I’ve got to take a break from telling you about my exciting Washington exploration to tell you about the adventure Mom and I had this weekend. When Mom pulled over the Covered Wagon for the night I thought something was wrong at first, until Mom started getting ready for bed. We let the shooshing of highway cars just a few feet from the Wagon’s butt soothe us to sleep. I thought that Mom would keep driving in the morning, but instead she put on our hiking supplies and we stepped out onto the side of the highway. We squished as close together as we could as we walked on the edge of the road while Mom looked around like she was searching for something.
“Is the Wagon broken?” I asked. “Did something fall off?”
“No, the trailhead is supposed to be across the street somewhere,” she said. “I’m looking for a road sign, or a trail, or something.” I looked across the street, but the dirt on the other side of the highway was so steep that it almost made a wall, and was covered in the kind of thick, dense roadside nature that always looks like it has trash stuck in it even when it doesn’t. Then we looked closer. In one place the sandy dirt looked like it had been climbed on by at least two humans, or maybe just a deer. It was faint, but it was the closest thing we could see to a trail. So Mom looked both ways, listened carefully, and then yapped, “Go, go, go, go, go!” and we sprinted across the highway like I’d just pooped for an audience and she’d forgotten a bag.
We started climbed the steep roadbank, and when we’d gotten a safe distance away from the cars, a Karen appeared to welcome us, as if to say, “You passed the test!” The trail stayed small and hard to see, like it was born by accident and without a plan. Sometimes the trail went in two directions, and there was a Karen on both of them. “Mom, are you sure this is a trail?” I asked. “It seems like a bad joke.”
“Yes, and furthermore it says that it’s ‘heavily trafficked!'” Mom insisted.
For the next mile we climbed up a sandy slope covered in all kinds of obstaples that seemed too steep for humans to climb. The further we went, the more convinced I was that Mom was mistaken, so I trotted up the trail ahead of her to make sure it didn’t fade away into wilder-ness. Every time Mom called me, I came thundering back triumphantly to tell her that the trail continued, just like she thought. Mom, for her part, was hiking slower than a sloth on tranquilizers. “It’s just (…gasp…) so steep (…heave…), and… oh dog doo! [scuffle, thud] …slippery,” Mom wheezed, when I pointed out that even though she was stepping up about a foot with each step, what she was doing could hardly be called putting one paw in front of the other. “And anyway,” she went on, “yesterday was leg day*.”
Finally, after climbing almost 1500 feet in a mile, the trail relaxed a little bit to a pitch that Mom could walk in a slow shuffle that looked something like her normal walk and there was space for me to walk near her. We wandered and sniffed through trees and rocks that slowly became less tree and more rock until after a few miles we were standing at the bottom of the most giant pile of boulders you’ve ever seen. It was made of flat slices of rock the size of parking spaces stacked in a heap hundreds of feet high.
Mom climbed onto one boulder, and then another and I followed. I have climbed piles of boulders before, but this one was different because I couldn’t see any solid earth sticking out at the top; just boulders and sky. I half heartedly followed Mom’s quest to be king of the hill, but I don’t much like mazes and other places where I can’t run, so I found a place where some critters had made a nice home under some boulders and invited myself in for a chat. Once I looked up, Mom was far above me.
“Come on!” she hollered.
“You know what, it’s cool. I’ll just stay down here,” I smiled at her.
“Oscar, come here!” Mom insisted.
“No thanks. I’m sick of boulders. I changed my mind about leaving your dog alone on the side of the mountain while you go to the top. I’ll just stay down here and have brunch with Chip and Dale. They were surprised to see me at first, but I think they’re about to invite me to stay.”
“Don’t make me come down there and get you!” Mom shouted. But now that I knew that she was planning to come back down, I just waited for her. But Mom was being more stubborn than usual. Maybe it was because she had turned back on our last trail-less scramble, but she seemed determined to get to the top of this pile of rocks. Then I heard someone coming up behind me. I turned and saw a man climbing the rocks with a walking packpack beside him. What the… I thought as I saw who was under the packpack: It was a tiny little Boston Terrier barely the size of the packpack he was carrying.
Well there was no way that I was going to wimp out if this little fingerling potato beast was climbing the boulder pile all the way to the top! So I started climbing again. The climbing was tough, and lots of times I had to jump up high onto boulders, or get a running start so that I wouldn’t slip on their steep sides. It was demanding work, and I had a hard time making it look easy so that little baked bean of a pooch wouldn’t think I was a wimp. I had no idea how he was doing it on his little legs with his big packpack. Finally, I reached Mom, and not long after, the packpack and his man caught up to us. Right in front of us, the man took a giant step across a gap and onto a high rock. The dog waited expectantly on the lower rock until the man reached down and grabbed a handle in the middle of his back that was between the two packpack sacks. Then, the man lifted the tater tot up like a suitcase and put him on the higher rock. Cheater!
When we got to the top of the pile of rocks, I saw a view like I’d never seen before. Mom and I have climbed to some very beautiful views, but they are always above us or straight out toward the horizon. There were pretty mountains all around the rock heap in every mountain shape, but the real star of the show was below us. Far, far below was a huge field of rock that was smooth and flaky like a badly peeled egg. Water had puddled in a patchy un-lake-like shape on that rock and reflected the bright, deep grey of the sky.
The packpacker (whose name was Monster) and I shared a bowl of water, and then he didn’t share his cup of peanut butter, so Mom and I explored all the views in all the different directions. Then we said goodbye to Monster and his man. Monster burped a peanutty belch in reply.
The way back down the boulder heap was even more difficult than the way up because we had to keep ourselves from toppling down to the bottom where the rocks were trying to throw us. It wasn’t on purpose, but we wound up hiking with two man-humans, and their three people puppies. The people puppies were mom-sized, although I could tell that they weren’t full grown because they looked like someone had stretched them out and none of their parts quite fit together anymore. The people puppies climbed like rivers, flopping and flowing down the rock however the mountain pulled them, and almost never had to go stiff to fight against an unexpected rock. On the other paw, the grown humans climbed rigidly like trees, fighting against the pull of the rocks, and reaching out with their branch-like walking sticks to push off the rocks so that they could keep their bodies in straight lines. When the grown humans needed to bend or leap, they groaned and crashed, and all of their limbs snapped and cracked.
When we got back to the regular ground, both the people puppies and the man-humans walked-fell down the mountain faster than Mom, and soon we were hiking alone again. So imagine my surprise a few miles later when I heard a loud whistle in the woods below us, and after a few minutes of investigation I found two of the people puppies crashing through the trees beside the trail. “Hey! I know you!” I barked. “You’re those two floppy people puppies from the pile of boulders back there!” One of them pulled back in fright, like I was Monster, and we hadn’t just flopped down a giant pile of rocks together.
“Are you guys okay?” Mom asked. They nodded yes, but stayed far away like they were afraid of Mom too. They stood quietly and waited for us to hike a little ways away from them before they started following us down the trail.
Before long we met a man coming up the mountain. “Hey, your family is looking for you guys down there…” the stranger said to the puppies and pointing down the hill. He wasn’t pointing in the direction that the trail was pointing in that place, but away toward the very bottom to show that they were way far, far ahead. The people-puppies nodded again and I recognized the look in their shoulders. It was the posture of somedog that just got caught sniffing for snacks when his Mom was calling, and is wondering if he can pretend that he didn’t hear her. Then, they climbed onto a log that lay across the river in the direction that the stranger had pointed and started crossing into a thicket of bushes.
“Hey, guys! The trail is over here,” Mom said, pointing to the clear and obvious trail that didn’t go through any bushes.
The puppies looked surprised, but came back and flopped down the trail behind us until we met another pair of humans. “Are you with those boys,” the lady-human asked Mom.
“No, I mean… well… not really,” Mom sputtered.
“Well they’re lost. Their family is down there looking for them,” the lady said, looking a Mom like she was the monster.
“Yeah, I know,” Mom said. “I can make sure they stay on the trail or whatever, but I don’t know them or anything. Like they’re not with me.”
“They’re scared of us,” I explained. “And Mom isn’t too comfortable with people puppies either.”
“You make sure they get down to their family,” the woman told Mom.
“Yeah, I’ll make sure they’re okay,” Mom said, while the boys pretended to be looking at a rock.
“She can’t flop as fast as them,” I tried to tell the bossy lady, but the lady had already started marching away.
The people puppies were still being submissive and too scared to pass us, and that seemed like a good way to make sure that they didn’t get lost. We hiked and hiked and still didn’t find the dad-humans, and it was getting harder and harder to pretend like we didn’t see the man-pups. “If we haven’t met the dads yet, then they must not be worried enough to come up the trail to look… or even stay put,” Mom whispered over doggie telepathy. “If they’re still hiking down the trail, then I think it’s okay to let the kids go. The dads can’t be that far ahead, and if the kids get lost again, then we’ll meet the dads at the bottom and help them look.” So Mom told me to look cute in some bushes at the side of the trail to let the puppies pass in a way that wouldn’t scare them. Then we followed them until they disappeared into the distance ahead of us.
“Now that’s a good dad,” Mom said.
“Why? Because he made sure that they got out in time to go to the water slide park, even if it meant leaving the pups behind?”
“No, because he didn’t panic. That could have been a scary situation, but the boys were confident and self-assured that they could figure out how to get home.”
“Confident? They were scared of us even though they knew that we were friendly!”
“It’s okay to be shy,” Mom said. “A lot of kids are shy around adults they don’t know. That’s going to teach them an important lesson too, though: next time they’re in trouble, they’re going to remember that every adult they met wanted to help them. You can’t learn how to get by on your own wits if your parents are doing everything for you.” I thought about Monster, and how he hadn’t climbed the rocks himself, but had to wait for his dad to pick him up every time he got to a tall step, and I was glad I’d figured out a route to Mom and hadn’t made her come down to get me.
Oscar the Pooch
*If you’ve never heard of it, leg day is the day when humans refuse to go downstairs if the line to the upstairs bathroom is too long, and then make creaking and groaning noises when they sit down on the toilet.