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Her movement rippled the glass under the canoe, distorting the purple and orange dusk. Amber water trickled into the plastic bottle; it was the only sound in the still evening, other than a steady grunt. Her burning arm pumped dingy water through pores, filtering microbes and fishy tannins. The water’s glowing hue, however, remained unchanged. She wondered if purchasing a colorless water bottle was the right choice, as her suspicions had already rendered the filter defective.
No matter how much she drank, she still felt the nagging symptoms of dehydration: dull headaches in the back of her head, dizziness when standing up, even muscle loss. She urinated infrequently, but when she did, it was highly concentrated and had a troubling odor.
With one last pump and trickle, her bottle was full. She carefully detached the filter, closed the water bottle, and just as carefully, screwed open the filter to examine it. Once a white ceramic column was now a yellow and bronze-swirled piece of sidewalk chalk. She tried to scrub it clean but only managed to change its shape; never its lurid color. Stowing it in her daypack, she tried to put it out of her mind.
She lifted the bottle into a dim headlamp and inspected it. Aside from the gold tint, the water was clear. She slowly unscrewed the lid and brought it to her nose—no bouquet. With a grin, she took three small gulps and thought about a tarp system to collect rainwater.
The rain began at the start of her trip (six days ago) and finally stopped that evening. After factoring her recent developments, including the bizarre depletion of the filter, she decided to ration her water supply with extreme calculation.
She screwed the lid on tight, wedged the bottle between her feet, and paused to stretch and look at the sky. Swollen clouds hung still and blocked constellations: a convenient navigation tool she learned especially for this adventure. Regardless, she knew she was a few miles south of her site.
Since she began her trip, she noticed she was getting progressively weaker. Each portage was more difficult than the last, and her gear seemed to be getting heavier. She would find herself easily winded, which she found odd given the amount of training hours logged.
Introduced to camping in her mid-twenties, her late start in nature appreciation made her wish she signed up for scouts as a child. Nevertheless, she went camping every chance she could after her tardy introduction and considered roughing it a vacation from the concrete jungle.
During seasonable lunch breaks, she would walk through the city, sit under a maple tree, and look up through its dense leaves. The thick canopy provided shade and blocked the rigid skyline, jaunting like undead fingers.
Staring up the skirt of the tree would make her surroundings lose focus. And breathing, she would remind herself, breathing is the key. Afterwards, she could easily manipulate her environment to her liking. She cloned the tree until the city crumbled into lush forests. Sidewalks dissolved into compacted soil with sharp stones and spongy moss. Skyscrapers transformed into eroded rock shale. Black asphalt melted into river water, cell data into cricket chatter, car horns and sirens into loon calls—this both centered and starved her.
She knew she had the physical, mental, and financial strength to take her longest, most difficult adventure: a hundred-day hike across nearly two-thirds of North America.
Her family advised against the trip but trusted she had the knowledge and training to succeed. Her friends were also apprehensive to let her leave but were ultimately jealous they couldn’t join her. She was also disappointed she wouldn’t be able to share it with them. However, she secretly rejoiced when she found out she’d be going alone. She would never admit to being selfish, but she preferred to share the adventure with no one but share the accomplishment with everyone.
It rained on the day she reached the entry point of her epic trip, marking a new page in her life. Once she completed this journey, she would have truly graduated life: to be worthy of occupying space on a majestic, fragile planet.
After covering the gear in her docked canoe, she jogged to her car for one last look and sat in the driver’s seat. Her poncho settled into the fabric as she tried to memorize the moment. She looked at herself in the rear view mirror, wiped the rain from her face, and angled the mirror to inspect every contour. She wondered if she’d be looking at the same face upon her return. The pelting rain rushed her, and she leapt out of the car, locked the doors, and jogged back to the launching point—the mirror left cockeyed.
The seventh night fell much earlier. She took a deep breath through her nose. The air carried coniferous sap and dew, making her stomach rumble loudly; it echoed off the distant trees.
She hadn’t eaten much that day and sustained her energy with what she could forage. Berries, mushrooms, and roots she’d eaten were all confirmed edible in her outdoor survival guide, which was kept safely next to the water filter and collapsible fishing pole at the bow of the boat. Battling swells the day before made her arms too tired to cast, let alone paddle the few miles back to camp.
She took a big gulp of water to quiet her belly and angled her lamp downwards to locate the paddle; the lamp was dead. She panicked for a moment but knew there were spare batteries in the tent. She kept it strapped to her head and back-paddled the canoe, curling the mirrored panorama. Small whirlpools gurgled, as the paddle jostled hard against the side of the canoe with a loud and hollow knock. Fatigue had robbed her practiced control. She swallowed the urgency to make it back before dark and paddled with less force.
The canoe lunged easily through the still water, of which she was entirely grateful. Another day of paddling through rain and waves would make suspending the trip a viable option. She frowned at the cloudy sky knowing that nature could betray her at any moment and paddled into the gradual darkness.