Hiking for an Answer
Five months ago, in the dead of winter, Erin agreed to go on a summer camping trip with James, her husband. James brought up the idea on a cold February evening, when she was in the depths of a mid-winter Michigan depression.
For those that aren’t familiar with the steely gray skies, bitter cold temperatures, and short days of a Michigan winter; from November to March, you go to work in the dark, come home in the dark, and for more days than you want to remember, below zero temperatures make simply walking outside of the house a painful experience.
It’s worth noting that there is a flipside to the depression that comes with winter in Michigan. The Summer in Northern Michigan is nothing short of magical. The sights, smells, and sounds of a carefree summer day spent in Northern Michigan are permanently embedded in the memory of anyone fortunate enough to experience the phenomena.
When James asked Erin if she wanted to go on a camping trip along the shores of Lake Superior on that cold February evening, Erin's thoughts filled with childhood memories of Summer in Northern Michigan. She was all in, anything to escape the dreary winter.
July 17th, Grand Marais, MI
Hi: 75F Low: 59F
Kuussshhhh, James cracked open a beer.
Forty-five minutes into their nine mile hike, Erin regretted her decision.
Erin felt her face heat up and she thought to herself, keep it together, now is not the time to start a fight. She took a few deep breaths and counted backward from twenty in silence. She tried to force her mind to focus on the beautiful birch trees and green ferns along the trail. No luck, the anger continued to build.
“You’re breathin’ kinda heavy … everything okay back there?” James asked.
“Ohh me? I’m fine … ,” she was too worked up to get it all out in one breath, “and clearly so are you.”
The sarcasm and irritation was impossible for even James to ignore. He reached into the side pocket of his pack and grabbed another can of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. He smiled and thought, god bless the saint who green-lit the idea to sell Bell’s in cans.
James turned, kept walking forward, and offered the beer to Erin. “You want one?”
“No! It’s 9 A.M.,” snapped Erin.
“So what? We’re on vacation,” James continue walking down the trail.
“That’s not the point,” replied Erin.
“Okay … Uhh … so we’re not supposed to have fun on vacation? ... I don’t get it … then what’s the point?”
“The point is nothing,” replied Erin.
James exhaled and flapped his lips. “Okay, nothing it is.” James turned around, continued walking down the trail, and began whistling the tune, “Don’t Worry Be Happy” as loud as possible.
Erin shook her head in disgust. She slowed her pace and let the distance grow between them on the trail. A few minutes later, she was fifteen yards behind and could still hear James whistling. She shouted, “do you wanna know why I’m mad?”
James stopped, turned toward Erin, and took a long slug of beer. “Maybe ... you going to stop being crabby and enjoy the rest of the day if we talk about it?”
Erin stopped on the trail. “I’m mad because when we were packing you made a huge deal about me not taking my book. You made fun of me for wanting to take a book because it was tooooo heavy and there wasn’t enough space. But you seem to have made room beer.”
James dropped his arm to his side. “If I remember right, I wasn’t against you bringing a book. I was against you bringing the hardcover copy of War and Peace, which is thirteen hundred pages and takes up a ton of room in a pack. I offered to download it on my Kindle, but you shot down that idea because …”, James made air quotes with his hands, “you don’t like reading on a Kindle, it’s not the same as a real book ... Am I remembering that correctly?”
Erin shook her head, James was right but she wasn’t going to admit it. “Why do you have to be so difficult?”
James put his free hand on his hip. “Well if you want to read War and Peace, it's on the Kindle in my pack. And in case you get tired of trying to remember three hundred Russian names that all end in ‘ovski’, I also put a couple of cat murder mystery novels on there for you too." James paused to catch his breath. "We’ve got another seven miles to the campsite. We need to get moving or it’ll be dark when we get there.”
James turned and continued walking down the trail, whistling a happy tune. Erin followed and kept her distance. She stayed a good ten yards behind him for the rest of the day.
They made it to the campsite with about thirty minutes of daylight left. James gathered kindling and got the fire started while Erin organized their cooking gear and food for the night.
After they ate dinner, Erin and James sat on opposite side of the small campsite fire. The orange flames lit up their faces in the darkness.
“I’m sorry,” said Erin.
“No need to apologize, I wasn’t being very nice,” replied James.
They locked eyes, then both stared at the flames in silence for a few moments.
“Should we talk about it?” Erin asked.
James broke his focus from the flames and looked at Erin. “It?”
James sighed. “Yeah It ... You need to make a decision, huh?”
“Not me … WE need to make a decision. It impacts both of us.”
“Yeah I guess you’re right. So what do ya think?”
“I think .... I don’t know what to do,” replied Erin.
“Well, neither do I. Did you talk to your dad?”
“My dad? Why would I talk to him about this?”
“Well he’s a Doctor. Seems like he could at least give you the options,” replied James.
“He’s not that kind of Doctor and the options are pretty clear. There are two choices. Either do something, or do nothing,” replied Erin.
James shrugged. “Yeah good point. That's kinda true ... we could go to Mexico?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I heard people go down there all the time for this kind of stuff.”
“We are not going to Mexico,” replied Erin.
James titled his head in agreement. “Fair enough. Well … we could just let things play out. See what happens,” said James.
Erin raised her eyebrows. “You mean just do nothing?”
“Yeah … like you said, it's an option. We don’t have to do anything.”
Erin shrugged her shoulders. “You’re right, we don’t have to do anything … If we do nothing, you know whats going to happen.”
“I mean … either way … things are going to change. Even if we try to do something about it … there’s no guarantee that everything turns out okay,” replied James.
Erin took a deep breath and exhaled. “You’re right, definitely no guarantees on either side," Erin paused and looked down at the fire, "I think we should just let it go and see what happens. You okay with that?”
James bit his lip and thought for a moment. “Yeah, I’m good with that. C’est la vie.”
Erin locked eyes with James. “C’est la vie.”
They both watched the flames crawl over the logs in the fire.
James smiled. “Come on over here and sit next to me.” He patted the ground next to him.
Erin smiled and sat down next to him. James put his arm around her and took a swig from his beer.
“You want one?”
“No … maybe just a sip of yours,” replied Erin.