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tale from a gravel parking lot at 1750 metres




tale from a gravel parking lot at 1750 metres

Carrie Karsgaard

A BMW rolls in hot to whoops of we made it flapping out the windows on the wind. Everybody in the lot turns to stare – which is me, crouched in the back of a Pathfinder hatch, and a dozen mountain bikers with Aussie accents.

Two girls flop out of the car and flip open the hood to the tune of overheating and WTF, when next I hear a squeal. Followed by: RAT!

No longer casual observers, the Aussies and I saunter over to the Beemer and peer alongside the girls at the twisted rat atop the engine – source of the overheating. Everyone stares aghast, the rat is tossed into the bushes with a couple of sticks, and I’m back at my post in the hatch – where I spent nearly four hours that morning.

Not many people have the luxury of spending half a day overlooking mountain peaks (and a gravel lot) without distraction – no agenda, no cell service, no company but the horseflies. When an injury causes you to turn around on a trail with nothing but a car key and some bear spray – while your friends go on to run a beautiful ridge line – you can either sit down among the huckleberries and cry, waiting for the bears to overtake you so you can die a wild and news-worthy death, or feel yourself akin to all-inclusivers who pay big money to spend hours without stimulus.

Or do a bit of both, like I did.

Pretending that nothing was wrong with my calf but that I’d indeed chosen to spend the morning solo, I made my way out of the bush back to the parking lot and thanked my lucky stars I wouldn’t have to listen to all those chipper trail runners talk about ridge views, sing the Sound of Music and swap trail mix recipes. Then, camped out in the hatch of my friends’ car, I stared and the rocky skyline across the valley, and tried to imagine that I had shelled out a few months’ savings to spend my hours staring at the sky. I closed my eyes, imagined my soft flask of lemon electrolyte to be a salty margarita, and soaked up the sun…

… until the horseflies drove me distracted. I poked around the car, repeatedly checking the glove compartment, console, and under the seats for a pen and paper to sketch or write. Though my efforts revealed nothing, I tried again every few minutes: glove compartment. Console. Seats. Nothing. I turned my cell phone on every few minutes to see if Telus had popped up a new tower at the Mica Dam (postal code: middle of nowhere) while I waited. I leaned back, curled up, swung my legs, crossed my ankles, and closed my eyes again, pushing my injury from my mind, hoping to recreate all-inclusive bliss…

… but I’m not good at doing nothing. Desperate for stimulus, I became acutely interested in the comings and goings of others in the parking lot. The Rat Girls were only the beginning. I watched the Aussie’s prep their mountain bikes to the melody of their tour guides replaying what sounded like an age-old marriage tune: – You should really wear sunscreen, you know.Oh yeah? Well you should quit eating red meat. I nodded mindlessly to an Albertan's comprehensive overview of the trail networks between Canmore and Fernie for 45 minutes while he waited for his (lost) friends to find the appropriate logging road and show up in the parking lot with his bike. I endured a finely-researched lecture from a Swiss mountain biker on the backcountry advantages of the Rockies over the Alps. Finally, I borrowed a stranger’s lawn chair and added to my repertoire: lean back, curl up, switch to chair, stretch out, switch to hatch, curl up…

… and when my friends ran into the parking lot, flush with sun and victory and views, I high-fived, listened to their stories and heart-ed photos (when cell service allowed me back on Instagram). Even though I hadn't run with them, I loved how much they loved their adventures – and smiled when they said it was a smooth and rolly, Carrie-style run.

Injuries bite as bad as horseflies – maybe as bad as bears – and take a little imagination to manage. Heading back into town from the gravel lot, I wished my calf injury had been left behind like the toasted rat. Instead, it came with me – bringing more moments of all-inclusive bliss and boredom. Lean back, feet up, glass of wine, laptop, sit up, switch to desk, type it up, more wine, press publish.