You know what’s the hardest thing about the tramp lifestyle? Planning. Every day Mom spends hours looking at maps. She needs to figure out where we’re going to try to hike and run, how far she thinks we can get in a day, where we’re going to stay each night, and the best way to get there avoiding the interstates where campers are treated like trampers. All this stuff is on different maps and she needs to flip back and forth between 3 apps to figure it out. Even just letting luck be our guide (what Mom calls the “duck it” method) has its challenges: you may find something cool like the Pony Express, or you may wind up sleeping in a Walmart parking lot.
Last night we accidentally wound up too close to a big city and the interstate when it was time to stop for the night. We’ve learned that when you try to stay near a city then all the RV parks are filled with people who live there full time, so you have to stay in Walmart parking lots. We don’t like staying at a Walmart, so we just kept driving into the unknown. All 3 of the maps showed nothing but open space in central Utah. Know why? Because all that’s out there is: big, open space called “public lands.”
If they’re public lands, we figured we could probably sleep on them and run on them, so Mom pulled the car-house into a dirt parking lot next to a dirt road that went into the nowhere so that we could sleep there for the night and then run there in the morning. When we got up it was even colder than the night before. We’re California runners and freeze easily, but just like when she made us run in the rain, Mom said that we needed to toughen up so that we could have plenty of time for adventure. So we started running down the dirt road into the emptiness.
One good thing about public lands is that they tend to follow the kinds of rules that people who don’t like rules make. So I was free to exercise my first doggie amendment right: freedom of leash!
Then again, people who don’t like any rules also tend to enjoy hunting. There were all these plastic things on the ground that Mom said were hunter droppings. Mom hoped that her red hat and my red lobster bandana would keep us safe, but she’s a suburban vegetarian liberal who follows the rules and doesn’t really know much about how hunters think. Mom thought that maybe hunters were hiding in the bushes right now waiting to shoot us. It was 7am on a Monday morning, and we were 10 miles outside of a town of 200 people, so maybe it was unlikely that a hunter would be close to us in all that wilderness. Then again, do people work office hours in the wilderness? I thought that hunters were made of people who generally didn’t want to shoot other people, so they did things to avoid it. But Mom thought that maybe hunters are like t-rexes and attack anything that moves. She thought that maybe they were also like bears and her voice would scare them away if she talked real loud. So she talked to me out loud the whole time we were running.
Another part of her hunter security plan was that I had to stay close to her. I saw a bunny and I took off after it. But then Mom made that “eh, eh, eh!” noise she makes when I have a naughty thought, and I froze, even though it meant that the bunny got away. Then she told me to “c’mere,” and I did c’mere after just a few minutes’ sniffing, and staring off after the bunny.
We ran just under 5 miles without getting shot, and then we hit the road. We drove higher and higher and higher all morning until finally we were so high up that there were hardly any trees and even a bit of snow. Mom had picked out a hike further along the route, but hiking up here on the roof of the world seemed so much more interesting. So she pulled over in a spot that had one of those information boards with maps that they put at the bottom of trails. But the map just showed all of Utah, and said it hadn’t been updated since 2007. We drove further up the road and found nothing but a private property sign. When I jumped out of the car for a drink and pee break, my paws sunk up to the ankles in mud. “What the heck is this?” I asked, shaking out my paw.
“This is adventure, Oscar. Just… this is the part that usually gets edited out.” Well… I’m in a long-winded mood today, so now you know.
“No. This is what comes when you don’t follow a plan,” I corrected her. “You wind up surrounded by all the right stuff, but unable to take advantage of it.” To get back into the car-house without my paws getting dirty again, Mom had to lift me into the driver’s seat. “Now don’t you feel silly?” I asked.
“I don’t know why there would be a sign with all the forest land in Utah if there weren’t hiking nearby. It was a good guess. Give me a break.”
“You’re going to ruin it. We’re going to run out of time. Let’s just go straight to the place you picked out.”
“Okay, promise,” Mom said.
But then, only a few miles later she saw a brown sign for a state park. “It’s only 10 miles out of our way, and they’re sure to have hiking there!” Mom said. “Why wouldn’t you have hiking at a state park on top of a mountain? Let’s go!”
“What about the plan?! You spent hours finding a trail that was along the route. Let’s just keep driving.” But she already had her blinker on. So we drove the 10 miles to the park.
When we got there the “park” was just a parking lot where cars turn into fishing boats. No trails.
“See what happens when you don’t follow the plan?” I asked, trying to make this a teachable moment. “If you throw out your plan for something that MIGHT be a shortcut, you could wind up at a dead end and waste even more time. Now we’re behind schedule.”
“Okay. No more stops. Pinky swear.” she said. But dogs don’t have pinkies.
We drove 2 more hours until we weren’t in the roof of the world anymore, we were now in Breaking Bad. (I know about Breaking Bad because Mom watched it twice. It is a story about how a chemistry teacher uses math to pay his medical bills and take care of his family. I like it because it teaches about loyalty and hard work. I fell asleep before the end.)
When we pulled in to the parking lot, something was wrong. “This is… not what I was expecting…” Mom said.
“What the heck is this?!” I asked.
There were picnic tables and a fee station, just like in all the best parks, but there were also a LOT of trucks – the really big ones that look like trains because they pull multiple trailers full of rocks. Every 2-3 minutes a truck would pull into the parking lot, turn around, and then leave again. We could not figure out what the heck they were doing. They never stopped, just drove in and out ruining our picnic. Even when there were no trucks in the parking lot, a big truck Mom called a caterpillar sat growling 25 yards away, occasionally making backup beeps. “Mom, I don’t like it here,” I said.
“What do you always tell me, Oscar? If you don’t like a place, all you have to do is look up. Sometimes it’s dirty on the ground, but when you look up into the distance it’s always beautiful.” So we looked up. It looked like someone had poured a bunch of sand on some overturned boxes. It looked like we were in a Road Runner cartoon. It was hard to find the beauty. “Maybe it will be better when we’re hiking?” she suggested.
We tried to find the trail, but this place had a lot of unmarked trails that cris-crossed. What if we got really lost? Mom’s phone battery was dangerously low. This was a place where outlaws could hide out for years and no one ever found them. We were leash outlaws sometimes, and we frequently trespassed on trails that aren’t dog friendly, but I didn’t think that we needed to live in the canyons like Geronimo or Butch Cassidy over all that. We wound up just walking up a dry riverbed and treating it like a trail.
The desert is prettier close up than it is from far away. Close up the sand had clumped and flaked and dried in a bunch of cool ways that I had never seen before. When I looked up, all of the big piles of sand looked different from one step to the next. I ran ahead of Mom like the Road Runner, stopping every now and then to watch her scramble haplessly up the trail.
We were starting to have fun, but it was getting hot. Eventually, I found a spot in the shade and flopped down. “That’s it! I can’t go any further!” I panted. Mom gave me some water, and then we turned around and headed back to the trucks. I followed Mom, but every time I found a large patch of shade I flopped down again. “You go on without me!” I gasped. “Save yourself! I’ll just sit here and wait for death.”
“Oscar, we only went like a mile. I think you can make it.”
“No, no… I think the desert has gotten me. Tell my fans I love them.”
“It’s only like 70 degrees out here. You can’t be suffering that badly. You didn’t even finish the bowl of water I gave you 5 min ago.”
“Fine, I’ll try to go on. But don’t be surprised when I collapse and you have to carry me out…” I warned.
Because I love Mom, I crawled on. Okay, sometimes I forgot that I was dying and ran up to explore an interesting thing. But I made sure to let my tongue loll out real far and pant when Mom looked at me. When we finally got back to the house, I flopped down in the shade panting. Sometimes adventure means that you’ll find danger, even when you did all the planning right.
-Oscar the Outlaw