We may have been doomed without The Witch’s supervision, but we were already at a trailhead, so we might as well face our grim fate while sitting on top of a mountain. Mom promised that she could survive for 10 miles without The Witch telling her stories, but not without mapps and photos. So we needed to wake The Witch up from her coma, even if it meant she would die sooner. At least the last thing she saw would be a picture of a handsome dog standing in front of a beautiful view. I put on a bandana that looked like a 1970’s kitchen (but in a good way) so that I would be ready for fast pictures.
Then Mom asked The Witch to show us the way. “I have no idea where you are,” The Witch said, not even bothering to give us a blue dot on the smudgy background.
“Why is she being such a booger brain?!” I asked. I mean, The Witch may have the personality of a cat, but she can always be counted on to be a know-it-all.
“The sky can’t see us,” Mom said. “I think the mountains on both sides are too steep.”
This must be what disappearing feels like. We walked to the end of the car kennel and hoped that the trail that we found was the right one.
“This trail has a different name,” Mom said, looking at the trailhead sign-house.
“Oh wait, but there’s a squiggly line on the map that is just as squiggly as the line on our map, and it goes toward a mountain with the same name as the trail we’re looking for,” Mom cheered.
“Hooray! We’re found!” I wagged. “Take that, Witch!”
A few steps from the sign-house there was another wooden sign on the side of the trail. “What does it say?” I asked.
“It says our trailhead is 1/8 of a mile away,” Mom said.
“And take THAT!” I said to The Witch. Then, to Mom I said, “Isn’t it amazing that someone knew that we would be looking for the trail just here and put a sign out for us? I wonder why there aren’t more signs on trails. For safety.”
“There are,” Mom said. “I just don’t look at them.”
I was flabbergasted. “Why ever not?!”
“Because the signs don’t know who you are or what you’re looking for. There’s no way to know if a sign is for someone else, and if you follow someone else’s sign, you could get lost.”
I went from thinking that Mom was the dumbest person in the world to thinking that maybe she wasn’t so dumb after all. “Good thing today’s signs are for us…” I concluded.
We turned where the sign told us to turn, and immediately the mountain got so steep that it was barely legal. Luckily, though, my muscles are made of magic, and after 3 days of feeling crispy and spicy, today they felt springy and fresh like a brand new chew toy. Mom might have felt the same, or maybe she was just bounding up the mountain because she needed to finish the hike before she died of boredom. I looked up the slope to see where the trees stopped and the sun began, which would mean that Mom would have something to look and distract her from her hungry ears, but all I saw were layers and layers of trees stretching above our heads forever. A marathong dog like me has ears that can fast all day, listening only to the mountains and the forest, but Mom’s brain would die of starvation if it didn’t have something to chew on after a mile or so.
“Here’s what I’m going to do…” Mom said. “I’ll count my paces, and every 100 steps I’ll give you a mouthful of food. Then every 1,000 steps we’ll stop for water and I’ll check to see how far we’ve gone.”
“But The Witch doesn’t know where we are, so she can’t tell you how far we’ve gone. And you said you were going to turn off the distance app to keep The Witch alive for longer.”
“Yes, but my phone counts my steps too. It’s usually right to within about 20%. We’ll use that.” What Mom was talking about sounded like make believe, but she seemed proud of herself.
“And I’ll teach you how to enjoy listening to the forest!” I said. “You’re gonna love it!”
We climbed through zillions of trees. Each was a bit different, but all felt the same… except for the ones that had to climb over because they’d fallen across the trail. Suddenly I heard a loud, deep creaky growl in the branches above us.
“Do you hear that?” I said. “I think it’s a bear who just realized he left his cave without his keys again! I’d know it anywhere, you make that sound all the time.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s a tree stretching more than it’s mean to. It’ll probably fall down soon,” Mom said. She’s always looking for disaster in everything.
“Hey! You and trees have something in common!” I said, wanting Mom to feel at one with nature. “You both groan when you think you’re going to fall down!”
We stopped and I drank water out of my bowl, and then we kept climbing. We would be climbing almost 5000 feet in a little more than 5 miles, which made this mountain a runner-up for one of the steepest mountains we’d ever climbed, but Mom wasn’t hiking like she was trying to lift the mountain with every step. We stopped again, and again, and again, and still Mom hiked like she had something to look forward to.
“What’s gotten into you?” I asked. “Usually when we’re hiking in trees you can’t wait to be done.”
“I don’t know. My legs feel great, and time is actually passing faster when I count my steps than if I were distracted. A hundred steps takes no time at all, and every time we get to 1000 we’ve gone about another mile. A hundred steps goes by so fast that I’m looking for little ways to slow down the counting, so we go a little further between each rest. It feels like progress.” I felt sorry for Mom and her addiction to measuring things. All it does is make her wish that her adventure was over so that she misses the whole thing. “Usually I won’t look at our progress until I’ve finished a chapter,” she went on. “But I never know how long the chapter will last, which means that every second feels longer than the last. And when it’s finally time to look, it’s been a lifetime in my head but hardly any time or distance have passed at all.” I hoped that Mom would finally figure out what I’d been telling her all along, and things like time and distance are something that she made up to torture herself, but she was done talking. The student still wasn’t ready.
Finally, after our fourth water stop, the sun began to shine through the trees above our heads. That meant that the mountain wasn’t leaning over us anymore, and we were close to the top. After our fifth water stop, we stepped out of the dreadmill of trees and into the sun. Here the trees were no taller than Mom, and they wore a skin of water that wet my fur and sparkled in the sun like Christmas decorations. Better yet, the crinkly ridge of mountains was starting to climb over the tops of the trees behind us and into the sky. Faster than I thought, we turned a corner and the Christmas trees were gone.
Before the summit there was no slope so steep and slippery that we might slide off of it, or pile of rocks to climb. We walked on a gentle trail that drew a line between a couple of gradual boob-shaped humps. Wall-shaped cliffs fell off to each side of the boobs, and beyond them a circle of mountains gathered around us. There were spikey mountains, and furry mountains, and white mountains, and even one mountain with a tattoo on the side that looked like an electric guitar. Suddenly I heard a screech. I ran ahead to find what it was.
“Mom! Mom!’ I said breathlessly. “I think it’s a magic bird that grants wishes!”
“I think it’s a whistle,” Mom said. “Do you see anyone? I hope they’re not hurt.”
With open sky all around and nothing for the sound to bounce off of, I soon figured where the whistle was coming from. On a balcony of rock that stuck out from the cliff below one of the boobs sat a mystical creature. It was watching me, and every time I sped up it screamed into the mountains to let them know I was coming.
“What the hell is that?” Mom said. “A woodchuck? An owl?” It was too far away to give up its mysteries, so it remained 14 inches of furry, or maybe feathery enchantment until finally we came close enough that the hill blocked our view and it stopped screeching.
We squandered precious Witch vitality taking many pictures while Mom did her best to ruin the magic of the moment by swatting and slapping at the bugs that had come to watch my triumph. Now that we were in the sky, she opened the mapp to see how far we were from a town big enough to have a car vet, and The Witch sighed, “Ah! There you are! You’re in the middle of nowhere. No big towns around here, so I’ve probably succeeded in ruining your vacation. Gotcha!”
The way back down was like the climb, but in fast forward. Mom sprang down the steep slope like she had more to look forward to than certain disaster, and I ran ahead searching for more enchantment. We hadn’t seen a single soul on the whole hike, and so all treasures on the trail were mine for discovering. Soon I could hear the river roaring at the bottom of the valley. We popped back out at the trailhead without Mom making a single wish that it were over (unlike her usual cool-down of 2 hours of complaints broadcast over doggie telepathy). “I can’t believe that was more than 5 hours and almost 12 miles!” she said. “It felt like nothing at all! I’m not even hangry.”
But now it was time to face our fate. Mom was pretty sure she knew what had happened. She had plugged too many things into the Wagon’s little plug, and it had fried… but not in the yummy way like snacks. It was like when Mom runs too fast for too long and then we have to stop for her to puke in the bushes, and then walk home.
“All we need is a fuse,” Mom said. “But I don’t know if that’s the sort of thing that you can find just anywhere. And who knows if some small town mechanic is going to take me for a ride.”
“If he does, you can ask to charge The Witch in his car!” I suggested helpfully.
“No, I mean that some men don’t think that women know anything about cars. He may not sell me the fuse and may want to charge me a lot of money to run ‘diagnostics.’”
“What are dying-agnostics?” I asked.
“It’s when they charge you $150 to plug a machine into your car to tell you what you already know.”
“Joke’s on him! You can’t plug anything into the Wagon and you’re a know-nothing. That’s why we’re in trouble.”
“Right, well if we can’t find a mechanic to help, then we’ll have to find a bigger town to go to the auto parts store and hope they have it there.”
“And what if they don’t have it in the big town?” I gulped.
“Then, we’re going to have to find a city where they have…” and then she gulped too, “…a dealership.”
“NO! Mom! Don’t talk that way! It’s not nice.”
“Oh, it gets worse. At the dealership they DEFINITELY won’t just sell you the parts, and their diagnostics are the most expensive of all.” I tucked my tail nubbin between my legs. “AND they will make us wait several days, AND they’ll want to keep the car for hours.”
“No! Where will we live?” I burst out. The last time something like this happened I was dognapped. But of course the answer was that we wouldn’t live, we would die!
We drove for an hour down a dirt road to the nearest town, and then Mom went into the gas station. She came out with directions to a car vet, and a little cube that would be like the Wagon’s charger. If this plan didn’t work, we would have to find a wall with electricity somewhere where you were allowed to sit (which is nowhere in the times of the boogeyvirus), and wait for the Witch to finish her treatment. Then we drove down all the streets in the little town until we found the Wagon hospital. Mom left me to guard the Wagon while she went inside. I waited nervously until she reappeared a few minutes, or a lifetime later. She looked excited, but when I greeted her at the door she ignored me, made the Wagon open wide, and disappeared behind its snout. Then she got in the driver’s chair, turned the key, plugged the electricity straw into the Witch’s mouth and… hooted with joy.
“It worked! It worked!” she laughed. “I fixed it! And it only cost a dollar!” I high fived her, and she danced back into the hospital to buy more doom breakers. These magic beans that only cost a dollar and were smaller than a Leggo had saved vacation! All of Mom’s extra worrying had brought us good luck once more.
Oscar the Pooch