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White dirt, schmite dirt

Today we planned our last Unfinished Business hike of the trip. After today everything is going to be new… but first, we had to climb Mt Wilson. Mt Wilson is named after the peeping neighbor from Home Improvement because it peeks over the top of Sedona and eavesdrops on everything that happens there. The last time we were here, the white dirt had been falling for days and was so deep that Mom and I had to turn back when the white dirt was climbing up to my chest.

Because The Weather Jinx is my travel companion, Sedona got its second blizzard of the season the day before we came back for our rematch with the mountain. Exactly like the last time we were here, the trail began with a mile of mud, before turning into a rocky stream for a mile, before it turned into a mile of ice as the trail walked along the catwalk of the mountain high up on the ridge. Finally, the trail was covered in another 2 miles of white dirt that slowly puffed up until it was chest high, and I needed to leap high with every step. With the challenge of each new mile, my fun-o-meter turned up a notch and Mom’s turned down until steam was coming out of both of our ears the needle on our fun-o-meters busted.

The reason Mom insisted we come back to the trail was the scenery, and just like the last time, it was spectacular. In the Mud Mile there was plenty of deer, and bunny, and boar pee to sniff under funny shaped cacti, and Mom got peeks of the castle-like rocks sticking up like magnificent molars behind the trees. During the mile that the trail was a river, the mountain slowly rose out of the trees looking impossibly high and steep like a giant rocky gumdrop above our heads. Then, once the trail turned to ice and we had to really look where we were going, the whole valley opened up around us, and I could stand on the very edge of space sniffing all of Arizona while Mom gazed at new castle-mountains, and canyon mountains, and tooth mountains rising behind me in bubbles and nobbles and layers. In the near ground, everything was covered fetchingly in a heavy layer of white dirt that polished everything and made it sparkle like a special occasion.

Normally I stay close to Mom on our off leash hikes and wait for her to catch up before running on, but this trail was too exciting for that. I ran ahead, to be the first nose to smell inner space. I needed a head start to roll in the white dirt so that it would remember my scent long after I’d gone. But Mom wasn’t moving fast enough to keep up with the pace of my thrill, so I ran ahead at the speed of excitement and only stopped when I heard her shouting my name from far below. Then, I waited only until I saw her heaving up into view before I was off again, tracking a critter through the white dirt, or making brand new tracks of my own as if I were the only dog in the world.

Mom did not seem to be having such a good time. While I sank up to the shoulder with each step, and had to burst out like a rocket-powered rocking horse, Mom was only sinking in to the white dirt half way up to her knees, and she was still harumphing like this was the most difficult thing in the world. “This blows. I can’t believe this is happening again!” she fumed. “What are the chances?!”

Just at that moment, a man-Oscar in running clothes with hiking chopsticks came bounding up the trail behind us, running with the same rockethorse enthusiasm as me. He had the kind of shapely butt that tights were invented for, and made a mountain man beard look tidy just by opening his toothpaste-ad smile in the middle of it. “No better trail to be on the day after it snows,” he gushed like being out of breath was exhilarating, not exhausting. That kind of thing will annoy Mom so much that she’d rather die than turn back before we’ve finished. With the man-Oscar ahead of us breaking trail, it got an eency, weency, teeny, tiny bit easier to stomp through the white dirt. So Mom set her face to Determined so that there would be a scowl and a jiggly butt on top of the mountain to balance out the man-Oscar up there on top of the world.

At long last, we chugged to the flat top of the mountain, where the tall trees were heavy with white dirt, and dropping their loads onto their-tree toes… which happened to be exactly where we were mushing. We followed The Booty’s tracks to the edge of the mountain, and right at the last moment, Mom led me off to one side, so that we could each look off the edge while still practicing social distancing. There were big rocks at the edge of the cliff, and with the blanket of white dirt on top of them, it was really hard to tell where the danger was, so Mom wouldn’t let me get really close. We rested about 10 feet from the end of the world, gazing out over the whole valley and all of its mysterious mountains with the calming sound of The Booty’s loud phone call in the backgr so we wouldn’t get bored or lonely.

There were more peaks that we could slog to, but Mom was looking like she was about to get seriously grouchy if we had to fight through much more white dirt. So we tromped back down the mountain through our own tracks the way we’d come. Now that we were going downhill, Mom’s complaints about how HARD this hike was seemed a bit silly. We met a few upmountain hikers who looked like their hearts and legs were only giving them one bar of service. “How much farther?!” they each gasped. Mom confidently told them that it wasn’t far, and watched their faces crumble as she added, “Only a little over a mile.” To rub it in, she added, “The view is beautiful!” as if she’d discovered it herself.

By the time we got back to it, the ice mile had turned to slush, but Mom and I didn’t much care about things like dry socks anymore. The white dirt that had packed into the underside of Mom’s jeans had already soaked her legs to the knee, and I was covered on my belly, booty and all four of my legs with a crusty layer of burnt grey mud that couldn’t be made worse or better by more wet.

When we reached the mud mile, the howling of screaming cars filled the valley. Usually screaming cars rise and fall back into silence in a matter of seconds, but these shrieks grew and then stayed put without fading. As we got closer to the bottom, the howls were replaced by a rave of frantic lights bunched right at the bottom of the trail. The next time we got a view of them, closer this time, I could count a whole herd of flashing cars… and see men standing on the tall No Pedestrians bridge peeking peeking over the edge into the canyon. “Oh. Dog doo,” Mom said, but not in the way she does when she gets in the car and realizes she forgot something. “What?” I asked. “Why are they making such a racket?” “I don’t see a car accident, Oscar, do you?” I looked at the tall fences on both side of the bridge where the men were standing, but I couldn’t see anything amiss. “Nope. Phew! I was afraid that someone got hurt.” “I’m afraid someone did…” Mom said. But then she wouldn’t say any more until we got to the car kennel. She stopped a a goofy hat with a kabuki mask of sunscreen underneath. “Do you know what happened?” she asked. “I think someone must have gotten hurt. Maybe someone sprained an ankle or had a cardiac issue on the trail,” the man under the mask said. “I’m a dog and even I know that they don’t send 6 police and fire trucks for someone who sprained their ankle,” I barked. “There was no one on the trail,” Mom said, gesturing to the uniform-free car kennel. “And why would they block off both sides of the bridge if the emergency was on the trail,” she added. The Mask looked less goofy and more confused. “I’m afraid there was a jumper…” Mom said. Then everyone was quiet for a moment, until Mom and the mask walked away in different directions.

“Mom, what’s a jumper?” I asked. “Well, you know how lots of people are scared right now?” she said. “Yeah. It’s because they’re dealing with things they never expected to happen,” I told her. “Yeah, well… Some people get so scared that they think all is lost. So they gather up all their desperation and turn it into the courage to do one last terrifying thing. They think that’s the only way to make it stop.” “But there’s a difference between being lost, and just needing to take a different path than the one you planned on,” I said. I wanted to tell The Jumper too, but he wasn’t there to listen. “Was the thing that he was scared of going to kill him?” I asked. “Maybe,” Mom said. “But maybe not.” “When we were too tired to see all 3 peaks, we didn’t just lay down in the white dirt and give up! Just because you’re on a rotten hike right now, it’s not like you’d never have a good hike again. Was he never, ever going to be happy again for as long or as short as he lived?” “Almost certainly there were good things coming. He just forgot.”

I knew that as grouchy as Mom had been, the things that made her grumpy would be the same things that would make her proud of us later. What we would remember about the white dirt was that we overcame it. Maybe the hike we went on was different from the one we’d planned, but we hadn’t failed.

Oscar the Snowbeast



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