I didn’t bring sunscreen. Usually I just use my factor 30 face cream, since Lake Superior is cool enough for long sleeves and long pants most of the time. But these were the hottest days of the year. I sustained nice second-degree burns on the tops of my ears, which stuck out under my baseball cap. They were bloody and itchy, and I thought they were blackfly-bitten until I got home. Hard scar tissue has been flaking off like pork crackling ever since. I look at my festering, hobbity ears in the mirror and think, God, I’m irresistible.
My legs and arms are still covered in cuts and bites. My feet look like I’ve been tortured: raw welts on every toe, red wounds on my heels. I gave myself a pedicure on the porch the day after I got back and as I painted my abused toenails I felt like a battered wife bravely caking on eyeshadow.
Late on the third evening, I saw a sharp rock several steps ahead. Easily avoidable. After eight hours of stumbling over cobbled beaches and boulders, though, stupidity had set in. I slowly exfoliated my left calf along its edge, thinking, oh, I didn’t need to do that. The scar is impressive.
My elbows are scraped raw from my habit of missing the tiny blue signs that led back into the woods whenever the boulders on the coast got too steep and dangerous. More than once I found myself hanging off the edge of a huge rock by my fingers, wondering whether to jump after the pack I’d tossed down. Once a sturdy fellow hiker who was also lost reached down and pulled me up onto a boulder platform an arm’s length above my head, pack and all; halfway up I slipped and skinned all my corners trying to find a purchase in the walls of the little canyon.
I lost a small roll of reserve lard I’ve been hoarding around my middle since Ecuador, and am back down to regulation SoHo dating weight. In the staff kitchen I suck in my cheekbones dramatically, but Canadian park rangers are not impressed by scrawn.
The Coastal Trail Experience was best described by Ralph and Mike, two Toronto hikers I walked with on the last day.
‘We get to camp every night,’ said Ralph, ‘and we say, How can one man be so broken?’