After so much white dirt in South Dakota, Mom took a second look at the trails we planned for our way home. “That trail between the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone is at like 9000 feet,” Mom said. “I don’t think that one’s gonna work out. What will we do between here and Salt Lake City?”
“I know! My friend Amaryllis suggested that we go to this place near ‘the huge metropolises of Cheyenne and Laramie,’” I said. “Do you think a place that crowded will be too sick with the boogeyvirus?”
“I think she was joking about them being big cities,” Mom said. “Let’s do it!”
One good thing about Wyoming is that there are plenty of easy places to sleep right along the side of the road. One bad thing about Wyoming is that it’s darned cold! We broke our personal record for the coldest night of the trip that night (we’d set the previous record last time we slept in Wyoming), and woke up before the sun to finish the drive to the Vedauwoo trail.
“Mom, you can read. How do you pronounce that word?” I asked.
“Vedauwoo,” Mom pronounced perfectly just exactly the way the locals do.
As the sun rose, we got a look at the landscape we’d missed the night before. We were so high up, that I felt like I could reach up and bite the clouds right out of the sky. The land couldn’t decide if it wanted to be prairie or high mountains. If I lay down in the Wagon so that the doors blocked the bottom half of the landscape, the mountain peaks looked bare and desolate like the summer tops of the highest mountains I’d ever climbed. But if I sat up so that the windows showed the whole picture, the dinky mountain peaks only poked a little ways out of the grassland and looked barely taller than a hill. It looked like there had been a battle royale of foul weather right before we got there, with the wind and the white dirt fighting for dominance over the mountains. To Mom’s delight, it seemed like the wind had won. The white dirt only stuck in a thin skin on the downwind side of the hills, and what was left seemed like it could blow away in one big sheet at any second, like a tarp in a tornado. Mom would eventually regret being Team Wind, but I’ll tell you about that later.
We found the trail, and stopped the Wagon outside the closed gate. “Oh good!” Mom said. “It’s closed! That means that we won’t meet other people along the way.” But Mom never knows what she’s talking about, because not 5 minutes into our hike, we saw another dog and his family hiking the exact same trail as us. The only difference was that they were a few minutes ahead because they followed the actual trail rather than the path that Mom invented through the white dirt and barbed wire fence. No matter how hard we tried to socially distance, every time we came around a corner there they were again, just breathing, and hosting who knows what kind of cooties in their nasty bodies.
“Imagine! The only 2 groups to hike this trail all day, and we happen to be on it at the same time!” Mom grumbled into her chest as she did another about-face and walked backward up the trail to give them time to build a gap.
We had planned to run on this trail, but the moment I stepped out of the Covered Wagon and felt the air, and saw all the white dirt still blown over the trail, I knew that Mom insist on making it a hiking day. The sun shone brightly from just above our heads, and in between white and regular dirt, pieces of ice glittered like a broken window on The City’s sidewalk. Giant piles of round boulders bubbled out of the ground like the Michelin Man, and the Michelin Turtle, and the Michelin Chicken, and the Michelin Pile of Rocks. On the side where the tall rocks blocked the wind, the white dirt piled deeply until it packed solid and smooth, and Mom walked on it like a stray human fighting with his imaginary friend. On the other side, the wind had blown all the white dirt away, but it cut through my coat and my fur and was so cold it hurt like running through a thorn bush.
“God, I don’t know how people stand this bitter cold!” Mom said.
“What does it have to be bitter about? It’s beautiful here!” I said, stretching tall to see what it felt like to let the wind run through my legs when I couldn’t feel my legs.
“It just means that kind of cold that makes you ache and burns your skin.”
“How can cold burn?” I asked.
“What’s the temperature?” Mom asked The Witch.
“It’s 30 degrees outside,” The Witch announced smugly.
“Bullplop,” Mom said, poking at The Witch’s face. “It says here it’s 20º with the windchill.”
As Mom was trying to explain what was so wrong with cold, we came around a corner and I got distracted. There were a pair of people puppies just my size screaming and rolling in the white dirt just like I like to. There was also a dog playing with them. “MOM! LET ME JOIN IN!” I danced.
“No,” Mom grumbled marching away with my leash still in her hand.
“Good morning!” the dad-man said. “How are you?”
“I’m cold!” Mom snapped, in that way that meant that everyone was supposed to pretend that she was kidding.
“Aw, it’s not so bad,” the dad-man said. “Just a little windy.” Then his people puppy giggled squealed again and flapped her arms in such an exciting way that I could hardly stand it.
“How can they bring CHILDREN out on a day like this!” Mom grumbled. “This is agony!”
Then I figured out that probably the people puppy was squealing because it was dying and that’s why Mom didn’t want me to play with it.
When we got back to the car kennel, Mom had to move the Wagon around to block the wind so that she could make herself some hot tea. While she was waiting for it to get hot, a lady got out of the car next to us. “It’s not even that cold!” the lady said, dancing around to the back of her car, where I could see she was only wearing a handsome jacket and some yoga pants.
“Yes it is!” Mom corrected her. Then Mom looked around for where the wind was coming from, so we could watch the look on the lady’s face when she got to the windy side of the car. I looked at the bare spots where the white dirt had blown away and realized the lady WAS on the windy side of the car. “Don’t know how people live like this…” Mom grumbled again.
For the rest of the day, Mom hardly left the Covered Wagon except to go to the bathroom and feed the Wagon. We drove and drove until we were out of Wyoming and into Utah, where a nasty storm swallowed the whole state in grey. Normally Mom and I would end our day on some forest road, or at least by the side of the freeway in a wild exit that had NO SERVICES, but as we came toward Salt Lake City, she kept driving into the houses. “Mom! No! We’ll get stuck!” I said. “A police will come and wake you up in the middle of the night to tell us we can’t be strays here.”
“I know, but I have a surprise for you!” Mom said. A few minutes later we pulled up to a house, and standing outside was one of my Friends from back in my professional life.
“It’s you! It’s you!” I squealed. “I thought everyone was dead!”
They sure have some odd hosting customs in Salt Lake City, because My Friend showed us to his dog bathroom, and even though it was cool and the weather was kind of rotten, he and Mom sat far away from each other on opposite ends of the long table and talked about all the things they’d seen since the world fell apart. Where usually Mom and I stayed stuck and my Friend slept in a different city every night, now Mom and I were the ones on the move and my Friend hadn’t left his house in 2 weeks. It was a whacked-out, inside-out time, and even though we were having more fun than most, everyone was ready for things to go back to normal.
Oscar the Pooch