Ever since the strange man who painted an iPad stopped us in the road to recommended a trail, Mom had been scheming and plotting to come back and follow the man’s recommendation. I thought that was strange. Mom doesn’t usually believe reviews since “the people writing them are probably idiots,” but if we meet the reviewer in person 5 miles up a mountain, then the rules are different. Anyone standing half naked in the middle of the road — especially a dirt one — must be an expert, and their opinions can be trusted. “It’s because people on the internet are stupid, silly,” Mom explained. “Real live people who go to the same places as us (even if we’re lost) are displaying good taste and judgement.”
Which is why we came back to hike the trail that the Real Man recommended to us. We learned from the map that the trail climbed 5000 feet in either 4 or 5 miles, depending on whether you trusted the route measurement, or the reviews. Since both the reviewers and the route measurement came from internet, they were both wrong anyway. Climbing 1000 or more feet per mile sounds like an efficient way to climb a mountain, until you are there climbing it and you swear that you would love to hike just a few extra miles if it means that you don’t have to climb something so doggedly steep.
The first few miles climbed through forests, where the wilder-ness crowds in close and you can only see a short ways. Forests aren’t really boring, but they make the distance feel longer because you can’t see the mountain you’re climbing ahead of you, or the valley pulling away below you, so it feels like you’re not getting anywhere at all.
After what felt like a very long time we came out in a sunny place where the mountain was mostly grass and wildflowers and the kind of little rocky streams that match Japanese gardens so well. It was very pretty and peaceful, except that the trail disappeared into a thick flower bush. Mom belly flopped into the bush after it, pushing what felt like whole trees out of the way. I didn’t want to loser her, so hiked so close behind her that the flower branches came back and whacked me in the face as we pushed through. Finally, when we were covered in so much flower dust that we looked like giant bumble bees, the trail left the grass and the streams and the flower bushes and went back into the trees. This time the trees didn’t seem so bad, because at least they kept their distance.
By now Mom had come around to my way of thinking and agreed that the Real Man was a batty old kook that couldn’t be trusted any more than the nincompoops on the internet. But then the trees spread out and we found ourselves in a rocky, sandy balcony that looked out over the valley filled with a lake at the bottom, and then the round mountains rolling into the distance. When we walked to the other side of the balcony, we could see the pointy, spikey mountains on the other side that looked like something from a fantasy land like Westeros or Switzerland. The mountain’s leg hung out below us, and sharp rocks stuck out all along the spine of it like the back of a stegosaurus. From then on the steep climbing didn’t feel so hard anymore even though the air wasn’t working quite right because we could see the rocky mountain above our heads and the sandy trail slithering up it.
When we got to the top, I could see why this was the Real Man’s favorite mountain. Humans are such suckers for places where you can see the whole world at once. The mountain’s top had looked pointy from a distance, but a dog standing on the summit could see that its tip was a rocky strip as long as an office building. Each time we came around a corner I saw new mountains that looked even steeper and more imaginary than the last. There were also human things up here, like concrete blocks with giant nails sticking out of their tops. Between the rocks there were smaller nails and screws made of rust. Whatever they used to hold together had been swallowed by the white dirt and eaten by the mountain top, leaving only the nails behind. I wondered what the humans had built all the way up there, and why they were tough enough to drag up all of those heavy supplies, but had let something as puny as a flower bush keep them from coming back. There was so much to look at up here that a dog and his person could spend a very long time looking at the mountains and never feel like they had looked enough.
By now we had hiked almost five miles. It was hot and I was still kind of tired from our adventure on Clint Eastwood Mountain, so I didn’t much want to walk all the way back down. I stayed cool and saved my energy by hiking as close to Mom as when we were fighting with the flower bush, and didn’t sniff or chase anything. The only times I didn’t stay near Mom were when I found a shady spot to lay down and let her walk away until she got scared barked for me to come back. Mom wasn’t legless like me yet, but the closer we got to the bottom of the mountain, the more I could see the bum in her leg growing a peg leg. Every once in awhile she would make a hissing noise, do a little hop, and then swing the bum in her leg around like she was trying to shake a bug off of it.
I was proud we had finally made it to the top of a mountain, but there were also a lot of things I didn’t like about this trail, like the flower bush and the hot sun. I couldn’t decide if it was a six star trail, or a one star trail. Humans always know when something is crappy, even if nothing seems wrong. “Mom, is this a good hike, or a bad hike?” I asked.
“Well, how do you feel?” Mom asked.
“I feel tired, but not the happy tired where I want to eat extra lunch. This is the kind of tired where I don’t want to do fun things like chase critters. And being too tired to have fun is no fun at all.”
“Well, do you think you’ll be proud of yourself for making it to the top of the mountain even though it made you tired?” Mom asked. “Or maybe even because it made you tired?”
“I don’t understand. How can something that makes you feel bad also make you feel good? If you leave a big bag of treats in the car while you go in to Starbucks, and I eat the whole bag and feel sick, then eating the whole bag of treats was bad. You taught me that.”
“Yeah, but being tired isn’t the same as having a tummy ache. I think it’s okay to be tired. I just feel like the fun part didn’t start until half way up the mountain and the rest was a chore. And it was the chore part that made me tired,” Mom agreed. “If something bad had happened like we had gotten lost or there had been too much white dirt, then it would have been a bad day. But since we were successful I really don’t know how I feel either,” Mom agreed.
“How about we give it just five stars,” I suggested. “Instead of all six. Like the Ritz: good enough.”
Mom rolled her eyes. “Are we really that snobby that the Ritz isn’t good enough for us?”
Oscar the Trail Snob