Mom had picked today’s trail in Salt Lake Oh-My-God-No-Not-A-City!-Crap!-We’re-All-Gonna-Die!* months ago, long before the world was coming to an end. She also picked it long before we knew that my Friend lived only a few minutes from the trailhead. We didn’t get to visit the rooms inside, but we did wave at his family through the windows and had a lovely view of his front door from our camping spot. The campground was unlike any camping spot we’ve ever slept in before because it was a driveway on a street guarded by a nice man in the biggest tardis you’ve ever seen. “Your neighbors will be talking about you for weeks,” Mom said to my Friend in that voice she has for jokes.
“How would they know a celebrity was staying in their neighborhood?” I asked. “I hardly came out of the Covered Wagon. Anyone could be in this unmarked white van with dark tinted windows and damage to the paint where the mailman sign had been ripped off and the weird suspicious mirror in the back.”
“Yup, pretty much anyone,” Mom agreed.
*official slogan of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce
Mom had picked this trail because it started just outside the wilder-ness boundary, but to our surprise the car kennel was just a few feet from some very big houses. But Salt Lake City is founded by a band of pilgrims with the heartiness of Chuck Norris, so of course they aren’t scared to build their houses on the toes of some really colossal mountains. Instead of a flamingo, they just plop a sign in their front yard to be careful of mountain lions, and then go inside to starch and iron their shirts.
I smooshed my nose against the window trying to see the mountain we were about to run on, but no matter how close I smudged my nose to the glass, and how far up I rolled my eyes, I couldn’t see the top. “It’s so big!” I said. I didn’t think you could have a city on mountains so savage, but the people who built this city were the same clan of Oregon trailers who stopped on the section of trail covered in the graves and bones of dead travelers and said, “Here’s good!” I guess if you live in a town of people so fond of ringing doorbells, you’ve got to go to extreme lengths to keep your privacy or you’d NEVER get to finish your dinner.
As we ran up the mountain, a stream ran down the mountain next to us. It burbled and tripped, stumbled and fell over rocks in a very energetic and peaceful way. When it was time to leave the stream, the trail climbed onto the steep edge of the mountain snuck along its flank. Across the valley I could see mountains bigger than any I’d ever seen in my life trying to free themselves from the clouds. I knew that I loved the hot, rocky part of Utah, but I hadn’t known until just now that I would be so enchanted by the spikey top half of Utah.
“This weather will probably break in a little while,” Mom said. “Why don’t we run a little longer to give that rainy spot over there some time to blow out of the way?”
“Okey dokey!” I liked seeing people that I knew that weren’t Mom, even if I was only allowed to hang out with them in their dog bathroom. “Should we maybe stay an extra day here?” I suggested.
“Most of the trails are still going to be covered in snow, but let’s check it out when we get back to the car,” Mom agreed, sort of.
So when the AllTrails red line ended, we continued running toward the place were the view had been smudged out. Suddenly, it started to rain like someone was mad at us. It fell in big, fat drops that went right through your fur to the skin so that the wind could reach places it wasn’t supposed to. “Mom, are you sure we’re not running into the storm?” I asked.
“Crap! Crap! Crap!” Mom said. “This wasn’t in the forecast. We’re going to be soaked.”
The trail was going uphill and we were at high altitude, but we ran until Mom was wheezing like all the air had been sucked out of the world rather than being blown through us like daggers. Once we were as soaked as if we’d jumped in a lake, the rain changed and started bouncing off the ground. We kept running as the sky pelted us with little quinoa-sized grains of ice.
“Ow, Mom! It hurts!” I said.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Mom whined, like there was someone listening who could change their mind if Mom would only show them how unhappy she was and how unfair they were. “It can’t keep going like this!” Mom gasped. But it did. It came hard in waves, and then lightened up ever so slightly so that you didn’t notice that things were getting better until you got hit hard again. The little grains hissed at us and started to collect on the ground. The air smelled like a zamboni. All the enchantment was gone.
By the time we found the stream again, Mom’s pants were so wet that they were falling down under their weight. As we hopped down the hill, she held The Witch and my bag of soggy brunch that I’d hardly tasted in one hand, and held her pants up with the other. “Mom, let go! You can go faster if you let your arms move normally.”
“If I let go, then my pants are going to fall down enough that I’m going to step on the bottoms,” she said.
“So? You’re already dirty.”
“Well if I step on the bottoms, then they’ll get pulled down.”
“So? No one’s out here to see your underpants!”
“Then I’ll trip and fall on my face, and that will make everything worse!” I wasn’t sure if anything could get worse than it already was.
And then, the moment we returned soaked and freezing to the Covered Wagon, it stopped. Looking around, I could see all of the mountains poking whitely and jaggedly into the blue sky in a way that they had only hinted at when we were on the trail. I could tell what Mom was thinking, “I’m not going back out there,” I said.
“Me neither,” Mom said, reluctantly. “Let’s go.”
Since we didn’t get to take many pictures of the mountains while we were on the trail, I’ll describe them to you in case you’ve never seen a mountain before. Imagine there’s a blanket on your bed; the kind that scrumples when you dig in for a nap. As you swipe it, it gets kind of crinkled up, but not totally in a bunch. Now, imagine the blanket is so colossal that it’s on a scale that fills up your eyeballs from the other side of the horizon. Imagine it’s so tall that it can reach up and grab the clouds. It’s so enormous that some people say that they can change the weather for thousands of miles. Now imagine that you are shining a lamp on it — not the sun that can shine through things, but a reading lamp that leaves a lot of shadows, especially down at the bottom. Where the lamp shines, at the top and on one side of the folds, it’s white, but the rest is kind of dark and pixilated. Starting about half way down, there are tiny little speckles of shadow that get longer and longer the lower you go. Only those speckles aren’t tiny little threads, but trees. And there are big stripes of white, mostly through the cleavage of the mountain but sometimes crossing over the open spaces in rivulets. And when you look from far away, or as you travel through them, then you can see that there are many, many of these crumpled up blankets, all in different shapes and sizes, sitting in a group that makes something even more enormous than your imagination can hold.
And that’s what we saw as we drove out of Utah, and then later through Nevada.
Oscar the Icicle