Mom and I had unfinished business. Last year Mom and I took our expedition North too early and were turned around by white dirt in too many places. There were a couple of spots that we vowed to return to later in the season when the mountains had sweat off their white dirt cloaks. Our first piece of unfinished business was with the Devil’s Punchbowl, where we had spent a whole day driving a seven-hour detour, had been stopped miles from the trailhead by a road block guarded by a monster, and had hiked through white dirt taller than Mom for miles before finally losing the trail and turning back.
This time we read the reviews carefully to find a wagon route to the car kennel and people potty on the mountain balcony where the trail began. Our treasure map started with instructions for the only way out of The City that led 300 miles to the long and winding back country road that turned into the only surviving 25-mile dirt forest road that went all the way to the trail. When we got there early in the morning to find that, the car kennel was no longer under 6 feet of white dirt, and the people potty was out of its winter freeze and into its summer stink. We left the Covered Wagon on the balcony to gaze peacefully at the view of the mountains until we got back.
After a little while, I sort of recognized some spots on the trail, and realized that even though it felt like we’d trudged for hours through the white dirt over the trail and scrubbery beside it, we hadn’t gotten very far at all last year. Now that I’ve seen the whole trail, I know that there’s no way we would have made it all the way to the Punchbowl, and I forgive past-Mom for turning back, and past-Oscar for letting her. I wonder how far the Marshmallow got before he turned back too, or if he is still lost out there somewhere.
We had read the reviews carefully this time, and one thing that every review mentioned was how hard the switchbacks were. According to one very credible reviewer, it was hard enough to have to carry your hiking partner piggy-back when she gave up. So Mom and I were nervous about what we’d find when we finally reached the switchbacks, and I wondered who would have to carry who piggyback. When we got to the switchbacks, we almost walked past it. It looked like the kind of short trail behind a bush that shy humans make when they don’t want to be caught using the dog bathroom. Other than the mapp, the only sign that this trail was important was that someone had made scratches into a log like the letters people make with their keys on evil cars to teach them a lesson. It said, “Devil’s Punch…” and then the keys gave up.
It wasn’t just the turn-off that was miniature; the whole trail was squished down to a quarter size. The path was only an Oscar wide, some of the switchbacks were no further apart than my nose is from the tip of my tail, and the whole trail length was only about a quarter mile long, but in that distance this mighty little trail it climbed about 1000 feet. Now that I’d seen it, I agreed with Mom that it was bullplop that anyone could carry his hiking partner piggyback down those switchbacks, because even sitting on a big human’s shoulders, her butt would have been dragging on the ground behind him.
When we popped out of the woods at the top of the mini-trail, we were in the bare rock crown of the mountain. From the way the mountain peaks stuck up around us, I could tell that about a quarter mile ahead of us, all of the peaks would meet in a crater like the shape of a back tooth. When we got over the hump to the middle of the molar where the filling would go was an unbelievably grey lake the color of a sparkling Valero sign. I drank a little bit of the devil’s punch, and Mom had a snack, we took some handsome pictures, and then we turned around to go back.
As we were climbing out of the molar we met 3 human hikers coming in the other direction. I barked at them, and when I barked the devil barked with me from all the rocky peaks around me.
“Did you go all the way to the punch bowl?” they asked.
Mom pointed to the sparkling lake right below us. “It’s right there,” she said, a little proudly and a little doubtfully.
“This isn’t big enough to be the Punchbowl,” one of the men said. “This must be the first lake.”
“Oh.” Mom hesitated. We were tired, and hot, and hungry, but we hadn’t driven 8 hours and 20 miles up a dirt road to turn back now.
“It’s only about a quarter mile away,” the man said. “You can come with us if you want.”
So I welcomed the new hikers into our pack and we went back to the Not-Punchbowl, then along the edge of the lake until we reached a spot where the devil had pushed a big pile of boulders down the mountain. While we hiked, the Leader of the Pack told us about how they were hiking for the Wilder-ness Association to see how people were using the trail. There aren’t many rules in the wilder-ness because you’re supposed to use responsibility instead, but The Wild Ones are still supposed to do polite things like reuse fire pits and make Karens so that people won’t leave too many scars on the wild. I was glad this pack leader was my leader, because they seemed to know what they were doing… and Mom gets lost a lot. All of us climbed through the boulder fields, and I followed the lady hiker since she seemed kind and wiser than Mom.
The Leader of the Pack stopped and looked around. Then he said, “Do you guys see a trail? Or any cairns?” We all stood tall on our respective boulders and looked around. The only Karen we saw were the Devil’s Karen that was thousands of boulders tall that we were standing on.
Mom took out the Witch to ask her opinion. “The GPS says it’s down in that direction and travels that way,” Mom said, pointing down at the lake and then moving her arm up in the direction away from the Devil’s Karen. So we climbed back through the boulders, and then we dove into the bushes just like Mom makes me do when we’re lost (and sometimes when we’re not). We pushed through the bushes for what felt like a long time until finally we heard a voice say, “The trail is over here.”
“Tony, is that you?” said my new lady friend. But when we popped out, we found ourselves face-to-face with 2 of the kind of attractive strangers who I always see on Instagram looking fresh and blissful in places that you know it was hard to get to. Instagram models must never need to hike through bushes. Next time I resolved to follow an Instagram model.
When we got to the Real Punchbowl, Mom threw a stick for me while the humans ate snacks. I walked out onto the rocks to fetch the stick, but Mom had thrown it too far. “Do you see what she does to me?!” I barked so that my new friends would see what a terrible dog mom Mom is.
“Come on, Oscar! You can do it!” said the lady, who I had thought was my friend.
“No I can’t!” I barked. Then I put my front paw out into the water and showed her that I would have to get wet if I tried to reach the stick. Surely now she would understand. But she still didn’t get it. I had to get all the way in the drink and swim out to the stick to show them the problem. Even then they were too dumb to get it, and when I swam back they all cheered like it was great to get covered in punch.
Then, to my horror, all the humans took their socks off and walked out on the water just like I had. “No! Don’t do it!” I barked. When I barked, the Devil barked down from the mountains with me and his voice sounded like a real crybaby. Before they could get back to safety, the Leader of the Pack crouched down and was sucked all the way into the deep punch where the stick had been. I stood on the safety of the rocks and barked for the others to help him, but no one did. Those numbskulls didn’t think anything was wrong! Then I looked over at Mom. She was walking out onto the rocks too. “No!” I barked, just as she slipped until she was just a head.
Mom’s head made a squealing noise. “It’s cold!” she breathed, and her voice sounded very stressed out. So I walked out a little deeper and barked for her to come back. That’s when both of their heads disappeared under the punch. That was it! I was going to have to go save them. I waded in, and when I couldn’t feel the bottom anymore, I started swimming.
When I reached them, I was surprised to see that Mom was smiling. She reached up and gave me a pat on the head, and then stuck her face out like she does for kisses. Maybe she needed CPR, so I swam so close that my face bumped into hers. Once I realized that she was still breathing, I tried to climb on top of her to rest and survey the situation. It didn’t work though, and she used her wagon-ripping arms to lift me off of her like I weighed nothing and put me back in my own water. Next I checked on the Leader of the Pack, and the other man who had followed me in to rescue them, but they were all smiling and looked relaxed. Now that I knew they were all okay, I left them to search for whatever stick they had lost and swam back to the beach where my new lady friend was the only sane one who had stayed out of the punch and was eating jerky on the beach. She was the only one who knew how to party.
When the lady wouldn’t share jerky with me, Mom and I left our new pack and hiked back to the Covered Wagon. We still had a long drive to Washington, and all the adventures it had in store for us.
Oscar the Lifeguard