One of the great things about Mom is that she likes to take me on dudely adventures like hiking, and camping, and half-preparing for things, and making reckless decisions. It’s pretty awesome. Since this weekend is longer than most of them, we have enough time to go down to the desert, which is the best place for reckless decisions.
As we pulled out of the dirt lot where we’d slept next to the freeway I asked Mom, “Where are we going first?”
“We’re going to climb a mountain to a place called Devil’s Slide,” Mom said.
“That sounds very badass,” I said. Then, because it’s important to be a gentleman, I added: “I’ll let you slide down first. What is a Devil’s Slide exactly?”
“That wasn’t really clear from the description I didn’t read,” Mom said. “I just looked at the pictures.”
“How high do you think it is?” I asked, wondering if it was a short slide like on the playground next to the dog park, or one of those cool two-story ones like they have at McDonalds.
“AllTrails says that it starts at about 6000 feet and climbs to about 8000,” Mom said.
“Mom! You know better than that! We don’t climb mountains in the winter!” In the winter the mountains grow a thick coat of white dirt over their trails. It gets so deep that whole legs disappear inside of it, and it ruins whole hikes. I think that the white dirt is exciting, but Mom doesn’t care for it much because of what it means for her socks.
“It’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiine,” Mom brayed. “I checked the National Forest service map, and it said that the snow was only 2-3 inches deep in this area. That’s barely enough to reach my socks.”
The car kennel for the trail was closed, so we had to leave the Covered Wagon far away and walk in. As we did, we saw a group of people packing the strangest shoes you’ve ever seen into their packpacks. The shoes were like sandals made out of cafeteria trays. “That’s brave; wearing shorts!” one of them called to us.
“Look who’s talking, paddle-paw!” I barked. “She’s going to run, ever heard of it? That’s why she’s wearing the shorts. You wouldn’t be good at it. Your shoes are all wrong!” I had to bark real loud to be heard over Mom’s huffing and puffing from climbing the hill from where we’d left the Covered Wagon. “Okay, maybe she’s not going to run, but she knows how to. Just so you know.”
“Yeah, that might have been a little optimistic,” Mom shrugged to him with a smile. “I think the weather report I looked at was for a little further down the mountain. We’ll see how it goes…”
Before we even got to the trail, we had to climb over a tennis-court-sized blanket of white dirt that had been smooshed down so much that the white had turned clear in places. I did what I usually do and sprinted across it, but suddenly my legs weren’t where I put them. I kept running like normal, but my legs kept flinging themselves in unexpected directions. “What the goose?” I thought, slowing down a bit but not so much that Mom might notice that I was a little startled. When we got to the trail, at least half of it was covered in the same smooshed white dirt that stole your paws. You had to step on it with conviction to not slide off the mountain, but at least it kept Mom’s socks dry.
“I guess we’re not running today,” Mom said.
“I think I know why it’s called a devil’s slide,” I said. I waited for Mom to ask why, but she was too busy carefully arranging each step and holding her elbows out like a chicken. “See what I did there? …Slide? …Devil’s Slide?” I explained, following Mom over the sandy part of the trail at a normal hiking pace.
“Not your best work, bud. Keep working your puns. You’ll find one that works.”
Once we got the hang of resisting the slide, the trail really wasn’t so bad. After each stretch of white dirt there would be a sandy spot, so it felt a little bit like we were ants walking down the dotted line on the freeway. If the freeway fell steeply away for hundreds of feet on one side, and was a wall on the other. Every few minutes the trees opened up and we got a beautiful view of a very impressive cake of rock across the valley, and behind it, the shorter mountains crumpled out of the earth surrounding the Salted Sea. I call trails like this peek-a-view trails because you only get peeks of the view. Mom tries to take every view home by pointing The Witch that Lives in Her Phone at the view she wants to capture and hitting the button to cast the take-home spell. But she has trouble getting the spell right when the trail is narrow and there are trees and stuff blocking the spell. She tries over and over again to get it right, plopping her butt down in piles of white dirt, or squatting wobbily on boulders, but she always gets up a little bit annoyed like I’m not doing the right thing to flatter the nature. As if any memory could be bad with me in it?!
When we got to the saddle between the peaks, the trail mapp drew a 1-mile loop that was really more of a triangle. Just when we were embarking on Side A of the triangle, I met two Friends coming in the other direction. “A puppy dog!” the girl-one squealed, throwing her arms in the air like she was about to hug me.
“A stranger!” I barked, running up to her like she was a good friend that I was picking up at the airport. While my New Old Friend scratched my butt, she told Mom about how the footprints disappeared a little way up the trail, and when we got there we could go no further. “What are you going to do?” she asked, but I could tell she meant, “Give up now.”
“Oh well. We’ll go as far as we can and then we’ll turn back,” Mom shrugged. We had already done all of the climbing and most of the distance anyway, so Mom had already decided that she’d earned a donut this afternoon if she found one at a gas station. I hoped that meant I would get a hot dog, since we were breaking our diets and all.
We walked on the patted-down line through the white dirt, trees and pine cones until it stopped at a dead tree, as if the tree’s last act in its life was to shout “HALT!” and fall down to block the path.
“Well this is where the trail turns anyway,” Mom said, looking at the mapp on her phone and turning it around like a compass in an old explorer movie before looking up into the blank trees. “If we walk straight in that direction, it can’t be more than about half a mile before we hit the trail back.”
“Are you sure? It seems kind of… deep.” I looked at the plane of white dirt that had never been touched by anything but pine cones for as far as the nose could smell.
“The Forest Service said that it’s only 2-4 inches deep!” Mom repeated. “We can walk through that. Don’t be a baby!”
“Two to four inches is deeper than I thought,” I told Mom a few minutes later when I lost another leg all the way up to the hip into the white dirt.
“Still not higher than my socks!” Mom huffed, stomping and stumbling through a deep spot under the shade of a tree.
“But Mom, your socks go up to your knees today…” I called after her, trying to keep enough legs above ground to keep up. “Are you sure this isn’t dangerous?”
“Nah. It’s not dangerous, it’s just a slog. Sometimes the difficulty of a situation just comes from it being unpleasant.”
“If this is a slog, does that make me a slumberjack?” I asked.
“No. What makes you a slumberjack is when you lie under a conference table during a meeting and start sawing logs,” Mom said. “Now THAT was a pun. Anyway, dad jokes aside, sometimes things turn out to be tougher or more complicated than you think, but that doesn’t mean that you should give up. Just because nobody’s done it before doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it just means it’s going to be a pain in the ass.”
“But now that our legprints mark the way, more people can follow us!” I said. “I’m doing a good deed!”
“I suppose you could see it like that.”
“I hope that we catch up to my New Old Friend when we find the last side of the triangle. I’m going to brag so much and she’s going to be so jealous!”
“You can brag, but I don’t think anyone’s going to be jealous of us…” Mom said, looking at the 2-4 inches of wet socks that went all the way up to her knees.
We slogged over a rise and found a river blocking our path. It had dug a canyon as high as Mom’s chest through the white dirt. “Oh no! What do we do now?” I asked. I’m a runner, not a swimmer.
“We cross it, of course,” Mom said. “There’s a snow bridge over here.”
“No, Mom! We’ll fall through and get swept away by the river and die!” Mom and I read a lot of adventure books, and someone always gets swept away in the river; usually a horse or a dog.
“Oscar. The river is literally an inch deep,” Mom said like I was the one being crazy. I looked over the edge and saw that the “river” was really a long puddle flowing over some wet grass. I still made Mom cross first so that she would be the one that died if the bridge collapsed. It did, but even the collapsed white dirt from the bridge was taller than the river was deep and we didn’t get any river water on our socks.
We slogged up the slope behind the river and much to my surprise and Mom’s delight, we found a squished-down line of pawprints right where Mom said it would be and followed them along the last side of the triangle. Just as we completed the loop, we met the goons with the shoes setting out to do the loop themselves. “There you are with the shorts again,” one of them shouted.
“Yeah, it turned out not to be a problem after all,” Mom shouted. And then I heard her think, suckers.
“You won’t get lost because we slogged a path for you,” I barked. “Just in case you’re wondering who the heroes are.”
It was even slidier on the way down the dotted white line to the bottom. Whenever we were on the white part of the trail, we had to be more careful and I had to concentrate. Concentrating is like an adventure where nothing happens, and the more you do of it the more you want to tell someone about it and the less there is to tell. I guess that’s the difference between an adventure and what Mom calls a “pain in the ass.” The other thing about slogging is that it very rarely happens at the end of a story like it’s supposed to. A lot of times it happens in the middle, and then life goes back to normal and ruins your story arc. Last year I wrote a book, and the hardest part was figuring out where the should stop because the lessons repeat themselves and change over time the more times you learn them. Every adventure felt like the ultimate experience while it was happening and I was concentrating on what I was doing, but then on the long drive home my pride would ripen into excitement for the next one. Life is almost never like the slog through the wilderness, ending in triumphantly finding the trail. More often, life is like the dotted line down the freeway. It stops and starts, but there’s always another destination to keep you driving.
Oscar the Slumberjack