In my never-ending quest to understand the complexities of the world we live in, there’s one part of the newspaper I rely on to help it all make sense. The comics page. But there’s one strip I always skip. I’ve tried reading Mark Trail from time to time, but it’s never managed to hold my interest.
It doesn’t help that everything about it seems dated. Even the clothes look like they’re from the Johnson administration. The Andrew Johnson administration. Despite my best efforts, I’d inevitably abandon it in favor of a faster-paced activity. Like watching my fingernails grow.
Recently the Times Union rearranged its comics section and Mark Trail was given a special spot below the puzzles. With its presence nagging at me as I worked the Sudoku, I made a more concerted effort to read it. But the storyline was too boring. Even the Jumble, with answers like “snooze-fest,” “yawn” and “molasses” seemed to agree.
But it occurred to me the problem may be more than the slow pace. Mark and I, it turns out, have nothing in common. He loves seeking adventure in the great outdoors. I, on the other hand, believe if God had intended us to go out and experience nature, He never would have invented the Discovery Channel.
Then, while doing the cryptogram one day, I noticed something different about the strip. A man was bringing breakfast on a tray to a woman propped on pillows in bed. Now here’s a storyline I can relate to.
It turns out the man, Wes, was trying to convince the woman, Shelley, to go camping. Shelley tells him she doesn’t care for the outdoors. Either Wes is hard of hearing or else he’s fond of the celibate lifestyle because he insists she go camping anyway. Then he enlists Mark Trail and his wife, Cherry, to help. I’ll bet if they showed the next panel, Shelley would be trying to smother Wes with one of those pillows.
The next day’s strip shows a plane flying over mountains. Apparently Mark’s idea of a great camping spot is one that’s hours from the nearest first aid station. Or restroom. There’s a bear watching the tiny prop plane as it lands. I can’t help but notice it’s salivating like someone just rang the dinner bell. Good thing we can’t see inside the plane, because poor Shelley’s frantically searching the bottom of her purse for a stray Valium.
Shelley spends a lot of time at first complaining about being unable to use her cell phone. Which means room service is totally out of the question. Things quickly go downhill when, for some unknown reason, Wes and Mark fly off in the plane, leaving Shelley and Cherry alone at the campsite. At least Cherry has the decency to offer Shelley a drink. Unfortunately for Shelley, the drink turns out to be tea.
Then the plane crashes. Now, that is fun! The two men are forced to spend the night in the woods without food or shelter. A pack of wolves begins howling. It’s hard to believe Shelley would rather have stayed in the city than miss this. Wes is too injured to move. Given the luck they’re having, gangrene will soon set in. I’m sure they’ll all look back on this one day and have a good chuckle.
Another pack of wolves is howling near the women’s campsite. Shelley nervously calculates her chances of survival. Meanwhile, somewhere in the woods, Wes is calculating the size of the diamond he’s going to have to buy Shelley when they get home.
Soon, I’m tempted to forego the word search in favor of finding out what’s happening to Wes and Shelley. This week, the wolf pack chases two moose through the campsite. The moose knock a propane tank into the smoldering campfire. Suddenly there’s a huge explosion and everything is burning. Incredibly, Shelley still isn’t having a good time. Boy, talk about a stick in the mud.
Considering how hard the cartoonist is working to portray camping as a fun and safe activity, I can only wonder what Shelley will encounter next. Rattlesnakes? Avalanche? Sasquatch? I’ll have to keep reading to find out. Right after I do the crossword.