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.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

180 Degrees

Atticus is busy with the chicken, cheese and mushroom omelet I made for him this morning. Although he won’ be busy for very long by the looks of it. Meanwhile I’m drinking lots of fluids this morning. I didn’t drink enough yesterday during the hike and I had some cramping last night. We’re off to hike again in a little bit so I want my body to have plenty of fluid in it.

Yesterday we got our planned late start and ended up choosing Jackson after putting more than 100 miles on the car trying to decide on the best trail for him to hike. We weren’t on the trail until 1:00 and with the time I took taking photos and just sitting, holding him on the summit (which by that time we had it to ourselves) it was getting dark as we got back to the car. Another 15 minutes and I would have pulled out my headlamp.

When Atti and I first started hiking regularly two and a half years ago, I was thrilled with the anonymity the trail brought us. In Newburyport, every little fish is a known fish. Own a small but controversial must-read journal and you become a big fish in a little town. It is impossible to have privacy in a small town as fans and critics were everywhere. That was good for business back then, but I grew tired of it. The mountains gave me an escape. It gave us a place that unlike Cheers, no one knew our name. It was such a delicious feeling to step onto the trail, into the woods and dissolve into anonymity.

That was then, this is now.

Because of our late start yesterday we ran into several hikers making their way down as we were making our way up. Four of the six groups of hikers we ran into knew Atticus, or at least knew of him and stopped to chat after recognizing him. He likes the initial greeting of “Hello Atticus!” or “Oh look, it’s Atticus!” but after that he could really care less. Although I believe the greetings are things he misses from his Newburyport day, when everyone did know his name. Up here he doesn’t hear it as much, except on the trails.

And so our lives have reversed. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining. It’s nice to be known as the guy who walks with Atticus when I used to be known as the guy who was controversial because he took stands on the issues and called out bullies.

Up here, Atticus may not be anonymous, but I’m still lucky to be. Except, that is, for the hike we took up Moosilauke a week or so ago. We ran into a fellow and recognition dawned on him. As he was bringing it up I cut him off and said, “Yes, that’s Atticus.”

“No,” he said, “I know you. You’re the guy who wrote the Undertoad. This is a pleasure. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Turns out the fellow is from Salisbury, just across the Merrimack River from Newburyport and knew my paper well...and like it. (Whew!)