The muskeg smells earthy, for sure, not putrid though. The cold water trickles up the leg of my wet suit as I back up to the starting line trying not to trip clumsily over my fins.
I hate cold water but can’t pass on the opportunity for sport and fun. Besides, when else can I dress up like a frog? I adjust my goggles, push my snorkel through my frog-face hat, and give the thumbs up sign. The gun fires. I leap forward into the cold water that fills my suit and sends a shiver down my spine before my body can warm it. Or is that just the adrenaline of the race? I fin through the gritty slimy water filled with decaying sphagnum moss shed from the spruces and larches of the taiga forest. The use of arms is not allowed under the rules of the race.
I frog my way forward towards the finish line costumed in my black spotted green leopard frog cape, the frog eyes on my mask just breaking the surface. The crowd cheers me on, getting louder as I near the finish line, sixty yards from the start of the five foot wide channel.
I stand at the finish line, the muck clinging to me like some bog monster in a bad movie, raising my fists over my head in victory. My heart continues to pound as I regain my breath. The exhilaration and the exertion of the race drowned the cold back in the first ten yards. I remove my goggles and frog-face hat.
I know Samaki and Haraka will have better times. Both are much stronger swimmers than I. Maybe I’ll get an honorable mention for costume. Andie walks over to me with a towel so I can dry off.
“You are in first place”, she says proudly.
“Ha ha. That should stand until the second swimmer.”
The contestants enter the water one at a time each in their bog suits of fish, boats, and one guy tried to pedal a bicycle each taking their shot at fame and fashion.
“You won!” Andie congratulates me with a generous hug.
“Really?” I said genuinely surprised. “What happened to Samaki and Haraka? They are both much better swimmers. What were their times?”
“Neither of them raced. They both got sick” Andie says.
“Both? Really?” Even on a festive occasion like this, with games and conversation and community, the moss hanging from the trees, the fog, and the cold make the taiga forest seem like a sinister and foreboding place.
“Yes, both. The doctors diagnosed it as mushroom poisoning. They both ate some Larch boletes” she explains.
“Those aren’t poisonous. We eat those all the time” I counter.
“Well, the only plausible hypothesis is that you poisoned them to win. Everyone knows.” she kids.
I feel my face turn warm. I blush. I turn my head away so she cannot see. “They don’t really think that do they?”
Andie may not see my face redden but she reads my hesitation and voice as if the emotion was stamped on my forehead. She doubles over with laughter. “Of course not, silly. Oh, and by the way, Chaza won best outfit.”
“I happily concede. She deserves it. Any one willing to jump in that cold, dirty water with nothing but a clam shell bikini gets all the prizes as far as I am concerned.” A surge of lust flashes through my body. I blush again.
Without looking, Andie reads me just as easily as the last time.