Ten years is a long time for sisters to be apart, but as Lansing’s Erin Bartels writes in her new book, “All That We Carried,” an arduous hiking trip through Michigan’s Porcupine Mountain might not be the best idea for a place for them to reunite.
In addition to being amateur hikers, it doesn’t help that the two sisters, Olivia and Melanie, are as different as night and day. Olivia is a hard-driving lawyer, a materialist and a by-the-clock doer. Melanie, on the other hand, is an online life coach with a go-with-the-flow attitude in life.
Hanging over the hike is the memory of their parents’ fatal car crash 10 years ago while they were on another hike in the Upper Peninsula.
The new book is the third for Bartels, who works as a literary copywriter for Revel, a division of Baker Publishing, which specializes in books with a message of Christian living.
“I sell other people’s books for a living,” she said.
Bartels said the idea for the books comes from her own hiking experiences with her sister, Alison. They have taken eight major hikes together, but none of them have the high drama of the trek in her new book.
“Thankfully, we have not experienced any calamities on our trips,” Bartels said. Except for a “plague of mosquitos,” which cut short a Porcupine Mountain hike.
“You prepare for every eventuality, so you can write about it all happening,” she said.
That includes misplacing a compass, inadequate gear for the elements, a lost trail map, an unexpected dunking in water and a forest fire.
Bartels said her hikes with her sister don’t match up with the dangerous travails of Olivia and Melanie.
“Except for the bear sleeping outside our tent,” she said. On a hiking trip in the Manistee Valley in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Bartels said, “a bear hunkered down 6 inches from my head.”
“At first, I was more worried it was a human,” she said.
Bartels admits that the two fictional characters have pieces of her and her sister in their personalities. She said they both enjoy hiking without distractions. “Nobody can reach you; you don’t need to talk and it’s a great time to get away from responsibilities,” Bartels said.
In the book, when Olivia and Melanie are in the most need of help, a mysterious man out fly-fishing is there to help them. He reappears several times as an angel of mercy and shepherds the women to safety.
“Some things in life are not easily explainable,” she said.
Bartels said her new book came with some hurdles she hadn’t experienced while writing her first two.
“They already were complete, and I only had a short amount of time to write this new book,” she said.
“Also, I was concerned about how my sister would receive the book. I had to reassure her the hikers were not us, but there are parts of us in both of them,” Bartels said. “It could’ve been a little bit sticky, but she liked the book. We spent most of our twenties thinking we were very different people. As it turns out, we’re not so different after all.”
Olivia and Melanie have pretty much the same revelation in Bartels’ new book, but how they get there and the tribulations they undergo are much more daunting. As an aside, the book — although not a guide to hiking Michigan — does provide some examples of what can go wrong if you are not prepared.
Bartels next book takes place on an inland kettle lake in Northern Michigan, where cross generations gather at a summer cottage. It’s a concept many Michiganians will understand intimately.