Halfway through our trip to Washington Mom had gotten lazy while using the dog bathroom, and instead of lifting her leg like she was supposed to, she’d leaned against a big, sappy crybaby of a tree. The tree left her hairless booty sticky, so that she howled every time she had to peel her shorts off for the rest of the trip.
“What’s the matter with you?” I asked as she climbed out of a bush on our last evening in Washington.
“My butt cheeks are stuck together, and when I pull down my shorts it’s like I’m ripping a giant band-aid off my entire butt!” she said. “And my butt cheeks are stuck together.”
“Ripping off a band-aid” is the name of a business strategy you do when you have to do something that is more unpleasant the longer it takes, like a marathong, or jumping in a cold lake after a great stick, or driving all the way back to California from Washington, but I didn’t know what that had to do with her butt.
“God, I want a shower,” Mom said, scratching her head through the matted fur like she had fleas. “What do you say we skip the last day and go home in one long pull?”
“Sounds good to me!” I said, because I know that hurrying is what you do when you’re having trouble with band-aids.
It was a good thing that our final hike was right next to the freeway. That way, we could make a quick getaway when we were finished. We snuggled in to the dusty bed that smelled like beef gravy and Mom’s old sweat as the sun went to bed, so that we could beat the sun to the trail. I was a little worried about one thing…
“Mom, you hate sharing the trails with other people,” I whispered. “This one has a very, very big car kennel, and the reviews say that it’s very crowded. Are you sure that this is a good idea?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” Mom mused. “If I hike with a mask then I’m not afraid that someone is going to start a fight with me. And the rest of it… how I don’t like people standing behind me, and how I get so stressed out by dodging the people coming in the other direction, those are problems that only happen in my head. I’m going to try to be more like you and welcome people into our hike. Rather than invaders, I can see them like Friends, right?”
“Now you’re getting the hang of it!” I said. “Maybe if enough of them scratch your butt all the sap will rub away!”
Even though we woke up long before the sun, there were still lots of spotlights walking around the car kennel as Mom drank her poop juice and The Witch filled up on her own juice. It felt like the starting line at a race where everyone is very busy and pretending to be all alone, except a little darker.
When there was enough light for us to hike by without a spotlight, we set out on our final expedition. Before long Mom made good on her promise to make a Friend when he passed us and I followed him instead of waiting for Mom. My New Friend’s name was TJ but I nicknamed him Tillie Jean, and he was newer to the busy-ness world than I am because he’d only just finished disobedience school.
“I just moved out here from Michigan,” he told Mom. “I don’t love my job, but I lost my first job because of COVID, and so I’m just glad to have a job right now.”
“Mom’s been to Michigan!” I said. “She ran a marathong there with our friend Tonya. Do you know her? Are they still talking about it? I bet it was very exciting to have someone visit Michigan who knows me!”
Then Mom bored him by telling him how we were from California, and that we had jobs a little bit like the job he had, and she would like to be his fan on LinkedIn (which is social media for boring people who like the not-delicious kind of spam).
“I don’t think I would like California much,” Tillie Jean said. Obviously, he was wrong. California is definitely the best state, and one of the 10 best states that I’ve visited.
“Why not?” Mom asked. I could tell she was setting a trap for him, but Tillie Jean stepped right into it.
“I don’t think I would like the people,” he said.
“What do you mean?” Mom led him on, even though I could tell by her thoughts that she knew exactly what he meant.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, but I could tell by his thoughts that he did know.
“We’re not all hippies, gypsies and queers,” Mom said with a smile in her voice, even though she’s at least two of those things. He laughed, because he knew that she knew, and that it was okay. “There are people from all over the world in our cities, and they all have different stuff that weirds them out,” Mom said. “So we have to figure out how to not be so weirded out by each other. It may not make sense from the outside, but it’s really pretty great when you’re in it. And the restaurants are great.”
“Mom,” I whispered. “They don’t like flavors in Michigan, remember?” I know because my friend Danielle is from Michigan and she thinks that tamales are spicy.
To show that she was inclusive, and woke to diversity, Mom changed the subject so that Tillie Jean wouldn’t feel self conscious about his foreign culture. “Anyway, we have a ton of people in California who drive pickup trucks, and spend their weekends hunting and riding four wheelers.”
“Those are my kind of people!” he said.
The mist swirled around the scruffy stubble of scraggly trees and got stuck on the rocky peaks. The sun lazily climbed up the artichoke-shaped mountains and lit up the clouds like a lighting engineer had spent all morning mixing the right greys and pointing the spotlights so they would glow with the most dramatic effect. I was glad that Tillie Jean was there, because otherwise I’m sure we would still be up on that mountain taking pictures from every rock. It was nice having company, and I hardly noticed that both Mom and I were drinking less than usual. But the air was cool and wet, and we hiked to first one fresh lake and then another. The lakes were very clear, and the color of mint Listerine where I drank near the shore, but blended to a darker Fresh color in the center. If the sun had been shining on them, they would have glittered like a newly clean toilet bowl before the first flush.
The trail was rocky and wobbly, so Mom let me off the leash and I led the expedition until Tillie Jean smelled one of my farts and said that he would lead from now on.
I haven’t told you guys about the delicious steak dinners I’d been having on this trip, but Mom had found another food named after me (the other ones being the bologna and hot dogs) called Hunk of Beef. It was delicious, and made my farts truly indomitable.
Since we had Tillie Jean leading our party, I left the greeting and barking up to him and didn’t even introduce myself when two men dressed like Smoky the Bear and carrying picks and shovels like the seven dwarves came around the corner and told Mom that it wasn’t okay for her to be off leash, even if she was going to trip and fall. Luckily, now that Mom knew that everyone was a Friend and not an enemy, she smiled at them through her mask, apologized in a voice like they were already the best of friends, and did what she was told, even when they weren’t looking anymore.
When we reached the second lake at the top, Tillie Jean said he wanted to stay and swim awhile. People from Michigan may be part polar bear, but Mom and I are from California and neither of us were going to climb into a lake that had ice in it a month ago, sappy bum or no. So we left Tillie Jean and set off for the Covered Wagon.
The time had passed quickly when we were with a Friend, but now that it was just the two of us again, time turned back to its slippery self, both enormous with eternal minutes, but also tiny as the minutes piled up behind us and we seemed to make no progress at all. Worse, now the hordes were on the trail and we were on a collision course to meet them.
They came up the trail in legions, like trains of nomads in the desert. If there had been room to walk past them it wouldn’t have been so bad, but the trail was narrow and rocky, the footing was bad, and there was seldom anywhere to step off the trail. Even when there was, Mom put her head down and charged right into them like Sonic the hedgehog, and I must have bumped dozens of them off the side of a cliff as I bowled through to keep up with her.
“Mom, I think those people wanted to meet me!” I said, straining on the leash again and again. “They love my handsome bandana.”
“If we stopped to let everyone pet you, or let everyone pass, we literally would never get off this mountain,” Mom said, grimly dragging me past another four-legged hiker who was leaning out to give me a sniff. “At this rate I bet we’ll pass close to 2000 people before we get back to the car.” I didn’t know how big two thousands were, but now I know 2000 is how many people fit into 5 and a half miles if you line them all up one behind the other.
When we got to the lake that was the halfway point of the trail, the fog had gotten stuck on the mountain and swallowed the lake. If I couldn’t smell it, I might not have even known it was there. Suddenly one of the hoards spoke to Mom, “Are there better views up ahead?” he asked.
Mom looked around and looked back at him. I could hear the gears grinding in her mind about how to answer a stupid question without sounding like a jerk. “The visibility is about 200 feet, man,” she said. “There aren’t any views anywhere.” Then she took a deep breath for patience and looked for the silvery coin of the sun. If there’s one thing that we’re experts on in My Hometown, it’s fog. “I bet it’ll burn off in an hour or so, if you wait,” she advised. Then we charged on.
As we stalked down the trail, the sun did start to win over the fog, and the air got warmer. I was thirsty and the bottle under Mom’s arm was empty, but every time we passed a good place to stop for water, there were people already sitting there with their big butts on the place where my water bowl should go. Once, Mom stopped to take a picture crunched herself so small into a little alcove in a rock trying to make space, that she slipped down onto her butt and the packpack knocked the hat off her head. Another time, she slipped and bashed her knee on a rock, but when someone turned around at her shouting and asked if she was okay, she just growled at them and stomped away to the clear spot of trail a few bodies away. The further we went, the bigger the uphill caravans became and the car kennel receded away from us faster than we could catch up to it. The sun started to shine on my fur, heating me up like an oven and Mom started to sweat under the sweatshirt that she was trapped inside of.
Behind us I kept hearing a drill sergeant whooping the same command over and over. “What the hell is that woman saying?” Mom grumbled the hundredth time she heard it. It sounded like “heeeeee-YUP!”
By the 500th time, the drill sergeant had caught up enough for me to make out the words. “Maaaaaask UP!” she shouted over and over.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Mom said, only she didn’t say heaven. “That’s the most obnoxious thing I’ve ever heard.”
“But Mom, masks stop the spread of the boogeyvirus,” I explained. I thought she already knew that, but maybe she was only wearing one because she thought it was trendy.
“Sure, but who does she think she is? It’s not like everyone on this trail isn’t aware of the benefits of masks, and hasn’t made their decision already about whether to wear it or leave it in the car. Having some rotten vigilante bellowing in their face isn’t going to change their minds about anything. She’s annoying the piss out of me, and I agree with her… sorta,” Mom said, with murder in her voice. “She had better hope she doesn’t catch up to us or I might just have to push her off this damned mountain.”
Luckily, we finally reached the car kennel before Mom had to perform any anti-vigilante justice, and even though we were both hot and hungry and thirsty, she got into the driving chair and drove us far, far away from there before stopping for us to eat lunch and slurp lots of water before ripping off the band-aid and driving home.
Oscar the Pooch