The Covered Wagon had been parked for so long that Mom was surprised that we hadn’t gotten any mean notes from the coppers about not moving for a month. So even though Big Sir is only less than 150 flat miles down the coast, the Covered Wagon was excited for a chance to stretch its wheels.
I don’t understand why people go so gaga about Big Sir when it doesn’t even have anything cool to visit like a wooden Taco Bell. In fact, there isn’t much of anything in Big Sir at all except a road with nothing on it but mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. “Mom, why do people come from all around to visit Big Sir when it doesn’t even have a Starbucks. Our town has four Starbuckses, and we don’t even get visitors from 10 miles away in The City.”
“Well, two of those Starbucks are in the supermarket, so they don’t count,” Mom said. She’s always saying I count wrong. “And anyway, adventurers go to the wilderness to be self-reliant.”
“What’s self reliant?”
“Self reliance is why we’re driving all the way to Big Sur just so that I can make my own Starbucks out of the back of the Covered Wagon.”
“But isn’t it easier to just have someone make the poop juice for you?” I asked.
“But then we would have to wait in line. See? In Big Sur you don’t need to cooperate with other people to get what you want.”
When we stopped the Covered Wagon for the night on the mountain-side of The Road, it was too dark for us to see the mountains but we could see the ocean, because it lit up and sparkled under the moon for as far as the imagination could see. When Mom let me out for my last potty break of the night, we could see more stars in the sky than there are Starbucks in the whole country (even counting the ones in supermarkets!). We looked at the ocean-moon through the window while Mom ate some trail mix in the dark. An m&m missed her mouth. She felt around in the bed to find it and popped what she found in her mouth. I always pay very close attention whenever Mom (or anyone) eats anything, so both of us were very surprised when the m&m crunched like a chip. Then Mom held her mouth very still like she was carrying a mouse in it that she didn’t want to accidentally squish, and reached for a bag to spit into. “What are you doing?” I asked. “If you don’t want it, I’ll finish it for you…”
“I’m pretty sure I just ate a kibble,” Mom said, moving her tongue around her mouth and spitting again.
“It’s okay, I don’t mind sharing,” I said.
In the morning we waited for the sun to wake up, and then we walked to the gate behind where we’d spent the night. A man who was practicing self-reliance by making his own poop juice behind his own car-house, which was behind the gate, came out to talk to us. “You going for a hike?” the Man said.
“WHO ARE YOU?! HOW DID YOU GET YOUR CAR-HOUSE BEHIND THIS BIG GATE?!” I shouted politely.
“Sure am!” Mom said. “But I’ve read that it’s overgrown up there. Do you know anything about that? Is there a lot of poison oak?”
“Nah,” he lied. “Not this time of year.” The Man said his name was Richard, and he told us all about the trail we were going to hike. “This road is open to the public, but not for driving,” Richard explained.
“What?” Mom said. “I know you didn’t say, ‘It’s open to the puppy, but not for driving,’ but I can’t for the life of me figure out what you did say.”
“I don’t even have a license,” I barked helpfully.
“To the public,” he repeated. “Not a lot of vehicles can make it up that road anyway.” Maybe Richard didn’t know that with a little patience and “Drive 3, whatever that means” even a covered wagon could drive up just about anything.
Mom and I talked to Richard for a few more minutes, and then Mom wished him a good morning, and promised to say hello on the way back down, if he was around.
After a few minutes we came around a bend to find a secret house hidden in the trees. Mom was about to wave to the man practicing self-reliance on the porch, when a great, big, dirty samoyed came running down the stairs to meet us. “Can I help you?” he sniffed, coming right up to see what I was all about.
“Listen, buddy. I don’t want any trouble…” I said, giving him my crotch to sniff.
Then a lady’s voice said, “Can I help you?”
“Oh, I think they’re doing okay,” Mom said. “Sorry to disturb you, I didn’t see your house until we were right up on it. We’re just headed up to the trail.”
“Well this is private property,” the lady said. Her words said go away, but her voice said that she wanted other people to think she was cute.
“Oh, I’m sorry, I thought this went up to the trail?” Mom said, pulling out The Witch to check the mapp. We had only walked a little way, and I don’t know how Mom could have possibly gotten us lost on such a big trail, but it was more polite for Mom to check than to call the lady a liar.
“The trail is washed out. I mean, it’s a quarter mile that way,” the lady chirped aggressively, pointing her arm up the coast the way we’d come. “And this is private property. And we have dogs and cats here, so if you could please put your dog back on leash.”
“Oh yeah, I’m so sorry,” Mom said. Then she called my name, and I showed the samoyed how a good boy goes to his Mom when she calls. When Mom looked up from my leash, the lady and the dog were already walking back to the house. So Mom looked back at The Witch, who said we were exactly where we were supposed to be. “I guess we just keep walking,” Mom said. “Even if there is another way to the trail, I have no service so I’d never find it.”
“But Mom, we’re trespassing!”
“Nah. Not as long as we stay on the road. Big Sur has a lot of those kooks who don’t like to be disturbed. They live off the grid so they don’t ever have to cooperate with other people. Then they turn city folks’ cooperation into a weapon by inventing fake rules to scare them away.” Then she waved at all the car parts, and broken appliances, and old toys, and trash that the kooks were storing in front of their house, like that explained everything. “See?”
“Mom, haven’t you seen Deliverance? What if they do something horrible to us like throw us in a river?”
“The people in Deliverance didn’t have the healthy complexion and gleaming eyes of someone who eats an entirely unprocessed, organic diet. She’s probably not armed, and ‘Squeal like a pig!’ isn’t as intimidating when you say it in a baby voice. We’ll be fine as long as we don’t hang around.” So we kept walking up the hill.
Richard was right, this dirt road was way steeper than even the most expert mountain trails the Covered Wagon has ever climbed. But when we had hiked almost a mile, we found a big delivery truck — the kind that has a garage door for a butt — parked in a ditch in the trees. The truck smelled like rust, and it looked like it had been there for a long time. “Now how the heck do you suppose that got all the way up here?!” Mom asked. I didn’t answer, because it was a mystery.
Not long after the mystery of the truck, we found the trailhead. Well, we found the plants that lived where the trailhead used to be. Mom and I belly flopped into the brush, and bushwhacked through the fallen-down and rotting trees, scratchy bushes, and slippery crumbling dirt that used to be the trail. After battling the longest quarter mile we’d hiked in a long time, we came around a bend and saw… an ancient and rusty bread truck. Back before history, someone had dropped the bread truck down the hill until it crashed into a tree, and then just left it there in the crook of the mountain. “No, seriously. How does that even happen?” Mom asked.
A bread truck is too wide to drive on the treacherous trail that we’d just wobbled through, so it must have come from above. “I think it fell,” I told her.
“But there are literally no roads above us.” I looked up to see nothing but trees and sky. It was possible she was right, but then did the bread truck come from the sky? Is that a thing that happens? I had never seen a bread truck up in the sky before, but maybe flying bread trucks aren’t a thing that happens very often and I’d just missed them until now. “And even if there were any roads up on the ridge, if this thing had fallen 1000 feet through the brush and down a mountain, it would have been so much more beat up than this.” She wanted to ask The Witch about it, but The Witch was teaching her self-reliance and wouldn’t cooperate.
We hiked through dense bushes and crumbling dirt for about a mile until we got to the bald part near the top of the mountain. Up here the world was only 3 parts: the sky the color of ocean, the ocean the color of sky, and the mountain the color of something about to catch on fire. There were no roads for a bread truck to come from.
“This sure is beautiful, isn’t it, Mom?” I asked. I wasn’t quite sure if it was beautiful, so I was hoping she’d tell me. These mountains didn’t do all the inspiring gymnastics of the really tall mountains that blocked the desert. They were kind of nubby, and their only trick was to trip and fall right into the ocean with a little splash. The land was dry, but not the exciting and spiky dry of the desert; this was an itchy dry that got stuck in your fur and felt like the end of something. The ocean was dramatic and all, being as big as it was, but it just kind of lay there like a rug for as far as the nose could smell.
“I have to admit, the coast isn’t my favorite part of California,” Mom said, like she was saying something shameful. “I know it’s what we’re famous for, but the tourists can keep the beach, I’ll take the mountains and the desert.”
“But Mom, we live on the coast. I thought you liked our hometown.”
“I do. I love where we live. I love coming home from work and seeing the sun set over the ocean from our front door. And I love that we run along the beach or in the coastal mountains a couple times a week. But the other thing I love about it is that it takes no effort, because I’m not really sure I’d make a special trip to see it.”
We hiked to the top of the mountain, and then we hiked along the ridge for a little ways. The trail we hiked on was wide like a road, so maybe you could drive a bread truck on it. But then again, we didn’t see a single soul living up there to order bread. And with no Witch service, how did they reach Amazon Fresh? There were lots of trails to explore from the ridge, but it was hot and I galumphed behind Mom waiting for her to turn around. Finally, she turned back and we went down the way we’d come. We slipped down the almost-burning mountain. We crashed and slipped through the reaching/scratching/slipping brush to the Bread Truck from Heaven. Then we tip-toed past the Deliverance House. We checked for Richard at his car-house to tell him about our adventure, but he wasn’t home, so we got in the Covered Wagon and drove back up the coast. “I sure am glad that all that brush wasn’t poison oak,” Mom said, because she believed Richard.
Instead of going straight home, though, we drove through what Mom called “Steinbeck Country” to The Dean’s house. Even though I was tired from our hike, I whimpered and squealed when I recognized the neighborhood. But I had no idea what excitement awaited me when I got there…!
I was standing in the kitchen waiting for someone to drop some cheese when I heard a noise out in the yard, and my dog-hosts Goose and Blaze turned and bolted through the dog door. At first I didn’t follow them, because I was still trying to figure out what the fuss was about and whether it was better than cheese. “Um, are the sheep supposed to be loose in the yard?” Mom asked. And then I realized what was going on…
THERE WERE SHEEP IN THE YARD!!!!
Goose and Blaze live with the sheep, so they get to play with them all the time. “YOU GUYS!!! I WANT TO TRY!!!!” I yelled, running through the neatly arranged sheep and scattering them like bowling pins. Goose and Blaze got them together again, and then I caught back up shouting, “LET ME TRY!!!!”
Goose and Blaze need all the sheep to be together in a bunch to chase them around, but I must be a natural because I figured out how to chase all the sheep in different directions on my very first try. I also learned right away that if I used my voice, that got the sheep really excited! I couldn’t believe Goose and Blaze had never thought of it. “LOOK, MOM! I’M HERDING!!!” I shouted, as I chased a sheep right into a fence, where it slipped and fell on its wooly butt.
Finally Goose and Blaze put the sheep away, and Mom and I sat down with our hosts so that the humans could talk, and I could practice my herding by playing Tackle Whoever’s Chasing the Ball. Goose was hogging the ball and wouldn’t let anyone throw it, which was boring, so I started sniffing around and munching on the yummy poop-flavored m&ms that the sheep left all over the yard. Then I smelled something just as exciting as the sheep. I looked up, and behind the fence that the sheep had crashed into were three baby goats! “Hey! There are goats over here!” I barked. “HEEeeeeEEEEEY, BILLY, BILLY, BILLY!”
Then the baby goat did something I really wasn’t expecting. It lifted its head and looked at me.
“Eep! What the heck is wrong with your eyes?” I thought as I jumped back two whole Oscar-lengths in one bound. But the baby goat didn’t chase me, so I decided to try again. “HEY! HEY, GOAT! HEY!” I screeched. For the rest of the afternoon, whenever no one was giving me attention, I visited the baby goats to shout at them some more. It was the best day ever!
Oscar the Herding Dog