Having an adventure wagon with two rooms is hard to use, especially since Mom needs to climb in and out of the back every time she forgets something. Once Mom had finally gotten all the things in the right places and convinced me to climb the stairs to the copilot seat, she walked around to her captain’s chair to mosey on to our next adventure. On a truck even the doors are big, and little Mom has to wrestle with them when the truck is parked on wild ground like it was just then.
“Oh bugger,” Mom said, measuring the distance to the car next to her with her eyes and looking stressed. She grabbed the driving wheel with one hand, and the door handle with the other to keep the massive door from crushing the car next to and below us. Then she planted one leg and used the driving wheel to ally-oop into her chair, pulling the door in behind her. For a second it looked like the door was going to fall, pulling Mom behind it. “Duuuuuck!” Mom said as she landed in the captain’s chair with a mighty heave.
“What?” I said. “You won.”
“I just felt something pop in my knee,” she said, digging the spaghetti toes on her front paws into the meat behind her leg.
“That happened to me once,” I said.
“Yeah, I remember,” Mom grumbled, as the truck stomped back onto the road.
Mom stopped at a gas station on the way to find a sleeping spot near our next trail. When she walked inside, I tried not to notice that she was limping, but it was hard to ignore. When she came back, we drove to a familiar place. The first time we were here, we’d slept right outside the Casino Smoke Shop and fireworks had kept us up all night. These days we’re much better at finding sleeping places that are quieter and less serial-killer-y, so I was surprised when she pulled over just a mile down the road in one of those dirt-and-broken-glass patches surrounded by toilet paper bushes and amputated car seats with springs sprouting where the butts belong.
“Isn’t there something closer to the trail?” I asked.
“That was the last gas station before the trail, and my stove is broken,” Mom said. “I’m not brave enough to be out in the wilderness without coffee. Wal*Mart is closed because of the holiday, so I’ll have to drink gas station coffee tomorrow morning until we can buy a new stove.” I felt a little better. Mom hates it when things break, but it always makes her happy to go to Wal*Mart. Maybe a trip to Wal*Mart was just what she needed to heal the stove and her knee.
In the morning the truck pooped us into the dirt for a potty break, and Mom sucked in her breath when she tried to straighten her bad leg.
“If you can’t hike, is it okay if I go without you?” I asked. That’s what she’d done when I hurt my knee, after all.
“Let me warm it up and see how it feels,” she said. “Sometimes you just need to walk it off.” She’d told me the same thing the time I had a pop in my knee, so I’d hiked five miles on three legs. I wondered how Mom would manage hopping through the desert on just the one leg.
When The Witch told us we’d arrived at the trailhead, Mom looked around. “We’ve been here before…” she said. “Do you remember that Christmas Eve when it was raining?”
“Yeah, the fire in Valley of Fire went out,” I remembered.
“That’s the one. Sometimes it feels like we’ve explored every corner of the southwest. I remember this trail was kind of disappointing. At least it was flat.”
I jigged and Mom limped through the deep sand that made the trail. Mom stopped a few times to stretch and feel for the bones behind her muscles. Eventually, her leg started to straighten out, hiding her limp until I only saw it in glimpses. For my part, I kicked up sand behind me as I ran sprints. When I needed to catch my breath, I dug and rolled in the sand.
We walked until the bushes beside the wash turned into the brick-grey swiss cheese rocks that Mom likes so much. Then we walked through the swiss cheese rocks until they turned a cheesy white. Then we walked on the cheesy white rocks until they blocked the wash and the only way forward would be to climb them. If we’d had six good knees, we would have climbed the rocks, but Mom was too slow finding her balance, so we turned back. We hadn’t walked very far when I noticed there was a man following us. Once I noticed him, I couldn’t take my eyes off of him, and walked with my nose pointing toward my tail.
We stopped at a rock that made an excellent Oscar frame, and when we stepped back into the wash a voice said, “Do you want me to take your picture together?”
Mom screamed something that wasn’t a word and dropped The Witch in the sand. Mom is so uncool when she’s startled.
I screamed, “FRIEND!!!!!” and ran to give the man my butt for scratching.
“If you’d gone another quarter mile instead of turning left back there you would have been in a place they call God’s Pocket,” the man said helpfully. I could hear Mom thinking through all of our turns, and only finding right ones. I wondered if God’s Pocket was a good or a bad place to be. “It’s really spectacular,” he said, answering one of our questions.
“This is one of our favorite places to hike,” Mom said. “We’ll have to save that one for another day, though. I tweaked my knee yesterday, so the scrambling doesn’t feel so great.”
“Where did you come from?” the man asked.
“San Francisco,” Mom said in a humble voice because she didn’t want the man to feel bad if the place he came from didn’t make him so cool.
“No, I mean where did you park?” he said in a voice that showed no signs of being impressed.
“Where the wash runs under the road,” Mom said, waving her arm in the direction of the dry river. “About two miles that way.”
“I parked at Mouse Rock,” the man said, like everyone knows where that is.
“Where does that trail meet this one?” Mom asked. There had been nothing but rock walls on both sides of the trail, and this man looked too heavy to fly. Maybe he could walk through walls?
The man used his stick to draw a line in the sand. “Here’s the road you came in on…”
“No, the road we came in on is back there,” I said helpfully. “It’s a little wider than that, too.”
“…And this is Mouse Rock,” he said, drawing a shorter line that crossed the first one.
“Oh. I see,” Mom lied. She started to turn around to show the man that she wanted to keep walking and he was welcome to come along and talk awhile.
“Yes siree,” the man said, staying stuck to the spot. “I’m in here about three times a week. I’m here today doing recon on a route I’ll be bringing my friends on next week.” Then he started pointing in different directions and naming the places we couldn’t see that he planned to include on his route.
“Cool,” Mom said. “Sounds like a great hike. Welp… I’m going to get going…” She took a few steps down the wash and I reluctantly left the man to follow her.
We had hardly gone a few steps when the man said, “Oh no! We’re in the wrong wash!”
“We are?” Mom said, looking back at the rocks where we’d turned around. We may not have been able to see any of the big landmarks the man was talking about, but we could see the place we’d come from and I didn’t see anywhere even Mom could have gotten lost.
“Yeah, we’re supposed to be over that way,” the man said, pointing to a wall of rock as tall as a building. “We’ll have to backtrack.”
Mom asked The Witch about it. “This says we’re still on course,” Mom announced, showing the man the blue dot that was sitting on the red line.
“No, this isn’t the way you came in…” the man said.
“Oh weird, because our footprints are righ here” I sniffed, but the man didn’t hear me.
“Well I think we’re going to explore a little more…” Mom said, putting a smile on her face that wasn’t in her brain. Once we were on the other side of a rock tall enough to hide us from the man, Mom muttered, “Crazy old coot. That’s how people get lost in the desert.”
The Witch was being uncooperative when we got back to the truck and kept it a secret where to find the nearest Wal*Mart. Mom asked her to just take us back to the city and we’d figure it out from there, but the freeway sucked us in before we were ready, and we got on still not knowing where to find the nearest Wal*Mart.
“Look! A Wal*Mart!” I said helpfully. And then a few minutes later, “Look! Another one! … Why aren’t you stopping?”
“I hate these Las Vegas freeways,” Mom said. “Get in the wrong lane you could be in Los Angeles or Salt Lake City before you know what happened.” At the third Wal*Mart sign, Mom bravely swung the truck across all the lanes, and we bravely explored the neighborhood without The Witch’s help until we found the right car kennel.
Mom came out of the Wal*Mart with a happy smile, a new stove, grapes, batteries, a baseball, and two kinds of gum. “It was a zoo in there!” she said, and I was jealous that she’d gotten to bark at the zebras and hippopotami without my help. “There’s got to be a back way out of this parking lot so we can avoid that nonsense.” We both looked at the snarl of cars barking mean honks at each other in front of the store, and then we turned the truck’s snout in the other direction. We drove away from the monster truck mayhem and snuck around to the back side of the building.
“Holy crap, I think we’ve been here before too!” Mom said. “Remember when we were in that rented van and thought we had to sleep in trailer parks, but they were all full? We slept right behind these dumpsters.”
“You were so grumpy that day,” I remembered. “And then we almost got lost because you left The Witch in the van and we couldn’t find our way back. You said Nevada was the ugliest place in the world.”
“We sure have learned a lot over the years, haven’t we bud? Think of all the problems we’ve known how to solve today.”
“Yeah! You didn’t even cry or throw anything this morning when you couldn’t make your poop juice!” I said.
“Right, but also we didn’t have to sleep in that sketchy truck stop. And we didn’t follow that guy’s bad directions because we know how to use offline maps. I didn’t even freak out about my knee, and now it seems to be fine. I think that’s my favorite part of these trips.”
“What? That there’s a new reason to throw a temper tantrum every day?”
“It’s not every day,” Mom lied. “I meant that problems out here have solutions, and the relief when you fix one is such a rush. If we get lost, all we need to do is find the trail again and the problem is over. If something breaks, I just need to replace it and the problem is over. But having the map for yesterday’s trail won’t help prevent me from getting lost the next day, so it’s easier to take life as it comes. When I solve a problem at home, it’s supposed to be fixed for good. If something happens that I wasn’t expecting, it feels like I messed up by not seeing the future. It’s very stressful to pretend like you know the future all the time.”
“Duh, Mom. That’s what an adventure is,” I told her. “Doing something even though you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Well I’m just glad we’re having adventures again,” Mom said. “Even if we have to start small.”
Oscar the Adventurer