There’s this enormous lake up in the mountains that sparkles in the brightest sapphire grey. It’s as deep as a mountain is tall, and as big around as 3 marathongs. It’s also much closer than most of the places that we go on our weekend adventures, so every year we go up there exactly once, and every year we remember why we promise each other to never go back. You’ll see why by the end of this story…
Because the trail we were going to is near some houses and it’s impolite to sleep outside someone’s house who you don’t know, Mom and I stopped and slept the distance away that it takes to drive while drinking one cup of poop juice. Then, we woke up very early in the morning and raced the sun to the trailhead. “This trail must be very remote,” I said as we drove over the road that seemed like it hadn’t been paved since the Revolutionary War.
“Not really,” Mom said.
“What do you mean? This road is only as wide as the covered Wagon. It must be from the time when cars were as wide as horses,” I said as the Wagon threw me around in its belly like Thanksgiving leftovers. “And look at all this nature on each side. This looks like an old forgotten forest road.”
“You’ll see…” Mom said, tucking the Wagon into the very edge of a patch of rock-free dirt 3 Wagons wide. Then we began walking.
The trail was a big circle whose elevation map looked like the American boogeyvirus graph. It was real steep on one side, but rather than coming back down steeply on the other side like a European boogeyvirus, instead it came down so all of a gradual that it seemed like we might never get back to where we started. We could choose to go around backward and spend all day climbing, then drop like a rock at the end or we could get all the climbing over in the beginning, and let the mountain carry us down for the rest of the day. Mom decided that we should climb to the peak first, mostly because all the reviews said that it was “the worst” and “overgrown” and there would be a lot of “bushwhacking,” and Mom wanted to get that out of the way before she got grumpy.
Have you ever noticed how when you’re prepared to get lost and buswhack through “the worst” overgrown shrubs, it’s not as as when you think you’re the only one that’s ever had to deal with it? Mom used the branches reaching across the trail to pull herself up as both of us used all four of our paws to climb up the trail that was also a stream, and was so steep that I don’t know how it wasn’t a waterfall. But we didn’t get lost but the one time (and then only for a minute), and Mom’s socks didn’t even get wet.
From there, we turned our tails on the giant lake, and walked down toward the lakes that hid where only the mountains could see them. There are monsters that live in lakes like that. In the movies the monsters are big and look like brontosauruses with seal flippers, but in real life the monsters that live in mountain lakes are actually somewhat smaller, have spindlier legs, suck your blood, and are called moose-skeeters. Every time we stopped to save our views of the mountains and lakes forever by having them pose behind me in pictures, the moose-skeeters buzzed at us like valkyries and neither of us could sit still long enough to take a picture.
We passed many small lakes tucked in the holes around the mountains’ roots, but the one that beat them all stretched out flat like the most beautiful puddle you’ve ever seen in a flooded car kennel after a storm. I’d first discovered this lake when I climbed to the top of the pyramid-shaped mountain that we were looking up at this morning. From way up in the sky the lake looked like it wasn’t deep at all, and that a brave dog could walk all the way across if he didn’t mind getting his socks wet. But now that we were at the edge of it, I could look into the calm grey water and see that it was very, very deep, and that the tiny islands that barely poked their noses out of the surface were actually very tall rocks standing up from a bottom so deep that I couldn’t see it under all that glowing grey water.
We walked along the whole length of the puddle-lake until I found fields of white dirt big enough to roll in. It was soupy and soggy, but I rolled in it anyway, kissing it tenderly before hopping up to run after Mom who had hiked on to give me privacy. When the trail was under it, the white dirt was slippery under our paws and made a sound like Mom’s shoes do after she’s fallen in a river. I was walking behind Mom when suddenly she sat down on the white dirt. Usually when Mom sits down, she looks for a rock to put her butt on and folds down slowly and stiffly, making a groaning harrumph noise, so I was surprised to see her slap her butt down faster than if someone holding a hot dog told her to “sit.” Then I noticed one of her legs was gone.
“Where did you leave your leg?” I asked, sniffing curiously around for it.
“It’s stuck in the snow,” she harrumphed, leaning back and pulling her leg out of the dirt like the sword in the stone. “I probably would have fallen in up to my neck if my crotch hadn’t caught me,”
Once we had left the lake, both Mom and I were ready to be done, but we still had 6 miles to hike before we were back at the end of the graph. We passed many lovely lakes and beautiful mountains, but Mom was getting quieter and I could see cartoon frustration lines coming out of her head like lightning bolts every time we had to step off the trail for expeditions of 400 people to hike past in the other direction. Most of them were talking about food, and the best order to eat your gels, and bars, and sammiches in so that you don’t die in the woods like on TV.
When we hike, Mom carries my brunch with us, and I eat it one handful at a time over many miles. Mom is a pig and eats her breakfast all in one go before we start hiking. Now that I’d learned from other hikers that there was a way to stop being hangry, I shared what I’d learned with Mom.
“Maybe you’ll be less grouchy and impatient if you eat your snacks,” I suggested. “Snacks always make me happier.”
“I’m not hungry,” Mom grumbled.
“What do you mean you’re not hungry? We’ve been hiking for like 6 hours,” I said. “What’s the point of hiking if you’re not going to enjoy snacks?!”
“I want to enjoy my lunch and a cold drink when I can sit down next to the van while I make a nice cup of tea to drink on the way home,” Mom said. “I can wait.” But the closer we got to the bottom, the more, and more, and more traffic jams we got stuck in as people came uphill from who-knows-where. “Why the hell would you wear fake eyelashes to go hiking?” Mom grumbled.
Finally, after a million, zillion years, we got back to the skinny road where the Wagon had spent the day, only now it looked like a car kennel had exploded, spraying cars all through nature into every nook and cranny. Now when we had to step off the trail and wait, it was because waiting cars were blocking the trail. When we finally found the Covered Wagon, there was nowhere for me to lay down in the shade where I wouldn’t be squashed, so I had to bake inside the Wagon while Mom made her tea. Mom couldn’t sit down like she’d planned either, because she had to squish up tight against the butt of the Wagon every time a car went by. She set up her tea-making stove in the slot between the Wagon and the car next to it, but the moment she set the stove on fire, a family came to move the car next to us, and she had to move everything, sloshing tea everywhere as she tried to balance the stove in a place where it wouldn’t be knocked over. Meanwhile, I was having my own troubles. Mom had bought me a wad of the special bologna that has my name on it, and she had dumped a stack of bologna pancakes in a bowl for me to enjoy while she made her tea. But the bologna slabs matched the shape of the bowl exactly, and all the slices were stuck together so that I couldn’t get them in my mouth. I licked the top of the bologna stack a few times before finally giving up and going back to panting in bed.
Instead of sitting and enjoying our lunches in the baking van, we decided to get the heck outta there and eat a few miles away by the side of a normal road. We drove for almost an hour, Mom with the fork in her teeth and her lunch unopened in her lap and me with my stack of bologna tormenting my nose while we swiveled and inched down the one-lane road.
“Oscar, if I ever plan to come to Tahoe again on a summer Saturday, I want you to smack some sense into me,” Mom grumbled, when we finally found a shady place to stop and eat our lunches. I promised.
One nice thing about the world being closed down has been the Grey Bridge. Back when the world was normal, the Grey Bridge always had traffic on it, even in the middle of the night. But ever since the world ended we’ve been able to drive right across it. The Witch promised that today would be the same, but The Witch lies. After driving through the entrance tardises, we could hardly move at all. “Don’t worry, bud,” Mom said. “It clears up after the meter lights,” Mom promised But when we drove under the finish line of lights we still weren’t moving and Mom said, “It clears up once we’re over the water.” But when we got to the water she said, “At the tunnel, it’s all clear after the tunnel.” But no matter how far we went, we couldn’t speed up any faster. Something else strange was happening. All the cars around us had signs on them, and there were people hanging out the windows like dogs, and poking their heads and arms through the roofs. They were all waving flags and honking their horns.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“It must be a protest,” Mom said.
“But I ate all that bologna! I’m thirsty and I have to pee!” I whined. “Why are they doing this to me??? Make it stop!”
“They’re not doing it to you, Oscar. I’m thirsty, too. And maybe that person in the next car has to pee. Maybe that person is late to work,” she said, looking at a different car. “And maybe that person is hungry. And who knows if that person has a condition that makes them poop without warning.”
“That’s horrible!” I said. “Why would they torture us like that?”
“It’s not torture, Oscar. It’s just life. What I mean to say is that we’re not special, and we have to share the world with everyone else. And if someone has something important to say, then it might mean that we have to wait 20 minutes longer for water and a potty break.”
“But why do they want to make things worse for everyone?!”
“To get people’s attention,” Mom said. “You know how some traffic lanes go slower than others?”
I know a lot about driving from being such an experienced copilot. “Sure, the ones with more cars and especially trucks go the slowest. That’s why we use the other lanes,” I said.
“Well imagine that only certain cars were allowed to use the fast lanes, and instead of getting to choose the car you wanted, you were just assigned one and you couldn’t trade it in. Some people could go anywhere they wanted and never hit a traffic jam, and other people would have to deal with all the traffic jams and road work all the time. After awhile, the people in the fast lane could travel way, way farther than the people stuck in the slow lane. That wouldn’t be very fair, would it?”
“No. But that’s why they put the dotted lines,” I said. “So that you can go into the other lanes when someone’s in your way.” Wasn’t Mom supposed to know this stuff already?
“Right. But when you’re going slow, it’s really hard to change lanes because you have to speed up so fast to do it safely. So you just kind of get stuck. But then imagine that all the people in the slow lane decided to stop waiting and spread out into the road anyway.”
“Well then there would be a traffic jam at first, but then it would get better eventually, right?”
“Yes, it would. That’s kind of like what these people want to happen,” Mom explained. “And because fairness is important, it’s okay if we’re going a little slower for now.”
“But won’t the people in the fast lane have to go slower than before? Now that more people are allowed in their lane? That doesn’t seem right.”
“When you’ve had special privileges for your whole life, and suddenly you have to play by the same rules as everyone else, it can seem like you’re being treated unfairly. But by opening the whole road up to everyone, that’s how we get everyone to where they’re going on time. The people in the fast lane may need to leave a minute or two earlier to compensate, but they’ll get used to it.”
We had finally reached the other side of the Grey Bridge, and all the cars pulled their signs back in, rolled up their windows, and merged into the slow lane to wait their turn to get off the freeway. “See?” Mom said as she pulled into the fast lane to continue on to My Hometown. “And now we get to go home. That wasn’t so bad, was it?”
“If it wasn’t so bad, then why were you making all those frustrated noises and whining at the driving wheel for the past 20 minutes?” I asked.
“Because I have to pee too,” Mom admitted.
Oscar the Pooch