When the Witch started screaming for us to wake up on our last morning in Washington, it was still night out. “I don’t wanna!” I harumphed, and snuggled back into the blankets.
“Come on, Oscar,” Mom said. “There are lots of good reasons why we should get a very early start today, and no good reasons to sleep in.” When she said there were no good reasons to sleep in, Mom didn’t know about the spiders yet…
One of the good reasons for us to start early was because this trail was right next to the interstate, which meant that lots of people would probably find it and we wanted to get there first. The problem with the kind of people who hike on trails right next to the interstate is that they want me to use a leash, and they don’t want Mom to use the dog bathroom, and both of those things are very inconvenient for our style of hiking. Then again, one of the nice things that other people do when you let them hike on the trail ahead of you is that they clear out all the cobwebs for you. The price of being the first ones on the trail is that you’re on cobweb duty. Mom did a very thorough job, catching thousands and thousands of spiderwebs with her face, arms and knees. She swiped and clawed at every inch of her skin as she hiked, pulling sticky, invisible spider strings out of her sticky sweat.
After clearing the spiderwebs from the first couple of miles of trail, Mom started waving an empty water bottle in front of her as she walked. “What on earth are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m knocking down all the cobwebs,” she said. “Or some of them anyway… yech!” She wiped her arm for the zillionth time. “You would think the spiders would figure out that the trail isn’t a good place to set but traps, and they would start building their webs somewhere else.”
“Why?” I asked. I didn’t know any spiders, so I wasn’t sure if they needed hunting permits or building permits or something.
“Well because if they build across the trail it’s just a matter of time before something big like a human or a deer is going to come through and break down their web before it can catch them many delicious bugs, and the ones they have already caught are going to be knocked down where they can’t find and eat them. You would think that they would figure out that it’s a bad strategy.”
“Are spiders very good at planning ahead?” I asked.
“No, I guess not,” Mom said. “Nor are they good at learning from their mistakes. The Eency Weency Spider didn’t learn anything from his experience, he just climbed up the spout again.”
“Gosh,” I said. “It must be real frustrating to be a spider. Do you think that they cry a lot when their things get broken like you do when you drop a mug or I knock your dinner on the floor?”
“No, I don’t even think they realize that there’s a way to save their webs. I don’t think they get upset, they just get on with it. I guess I could learn a lot from those dumb spiders after all…”
The trail followed a river’s life story in reverse up the crotch of the mountain. I never really thought about what a rough puppyhood a river must have. By the time rivers get to human territory they’re usually all grown up already. Adult rivers may be white and frothy, but they also calm down quickly and mostly travel peacefully along the same route that they’ve followed for millions of years. They know where they’re going, and they almost never bump into things or fall down. But baby rivers, and puppies, and spiders aren’t good at planning ahead. This river was just a puppy, and didn’t know how to make its own decisions yet, so it stumbled and wobbled on every rock on its way down the mountain. In some places it really got itself in a pickle and fell for hundreds of feet before it caught itself again. The route we took up the crotch of the mountain was a bit more sensible than the route that the river took, but we still had to get the lake at the river’s birthday and there were lots of rocks for us to fall and trip on too (mostly Mom).
The lake where the river came from was the kind of blueberry-lime grey that reflected the gargoyle-like peaks around it. We followed what we thought was the trail around the lake until it ended in some bushes and we realized that we had gone the wrong way. Because we weren’t on the trail and it was a private place, Mom used the dog bathroom before we turned back. We hadn’t been back on the correct trail for more than a minute when Mom noticed a sign nailed to a tree. It said “TOILET” and had an arrow pointing up a very steep trail.
“It’s got to be a joke, right?” Mom said. We were like 3 miles from the wilder-ness boundary, and 5 miles from the car kennel, where half the bathrooms were locked “due to budget cuts.” Who doesn’t have time to put some fresh wiping paper in the bathroom next to their car, but hikes 5 miles up a mountain to build a toilet there. Clearly, this mystery required investigation.
The trail to the “TOILET” was steeper than any of the trails that climbed the mountain. After we had climbed what must have been less than a quarter mile but would feel like more if you had to go, we saw another sign that said we weren’t there yet but what direction follow. “There’s no way…” Mom said. “This has to be an elaborate hoax.” So we kept walking. Up more hill and around a couple more bends we found a neat wooden box.
I sniffed it. “Is it for geocaching?” I asked.
“It’s for ‘caching’ something…” Mom said. “At least it’s private. Too bad I don’t have to go anymore…”
Another reason that it was good to get up early was because it was a long drive back to California. Mom had decided to come home a day early in case we needed to stop and spend a day at a car hospital along the way. As we started traveling back down the mountain in the same direction as the river, we started to meet the other hikers coming up behind us. Each one said, “You must have gotten an early start!” and Mom replied to each one, “We have a long drive back to California this afternoon,” as if that explained everything.
“California?” one man said. “I’m sorry.” Mom looked at him like he was crazy, but before she could point out about all of the rain in Washington and how they didn’t have a Disneyland, he continued, “There are too many people down there.”
“Yeah, it’s a problem,” Mom said. “But there are still plenty of parts that don’t have any people at all, and we make sure to visit those places as often as we can.”
From what I could tell, the man was wrong, though, because this trail had way too many people on it; more than we ever saw in the wilder-ness in California. Later, when we got back to the bottom, there was a line of 10 people waiting to use the pit toilet, which is something I’d never seen in California.
The further down the mountain we got, the less luggage the hikers carried, the smaller their muscles got and the bigger the rest of them got. With only a mile or two left to go, I started smelling Axe Body Spray and seeing lady hikers with their faces painted. “I always wonder if they start only planning to go part way,” Mom mused when no one could hear us, “…or if it comes as a surprise that it’s more challenging to get to the top than a Zumba class.”
“Maybe they’re like the Eency Weency Spider, and they don’t know that there’s an easier way,” I said.
“…And they get washed back to the bottom by irresistible forces that they didn’t see coming,” Mom added. “If they do make it, it’s not going to be fun for them,” Mom pointed out.
We passed a woman whose grumpy face didn’t match the peaceful woods. She was breathing like she was in the middle of a track interval, and I could tell that it wouldn’t be long before the rain came along and washed her back down the water spout. Why would she try to climb this trail if she was out of breath before she even got to the steep part? She hated hiking, and it was written all over her face. So why was she here? And then it hit me: Maskonism! A maskonist must be like a spider who could see their mistakes, but still built their web across the trail or climbed the spout again just so they would have something to brag-whine about to their spider friends. “Ugh! Along came the rain and was washed out all over again! Third time this week! Goint up the spout again tomorrow — can’t let that goody-goody @eency be the only one at the top of that spout! Hashtag up the spout again!”
Eency Weency Oscar