Before we even started our hike, we found a treasure: a trailhead bathroom that was open! Our treasure stank so loud that it could blow your brains out, but letting Mom use a people bathroom again was like a breath of fresh air after so many locked doors over the past few months. When we came out, Mom (who doesn’t know how to appreciate an epic stank when she smells one) took a big gulp of fresh air, and then we kept walking. Before the trail pinched down to hiking size, I found a post with a bottle on top of it. “What is it?” I sniffed. It smelled like poison.
“It’s hand sanitizer!” Mom said, pushing down on its head until it sneezed out a foul smelling blob. “Finally! Something at a trail that is actually effective at stopping the virus!”
“What do you mean? The boogeyvirus can’t get onto a trail if no humans are allowed on it,” I said.
“Right, but the closures haven’t been to save the trail from getting sick, they’ve been to save the people. And closing a trail doesn’t do jack to keep people from spreading it to each other,” she finished rubbing her hands together like a villain anticipating something mischievous and marched purposefully into the woods. “Let’s go!”
It’s funny how sometimes a trail can climb in a way that kicks your tail, but a different trail that climbs just as high in just as far might be much more mellow. This trail was gentle with us, and before long it did what Mom loves best about the far side of the Sierras: the trees opened wide and all around us we could see the bare mountains pushing up against the sky. With the trees gone, Mom’s eyes liked to climb up all the rocks on the tallest mountains and see if they could find a route to the tippity-top. Since Mom’s eyes are the only part of her that isn’t afraid of heights, that’s probably the only way that she’ll climb most of them.
After a few miles, the trail turned and we came face-to-face with the river that had been roaring at us all morning. We’d crossed a few little streams already, but they all had paths of rocks across them that Mom could hop on to save her socks. But here at the big river, there were no hopping rocks and the water looked deep enough to have a mind of its own. I followed Mom as she walked up and down the bank looking for a place to outsmart the river. After a few minutes’ exploring and careful hopping, we found ourselves at a spot where the river roared so ferociously that it sprayed through the rocks in a white gush. “What now?” I asked.
“We get wet,” Mom sighed, sitting down on a rock to take off her socks.
“RAWR!” said the river.
I watched Mom stagger and pick her way across the pointy, slippery rocks while the river did its best to push her over. Only when I saw that she was definitely not coming back did I jump in and run across. My chest hair got wet, but luckily my paws never lost the bottom, which was a good thing because I don’t take kindly to pushy rivers.
Finally, the river stopped roaring and relaxed into a sparkling lake with mountains all around it, still speckled with their winter white dirt like a herd of prickly jersey cows. We walked along the lake, and Mom oohed and aahed all over again as she looked at the mountains in the lake, like she hadn’t just been looking at those same mountains all morning. The only difference was that in the lake they were a little ripplier, and instead of having sky-grey all around them, they stuck out against the watery grey the color of the Scooby-mobile. Mom made me pose for a zillion pictures before we headed back downhill.
When we had walked back down to one of the smaller river crossings, Mom stepped onto a wet log and her shoe kept moving as if it had wheels on it, until she splashed still standing into the water. “Duck!” she grunted in the exact moment that her paws slammed into the riverbottom. “Well I guess I don’t have to worry about getting back across that crossing in bare feet anymore,” she shrugged, sloshing over to the nearest rock tall enough to keep the top of its head dry. But when we got back to the swimmy spot, Mom spotted four logs that had just so happened to fall right alongside each other and across the river like a bridge.
“What luck!” I said, tromping across and leaving Mom to totter behind me. Life is like that sometimes… Something can be so difficult and uncomfortable that you dread the next time you need to face it, but when you come back and look at it from a different direction, you see the solution you were missing the first time.
When we got back to the bottle with the beak that snogged the foul-smelling snot, I saw a family of raccoons fiddling with the trash dumpster. They weren’t actually raccoons, they were two people and a dog, but I’d never seen people trying to unlock a dumpster before, so I figured that they must be raccoons in some very clever costumes. The raccoon-that-was-also-a-dog came running up to me, “Hello!” she grinned. “I haven’t seen New Friends in ever so long!”
“Let’s wrestle, and I’ll decide in 5 seconds whether I like you or not!” I said, before Mom grabbed my collar and pulled me away. I’d forgotten about social distancing again.
“I am just so glad to see you guys!” Mom said to the other two raccoons. “I’ve never understood what closing the bathrooms and the trash achieves…”
“Mom, we carry our trash out in the Covered Wagon, and you’ve never complained about using the dog bathroom before,” I whispered. “It smells better…”
“Have you been out here a lot?” the woman-raccoon asked as she folded up the chain that had been across the top of the trash.
“We just cleaned the bathroom, and it’s unlocked if you want to use it,” the man-raccoon said hospitably.
As we walked the rest of the way back to the Covered Wagon, I noticed that Mom looked more relaxed than I’d seen her in awhile. I wondered if maybe she’d had to go to the bathroom worse than I thought. “Have you been holding it this whole time?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “But I’m just ready to heal.”
“Heal from what?”
“We’ve all been through a lot,” Mom said. “I’m just so sick of being anxious, and angry, and frustrated, and worried. I’m tired of everything being harder than it needs to be, and not knowing when some troll is going to ambush me with some warped sense of right and wrong.”
“I’m excited for butt scratches from strangers,” I added. “And to see people’s smiles again.”
“It may be awhile before we can touch each other again, or before we can leave the masks at home…” Mom said, because she always has to be smarter than me every time I’m excited. “But I think we’re finally on our way…”
…then we heard about what had been happening in the rest of the world while we were gone…
Oscar the Pooch