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, June 09, 2008

We're Melting

The heat rolled in this weekend and slowed us down – literally. I don’t do well in high heat and high humidity. On Saturday I planned for the weather by choosing a short hike and an early start. The destination was one of my favorites, Hedgehog.

The forest was fragrant, still wet from the rains of the previous days, with both bark and leaves rich in color. But the rain also unleashed a host of mosquitoes who swarmed us from the very beginning. The early start, although warm, was comfortable, but as the sun climbed in the sky and the temperatures rose the forest was like steam room. Visually it was perfect. Physically, it left me gasping for air; sitting on rocks with my head between my knees trying not to pass out; and unable to put together more than a 100 steps at a time.

The Hedgehog loop is an easy hike and less than five miles with very easy to moderate elevation gain. It didn’t matter. I was melting. Even the East Ledges, which typically inspire and renew me, were not the same. The views were not as clear through all the haze. I read somewhere the visibility was only 10 miles.

Atticus did better than I did but once on the ledges he found shade and lay down on the rocks. I soon joined him in that exact same position. We didn’t move for a little while. Before heading to the summit we stopped for some photos on the ledges but while the air quality diminished my ability to breathe well, it also diminished the quality of the photos. I ended up putting the camera away after only a few photos.

We were off the mountain by noon and on our way back to Lincoln where we took shelter in my apartment for the rest of the day. I don’t have a fan or air conditioner and missed the central air we used to have in Newburyport a great deal, but we survived.

On Saturday night we drove down to Concord to get a new bladder for my Camelback water system in my summer backpack. Thanks to reader Torri Z. who sent an Eastern Mountain Sports gift card, the only thing I had to pay for was gas. But even at 4.04/gallon it was worth getting into the car and turning on the air conditioning. It’s always good to visit with the folks at EMS Concord. They welcome Atticus in and treat him well. During the ride home the sun set and I drove with all four windows open as the early evening cool filled the car. It was amazing! I felt as though I were swimming. Buzzing down the highway at 65 mph, we said goodbye to the heat and hello to the fragrances and cool of the evening.

On Sunday we had various invitations to hike. The two most tempting came from Jeff Veino for a hike up Cannon, and from Beth and Charlie, the Maine couple we met in Carter Notch a couple of summers ago and have since followed through their blogs. Charlie was finishing his 48 on Garfield.

I love Garfield and look forward to spending some time with Beth and Charlie on a hike this year, and Jeff is always good company. However, I knew on Saturday we wouldn’t be hiking through that kind of weather again. Not only do I suffer in it, I simply don’t want to put Atticus, whose fur coat is dark and a magnet for the sun, through those kinds of conditions. So I regretfully informed both parties we were out of commission for Sunday.

What we did instead was something my father would have done with us when we were kids. We toured the White Mountains in my car, saying to hell with the cost of gas, and alternated between using the air conditioner and opening the windows. In Twin Mountain we dropped in on John and June, two hiking friends who have just built their house in the mountains. We stayed for a light but pleasant lunch. Then, after saying our goodbyes, we drove down through Crawford Notch and hung out at the site of the Willey Homestead for more than an hour, mostly with Atticus soaking in the shade and me soaking my legs in the lake water. Poor Atticus, this heat gets to him as much, if not more than it does me. He has forsaken his normal positions on either the couch or the bed for the floor, even though it is carpeted. I suppose he finds it cooler in some way. I kept my eye on him yesterday and while I’m watching every penny it was worth being out there in the car and not sitting in misery in the apartment. Because Atti’s tongue spent more time out of his mouth than in it yesterday, even in the air conditioning, we stopped on the way to North Conway and I bought him a soft-serve dish of vanilla ice cream. That seemed to do the trick.

Soon we were on the Kancagamus Highway and stopping quite often to take in the different watering holes. It was the only way I could think of to escape the heat. (Reminder to self, as soon as money frees us, first thing I’m going to buy is an air conditioner. I’m a wreck without one.) We took our time working our way across the Kanc and back home. When we did return to the Pemi Cabins, I brought Atticus out back to the river and dunked him. He hates to swim but by carrying into the deep end a couple of times and letting him swim back to shore, the cool water seemed to make him more comfortable by dropping his core temperature.

It was not the most fruitful of hiking weekends. But up here the weather dictates what we will do more so than any other time in my life. Today and tomorrow are also supposed to be nasty. I can attest to today actually being that way. The sweet seventies will roll around on Wednesday and we may try to hike again. For now, however, I’m going to try to write, continuing the strong work of last week, even as I sweat just sitting here.

Stay cool.

there is a slide show from our hot adventures this weekend.)

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