The last hike of our trip needed to be within a day’s drive of the Stuck House, since we had to quit being hobos and go back to being busy-ness people the next day. So we put-putted back into California, where the rocks are mostly regular, but the trees come from Dr. Seuss.
Now that we were back in California, Mom wasn’t breathing steam as she made her poop juice, but she made me wear a jacket anyway. Dressed as a baked potato in my gold puffer jacket, I followed her into the ostrich-necked, pompom-headed trees and spike-furred cacti for our last day in the desert. Before long, Mom told me to up-up on a rock for a picture, and when we were done and I asked for a mouthful of brunch, she froze.
“Dog doo!” she said. “I forgot your breakfast in the car.”
So we turned back.
Mom filled a new bag with kibbles and with me dressed as a baked potato and with Mom carrying my breakfast, we set out into the Seuss trees and cacti for our last hike in the desert. But then Mom noticed that the man cleaning the people potty had finished, so we turned our backs again to inspect his work and so that Mom wouldn’t need to use the dog bathroom.
Then, with me dressed as a baked potato, Mom carrying my breakfast, and no one in need of the potty, we set out into the cacti for our last hike in the desert. After a few minutes Mom tapped her hips, then her tummy, then anywhere else that she may have had pockets.
“God slam it!” she said. “My headphones!” So once again we turned back and got her earbugs from the car. Then, with me dressed as a baked potato, Mom carrying my breakfast, everyone relieved of potty needs, and Mom blocking out the sounds of the desert, we set out into the Lorax trees and murder-bushes for our last hike in the desert.
The smells of this desert are different from the smells of the other deserts I’d been in on this trip, an every time I discovered a new message in the brush and sand, I rolled vigorously in it, only getting up to chase after Mom when I was good and ready. After about half a mile, Mom had chilled out enough to notice her surroundings again and take another picture, so I up-upped onto the rock that she was looking at.
“Where’s your jacket?” Mom asked.
“Oh, that old thing,” I said. “I took it off back there a ways so I could roll better.”
“Cheese and rice, Oscar!” Mom growled. “Now we have to go back and get it!”
So we turned back yet again, and hiked back toward the Covered Wagon until Mom found my jacket lying in the trail like an old snake skin and stuffed it into the packpack.
Now that we had hiked for more than a mile in the first half mile of the trail, we settled into the more standard way of walking, which meant following the trail always in the same direction and not turning back to revisit what we’d already seen. The trail walked around a big hill like the line that you draw around a rash to see if it’s spreading, and as we walked over the flat ground Mom kept looking up and imagining routes to the top of the hill. It did no good for me to take my eyes off the trail, because every time I stopped looking where I was going I stepped on a cactus and took away a burr of its spikes in my paws. Several times I had to stop to lick my pawm until Mom noticed and pulled the spikes out and I could walk on it again. Fewer times Mom stopped too, spitting dirty words and taking her shoes and socks off to pull spikes out of the shoes, then the socks and then the feet.
When we were almost the whole way around the circle, the mountain closed in and blocked our path with giant beams of rough rock shot through with holes like the walls of a gunslinger’s saloon. It felt like the hill had thousands of eyes and they were all watching me.
“I have a bad feeling about this place…” I said.
“Don’t you recognize it?” Mom asked. “We’ve been here before. Remember that time we needed to climb that ladder made of rings?”
“Oh yeah,” I said, looking around suspiciously. Back then Mom had had to lift me all the way up to her shoulder so that I could use her neck and face as a step to get to a standing place again. “Are we lost or something?”
“No, I have a plan!” Mom said excitedly.
We walked into the chamber where the hunted rocks made up the floor, the columns, and walls so high that they shaded all the light. I hung back, hoping Mom would change her mind, but she marched on without hesitating until we were standing at the bottom of the taco-shaped hole in the rock where someone had left half a dozen metal rings hanging like earrings from loops drilled into the rock. Then Mom unveiled her plan: it was the carrying hammock that she’d used on Christmas to airlift me over a particularly scary Oscarfall. My mind left my body as I let Mom put my legs through the holes one at a time, and then as she put on the straps and I levitated off the ground.
I rode next to Mom’s butt as she hoisted both of us up the ring ladder. A few times the taco shell pinched narrower and I had to move my head so it wouldn’t get knocked off by a rock, and once I felt rock under my feet and thought I could stand up and walk away from this craziness until Mom twisted her hips and I was back to hovering in open air. Finally she crawled out the top of the chute and crouched down to put my paws back on the ground. The moment she dropped the straps, the hammock fell onto the rock and I was magically set free. I did a happy dance, proud to have survived the climb.
It had taken Mom so long to get to the top that we waited inside the slide-shaped rock for another group to climb up behind us, and then climb the second ring ladder ahead of us. “Do you need any help?” they asked.
I thought Mom would say no, but she must have learned a lesson because she said, “I would really appreciate it if you could just wait at the top to make sure I don’t fall.”
“Mom… our stunts don’t look as cool in real life as they sound when I’m telling the story later,” I whispered. “What if they think I’m lame?”
“Actually… never mind. Forget it. If I fall and break my back, someone will come along soon.”
But they stayed anyway, maybe because they’d never seen a flying dog before.
This taco shell was even narrower than the last, and my butt and head got stuck on the rock at the same time.
“He’s stuck!” our spotters called helpfully.
“He’ll figure it out,” Mom said, wiggling her butt to give me room to adjust my position.
On the second to last ring, Mom stopped. “Geez, there really should be one more ring here,” she said.
“Or maybe you just need another leg,” I suggested.
Her butt swayed and wobbled as she felt around the rough rock with knees and elbows for something to push against while she reached for the last ring-rung. Suddenly my head slipped a few inches below my butt. “Dog doo!” Mom hissed.
“Oh no! The strap!” called our spotters. “David, David, can you reach her shoulder and get the strap back on it?”
“I can figure it out!” Mom said bravely. But then she said, “Actually, if you can reach my shoulder it would really help me out.” The man reached into the hole, lying on the ground and dropping his head down until it was level with Mom’s so that he could reach her elbow where the strap was stuck. “Thank you!” she grunted. And then realizing that she had put the man in danger, she added, “I don’t think I have COVID…”
Finally, Mom smeared an elbow, or maybe a knee into the rock and managed to lift us high enough to reach the last ring and climb out of the hole. All three of my new friends cheered for me and told me what a strong dog I was. While Mom climbed back down to get the packpack, I went around my circle of fans and gave them each a hug with my butt.
“Did you see how I climbed those rocks?!” I told them. “It was really steep and scary, but I used those rings and I climbed them and I only needed a little help!”
Oscar the Flying Dog