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.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

One of Us Has Spring Fever (Okay, Maybe We Both Do)

We are in a battle today, he and I. He’s been bitten by the bug and has spring fever and wants to spend the entire day outside. I’m trying to concentrate on my writing, spending as much time on the computer as possible. I’m losing the battle. He’s been sitting on the floor, just a couple of feet away, staring at me as I type. It’s not easy to write when you’re being stared at. And so the results are a choppy day of horrible writing.

April is not the greatest month for hiking. There are seven known people who have hiked each of the 48 4,000-footers in each month of the year. It takes them years to do this, and is a truly obsessive task. From what I’ve been told from those who are members of this select club, the most difficult month for them to collect their peaks is April. It’s because of the softening snow, the running rivers, the unpredictable nature of the trails.

While it is not a 4,000-footer, Mt. Pemigewasset gives me a daily lesson in the politics of April hiking. This morning there was stiff breeze coming through the Notch but it was very comfortable. So comfortable that I was wearing shorts while snowshoeing.

Some of the more commonly used trails, such as the Crawford Path out of Crawford Notch, are holding up well to the warm sunny afternoons, at least for now. But the hike up Pemigewasset is not as commonly used and snowshoes are required, especially on the way down, once the snow has been cooked by the sun. Even then, as I stepped off the trail by a mere foot, my snowshoes, boot, ankle, shin and calf disappeared into an instant posthole that held onto my knee. Negotiating through these trails in April is a real challenge.

And why Pemigewasset when I have the entire White Mountain area to choose from? I’m trying to write, trying to work on my book and get some money coming in. I want to hike but many of the hikes we have left still aren’t reasonable. For instance, above treeline right now, there is a sheet of ice over most trails and I’ll hold back until Atticus doesn’t have to worry about slip-sliding away. And other trails that have not been broken out yet have still yet to be broken out. I don’t imagine they will happen any time soon since April hiking is not for the faint of patience.

In my writing I notice how much I miss certain music that was lost in the Great Computer Crash of the spring of 2008. So I find myself ‘plugged in’ on-line to but loathe the commercial interruptions, even though they are seldom heard. When at my best, I write in a trance, the music intoxicates me and I find myself elsewhere while my fingers type away. I have recovered some of my music but most is lost. On days when I was set to write a great deal, such as deadline days back in Newburyport, I would add in more than 12 hours of music and just let it fly. Often time I would take my phone off the hook, or simply go on-line since back then I had dial up and people couldn’t call through. But there is one thing there is no escaping from, and that’s the Atticus Stare. He sits fixedly on one spot and looks right at me, unflinching in his stance until I am ready to relent to his demands.

Today, I thought I would short circuit his plan by taking him for a brisk walk up the little mountain, then setting up the child-gate I picked up at Aubuchon today. I use it to block off the stairs leading off my back deck so he can sit out there and enjoy the view from up high and the fresh spring air. But that didn’t last too long. He was in here in a wee bit and staring away so out we went again but this can’t go on much more, I’d never have a chance to write anything. I’ve tried telling him this but being homeless seems to mean to him that we can spend all of our time outdoors and in his mind that’s not such a bad thing.

As far as my own spring fever goes, I’m still getting used to the face that winter is over and we don’t have to try to squeeze a peak or two in before a certain deadline. Our hikes will all be done in the spring but without the record on the line, there is no more need to push and I will wait until it is safest and most convenient for Atticus. The hike I’m looking forward to the most is up over North and South Twin and then to Galehead. That is one beautiful view and gazing at one of the more recent cards I’ve printed at (the view from North Twin) I’m anxious to get back there.
I won’t be able to afford much new gear but thankfully I don’t need much. I had an unused pair of winter hiking bibs that I returned to EMS a week or two ago. They gave me a merchandise credit and I turned that into a few things, but most importantly a comfortable new pair of Merrell hiking shoes. I like the lighter weight low-cut Merrells (Chameleon Evo GORE-TEX® XCR®), especially when on the longer hikes I’m planning for this summer. It will be nice not to have to worry about snow and ice and have very few limitations of where and when we go to a place.

We are in a strange netherworld, where we have peaks left to climb for our quest, peaks that have been sponsored, but now I’m also planning other things that come with spring and summer and longer days. One goal I’m leaning towards is a one-day Pemi Loop. We’ll start and finish at Lincoln Woods and head up Flume, Liberty, Lincoln, Lafayette, Garfield, Galehead, South Twin, West Bond, Bond and Bondcliff in a 33.5 mile hike. We won’t be in a hurry but I’d like to do it under 20 hours. The other prime hike we will attempt is a Presidential Traverse over Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson. There are others, but these two are the ones I’ve thought of for the longest amount of time. And now that we live up here there’s no reason not to give them a shot.

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