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.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Progress Report: I've Got No Rhythm

No rhythm. That best describes the first 11 days of winter. Atticus and I have yet to hike two days in a row. We went through the first 11 days hiking ever other day, finishing with five hikes and only eight peaks.

I count today as the 11th day and already know we will not be hiking. The latest snow storm was not due to start until 1:00 this afternoon. However, as I was gearing up it started coming down. Alone I might make a go of it, but I have to think of this distinguished little gentleman I hike with.

It is different hiking with a dog…if you care at all about the dog. I don’t doubt that we wouldn’t get buried up on Cannon Mountain today under the fresh falling snow. However, there is a wild card when it comes to winter hiking and in the end you just don’t really know what the weather will do when you are up on a mountain. After nearly losing Atticus last spring, I find myself being more cautious with him. I know he’s tough but I don’t want him to have to prove it.

There are two reasons for our herky-jerky start of winter. The first is my knee, which by the way, is feeling much better, thank you. Just over a month ago Atticus and I took our three year old neighbor (Brianna) on a walk across the street on the snowy parking lot of the Whale’s Tale Water Park. She slipped and fell and was fine. I slipped, did not fall, and was fine…until the following morning. Then I could barely walk, couldn’t straighten out my knee, and limped from here to there for a couple of weeks. An adjustment by my chiropractor, Tom McFadden, put the proximal heads of the fibula and tibia back in line with one another. Additional and extensive stretching has also been a great help. My knee is not 100%, but it’s much better than it was. Taking a day off between each hike has helped the healing process.

The second hindrance has been the weather. Again, hiking with Atticus presents its own challenges. I’m not complaining. Not by any means, but I have to be cautious with my strategy. I have met some dog owners and heard of others who will force their dogs into questionable conditions, armed somewhat with a “Little League Dad” mentality, as if they are using their dogs to fulfill some need they have. My first priority with our Quest is safety. My second is enjoyment. Yes, I want to be able to hike 96 peaks, but not at the cost of discomfort or danger to Atticus. And by keeping him safe, I keep myself safe, too.

December presented us with record snowfall amounts. That is cause for slow going for Atticus and me. There were times last winter after heavy snowfalls that we missed a week of hiking in a row because the snow was just too deep for him.

The snow will stop tonight and we’ll get a good stretch of days to gather some peaks. As far as where we stand compared to last year, in the same period of time, the first 11 days, we made seven hikes and had 14 peaks. This winter we made five hikes with a total of 8 peaks. The two hikes that make a difference compared to last year are the two Kinsmans and a Bonds Traverse which covered Zealand, West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff. So we’re not really doing to badly considering that last year we only had one snow storm to this point and the trails were a fast track.

I hope to make up some time in the coming 30 days of January. Last year, shuffling back and forth between Lincoln and Newburyport, Atticus and I made 12 hikes in January and totaled 23 peaks. Here are some of the coming hikes where I think we will make up some peaks: North & South Kinsman; North & South Tripyramid; Whiteface & Passaconaway; North & South Twin & Galehead; Lafayette, Lincoln, Liberty & Flume; Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce & Jackson; Madison, Adams & Jefferson; Hale, Zealand, West Bond, Bond & Bondcliff; Middle Carter, South Carter, Carter Dome, Wildcat A & Wildcat D. That list is comprised of nine hikes and 31 peaks. Any combination of these hikes will help to get the number up there as will some back-to-back hikes.

But as always, it is safety first, for the little guy and then for me.