Today is our last day in the car-house and so the last day of my birthday. We had reached the end of the world where the mountains blink out as suddenly as when the power goes out when you’re watching TV. Then there is only ocean forever and ever. There was nowhere to go from here but home. As a final challenge, Mom planned our longest hike-run of the trip for the last day. She picked the highest mountain that also touches the ocean in California. It was 11 miles to the top, and the pack-pack couldn’t hold enough water for us both to get all the way there and back, so we would run like a tennis ball when Mom throws it in the air: not very high, and probably really far from the target. Then we would have to fall back down to the ocean and be done. I think that Mom would have liked to keep climbing until she cleared the top of the mountain, and then keep running east and into the mountains and desert forever. But we weren’t running fast enough to hit escape velocity yet.
For the first couple of miles the trail ran along the side of the mountain in the same shape as the coast, so that to our right there was a wall of mountain, and to our left there was open air. This was one of those places that was beautiful from both close under my nose, and also if I lifted my head and smelled it from a distance. It smelled like ocean and mountain, like woods and grass, and not like city at all. The colors were so bright that I could almost see them and Mom could almost smell them. The ocean was bright like the sky, with a lighter color like a 1970’s bathroom closer where the waves were exploding and generally carrying on. The mountain smelled like the brightest green, with tiny little wild flowers the color of red skittles and purple skittles and an orange creamsicle. Mom said that this place is usually foggy in the morning, so she was glad that the weather had cooperated for our special day.
After about 3 miles the trail turned away from the ocean and into the forest. The trees went up and down like normal, but they also went sideways and diagonal in places and Mom had to use them and rocks to cross a river back and forth. I tried to show her how it was easier for her to just walk through the water, like me. She said that I would understand if I wore socks. Instead she teetered and wobbled across, and I had to guess when she was going to jump or when she was going to stop. When I guessed wrong, the leash would pull on her and she’d wobble even more, make embarrassing noises, and wave her arms like one of those wind socks outside a car dealership that always need a lot of barking. I encouraged her to set me free, but she said that people in this part of the world are a lot more uptight about doggie rights, and we needed to follow rules about leashes and showers and tooth brushing again if we were going to re-enter civilization.
Mom was running at her “forever pace,” or the pace that she can maintain all day if she wants to. That means that she would run as long as it was easy, and then hike when she started breathing hard. But now that we were back at the ocean, breathing was easier and we ran a lot of the way up the mountain. I thought that we were probably just running on a flat bit, but every time I checked how far we were above the ocean, it was further and further below us. Since most mountains are longer on the way up than the way down, this must be a magic mountain because it felt short all the way up.
After 7.5 miles of running in the shade of the mountain, and then the shade of the trees we popped out of the trees onto a saddle with just the hats of all the mountains higher than us. Mom and I stopped for a snack and a drink. To be honest we probably could have handled going the additional 2.5 miles all the way to the top, but Mom said that there was no reason to beat ourselves up. We were about to turn back down when Mom’s phone buzzed. There was cell reception up here! This was a magic mountain indeed! But it turned out to be the Witch that Lives in Her Phone tricking us with one of those fake cell signals that you get in the wilderness and nothing would load. We ran another half mile around the side of the peak to see if we could get a better signal. Mom ran holding her phone out in front of her like a baby that had just overflowed its diaper. But mountains must not need to check their updates very often, because we couldn’t find any more bars to tell us how far we were from the nearest Starbucks.
That meant that it was time to finally come back to earth.
When we popped back out of the trees a few miles later and started running back down the open mountainside, the trail was in no hurry to dive back to the water. Instead it tried to hang on to its height and swing from one pleat of the mountain to the next. That was poetic and symbolic and all, and maybe Mom wanted to keep running forever, but it was getting warm in the sun and I was one pooped pooch. Just like a feather, the trail did eventually settle down to the road… and just unlike a feather I got to plop down in the car-house and rest.
Mom told me that we could have a special lunch on the way home, but we would have to drive a little ways first. I was starving after my 16-mile run over the magic mountain and wanted my giant quesadilla right away, but every couple of minutes Mom had to stop the car-house and sit in line for long minutes waiting for a man with a sign to wave us through. “Moooom! What’s going on?!” I manly-whined. “Why can’t we drive to quesadillas?”
“The Big Sur Marathon comes through here next week,” she said. “I think that they’re trying to make sure that everything is cleaned up and the road work is done before that.”
“What’s the Big Sir Marathong?” I asked. “Is it something that I should be doing?”
“Hell no,” said Mom. “The Big Sur Marathon was my first marathon, and ever since then I have an annual tradition of NOT running it. This will be the 13th year in a row that I observe Duck That, I’m Never Doing That Again.”
“But it’s so beautiful here!” I said. “I want to do my first marathong somewhere beautiful!”
“It was cloudy and grey and not very beautiful at all when I ran it, to be honest…” she said. “And you only see the toenail of Big Sur when you run on the road. You and I ran right to the heart of it today. Isn’t that nicer?”
“I suppose so…” I conceded.
“Plus, you’re seeing the course right now from the comfort of your car-house! So you don’t need to spend all that energy to run it!” It was true, I was pooped, which is why I was curled up in my bed next to the driver’s seat with my head in Mom’s lap. The idea of running 10 more miles sounded exhausting. “And do you want to know something extra special?” Mom went on. “…The finish line is in the same spot where you finished your New Year’s 10K this year!”
Now that really was something! I thought long and hard about it while we waited for the line to move. I had run a long run in Big Sir. I had seen the whole course end-to-end. I had crossed the finish line. Ergo, I had run the Big Sir Marathong, just like Mom! What’s more, since everyone else wouldn’t run it till this weekend, and I was here now, well… I’d be the first one to cross the finish line! Which means that I got to finish my birthday vacation by winning the Big Sir Marathong!
-Oscar the Champion