Even though we are very far north and spring is supposed to come late to this part of the country, it has been dog-meltingly hot for the last few days. The Witch said that it was only 82º yesterday, but as usual she lied because all of the thermometers that we passed on the road said that it was 10 degrees hotter than that. If The Covered Wagon has to work hard (like climbing a hill, or driving on the freeway), or even if it sits still in the wrong place, it gets even hotter inside than it is outside. To make sure that I stay in a solid state, we have to do some extra planning, which is why we had to wake up super-duper extra double-dog early today to drive the 3 hours to the trail so that we could run before it got too hot.
Mom had planned to run a 10-mile trail that climbed 2 peaks of the same mountain, then turned around on the second peak to climb over the first again on the way back. Even though we started at 7:30, it was already a hot morning. Even though it was a hot morning, ice still prevented us from driving the last quarter mile to the trailhead, and Mom even got stuck in the white dirt trying to turn around… until she realized that she had turned the emergency brake on. Then we were unstuck.
Despite our mishap with the car-house, we didn’t see any more white dirt for the first mile and a half of our run. Most of the mountains around here were still green, so I was afraid that I was going to miss a chance to play in it. Mom was afraid that I would melt and she would need to carry me back to the car-house in a bottle. But then all of a sudden we turned a corner and there it was. From then on I did all the running while Mom hiked more deliberately on the white dirt all the way to the summit. Mom didn’t complain much, though, because this white dirt was a vegetarian and it didn’t want to eat either one of us.
We played in the white dirt on the summit for a very long time. Mom laid down and waved her arms and legs, and I did what she does when I do something charming: I ran around her barking about how silly she looked, and then kissed her in the face a lot. When she got up she said it was supposed to look like an angel, but all my running around had ruined it.
“Oh, well you can make another one,” I said.
“Nah. My butt and shirt are soaked. Let’s explore.”
There were all kinds of strange things on the top of the mountain, like an old mattress that was nothing but a rusted skeleton, and some very large pieces of concrete bigger than an Oscar, and large planks of wood the size of an entire tree. We wondered how they had gotten up there, since there were no roads, and no higher mountains that they could have fallen down from. It was giants, obviously.
Part of the reason that we could walk up to the first peak was because there were lots of footprints for us to follow, so we knew where the trail was. When we looked for the trail to the second peak, we found a sign pointing the way where the trail must have been hidden under the white dirt, but there were no footprints or breaks in the trees to tell us where to go. We stood there for a long time looking at it.
“We’re leaving now, right?” I asked. We never have had much luck in the white dirt on our own.
“I just hate that we keep quitting every time we run into snow,” Mom said.
“But you hate snow. Remember? Your socks.”
“Yeah, sure. But we’re not finishing what we started.”
“How far does it go to the finish?” I asked.
“Three more miles. Ten miles total. If we turn back here we’ll only have gone like four miles.”
“Is there a big difference between four and ten?”
“Sure. There’s a whole other mountain between here and 10.”
I looked around. There were lots of mountains around us. Did we have to climb them all before lunch? “What are we going to see on the second mountain?” I asked.
“I don’t know… all the same mountains that we can see from here, only at a different angle. And maybe we’ll also see where we’re standing now, only by the time we get there, this spot will look far away.”
“Well if we’re not going to see anything new, and we can’t climb all the mountains that we can see, then what does it matter if we don’t see the second mountain?”
“Alright. You got me. It’s because I woke up this morning planning to run 10 miles, and I don’t want to turn back after running only four.”
“Why? You’ve accomplished everything in 4 miles that you planned to accomplish in 10.”
“Because… ten is better!” she said, throwing up her hands.
I straightened my life coach collar and said in my best therapist voice, “Why?”
“Because we have goals! Because we have to run/hike 2000 miles this year.”
“But aren’t we way ahead of schedule?”
“Yeah. But I also put money into a savings account for every mile that we run, and that’s how we pay for stuff like this. If we don’t run enough then we’ll be poor and vulnerable and won’t be able to go on vacation.”
“Hang on, so someone’s been paying you to run with me?”
“*I* pay myself to run with you… Or, if you prefer to think of it this way, I pay you to run with me, and as your trustee I put that money toward adventures for us.”
“But it’s our money either way. Why don’t you fire us and take me on runs yourself for fun, and then just save up for vacations whether you ran a lot or not?”
“Because then I might get lazy and fat and have to spend all of your vacation money on new clothes…”
“Well then why don’t you just eat less food?” I asked.
“If I could answer that question, Oscar, then we could sell it and we would be so rich we wouldn’t have to worry about money.”
Since we were near a lake, Mom suggested we avoid the hottest part of the day by finding a beach and eating a picnic lunch in the shade, then finding a hike that goes along the lake so that I could take a quick swim if I got too hot. And that’s just what we did. Except that everything is way more stressful when The Witch won’t cooperate. We don’t know where the roads are, or how long they are, or if they’re made of dirt. Once we finally found the trail, it did follow the lake, but there was a big cliff between us and the water. So even though we were hot and dusty, we still couldn’t go swimming.
Since it was too hot to run, I walked slowly next to Mom and picked up our coaching conversation where we’d left off. “Mom, have you ever noticed that you have a lot of rules?” I asked.
“Well if you don’t have rules, then how will you know the right things to do?”
“Yeah, but your rules aren’t to avoid danger like, ‘Don’t — under any circumstances — eat Mom’s dinner when her back is turned.’ They’re made-up things where you are both the boss and the worker and no one but you knows or cares if you follow the rules.”
“But if I don’t follow the rules, then I’ll be a loser.”
“What will you lose? Are you playing a game?”
“Maybe… Maybe life is a game?”
“Are you winning?”
“No, I don’t think so. I smell bad, I’m living out of a 15-year-old minivan that also smells bad, I spend most of the day lost in the wilderness, I’m about to turn 35 and I have no job, I’m divorced, and I imagine elaborate conversations with my dog.”
“What’s wrong with having a strong and honest relationship with your dog? Who else is playing this game anyway?”
“No one, I guess.”
“So you’re the only one playing the game and you’re still losing?”
“Well… I mean… I guess I’m not losing. We’re better off than those people with an acre of trash in their front yard, or those people in the 15-year-old Pontiac in the McDonald’s drive-through whose entire back seat was filled with sun-faded trash. I’ll be able to get a job as soon as I want to, and we do have a house to live in, and this has been a pretty rad vacation that we’re able to take because I saved for a rainy day… But I don’t like the feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen in the future.”
“Mom, NOBODY knows what’s going to happen in the future. Not even me and I know like everything.”
By the time we got back to The Covered Wagon we were both hot and cranky, and we still had a lot of getting lost to do before we could go to bed. “How far did we go?” I asked Mom.
“Is that good or bad?”
“That’s bad, because the trail was only supposed to be 3.5, but we got lost.”
“Hang on, this morning you wanted to go 10 miles today, but you were frustrated because the trail was too short. And now we’ve gone 10 miles and you’re upset because the trail is too long? Your game is definitely a lousy one if you lose even when you reach the goal…”
“Okay, I’m convinced. I’ve got to change something. You’re a happy, handsome, popular and successful dog. How do you do it?”
“You’re going to have to live like a dog. Are you sure you’re ready?”
“Sure, let’s give it a try,” she said, and this time I think she meant it.
“Okay, lessons start tomorrow…”
-Oscar the happiness coach