I hadn’t taken Mom and the Covered Wagon on an adventure since I taught her how to be a hunter rather than a bear. Since then I’d published a book and saved a Man’s life, and I really thought it was time for Mom and me to get away for awhile. First we planned to climb the mountain that makes the wall between Ellay and the desert, but then we found out that there are no dogs allowed on that mountain, so we decided to hike nearby instead. But then there were too many cars in the way, and we were only half way there when Mom said she needed to stop the Covered Wagon to sleep. We slept under a bright light outside a truck kennel, with trucks screaming outside the Covered Wagon all night, and when Mom woke up a few hours later she said she didn’t want to drive all the way across Ellay anymore.
“I’ve always wondered what the trails are like in the Angeles National Forest,” Mom said. She meant the hour of bad Witch service and bald hills that you have to cross to get to Ellay. “How about we go there instead?”
“Sure! Sounds exciting!” I said.
We pulled off the freeway at an empty exit where there were no buildings, or signs, or even trees or anything. There was only an old road that looked like it was working on transforming itself into a trail and just needed a few more years to get there. We traveled a few miles on that road, which just followed the freeway back the way we’d come until we found a big gate. Then we stopped the Covered Wagon and continued walking up the road.
“Is this really the trail?” I asked.
“Well… sort of,” Mom admitted. “We have to follow it for a mile or two to get to the fire road. But I think this is the old highway from before they built the interstate. So it’s like history. Isn’t that exciting?”
I looked down the road that didn’t look any more exciting than any other road except that I was standing in the middle of it. “Mom, you know how you make me throw out my toys when all the stuffing is gone and they are ripped to ribbons even though I think they’re still good for playing with? Maybe history should throw its old stuff away sometimes.”
“You say that now, but just wait till we’re standing at the fire lookout looking at all the mountains spread out below us. Then you’re really going to be impressed.”
After a couple of miles we turned off the history road and onto a wide path that was more like a car trail than a dog-and-human trail. Mom took the leash off my collar to set herself free. The only thing to sniff was the prickly brush at the side of the trail that smelled like dry, and the only critters to chase were lizards. So I stayed close to Mom.
The higher we hiked, the more we could see. Low down in the valley the view was mostly just of the slides that humans had built to catch and release the water that came off the freeway, but the higher we went we had views of the freeway itself, and the ugly stripes that humans had cut into the rock to keep the mountain from jumping onto the freeway.
“Maybe you can use your imagination,” Mom suggested.
I looked at the dry, round mountains and tried to think of what they reminded me of. Then I thought of the true crime cereal killer story we’d been listening to in the Covered Wagon. “I imagine we’re going to find a dead body, like on CSI,” I said.
“That’s terrible, Oscar!” Mom said. Then she looked across the valley at the interstate. “But you do have a point. It’s amazing how many murderers dump their victims in the wilderness areas along I-5…”
Finally we got high enough that we could see over the mountain to the side that wasn’t facing the freeway. “Oh,” I said. “There it is.”
“Yup. There it is,” Mom agreed. She didn’t have anything exciting to say after that, so we kept walking.
It was starting to get hot, and the pokey dry plants next to the trail weren’t giving me much shade, so every time I did find a shady spot, I left Mom and lay down in the dirt. Mom gave me water until I was so full of water that it was dripping off of my dangling tongue, and each time we stopped I thought for sure that she would decide to turn around. I could tell that she was thinking about turning back, but she would say, “come on, we only have a mile and a half… a mile… half a mile… a quarter mile to go…” And each time she packed up the water and we kept walking up the hill.
Finally we reached the little house at the top. It was like climbing a mountain to find the world’s most inconvenient janitor’s closet, with a little tardis next to it the same shape and color as a maggot. Mom took some pictures and we turned back to walk the 5 dog-baking miles back to the Covered Wagon.
“Have you ever noticed…” Mom said as I caught up to her after taking a break in a shady patch, “…how the older we get, it’s harder to find excitement?”
I hadn’t noticed until she said something, but now that I thought about it… I was looking pretty fly, and I knew that I would have trouble convincing my readers of how boring the hike was when they saw me standing in the middle of all that scenery. If I hadn’t seen so much of the world, maybe I would have been more excited by the dead body wilderness, but now that I’d seen Utah and Washington, it was hard to get excited about I-5. “Does this mean that I have to quit my job so that we can become tramps?” I asked.
“No, I think that it means that we need to figure out how to hold the adventure inside of us so that we don’t have to keep traveling to far and exotic places just to have a good time.”
“Well your pack is only as exciting as its most boring member,” I said. “And that sure isn’t me…”
Oscar the Hot Dog
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