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Not MY last stand, General Custard!

This had been a one-trail-a-day kind of trip, so I was excited to see what Mom had planned for our second adventure of the day. We hiked back to the Wagon and set out in search of further adventure in the White Hills of the Dakota country. There weren’t enough people in South Dakota to need red lights, but eventually Mom found one and asked The Witch some questions about the trail we were headed to. “Crap,” she said. “It’s like 2500 feet higher than the other one, and the weather report says it’s snowing there right now.” “Yippee! Fresh white dirt for snow angels!” I couldn’t wait. “If it’s a bust then we’ll just do our sightseeing from the car, okay?” Mom said. “Doing snow angels in the car? That sounds kind of lame,” I said. “There isn’t even enough room to stretch out in here. And out there there are hardly any roads. How are we going to know that we’re not missing the best stuff if we don’t explore?” We were almost there when Mom said, “Crap, it says that the road is closed ahead. We may have to turn back.”

It’s funny how sometimes the things that are supposed to be easy wind up being hard, but the things that you think are going to be hard end up being easy. Our trail turned out to start right before the road closed, and when we got there, there was much less white dirt than there had been on the morning trail, even though we were a mountain’s-length higher in the air. The Witch hadn’t lied about the snow though. The sun was gone, and the clouds had turned the whole world grey by dusting dull scabby flakes over everything.

With so few signs of humans about, we thought that the trail would be hard to follow, but all 6 residents of South Dakota that remained

after the late 90s must come to the hiking trails every day to make sure no one gets lost. Even when there were no signs on the trees, Mom and I could still follow the path through the white dirt that was just as clear as any paw-worn regular-dirt path. We walked through a thin forest of pine trees with granite towers sticking out of the ground like stern statues. The weather hung around us in a cold, wet fog that hid all the scenery like a bathroom mirror after a shower. I had to come close enough to sniff the rocks to examine their character. They were craggy like the face of a human with bad skin, and had shiny and sparkly bits in them that you could see only at just the right angle, like Clint Eastwood‘s heart of gold.

Toward the end, the trail arrows pointed us onto the top of one of the enormous rocks, and I ran up a steep crack between the rocky lobes to climb on top of it. Behind me, Mom held onto the walls of the crack and stepped up one step, two steps, three steps… with the fourth step she lifted her leg, and then her whole body slid back to the bottom still in the step-up position. She said something about dog doo then, and put everything she was holding in her pockets. Then she climbed up more carefully and joined me on to roof of the big rock.

As we walked up the rock’s craggy chin, it was obvious that we were climbing to one of the tallest things around, because we were surrounded by a smudge of empty grey with only a few far-off tower-mountains at nose level in the near distance. The rock climbed steeply, but it was rough like an anti-slip floor mat, and the white dirt stayed dry and ashy, so it didn’t stick to the face and harden into ice. Soon it was obvious that we were approaching an edge, and Mom started getting a little squirrelly in that way she does in high places. “This is very steep. And it’s wet. And I don’t want to find some black ice in the wrong spot,” Mom said in that defensive way she has when she’s trying to sound like an authority about something that no one asked her opinion on. “Let’s go back.”

I ran down the rock, and waited patiently on the flat parts while Mom took her eency-weency flinchy-winchy steps behind me. When we got to the crack where we’d climbed onto the rock and Mom had slipped before, she sent me down first. I waited at the bottom, standing to the side so that Mom wouldn’t squash me if she came tumbling out like an Indiana Jones rock. From where I was, I couldn’t see inside the narrow crack to watch what Mom was doing. Then I heard a whoosh, and saw both feet, then both legs shoot out of the crack, with the rest of Mom following behind riding her butt. “Mom, what on earth are you doing?” my head tilt asked. “Sledding,” Mom said, standing up and brushing the white dirt off her butt. “That wasn’t as painless as I thought. There were some sharp rocks in there.”

With that behind us, we had a short, easy walk back to the car kennel. Mom spent the time asking The Witch questions. “You know, we’re a day ahead of schedule because of

Devil’s Tower and the weather’s supposed to clear by tomorrow,” she said. “Our parking permit is good for a week… What’s say we stay here one more day?” “Where are we going next?” I asked. “Will we miss anything if we stay?” “After this we head home. It’ll take us 3 hikes to get there, but we have a week.” “How many hikes in a week?” “Seven.” “And is three more or less than seven?” “Let me put it this way, for every day that we don’t find something to keep us on the back roads, we have to spend a day locked in the house staring at each other.” “Yeah, but there must be a lot to do between here and home!” I said. “What if we miss something?” “There is a ton to see between here and California. The problem is that it’s March and the way home is mostly through mountains, so it’ll be too early for hiking in the Rockies and the Sierras.” she said. “Then let’s live in this car kennel forever where we’re safe!” I said.

Oscar the Pooch



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