When we got to the trail the morning after surviving driving through a cloud during what Mom called a “lighting storm,” the sun was out, but the rain was still hiding in the air and the wind felt like a wintry scowl. “No one’s going to believe how rotten this weather is when we post the pictures,” Mom grumbled as we climbed our first rocks of the morning, and my leg muscles snoozed like the legs of a lazier dog.
I galumphed out of the trees to the top of a rock where I could look straight up the valley. There was a river running down the middle of it, with waterfalls hissing here and there like calendar pages. “I thought we were going to a lake,” I said, looking at the U of solid mountains that surrounded us. “Well yeah… we are,” Mom said, like I was being dense. “But I saw this back way on the map, and thought it might be cool to add a few extra miles.” “So you don’t know where we’re going?” “I still have the map, see?” She waved The Witch at me, like it meant something. “And the trail goes pretty much straight that way,” she said, waving her arm at the solid wall of mountain. “The trail doesn’t even squiggle a lot, so it must be mostly flat.” I’m a dog, and dog maps are made of smells and time, not lines and blue dots. “Yeah, but where’s the lake?” I asked, looking in a straight line the way that Mom had waved. “I don’t know, behind the mountain, I guess?” “And how do we get over the mountain? I don’t see a notch or a pass or anything? Are we going to teleport?” “I’m sure that we just can’t see it from here. It’ll be obvious as we get closer,” Mom said, in a bold voice, marching on like Don Coyote.
We came to our first river crossing that required logs, and rocks, and brains to get across. “Look, Mom! The log is shiny!” I sniffed. “Oh dog doo,” Mom said. “That’s ice.” “It’s very nice looking,” I said, jumping onto some rocks that were Momproofed under an inch and a half of water. “…Hey, what are you doing?” When I looked back at her, Mom was crouched down low and walking her front paws out onto the shiny log like she was climbing a tree. “You don’t need to climb it like that when it’s lying flat,” I explained. “I do if I don’t want to fall into that river,” Mom said, pulling her leg up into her armpit like Spiderman who hadn’t done yoga in a long time.
When we reached the next river crossing, I thought I’d be smart and walk on the grass that was stuck in the crook of a rock. Suddenly I was in cold water up to my legpits. “What the goose?!” I panted, climbing onto the rock and trying to walk on it, but I slipped off the side of it again, and felt my handsome butt slip back into the cold water. “Careful, dude, it’s deep!” Mom said, snapping at me not to take another step on the path I was on. “That rock’s too steep for you to balance on. You’ve got to go this way,” she waved her paw at some logs. “But walking on logs is for lame-os and humans!” I complained. “Don’t you watch gymnastics? Balance beams are for girls.” “Well here it’s for dogs who want to stay dry!” Mom said. I ran down the log like Simone Biles, and tried to shake the cold out of my fur as I waited on the bank for Mom to totter across behind me.
Finally we walked away from the river and started climbing a slope too steep for any river to hang around on. The trail turned from dirt to rock, and then rock to rocks. The rocks made sounds like dishes as I walked on them, and Mom waved her arms like one of those carwash windsocks as she tried to catch up to me. By the time the rocks grew a fur of white dirt, the trail was so steep that I didn’t know how the rocks stuck to the side of the mountain without falling down. The white dirt that was on them was just a scummy layer of grainy stuff from the storm last night, and wasn’t the exciting kind of white dirt that sticks together and is good for rolling in. But up ahead I could see that there was some real white dirt to look forward to soon and kept my eyes on it while Mom slowly climbed up behind me. When she caught up, she stopped and looked around, less like Don Coyote and more like Brave Sir Robin. “Crap, I think the trail is going up that snowfield up there,” Mom said. “Yippee! I’ve never climbed a glacier before!” I panted. “And you’re not climbing one today either,” Mom said, turning around and looking down the slope we’d just climbed. “Chicken,” I thought, as I took my place 2 millimeters behind her heels for the descent. Suddenly Mom’s butt started lowering right toward my head. “What are you doing?” I asked, as she sat down. “I’m not walking down this,” Mom said. “It’s too steep and any one of these rocks could slip an take us down with it.” And with that she started boot scooting down the trail. I nestled up close to her back so that I could lean against her for balance as I inched down behind her. For safety. Then, something changed and instead of scooting one buttstep at a time Mom was sliding smoothly. “What are you doing now?” I asked. “This rock that’s wedged in my butt crack… It may be pointy on top, but seems to be flat on the bottom,” she said. “It’s sliding quite nicely on this layer of snow on these rocks.” “I always wondered what that slot in human butts was for!” I said. “It’s for installing your sled!!!” And with that, we sledded the rest of the way down the hill until it was safe to walk again.
It seemed silly to drive all the way home since we were already in the mountains and had the whole day in front of us. “We can find the lake some other weekend. Let’s explore one of those trails at the top of the pass on our way home,” Mom suggested. So we drove to the top of the scariest highway in California, and perched the Covered Wagon in a spot that was so steep that I thought we might need ropes to make it stick to its parking spot without sliding down the mountain.
This time we found a river right away. It was loud and fast, and raging white in spots, but Mom found a shallow place and walked in socks and all. She’s starting to get tired of the nonsense of saving her socks, and these days when she gets fed up, she just crosses rivers doggie style. Up ahead we could see a couple of hikers, one carrying the strangest luggage I’d ever seen. “What’s that slab she’s got?” I asked. “It’s a snowboard,” Mom said. “And it means that things aren’t looking good for us on this trail either.”
About a mile later we caught up to the other hikers. The one with the slab was sitting on a rock while the other one was digging in the white dirt like a dog. The digging one wasn’t very good at it, and his legs kept sliding out from under him. “Is it clear to the top?” Mom shouted to the sitting one. To my surprise, a man-voice called back. “I think you can go that way, but it’s kind of treacherous.” I ran up to sniff him. “Hi, I’m Oscar!” I wagged. “I too know about the manliness of lady things! It’s called being flamboyant, which means making manly look hot. Maybe Mom can show you my fascinator. It’s sparkly and feathery, and it’s in that ammo pouch on her belt.” But he didn’t even need me to put on my fascinator, he recognized how fascinating I am without it, and reached out to pet me while he and Mom talked. “We’re up here to shoot some backcountry snowboarding shots,” the man with the flowing hair said. “Yeah, I don’t do snow, and I don’t do treacherous anymore.” Mom smiled, so the guy would know that she was down with cool people, even though she’s old and lame. “But you guys have fun…” “We have helmets and stuff,” the guy said, like he thought maybe Mom was worried about him. I realized that he thought that Mom was the kind of grown-up who doesn’t approve of fun. “Oh, she’s not a grown-up,” I explained to him. “She still laughs when I fart.” “Oh, I’m sure you guys will be fine,” Mom said. “Although your buddy there looks like he could slip at any second.” We all looked at the other guy that was still digging in the white dirt. I had no idea what he was doing, but when I looked back to Mom for an explanation, I could tell that she didn’t know either. As we watched, one of his legs slipped out from under him, and he waved it around, trying to stick it back into the white dirt looking for enough balance to dig again. “Don’t fall, Travis!” my Friend with the Flowing Fur yelled as he scratched behind my ears, where I would tuck my fur too if it were as shampoo commercial long as his. “Don’t fall, Travis!” Mom shouted, to let the cool guy know that she was cool too. But she just sounded like a vice principal again, so she wished the guys luck and we turned around.
With that, we returned to save the Covered Wagon from falling down the hill just like Travis. We would come back again once Christmas had left the mountains for good.
Oscar the Fascinating