After being turned around by the snow yet again yesterday, Mom decided to leave the mountains and follow the coast through Oregon instead. Since we’d abandoned the plan, we needed to find a new trail to explore. To avoid paralysis by analysis, the most effective way to pick a trail is the choose the one with the coolest name, and then check the reviews to see if they have any hints about access, like “The road is closed” or “It’s covered in snow” or “I’m giving this 5 stars even though I haven’t hiked it yet.” Which is how we found Humbug Mountain, whose trailhead is right on the freeway!
After hiking in so many deserts and exotic mountaintops, Humbug Mountain looked a lot like our trails at home: a dirt single track with a lot of switchbacks going through redwoods and ferns and moss and stuff. Maybe it was because the trail felt so familiar that Mom ran almost the whole way up. It was like the old days when we used to do “training” rather than just running at whatever pace falls most comfortably out of her legs. Ever since Mom stopped running fast a few years ago, the amount of discomfort that she’s willing to put up with has gotten less and less, and our pace has gotten slower and slower until lately what she’s doing can barely be considered running at all. When you watch me run, it feels like there should be exciting trumpets playing in the background. Lately when Mom runs like a tuba sounds. But not today.
“What’s gotten into you?” I asked.
“Oscar, I’ve discovered what my butt is for again!” she said.
“Mom… I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but there’s only one member of this family with the assets to be a butt model. And it’s not you…”
“No! I mean I just rediscovered my glutes! It’s like I’ve been stuck in a low gear, and just found my big ring!”
“Your what?” I immediately regretted getting her started. When you get Mom started on movement mechanics she gets really excited and forgets to stop talking.
“Look! As I’ve gotten lazier I’ve gotten into the habit of running like this because it’s less springy and takes less effort…” she leaned over like she was trying to push an upright piano uphill into the wind. “But the reason it takes less effort is because it switches off your glutes and you’re just using your hamstrings to pull your body forward, and only your calves to push off…” Then my brain turned off for a little while while she droned on about too much sitting at a desk and tight hip flexors and stuff. “…But now that I’m not staring at a screen all day, and we’re moving over so many different surfaces, all of the muscles in my legs are waking up again! I’m remembering how to move, and that my butt isn’t just a cushion for sitting on…!” Geez, she really could go on and on… I’m telling you guys, her butt really isn’t that special.
“I just stand up straight like this, see?” she said, pulling herself high like she was trying to look taller. “And then I can drive my knee a little higher, see?” and her leg started swinging in front of her before landing on the ground, rather than just landing underneath her and pawing backward. “And then that weird hitch in my right hip and the hunch in my back go away, plus it gives me the lift to spring off the ground using my glutes rather than…” I stopped listening again.
But as I watched her run, I had to admit that she did look a lot better. She wasn’t running like heralding trumpets or anything, but more like a people puppy trying to play the recorder; it wasn’t pretty, but at least you could recognize the tune.
After the Humbug, Mom remembered that despite all of the big rocks that look like Wild Things climbing out of the sea, driving the coast is actually kind of boring. So we went back inland toward a trail with a waterfall that looked like it was just off the highway. It was true that it was only about 20 miles miles off of the highway, but one thing that we’re learning about The West is that between the cities, this country is so empty that it turns into wilderness pretty quickly. It’s a wonder that there are enough people to use all the roads that we find. We traveled about 20 miles along a narrow mountain road before the road turned back to dirt several miles from the trailhead. This place was so remote, and we were tucked in so tight to the mountain, that The Witch couldn’t even find us to move our blue dot. We decided to just park the car-house and see what we could find. As we looked out over the side of the mountain, we could see mountain after mountain as far as the eye could see, and on each one we could see several dirt roads ending in clearings just big enough to turn your covered wagon around in before you went to explore the next mountain. Just think of all the places you could get lost and not find your trail.
In our clearing was a beautiful lake with a very steep wall behind it. It looked like a giant tostada bowl for a taco salad. Mom said that it was a rock quarry, where people mine rocks.
“What’s in the rocks?” I asked.
“I don’t think anything’s in them. They’re just for people who need rocks, I guess.”
“Why would you need just rocks?”
“I don’t know… for construction, maybe? Or gravel paths? Maybe they just grind up the mountain so that they can build gravel roads for people to get lost on all the other mountains.”
We tried to hike around the quarry, but the trail didn’t go very far at all. All over the place there were empty soda bottles, and beer cans, and old food wrappers, and a pile of burnt wood right under a sign that said “NO CAMPFIRES.” We stopped in a few more places, and everywhere we went it seemed like the spot was so remote that no one would ever find it, but that clearly lots of people had camped there.
“How do all of these people know about this place?” I asked. “We only found it because we are very lost. And I think that there would be places like this wherever we got lost.”
“I don’t know, Oscar. I’m starting to wonder if maybe we’re missing out on something living in a place where you can’t even find a parking space without somebody telling you to scat. They say that more than 40% of the western states are public land. Wouldn’t it be great to explore it all?”
I looked out over all of those mountains, and remembered the times when I looked at the desert too. The idea of getting lost that many times and exploring all of that space made my brain hurt.
We would have liked to camp up there too, but Mom said that we needed to get ice to protect my cheese, so we should probably come down now. So instead of sleeping in a private spot on top of a mountain next to a beautiful lake, we’re sleeping in a rest stop on the I-5 outside Eugene. Mom is thrilled because it has toilets and picnic tables and running water, which we would normally pay money for, but I don’t like it because there are lots of trucks that I have to bark at.
-Oscar the Pooch