The morning after we ran among the potato spires, Mom woke me up to see the moon set.
“Why do we keep getting up so early?!” I harumphed. Maybe she would forget about it if she couldn’t see me anymore, so I buried my nose in the blankets behind the mountain of bags.
“It’s Saturday and we’re going to a really crowded trail. We’re going to have to start in the dark if we want the place to ourselves.” Mom said we but only one of us doesn’t like sharing the trail. The other one knows that strangers bring butt scratchies.
I did a full yoga session on the Truck’s butt gate and considered my options as I looked into the darkness below the stairs. “What’s the point of hiking in the dark when you can’t see anything?”
“Would you quit dilly-dallying?” Mom said. “The sun will be up soon, and we’ll get to see the sunrise from the trail.”
I took a step down, and stopped to decide if I was making the right choice. There had to be some excuse to go back to bed. But nothing came, so I took one more step and waited there for the excuse to come. Even when I had my two front paws on the ground, I still took a serious stretch before stepping down my second-to-last leg. There was still time to change my mind, so I kept my last toes on the stairs till I was good and sure I was ready to face the day. It does no good to rush when you’re waiting for something like the sunrise.
Mom is always racing things that happen in due course. Once I’d finished going potty, she clicked on the leash and dragged me into the blackness like we were half a block from a crosswalk with the walk light flashing. Mom didn’t relax until she was satisfied that no one was waiting in the dark to steal the trail, and then she let some slack into the leash so we could enjoy the quiet of being the only circle of light under all those stars.
But the quiet of having a relaxed Mom didn’t last long. We’d only been walking a few minutes when I heard a ground-rumbling growl behind us and my spotlight was swallowed by the glaring eyes of a truck the size of a mountain.
“Are you ducking kidding me?” Mom grumbled. “Why can’t you walk like everyone else?”
While we’re used to hiking on trails made for cars, in Sedona cars drive on the trails made for feet. The last time we were in town, I was miles deep in the wilderness posing in front of a peaceful view when a loud noise ripped my attention away from Mom. Then two humongous Jeeps trundled onto the rock between me and the view. Mom was so mad that she could have pushed them off the edge with her bare hands. She would have done it too, but then a couple of witnesses dismounted the Jeeps, looking like they were outside the Starbucks instead of deep in the desert. Now here we were again, and a truck so fat that we had to step off the trail to keep from getting squashed was stealing our peace and darkness. When the truck’s cockpit passed through my spotlight, I saw a lady inside waving. If Mom’s face hadn’t been hidden behind the light, the lady probably would have been ducking for cover rather than waving.
A little while later we came around a bend and found the truck tucked into a cubby beside the trail, and the people dismounting like the trail was just beginning. Mom kept my spotlight on the ground and slipped back into the lead without so much as a grunt toward the truck people.
Just as the trail got too narrow and steep for any truck, the sun began to smile, showing us the trail we’d earned. We were surrounded by bright cliffs and lumpy mountains, but the trail itself wasn’t looking as fresh as the new day. It looked more like a hotel room before checkout. An empty sweatshirt hung on the wilder-ness boundary sign, the bushes were blooming with used potty paper and half-empty water bottles lay among the rocks waiting for their owners to come back to take them home.
“Shameless!” Mom grumbled as she took a step so high that she needed to pull herself up with a tree to not lose her balance. “Don’t people realize their names are on the side?”
I stopped to sniff the jug that she was scowling at. It had been set carefully at the bottom of the tree like an offering, and there was a mysterious marking painted on its side. It smelled faintly of poop juice and ice cream. “But what if it’s ancient?” I asked. “Maybe this is the first to-go frappucino ever invented, and that’s why it’s still here. Because history.”
“That coffee is only as ancient as hangover o’clock yesterday,” Mom said. “Who do they think is going to pick this stuff up? Housekeeping?”
More ancient relics littered the ground the higher we climbed. Then the trail stopped climbing and led us around a corner into a clearing with so many bottles and cans that it must have been a gathering place of great historical significance. Perhaps some kind of ritual was performed here. I walked into the clearing, turned, and saw that there was a huge round hole in the ground. The rock on the far side of the hole made an arch as high above the forest below as the grandest freeway truck stop sign.
Mom led me onto the top of the arch. “Everything I read said that by 7am the line here can be 40 people long with everyone waiting to take their Instagram photos,” she said with a little disgust, and a little pride underneath. “And we have it all to ourselves!”
She ordered me to sit-stay in the middle of the bridge, and then walked back to the other side for pictures. She squatted around trying to take a picture that would show the arch below, and the mountain behind, and the cliffs in the distance, and the sunrise, and the handsome dog in the middle of it all. “I don’t know what the point is, though,” she said, tickling The Witch to look through the memories she’d just made . “There’s no way to get the whole arch without the person in the middle looking like just a speck.”
“You mean handsome dog, not person,” I said.
“In this picture, who can tell? You might as well get a stock photo off Google and save yourself the trip.”
After Mom had squatted several laps around the picture platform without figuring out how to cram everything into one photo, I heard voices in the forest behind us. “Quick, Mom. We should go or else we’re going to have to share this spot with other people!”
“That’s what I’m waiting for,” she said.
“What? You mean other people?”
“Yeah. The battery in my shutter remote is dead, and I want them to take a picture of us together.”
“But you’ll have to talk to them! And ask for help.” I said. “Are you sure?”
But it was already too late, because the lady from the truck was in the clearing. “Hi! I’m Oscar and I love you!” I wagged, running off the bridge to greet her.
“Hi baby!” she said, knowing exactly where to scratch on my butt without my telling her.
A man came out of the woods behind her, and Mom smiled and wished him a good morning. “Do you mind taking a picture of me and my dog on the arch together?” she asked.
“You might not want to get too close,” I warned him. “That’s a long fall and she was thinking about murdering you not that long ago…” But the man must not have heard me because he walked right up to Mom and took The Witch from her. I led Mom out of pushing range and onto the bridge, where I showed her how to pose.
When The Witch was full of memories, Mom took the man’s witch and made portraits of him and the lady. They obviously weren’t professional models, though, so I gave them some expert advice. “Don’t do it like that!” I barked. “If you just stand in front of something and smile like a dope in every picture you take, then no one will want to look at the part of the picture with you in it. If you’re not the interesting part, your pictures will look the same as everyone else’s. You might want to try bandanas. Or hats.”
When it was over, the lady came back to scratch my butt while Mom kept talking to the man. She may have wanted to murder them in the dark, but now that all ten of our paws were sharing the same rock, they had become Friends.
“I was worried when I saw you walking in the dark back there,” The Lady said. “Where did you come from?”
“The main parking lot.” I could smell Mom’s dark feelings bubbling behind her breath as she tried not to let them into her voice. “Where the bathrooms were,” she added, to show whose was the real starting line and who was a dirty, rotten cheater.
The lady seemed confused and looked to the man with the same look I give Mom when I don’t understand.
“Back where the pavement ended there was a parking lot,” he explained.
The confusion cleared out of her forehead, and she relaxed. “You must have gotten an early start to have gone that far by the time we saw you!”
“Yeah…” Mom said with a side-eye only I could hear. “I wanted to get out ahead of everybody…” Luckily, the lady didn’t realize that she was one of “everybody.” She really was a very nice lady, even if she did think that it’s okay to use your truck as hiking boots.
Many more people and dogs had come into the clearing while we were making Friends with The Truck People. Everyone was trading witches and taking turns standing on the bridge, and the place was starting to feel like the minutes right before a race when everyone’s smooshed together and no one’s moving. When it was so crowded that Mom could no longer stand without someone within pushing distance behind her, she told our Friends goodbye and led me back into the forest to see all the things we’d missed in the dark.
But it was hard to look at all the nature because every time I looked up there was someone else blocking the trail. They said “aaaawwww” and “look at that cute dog.”
“That’s right, ladies. It’s really me, and this booty is all yours,” I grinned. But then they scrolled right by without so much as a double pat.
There were other kinds of people on the trail, too. They were the color of strawberry Starburst and breathed in big gusts. These wind bags stepped into the trees when they saw us coming, and acted as if they couldn’t see the adorable hunk of man-dog right in front of them as they wiped their foreheads, or looked up and opened their mouths wide to suck up the sky.
“What’s wrong with that lady?” I asked after passing one liver-colored stranger with a look on her face like she’d been told to walk the plank. “She doesn’t look so good.”
“Some people don’t know how hard walking can be when you do it in the wild,” Mom shrugged. “If you do all your walking on bike trails and around shopping malls, you might not realize how much fitness it takes to climb something like this until it’s too late.”
“What? This? This is nothing!” I said, hoppity-hop-hopping down three rocks in a row to show how easy it was. “This is like hiking lite. I hope we get to see something else before you make me get in The Truck for another long drive.”
“Yeah, we’ll go somewhere else before heading to Phoenix. But I don’t think you realize how fit we really are… For a lot of people our easy days might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and they’d be sore for a week afterward.”
“Oh no! But then what do they do on their vacations if they can only go on one hike a week?”
“I’m not sure. Eating and shopping, probably. But it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with them. I’m sure they do a lot of things that would be difficult for us. Like going to dinner parties or sitting through a Will Ferrell movie.”
“But that lady can never go to another dinner party again if she drops dead!” I said.
“She won’t drop dead. She’ll need to take it slow, but she’ll get her photo. Then she’ll post it and her friends will hit Like and tell her how beautiful it is. Validation like that can feel really nice after you’ve worked hard for something.”
I thought about that as we finished plopping down rocks that were too tall and steep to be called stairs.
When we could walk side by side again, I said, “You know how this is a special day for a lot of these people? How come it’s not enough for you to get your fix?”
“Hm. I guess I don’t want to miss anything. I want to see all the things, and especially the rare things that most people can’t get to. ”
“They can if they have trucks,” I pointed out. “Anyway, isn’t it better to have one really good experience that makes you proud like you were when we saw the walking rocks than to have a hundred experiences that you need pictures to remember?”
“Maybe you’re right. I’m always looking for highs like those, but the more I have, the more effort and risk it takes to get that feeling the next time.”
“So the more you look for memorable experiences, the harder they are to find? And the more places you see, the least special each one is? Doesn’t that make you kind of sad?”
“Yeah…” Mom said. She was quiet for a long time while she said all the things that there were no words for. Then she went on, “You know, I’ve been struggling with that a lot on this trip. When I’m working I always fantasize about what it would be like to travel like this indefinitely, seeing spectacular new places every day and having time to explore wherever circumstances bring us. But we had more than 3 weeks to travel over the holidays, and then we were barely home for a few weeks before we left on this trip. That’s a bigger travel binge than we’ve ever had, and sometimes it feels a bit hollow. I’ve been given my life’s biggest wish, but without some goal or reason to tie all these experiences together I still feel like I’m wasting my life.”
“A life with your dog is never a life wasted,” I said.
Oscar the Instacelebrity