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Poison oak, boy stuff, and ding dong The Witch is dead

We slept right at the trailhead until the sound of other hikers slamming their car doors woke us up. Once Mom was fed and packed, she tied a fresh bandana around my neck and we set out to find the house-shaped sign that marked the boundary between car kennel and trail. When we found it, the sign told us useful information about how to poop in the woods (as if I hadn’t been doing it since I was a puppy!), and who to call when thieves beat up the Covered Wagon. Mom hit the button to make the Wagon chirp goodbye, and we set off into the trees.

After a few minutes, Mom checked the mapp. “You idiot! You’re on the wrong trail!” The Witch told her. “The trail was back that way!” So we turned back in the direction the blue dot was pointing, and The Witch led us back to the car kennel and across the street. “The trail is that way,” The Witch swore, pointing to a house-shaped sign with no messages at all, and a trail register podium that was locked. We walked past the empty sign and the trail register that didn’t care about us into the woods. Then, the trail disappeared into a pile of old toilet paper and snack wrappers.

“What the hell?!” Mom asked, tromping through the bushes and mulch, reading the woods for a sign of a trail. “It’s right down there!” The Witch lied, pointing at the strip of dead leaves, bushes and stumps between us and the road. “I’ll go check it out!” I said, leaping into the brush, but I smelled that no one had hiked there for a long time… That is, except for us. We left tracks through every inch of those woods as we searched for the trail, and then we turned back and followed our own trail searching every inch again. “I give up,” Mom said. “What else do you have around here?” She opened up AllTrails. “Well there’s this lovely trail that is only about 100 yards that way…” The Witch suggested. “Hang on a second!” Mom said. “That’s the same trail we’re looking for!” “Haha! I fooled you!” The Witch taunted. “You were supposed to be walking in the road this whole time, but now you’ve walked through poison oak for 10 minutes. You’re such a moron!”

We walked down the road past a dozen parked cars to… a trail so wide and flat that we could have driven on it, and a big sign at the road to point the way. “My lord,” Mom sighed. “How did we miss this?!”

The mountains around us were steep like something made to scare a dog with an active imagination, but the trail we were on was flat and shady, with fresh berries and bright smelling poison oak lining the sides of the path. For miles we followed the trail that was as flat and wide as a lazy river. I don’t know how many miles we walked because The Witch said it was 4 miles if she looked at one app, and 7 if she looked at the other, but after the steep mountains of the past couple of days, I was enjoying the easy walking and led the way with my ears bobbing.

Finally we came upon a couple of ancient signs leaning against a tall boulder and falling apart like old toilet paper. “What are they?” I sniffed. They looked like signs for an old timey circus. “We’re about to visit a ghost town!” Mom announced. A few minutes later I walked into a clearing with a line of boarded up houses and rusty machine parts lying in the grass like Mom’s shoes on the bedroom floor. The cabins looked like a Boy Scout camp that had been open until last month, but the rusty trash looked a lot more ancient. “What is it?” I sniffed again, investigating something that might have been a witch cauldron. “It’s something to do with the railroad,” Mom said. “I don’t know, boy stuff.”

On the other side of the clearing the trail pinched down to a narrow line draped with overhanging poison oak leaves, and started to climb. The climb was nothing like the criminal grade we’d climbed the day before, but was a different kind of dangerous with the poison leaves and rocky tripping hazards. Mom danced and squirmed through the leaves, and tripped and thumped over the rocks while I floated effortlessly up the trail ahead of her until we’d climbed far up into the mountain and past the limits of Mom’s patience. Then we found a lake.

The lake was clear from up close, and from far away it reflected the mountain that loomed too steeply for a dog and his grouchy, tired Mom to climb. It tasted cool and clean, and we sat looking at it for a few minutes before Mom sighed and said it was time to hike the long way back. The problem was, no matter which of The Witch’s lies you believed, we either had 7 or 9 miles still to hike and Mom was already getting quiet. That meant that she would be growling at me soon. When we finally got back to the Wagon a million hours later, I collapsed into bed and started to doze right away while Mom ate all the snacks she could find.

Before we left for our next destination, Mom plugged her laptop and The Witch into the electricity stick, and plugged the electricity stick into the charging hole. Then she turned on the air conditioner and we set off. After we’d been driving for an hour or so, Mom looked down at The Witch, and then she looked for longer, just like the drivers on TV that don’t have to look at the road. “Dog doo!” she said, pulling the stick in and out of the charging hole and twisting it around a lot. “What is it?” I asked. “Dog doo! Dog doo! Dog doo!” she hissed. Then she leaned over, and still peeking over the front shelf of the car, she rummaged around under the front shelf and pulled out a different charging stick. She kept driving like she was in the movies, with her eyes off the road and her paws off the wheel until she’d plugged The Witch into the new charging stick and the charging stick into its hole. “DOG DOO!” she said. “What?” “I blew the fuse again.” “The what?” “I can’t charge anything until I fix it, including my phone.” “Yaaay! Ding dong The Witch is dead!” I cheered. “You don’t get it. If I can’t charge my phone, that means no trail maps, no driving directions, no photos, no music, no audiobooks.” “…The Witch is dead. The mean old Witch. The wicked Witch!” I kept singing. “…I don’t even know what time it is without my phone. If I don’t get this sorted out, then that means a 14 hour drive back home in silence.” “Don’t worry!” I said. “I’ve seen this movie. You just click your heels together 3 times and…” “Well, we’re almost to the trailhead, and I have a backup battery with enough for one charge,” Mom went on, ignoring my great advice. “So I guess we’ll turn off the phone and do tomorrow’s hike old school. Then we’ll figure it out afterward.”

Oscar the Pooch


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