it. I figured though, that I had to be almost there. One couldn’t walk this far and not be almost there. I kept walking.
At the point when I first began to lose faith, I spotted two girls, about 12 years old, crossing the road from one farm to another. They were the first humans I’d seen in five days, and I called out to them. “Hello!” I said, and the girls stared at me. A stranger? This is small town Ontario. There are no strangers, or at least if there are, they are in their cars driving through. A stranger walking up a deserted road in the middle of nowhere. Now that was something. They looked at me and then cautiously said hello back. Then one of them squared her shoulders and said “Where’d you come from?”
“Just up the road” I waved my hand vaguely behind me. “I’m walking to the store. Am I going the right way?”
The girls suspended their disbelief (the walking thing was clearly a shock to them) and assured me that not only was I going the right way, I was close. “Real close”.
I kept walking. I walked and walked and walked. By now, saying that I was “feeling it” was a joke. Things were starting to hurt, but honestly, I’d walked so damn far that it just had to be around the corner. If I turned around and walked back now, I still had to go all the way back, and there was no way I was giving up when I was so close. I walked on. I was not close, it wasn’t around the next corner, but every corner I went around only made it more likely that it would be around the one after that. I walked. I came upon a man out shovelling the drive of an Inn.
“Hello” I said, as cheerfully as the throbbing whole bottom half of my body would let me.
“Howdy.” He replied, sizing me up. “Where’d you come from?”
“Up the road” I waved even more vaguely than before, mostly due to fatigue. “I’m walking to the store.”
He looked at me for a second, and then with a good natured half chuckle, he said “Well. Are you now.”
“Yes. Am I close?”
“No.” He said, and my heart sank to my feet.
“Fifteen more minutes”. My hear leapt! Fifteen minutes! Hell, when you’d been walking as far as I had, what was fifteen more minutes. Sure I was tired. Sure I was hurting, but fifteen more minutes was doable, and it was stupid to go through all this and stop fifteen minutes short of my goal. I strode off. Fifteen minutes. I could do anything for fifteen minutes, and I could have too…. if he hadn’t have been a filthy liar. I don’t know how long it was (it just has to be around this corner) when I finally found the store, but it was a lot longer than fifteen minutes – or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe time had just crawled by for however long it was that I walked the road.
I staggered into the store and a kind and friendly looking guy looked up at me. I closed the door behind me and I said “Holy Hell. This was way further than I thought.”
“Yeah” he said. “I saw you walking. All I could think was ‘Where’d she come from?'”
“I came”, I said “from Smith Road, up by Jones Line”. (Those are made up streets. Don’t come looking.)
He stared. “Smith and Jones? All the way from Smith and Jones? That’s… like seven kilometres.” He shook his head trying to imagine it. In this kind of town nobody walks anywhere. Everything is so far apart and so rural, that if you see someone walking you know their either crazy or in trouble. He looked at me like I might be both.
“You can’t walk from Smith and Jones” he said, very seriously.
“Au Contraire!” I wheezed. “Au contraire…. You certainly can. I don’t recommend it” and here I raised a shaking hand for emphasis “but it can be done.”
“Geez” he said. Still reeling. “That’s something. It sure is.” then he paused, and asked me “What did you come for?” and looked around the store, as if trying to figure out what the hell he sold that I could need this badly. Suddenly I felt stupid. Totally stupid. I felt like the only thing i could say I needed after this sort of lunatic move was “Insulin” or “an ambulance for my dying father” or “food, I’ve been out for days and finally had to walk or die.” Instead, all I had was the truth, and it suddenly seemed rather weak.
“Toilet paper and beer” I said.
“Fair enough” Ron said, because it turned out his name was Ron. We chatted for a bit about what I had been thinking and where I was staying and why. I got the beer and the toilet paper and I loaded it into my backpack, and I slung it onto my back and pulled on my mittens. Then I sighed.
“What are you going to do now” asked Ron, though I think we both knew the answer.
“Can I call a cab?” I asked.
“No cabs out here” said Ron, and I think he felt pretty bad about that.
“That’s what I thought. ” I managed a weak smile. “I guess I’m walking back.” I tried to look brave.
“Well.” smiled Ron, still looking stunned in a nice way, “Ain’t you the craziest thing I’ve seen all day.”
“Thanks” I said, and I smiled as genuinely as possible. I took my leave. I was walking back up the road again. Walking, walking. Thankfully the excruciating pain in my arse had settled down now that the numbness from my thighs had spread. I realized that I had made a mistake, being happy to get to the store. I’d been a fool. The store wasn’t my goal. The store was HALFWAY. If I wasn’t in public I would have cried. I considered how if a car passed me (which was INSANE, I’d walked seven kilometres without a single car passing me) I would try to hitchhike. Yessirree. The slim possibility that the person who picked me up would try to kill me was a fair trade against the certainty of the misery that lay ahead. One step at a time, I plodded along. Walking, walking.
After about 20 minutes, when I had realized there was no way I was getting back before dark and a whole fresh hell was opening up in front of me, a car came up behind me on that little dirt road and slowed to crawl alongside. The window came down, and a pretty girl of about 21 or 22 years old called out.
“Excuse me? Excuse me…” I turned to face her and tried a the best smile I could muster.
“Are you Stephanie?” she asked. “were you just at the store?” I stared. I could barely open my mouth. I couldn’t remember how to talk. I nodded.
“Get in” she said. “My dad says I have to give you a ride.”