I’m going to have fun this week if it kills me!
Christine Sullivan heaved a sigh. Thanks to a sinus infection, instead of lying on a beach in the Caribbean sucking back rum drinks with her friends, she was still in Ontario. Spending her vacation camping in Algonquin Park. Alone.
Get over it. You’re a big girl and you don’t need your crew around to have fun.
Besides, there may be some merit to vacationing alone. She could be selfish and do what she wanted the whole time.
Grinning, she finished lacing her boots. Her friends hated hiking.
Christine jumped in her car and began the winding drive out of her campground. Too bad she hadn’t picked up a trail guide on the way in yesterday. At just under three thousand square miles of lakes, rivers and forests, Algonquin Provincial Park had a trail to suit everyone. She shrugged her shoulders. Oh, well. She’d pick something out at random.
Forsaking the car’s air conditioner, Christine rolled down the windows. Ah, fresh air. No stinking Toronto pollution or oppressive humidity.
It’s all good. This is way better than frying myself on a beach.
As she drove along Highway 60, the main corridor through the Park, she watched for the signs marking the trails and lookouts. Finally spotting a trailhead marker that didn’t have a ton of cars parked beside it, she pulled over.
After parking and getting out of her car, Christine decided to do some warm-up exercises. May as well do this right, she thought.
As she stretched, the tension of the last week began to seep away. Maybe the sinus infection wasn’t such a bad thing after all. When was the last time she’d just stood and enjoyed the majesty of nature?
Crossing a transition zone between northern coniferous and southern deciduous forests, the Park offered something for everyone. Maybe she’d get lucky and find one of the rare species of orchids that grew here. Maybe she’d come eyeball to eyeball with a moose or some other wildlife. Okay, not that close, but close enough to get a picture.
Finally, car locked, fanny pack with her camera and iPhone in place, she headed for the trail. As she drew even with the marker sign, the word “strenuous” jumped out at her.
Nibbling on a thumb nail, she stopped and looked back at the parking lot. No other cars. Suddenly, this didn’t seem like such a good idea. Maybe being alone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Sucking in a deep breath, she planted her fists on her hips. “Come on, Sullivan. Stop being such a wuss. It says strenuous, not deadly.”
She nodded, deciding to heed herself. It wasn’t like she wasn’t in good shape, she was. And for crying out loud, this was Algonquin Park, not the Himalayas.
Turning back to the trail, she forged ahead. The trees closed in around her, welcoming her into another world.
This was what she loved about hiking. The way the silence of the forest heightened her senses.
Slowing her pace, she pulled in a cleansing breath, awed at how everything took on a vividness not there moments ago. The tickle of a pine needle on her arm, the vibrant yellow of a bird further ahead in a maple tree, the call of a loon in the distance, and the aroma of a campfire drifting by on a breeze. All of it presented with a clarity usually lacking.
She’d made the right decision.
After hiking some distance, Christine came upon a ridge that offered an awesome view. Standing at the edge of a cliff, she took in the panorama before her. She could see for miles–north, west and south. To the south, the bluest of lakes glistened like a jewel in the early morning sun. She had to have a picture of this. But if she could just get a little higher, the awesome view would be stupendous.
Well, hey, there were lots of trees around, right?
Patting her camera, safely tucked into her fanny pack, she picked a tree and started climbing.
Only to learn the error of her ways.
What was it she’d said to herself this morning? Oh, yeah. I’m going to have fun if it kills me. Good news, she’d been having fun. Bad news, it was about to kill her.
Why, why, why had she climbed this tree?
She should have known better. If there was some screwball situation most people would avoid, she walked into it with her eyes wide open and oblivious to the probable consequences.
More than an hour had passed since she found herself marooned. And another hour since she’d parked her car. Not a soul had crossed her path since.
She could hear the headlines now. “And in local news, a hiker in advanced stages of rigor mortis was found in a tree. It appears she climbed up and couldn’t get back down.”
“Hey. Are you okay?”
The unexpected-but oh, so welcome- voice overpowered the one in her head, and she screeched. Heart thumping, she slammed her back against the tree trunk. Taking a header from here wasn’t a favourable option! Yeah, it would get her out of her predicament-the tree-but likely bust her skull open.
Christine looked down-and oh my. This time is wasn’t the elevation making her head swim. Would you look at him? And didn’t if just figure? She couldn’t meet up with a hot guy while on her feet, in control, and at her best. Nope, she had to be stuck up a tree and looking like an idiot.
Hmm, should she play it cool? Tell him to move on, she was just up here enjoying the view?
No way! First, she needed help and second-well, really who cared what he looked like? She needed help!
“Uh, yeah. I’m sorta stuck up here.”
“Can’t you get down the way you went up?”
“Um, no. I…well, I didn’t check the strength of the branches before I stood on them. Some of them snapped on the way up.” And instead of acting like a sane person and aborting when the first branch snapped, she’d kept climbing. Well, she had a fabulous shot to show for her efforts, didn’t she? She might crack a few bones or the camera trying to make it back to terra firma, but details, details. Christine was a big picture sort of girl. She didn’t get bogged down in the minutia.
Maybe-given her current predicament-it was time to reassess her stance on that.
“If this were a movie I’d tell you to jump, and I’d catch you. But that’s not going to happen in real life. You’d crush me.”
What? Jerk! Was he saying she was fat? She knew she shouldn’t have eaten that huge desert last night.
She lifted her chin a bit and looked down her nose at him-pretty easy from up here-and in the haughtiest voice she could summon said, “Excuse me?”
He laughed and put his palms out. “Whoa. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that you’re high enough to pick up speed and force on the way down. How long have you been up there?”
Oh. She supposed his answer made sense. She looked at her watch. “About an hour and a half. You’re the first person to come by.”
“Not surprising. This isn’t one of the more popular trails. I rarely see anyone when I hike here.”
Okay then. Be nice to him. He may well be her only chance for salvation. But didn’t it just figure? She had herself stuck in a tree on a trail hardly anyone used. She really could have died up here.
Christine watched as he pulled off his backpack and swung it to the ground. He was obviously a serious hiker-not just a wannabe like her.
First, he untied the sleeping bag strapped to the bottom of his pack and let it drop to the ground. Then from his pack, he removed a fair size coil of rope and a pair of gloves.
He looked up at her. “Were you any good in gym class?”
Gazing down at him suspiciously, she asked, “Why? What do you have in mind?”
“Since I can’t get up there-if the tree wouldn’t hold you it won’t hold me-you need to get yourself down here. With a little help.”
“Uh-huh. And just what kind of help did you have in mind?”
He grinned at her. “Well, since I don’t think you want to jump-you’d have done it by now if you did-I’m suggesting you use the rope. How sturdy is that branch you’re standing on?”
Heat crept into her cheeks. “Good.” No way would she tell him she’d made that discovery by crashing down onto it from above.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll throw the rope up to you. When you catch it, I’ll tell you how to tie it. Then I’ll throw the gloves, and you get to lower yourself down with the rope. Simple.”
Simple? Easy for him to say. “Ah…you sure there isn’t another way?”
“You prefer to wait for the next person to come along with a better suggestion?”
Heaving a sigh and accepting the inevitable, Christine said, “Throw me the rope.”
“Hold on. Just in case you fall…”
Great. Thanks for reintroducing that image to my brain.
He began creating a giant mound of leaves and finally spread his sleeping bag over them.
Huh. A thorough, thoughtful man. And just my luck, I have to meet him when I’m at my worst.
He stood back a bit, put his hands on his hips, and looked up at her. “You ready for this?”
“Unless you have some nifty superhero skills-like the ability to teleport me-I guess I have no choice. Let’s get this over with.”
“What’s your name?”
“Okay, Christine. I’m going to throw the rope. Watch what you’re doing and try not to fall while reaching for it. Here we go.”
Ya think? Okay, positive thoughts. Positive thoughts.
Clenching her lower lip between her teeth, she watched the rope sail toward her. And sail right past.
It snagged on a branch two feet beyond her reach, and then fell to the ground.
Watching its descent, she asked, “What happens if it gets stuck somewhere and I can’t reach it?”
“You get to stay up there.”
Gulp. “Okay. Try again.”
This time, she caught it. “I did it! I caught it!”
Grinning, he said, “Good. I’ll tell how to tie it, then I’ll throw you the gloves.”
A few minutes later she pulled the gloves on. Made for man hands, they were far too large, but she curled her fingers, grateful she wouldn’t lose a few layers of skin.
While fiddling with her fanny pack, trying to make her camera and phone as safe as possible, Christine took a deep breath and released it along with a quiet prayer. “Please help me do this.”
Now or never.
Grasping the intricately tied rope in both hands, she began a cautious journey downward. He talked her through every step, but that didn’t make the situation any less terrifying.
After what seemed an eternity, he said, “Okay, now jump.”
“Yeah. You’re almost out of rope. Don’t worry. It’s not too far, and I’m right here.”
Nooo! Why, why, why didn’t I check the length of the rope?
Christine looked up-no way was she looking down-and again asked for a safe return to the ground.
She let go.
Note to self. Free-falling isn’t something I ever want to do again.
A cry of relief escaped her lips when she felt strong arms grab her around the waist. Then they were tumbling to the ground, with him maneuvering so she landed on top.
His grinning face appeared inches from her nose when she finally opened her eyes. “Hi. I’m Greg. You owe me a rope, or at the very least, dinner.”
Huh. I am going to have fun this week!