To understand our second hike of the weekend, you have to understand what happened the night before. After hiking the trail that the Real Man recommended, we drove a few miles down the highway to the next mountain. I thought maybe Mom was looking for the Real Man to give him her review in person, but he wasn’t standing in the middle of the road where we’d left him anymore so we drove back to the trail we hiked last week instead. By now the white dirt surely would have melted, and we could explore the secret valley that was hiding underneath.
We parked in the same spot that we’d parked before and spent the afternoon drinking water and relaxing in the Covered Wagon. I didn’t have to go potty when we closed the van against the hum-bugs and went to sleep, but by the middle of the night I had to pee something awful. What’s worse, I didn’t know how to tell Mom. Since I’m supposed to stand at the door when I want to pee at home, and because Mom usually leaves the Covered Wagon by the door next to the driving chair, I sat in the driving chair and waited for Mom to notice she was sleeping alone. But she didn’t wake up. So I whimpered in that lion-hearted way that way that Chuck Norris does when he needs to go potty. That worked, and I could hear Mom stirring. “What is it, buddy?” she mumbled. “Is there something out there?”
“Mooooom, you’ve got to let me out of here or I’m going to die!” I whimpered boldly.
“Come back here,” Mom said gently. Then she rubbed my belly, which just made me have to pee more. “You’re safe,” she said, laying her arm across my pee pooch so that I had to pee more. I had to pee so badly that I was shaking, but a gentleman should never leave a frightened lady alone if she thinks there’s a bear or yeti outside, so I lay there with her until she felt safe.
“Why are you trembling, bub?” she asked. “Are you cold?”
“No, Mom. Something very, very bad is going to happen if you don’t…” But then she fell asleep before I could finish.
Does that ever happen to you? You’re telling someone how you feel, but because they already think they know what you should do, they forget to listen to you? Sometimes Mom thinks I’m such a delicate little flower-petal-dog that she tries to protect me from dangers that only exist in her imagination. Now I was in a fix, because if I barked loud then Mom would think that Sasquatch was outside and keep me locked in. But if I whimpered she would think that a Yeti was outside and squeeze me until I wet the bed. So I got up, knocking the blanket on her face with confidence, and climbed quietly and fearlessly into the driving chair. Finally Mom figured it out, thank goodness, and from now on hikers will talk about a new lake on the side of that mountain.
After that we went back to sleep and woke up very early in the night to start hiking at first light so that we would have plenty of time to explore what might be 14 miles, or 16, depending on what part of the internet you believe. Since I had hiked slowly in the melting sun the day before, Mom was worried that I would melt into a legless puddle if I got hot, or hungry, or thirsty, or tired, so she hurried up like we had a plane to catch at the end of the trail. We hiked the 4 miles up the mountain the same way we hike from the car kennel to the office in the morning: fast, with purpose, watching our surroundings for danger, but never stopping. The sunrise was painting the sky behind the mountains and between the trees in a way that was very peaceful, but Mom hurried through the sunrise like it was a rain storm that would turn her hiking companion into a puddle if it caught us.
At the top of the ridge, we stepped through the rocks to the secret valley and found ourselves face-to-face with the white dirt. It was still right where we’d left it crowding up to the ridge like the waves at high tide. “It didn’t melt!” Mom said, gobsmacked. “How can five pounds of ice melt in my cooler in a day and a half, and this snow has hardly melted at all after a week of eighty-degree sunny days?” Then she pulled the day’s costume out of the packpack to take my picture. “Your fans are never going to believe this, Oscar!” she said putting a furry thing on my head to take a picture of me sitting on the white dirt.
You may wonder why I always have funny hats in pictures. Believe me, it’s not because I like it. Mom started making me wear costumes so that she could remember what pictures were taken on the same day. When she started using the costumes, she discovered another thing she liked about them: that I hate them! I freeze like a statue-dog in protest when something is on my head, and don’t move a muscle until someone takes it off. Only then do I re-manimate and give the world its Oscar back. Unfortunately, suspended man-imation plays right into Mom’s paws, because it is easier to line up a shot of a frozen dog than a sniffing one.
Once she had taken a few pictures of me in the day’s ¿frog? hat, Mom peeked over to the edge of where the white dirt dropped into the valley to see how steep it was. Then she came running back like she’d seen Saskwatch. “Quick! There are people!” she said, pulling the evidence of dog abuse off my head and hiding the evidence.
A minute later a furry hiker popped up over the ridge. Instead of Saskwatch or a human like we were expecting, it was a dog.
“Hi! I’m Oscar!” I barked. “What the heck are those on your feet?”
“They’re booties!” she said, straining against the leash that her human was hanging off of as he climbed the slope behind her.
“Oh. I’m a barefoot runner,” I explained. “You should try it. Although sometimes I have to wear hats, and you shouldn’t try that if you can avoid it.”
“Oh no!” she said. “Would you like me to call Sarah McLaughlan for you? She can help, I saw a special all about it on TV.”
Eventually the dog’s humans came over the top. They looked like the mountain climbers on TV, with fancy walking chopsticks, and special clothes only for wearing on a mountain (and never just on a trip to Target), and their covered wagons were packed up tight on their backs like turtle shells. Even the dog was wearing a packpack.
“How bad is it?” Mom asked the man.
“It’s not bad,” the man said. “There’s only snow on this one section, and there are plenty of holes for you to walk in.” Unlike the mountaineers, Mom was wearing a hat made for baseball, and a shirt made for underwear, and shorts made for running, and balancing using a stick she’d found on the ground. Could this mountaineer’s review be trusted? Were we in danger? I didn’t think so, but Mom wasn’t sure yet.
Mom picked her way down the steep slope slowly, putting her feet in the pawprints made by the mountaineers, and stabbing the white dirt with her big stick like a third leg. I tried walking ahead of her but it was tricky, even with all four of my legs. My front paws stuck in the dirt, but my back paws kept sliding downhill until I was sitting on my tail. Then my tail kept slipping until my butt knocked my front paws out of the white dirt and then my whole body was sliding down the hill on my booty. That’s called skiing, and some mountaineers are really into it, but I didn’t care for it very much. After that I walked down the white dirt almost as carefully and slowly as Mom. We stepped off of the white dirt and onto the regular dirt with almost as much relief as going potty when you’ve been holding it for a really long time. And just like when you finally get to go potty, we immediately forgot about how unpleasant it had been before.
The valley was like nowhere I had ever been. The bowl of the valley had no spout where you could see to where the human things like roads and houses and machines and stuff were. Instead, there were red humpy mountains shaped like lower case m’s, and grey spiky mountains shaped like capital M’s, and green valleys, and rivers, and staircases made out of rocks with rivers running down the middle of them.
Now that we were inside the valley, the trail was supposed to cross over two more mountain peaks from this valley to the next. But when we got to the top of the next mountain and stepped through the rock gate to see the next valley, the wall of white dirt was waiting for us again. The mountaineer had lied!
Mom and I stood on the rocks at the edge of the white dirt and looked deep into the crack between rock and white. The white dirt was still deeper than Mom is tall. We looked over the edge of the ski slope and saw that it was as steep as the last white slope. But this one had no pawprints. Then Mom looked across the valley to where the regular dirt came out from under the white. We couldn’t spot the trail from a distance, which meant that we would be navigating by the blue dot on the map a lot. “I’m okay with calling it a day here,” Mom shrugged. “I mean, we could go further and it probably wouldn’t be any tougher than what we’ve already done, and the views would definitely be worth it, but… why tempt fate?”
“What do you think is going to happen?”
“Oh, I don’t know. We could fall and get hurt.”
“But you fell back there,” I pointed out. Mom had fallen in some flat white dirt half a mile before. It was the kind of ugly fall where it almost looked like she was going to catch herself with her other leg, and then her arm, and then maybe only fall on her butt, and then at least maybe face-up… but she kept slipping and falling more and more until she was lying on her side with her face in the white dirt. “And you’re fine,” I pointed out.
“We could get tired,” she said.
“You’ve got enough food and water for us to live back here for days,” I reminded her. “So what’s the worst that could happen?”
“I guess we could be uncomfortable…” Mom said.
“And what’s so bad about that? I’ve been following you around for five human years, and I think that you actually enjoy being uncomfortable. Isn’t that what we’re looking for?”
“Well sure, I don’t mind if I’m uncomfortable,” Mom said. “But I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
“Mom! Don’t you know that I’m tougher than a pile of white dirt? White dirt melts if you pour kitty litter on it. I eat kitty litter for breakfast!” It’s true, when I lived with a kitty, Mom had to hide her bathroom behind a fortress so I wouldn’t snack on it as soon as no one was looking. “If the white dirt can tough it out up here, so can I!” I said. “I won’t melt into a puddle. The only wuss in this hiking party must be you!”
“I’m no chicken!” Mom said. “But that man said that there was no more snow on the trail, and this is definitely more snow. So who knows what’s ahead? Discretion is the better part of valor, you know. Me turning back is me being brave. Earnest Shackleton turned back before he reached the South Pole, and he was the toughest explorer there ever was. If anyone asks you, you tell them that you’re an explorer from the Shackleton school, not the Scott school.”
“Who’s Scott?” I asked.
“Well…” Mom said. “Robert Falcon Scott made it to the South Pole, but he didn’t make it home,” Mom explained.
“He would have if he’d had a good dog with him,” I said, confidently.
“He did have dogs with him, actually,” Mom said with shifty eyes. “They, uh… they didn’t make it either.”
“What happened to them?” I asked.
“Well the people starved to death. The dogs… didn’t starve…” she said.
“Wait… Mom…! Wait up! What happened to the dogs though?! They were okay, right?” But Mom was already walking back down the valley on the Shackleton plan.
Oscar the Pooch