The problem with planning an expedition when you’re curled up in your warm and comfy bed is that you want to see all the best, hard-to-reach stuff and forget to plan for rest. I sure was tired from nearly climbing Mt. Puke the day before and so I hoped that our next trail would be easier. “Well, it’s only 8.5 miles long,” Mom said, “so that’s a good sign. And look! In those 4 miles it only climbs like 2000 feet… or… wait… what’s 6500 minus 1000?”
“You’re asking me? Dogs don’t do math.”
“In that case, you’ll believe me when I say that it only climbs a little more than 2000 feet in 4 miles, and that that’s less steep than the 5000 feet that we climbed in 5 miles yesterday.”
“Yippee!” I agreed. “An easy day!” Rest is important, even in hiking.
But when we started climbing through the Muppet forest I began to wonder if mountains were as bad at math as dogs, because this trail felt awfully steep. Between the steepness and the Muppets, this trail could have been a part of Dirty Harry’s Peak, or Mt. Puke except that someone had built bridges and walkways through the mud. After a mile or two that must have taken us an hour to climb, we came out into a sunny thicket where the trail tunneled through dense leaves and vines leaning across the trail to hold hands. Mom and I have swum through many bushes, but this might have been our least favorite game of red rover ever. While California bushes twang you in the face and scrape human legs, Washington leaves brushed their wetness on us and smeared rashes on Mom’s skin. “Ugh! Gross. I think half of this is poison oak!” Mom said, twisting as if there were any way to keep the deadly leaves from touching her. “Where the heck am I going to find poison ivy wash in the middle of nowhere? Where the heck am I going to find a shower?!” We pushed through the nasty bushes until we were both as soaked as if we had gone for a swim, and were happy to come back into the Muppet Forest, where trees may fall across the path but at least they kept their branches to themselves. “Look at this, Oscar! I already have bumps,” Mom said, pointing to a line of white bumps sticking out of angry red skin on her arm. “Poison oak has never done that to me before! I’m really screwed.”
The next time we crossed a stream, Mom took off her shoes and socks, sat down on the log that was also a bridge and rubbed the water over every inch of her skin until she was all covered in bumps again, but this time they were goosebumps. Only then did she let me continue up the mountain. After awhile we came out on another wall of flowers like the one we had climbed on Mt. Puke, and in the distance we could see a little house on tall stilts standing on top of an impossibly steep, impossibly high tower of rock. That’s where we were going, but it was so high up in the sky and on top of such a steep wall of rock that I couldn’t imagine how we were going to get there. Sometimes life is like that, though. You think there is no way from where you’re standing to where you want to go, but if you keep putting one paw in front of the other and follow the trail, then you’ll probably get there.
The higher we climbed on the wall of flowers the more we could see of the mountains around us. Although mountain we were standing on smelled like green and was covered in flowers and leaves, the mountains around us looked like they were from a different postcard. They were made of black, severe looking rocks, and even the white dirt on their grizzly faces seemed like it listened to heavy metal music and rode a motorcycle. Behind the mountains, dark clouds were brewing, not in a way that suggested a storm but like something out of a hardboiled detective story. I hadn’t been sure if all the effort of climbing this mountain was worth it when we were struggling through the poison plants and endless miles of Muppet Forests, but as we climbed higher and could see more mountains, the hike slowly turned from mask-o-nism to “awwww.” “Awwww” makes a human’s mouth hang open in a way that pulls their eyes open wide and their breath escape in something like a sigh. When I saw all the dozens of mountains piled up together, I felt the same awwww that people must feel when they see how cute I am and it makes their day.
Finally, after a time long enough for us to forgive the trail for everything it had done to us, Mom and I walked into the clearing on top of the mountain and any doubt about how we felt about the trail was gone when we saw all the mountains at once. To one side were the the dozens that we had watched grow out of the ground as we climbed, and on the other side were dozens of brand new mountains that had been hidden until now by the mountain we were climbing.
Suddenly two dogs and a man came out of the house-stool in the sky and walked down the stairs to meet us. They had slept there on top of the mountains all night and were only now waking up and getting ready to hike back down. While I made friends with the dog-hikers, Mom and the man talked about the trail and Mom told him about how much we hated the leaves that pet us. “Oh, did the stinging nettles get you?” The Man asked. “Those things are a pain.”
“Stinging nettles?! Is that what they are? Thank god! I thought it was poison oak. I can deal with stinging nettles!”
“Yeah, find a fern and rub the back side on any spot that itches. The texture from the spores on the back will pull out all of those stingers. An old lumberjack taught me that.” How cool it must be to be a lumberjack and use the mountain to solve all of your problems.
Then we climbed up the stairs to the house. At first I wasn’t sure about the stairs because they were very steep and I could see the mountains when I looked in between the steps, but then I saw how the other dogs ran up them, and I showed them that I could be brave too. Mom, on the other hand, saw the heights come in through the holes and showed everyone how not-brave she was by going crazy again. By the time she got to the house at the top she was almost completely frozen in fear again. We thought that the house would be dirty and gross like a bridge that a stray person lives under (since hikers and campers are just wild strays after all), but the house was clean and even had a table, 2 beds, and a stove in it. Now that we were up here, Mom was too scared to take her eyes off of where she was standing to take a picture on the balcony that went all around the outside of the house, so we took in the views through the windows with the cameras in our eyeballs and stored the pictures in the memories in our heads. Then Mom crept back down the stairs to where she wasn’t scared so that she could take the mountains’ picture with me. Once Mom had put on my traditional powdered wig for the photos, I ran back up the stairs where I knew she wouldn’t follow to show the other hikers that I was a good guest and knew all about local customs. They were very surprised to meet a furry-ner who was so sensitive to their culture and had brought a powdered wig all his own to the top of a mountain for a traditional Washington picture.
When we got back to the Covered Wagon after 9 miles and a descent that was just as tough as the way up had been, I was surprised that Mom was still walking almost as if she didn’t have a bum in her knee at all. Mom told me that when she stared at my butt, she could hardly see the waggle that went more in one direction than the other. We may have been tired, but the mountain was straightening us out, and movement solving all of our problems, just like a pair of lumberjacks.
Oscar the Furry-ner