Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan is published by William Morrow. It tells the story of my adventures with Atticus M. Finch, a little dog of some distinction. You can also find our column in the NorthCountry News.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pondering





Funny dog. He does this a lot. At least in the warm weather. We gain a view and he decides to sit for a spell and soak it in. Sometimes I wonder what he's thinking about. He never says.

When we hike alone there's a lot of pondering going on. Not much talking, as you might imagine. Thoughts wander in and out of my head as we wander along paths and up mountains.

Our 4,000-footer was Garfield on September 11, 2004. We fell in love with it. The next year we started on the 4,000 footers in May and 11 weeks later we had hiked each of the 48. Then came winter. New to winter hiking I had little idea what I was doing and no equipment in which to do it in so I spent a lot of money and we set out to emulate our summer feat of doing all 48. We came up short by two hikes. Disappointed, I summed it up as a "better safe than sorry" experience.
Then came this summer. We did the 48 again. Why? Not sure really, other than because I felt called to them, felt at home with them and wanted to learn more about them and this time around take my time and appreciate them more. This time it took us about 4 months to do all 48. Actually, we did more than 48 for there were some we did two and three times.
The past 19 months have been very good to us. Our quality of life is richer, more fertile, not stale like it used to be. The following is a post that I left on a couple of hiking sites explaining our upcoming winter quest to other hikers.
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Thanksgiving and our winter quest

Somewhere during the past year and a half I’ve fallen utterly and hopelessly in love with these mountains. In that span of time my life has been transformed. A middle aged fat guy who spent most of his time sitting around turned into a middle aged fat guy who loves to hike. And Atticus turned from a lap dog (although he used to have a rather difficult time finding my lap when I weighed close to 300 lbs) to a mountain dog who loves the journey as well as the views from the top.
The hike from then to now has been inspiring and uplifting and quite frankly, life altering.I have found joy on the path, in the lush woods, on ledges and slides that make my legs shake and from the summits with their glorious views. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right that I am so lucky to have found this much joy in this activity while others struggle with the little things in life, while others are sick, or lack the opportunities we all have to get to some of the most beautiful places in this world of ours.
This past summer I was thinking about that while driving north on I-93. I had spent the day listening to WEEI radio while the on-air personalities put aside sports talk radio for the day in their annual radiothon to raise money for the Jimmy Fund. The stories I heard were remarkable. Cancer and kids---such a horrifying pairing. And yet paying attention to these kids and the battles they fight only served to inspire me. Many of the children on the radio had an unbelievable outlook on life. I was moved by them and wanted to do something to contribute to the fight against childhood cancer.
I’m like all of you; I know people who have had cancer, known people who beat it, and others who didn't. I even know one remarkable woman on this board who lost a sister to it and then beat it herself. I had a childhood friend, my next-door neighbor, die before he even reached middle school as a result of cancer. As an adult I’ve lost friends to this disease. Cancer kills. Battles may be lost but the war rages on. Inroads are being made every day.
On that day while I was listening to WEEI many success stories were shared by parents and their warrior children.I was somewhere around Plymouth, NH on I-93 when WEEI’s reception started to break-up and I was wishing it wouldn’t because I wanted to continue listening to these amazing stories. I found myself wanting to help in some small way and right about that time I looked out as dusk was falling on the mountains. I had my answer. It was then that I decided to enlist in the war against cancer.
After thinking about it for a few days I called the Jimmy Fund and told them I wanted to raise money for them. The woman I spoke with was quite pleasant but a little confused when I told her I wanted to raise money for the Jimmy Fund by hiking with my dog. I don’t think she knew anything about the 4,000-footers or any of the lists we hikeaholics chase after. But I did my best to explain it to her and over the last couple of months we have worked out a plan and Atticus and I are now going to bat for the Jimmy Fund during the winter season. Our goal is simple: to try to do what we couldn’t do last winter and hike each of the 48 in one calendar winter and if by chance we finish we’ll keep hiking and do as many of them as we can a second time, too. In the process we hope to raise money through sponsorship.
I know this might not seem like much to many on this board but to ordinary folks it is far more interesting than a walk-a-thon. When I first spoke with the Jimmy Fund about this and filled out financial forms with them they asked me how much of the money raised we would be keeping to take care of our expenses. I could have sworn I heard her smile over the phone when I told her we didn’t want any of it, didn’t want to touch it if we didn’t have to. All I wanted to do was to hike and they could have the money.
I figured this was a good way for Atticus and I to give back through something we have gotten much from. There are many people on this site who can hike faster and farther than us and can and will accomplish greater things in these mountains than I’ll ever dream of. And doing the 48 in one winter might not seem all that grand to some but I just figured this was a good way for us to give thanks and to possibly help others out. I also figured Thanksgiving time was an appropriate time to launch it.
Happy Thanksgiving,Tom & Atticus

2 comments:

Dawn Middlestead said...

Mr. Ryan, thank you for starting this Blog about your adventures with Atticus. I wish I knew about your Blog back in 2006 when it all began, but I will be reading each and everyone catching me up through current...2016. I've already your book (I plan to read it again) and have ordered the audio CD. I have gone back through the past two years of posts on Facebook, but plan to go back to the beginning in 2011. The more I read about your adventures with Atticus...and with Max, Will and now Samwise...the more I am learning to stop and take it all in. Thank you.

Peggy McClurken said...


Hi Tom, I have bee following you on Facebook for a couple of years, and I decided to order Will's Red Coat. But first, I wanted to read Following Atticus, so I ordered and received both through Amazon. Once I started reading, I simply could not put Following Atticus down. I often was reading through tears, then would go to bed and lie awake reliving the adventures you and Atticus shared. I can't wait to start reading Will's Red Coat, but first, I am going to go through all of your posts on this site. Thank you so much for sharing! - Peggy McClurken