We had more bear stuff than could fit in the running packpack, so even though we’d already finished the Running with the Bears virtual half marathong, Mom decided we should spend the afternoon going for a little hike. We weren’t too far from a trail we’d tried once before, when the white dirt still occupied the Icy Era, so that’s where we went. We left the Wagon at the exact spot where the road had climbed 9000 feet from the sea, and then we walked into the sky.
I didn’t think that I was tired from my half marathong, but as I trudged up the steep mountain I felt like the nap monster had grabbed my paws and was trying to pull me back down the hill to the Covered Wagon. “This… [sigh] … is… [gasp] … brutal!” Mom huffed as we climbed up a slope so steep that the rocks she was stepping on rolled backward down the hill with every step she took.
“Mom, I feel like a wimp,” I admitted, watching a ground squirrel sprint through the field without chasing him.
“I think maybe it’s the altitude,” she admitted. “We haven’t been up to the mountains much this summer.”
After dribbling thickly up the longest mile I’ve ever hiked, we met 2 grown humans and a people puppy sitting on a rock having a picnic. How could a people puppy get all the way up here when the trail was kicking the butt of an experienced mountain man such as myself? The only possible explanation was that this people puppy knew how to fly. What was more important was that they were all eating sandwiches.
“Hi, I’m Oscar,” I said, sitting next to the one that took the least effort to climb up to. “I see that you like sandwiches. We have a lot in common because I too like sandwiches,” I panted. “If you share some of your sandwich with me, I’ll sit here awhile and keep you company and we can eat your sandwich together. Would you like to hear about how my breakfast was haunted? Yup, I’m not only hungry, but bravely hungry.”
“No, you can’t have my sandwich, buddy,” the lady said, using a nice voice even though her words were mean.
“C’mon bub,” Mom gasped, holding out a handful of kibble to convince me to follow her. “She doesn’t need your help.” I still wasn’t convinced that the lady didn’t need my help with her sandwich, and I wanted to stick around to see the people puppy fly, but Mom was holding out a handful of kibble and I was too bravely hungry to say no to free food.
Finally we reached a very small lake lying under a mountain shaped like a smurf hat. We walked out onto the soggy tuffet of grass that surrounded it. Mom made me pose for several pictures, and every time she stood up after rearranging the Witch tottered for a moment with invisible birds flying around her head, while her head up with its new altitude. Then we turned around to walk back down the hill.
We hadn’t seen anybody at the top, but right when Mom walked into some trees to use the dog bathroom, that’s when the picnicking group walked by. I was surprised to see the people puppy walking like a regular person, but satisfied that he looked like he had naps attached to his ankles too. Next we met a man who stopped when he saw us. “How much farther is it?” he swooned.
“Maybe a quarter mile,” Mom told him encouragingly. Then she aimed her arm at the potty trees. “It’s mostly flat past those trees.”
“Thanks. I got more out of shape than I thought this year,” the man sighed.
“It’s not just you,” Mom said reassuringly. “This trail is relentless.” I wondered if she was reassuring him or herself.
Now that we were going downhill we had a different problem. The same rocks that rolled under Mom’s feet as we’d climbed were now carrying her feet out from under her as she clomped down the hill. As Mom picked her way cautiously down the trail we were walking so slowly that The Witch mocked us with taunting questions like, “I see you’ve stopped moving. Do you want to quit?” Mom kept her eyes on the trail, looking for the best place to put her floppy feet. Maybe that’s how she wound up leading me around the wrong side of a hill.
We were walking through a field of flowers that I didn’t remember from before when I looked up at a little hill in front of us and couldn’t see a trail. “Are we lost?” I asked.
“Are we lost,” Mom asked The Witch.
“Haha, you stupid fool. The trail is that way!” The Witch said, pointing across the steep ravine that the river had dug into the hill. I looked at the crack in the mountain with the river at the bottom, and then I looked up all the steep loose rocks on the slope at the other side and got ready for Mom to yell a lot. We walked toward the river and looked for a place to cross, but everywhere we looked there was nothing but loose, rolling pebbles on the steep, steep slope down to the stream. At the bottom, the water crashed into and fell over hard, leg-breaking rocks. Mom only had to slip twice before she sighed and gave up on the shortcut. We climbed back to the flowery field and then back uphill the way we’d come until we found the trail again.
No sooner had we found the real trail when I heard a scuffling behind us. It was the swooning man coming to pass us. “You made it!” Mom said. I hoped he wouldn’t notice that we were in about the same place as he had seen us 20 minutes before.
“Yeah, it wasn’t as bad as I thought,” he said and continued down the hill, running a bit when it got extra steep. When Mom hit the extra steep part, she stepped down carefully, but her foot slipped, she put down her other foot to try to catch herself, but that one slipped too. Then she moved the first foot and it slipped all the way out from under her like a cartoon banana peel, and she fell down on her butt.
“DUCK!” Mom hissed. Then she popped up quickly and wiped dirt off her butt, trying to hide what had just happened from any non-dogs who could see her.
“Are you okay?” shouted the wimpy man, who still wasn’t too far away.
“Yeah, I’m fine. I fall all the time,” Mom grumped. “Just leave me alone.”
The man hadn’t done anything wrong, but he must be smart like me because he got the hint and continued down the hill as if Mom weren’t a crazy person. He skipped around a couple of ladies sitting on a blanket in the middle of the trail. While she slipped and slid past them, I could hear Mom thinking the girls a piece of her mind about sitting their dumb asses on the only good footing on the trail, but the only thing that came out of her mouth was, “Duck, fah… duck, duck! God SLAM it!”
As we came down the final steep slope to the last river crossing before the road, the wind was blowing like depression, the sky looked like our moods, and the air started to smell like a basement. Then it began to rain. We climbed up the steep embankment back to the 9000 ft sign and collapsed into the Covered Wagon. The road was so steep that even sitting in the Wagon took effort.
“Where to now?” I asked.
“I was planning to stay out for an extra day,” Mom sighed. “But the sheets smell like diarrhea, my armpits are chafed, and if we leave now we could be home by dinnertime.”
“Dinnertime?!” I perked up. “I like the sound of that!”
Oscar the Slouch