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, November 11, 2008

Our Winter Plans

This morning when Atticus and I walked, it finally felt like November: bare, steel-gray trees; brown lifeless leaves; the lazy drift of snowflakes that will amount to nothing; a chill in the air and my bones. I’m hoping we can get two such long walks in each day while I get myself into winter hiking shape.

During the previous three winters we’ve had very busy schedules. In the first – our first winter of hiking – we attempted to do all 48 in the 90 days of the season but fell short by two hikes with 41 peaks. The second winter we raised money for the Jimmy Fund and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute by trying to hike all 48 twice in the 90 days. We fell short by four hikes with 81 peaks. Last winter we attempted the two rounds again, raising money for Angell Animal Medical Center, but, well, winter decided to be winter. Record snow totals held us to 66 peaks gathered. Funny, three winters in a row we have fallen short of the goal I set. And yet the experiences have been rich and tangible and many will be with me for as long as my memory works.

This winter? I’ve given it some thought and know that we’ll be hiking. However, I’ve decided we won’t go for a full round. It will be strange not to have that obsession to sink myself into but also a bit of a relief. That doesn’t mean I don’t have goals to reach for. This winter I intend of concentrating on my career by working diligently on the book. My goal is to write every day, surrendering to that great adventure.

Physically, I have a different goal. It has been announced that the road to the Cog Railroad at the base of Mount Washington will not be open this year. For the last three years it has been, and this has made ascents of Mt. Washington and Monroe and Eisenhower much easier. This makes reaching the summit of Washington and Monroe much more difficult. Therefore, I think the goal this winter will be to do something I’ve given thought to the last two winters but things never worked out: we may just attempt a one-day Presidential Traverse. It would take us over Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson. (Okay, maybe not Jackson. I’ve yet to make up my mind on that one.)

Is a winter Presidential Traverse feasible? Two winters ago, when we hit the 81 peaks, I think we could have done it then. Last winter we never got into a rhythm and therefore didn’t get into good enough shape. Winter is only about six weeks away so I need to do some work between now and then: diet and endurance work. The endurance work I don’t mind. The diet, well, it will have to take place if I want to reach this goal. Part of our training will be to hike the 4,000-footers that were sponsored but never reached last winter.

From what I know, a dog has never done a Winter Presidential Traverse before. I don’t doubt that Atticus can do one, if we get the proper weather. The question is, can I do one?

While on the subject of our last three winters, I’ve a confession to make: in attempting to do either one or two rounds in 90 days, I found myself putting a lot of pressure on myself, especially when using the quests as a fundraiser. By the time each winter ended I needed a break from the mountains. My mind was spent. Then again, that was part of the endurance event. This winter I’m hoping that by hiking only what I want to hike that won’t happen. I love hiking too much for it to turn into a commitment I have to do and I don’t want to resent it. If we set out to do two rounds again, mentally I wouldn’t have what it takes this time around. Perhaps you can understand why I felt burned out on peak-bagging when you consider that during the last three winters Atticus and I have hiked 188 peaks. That’s 188 more than I ever imagine we’d hike in the winter only four years ago.

As for fundraising for Angell, that’s not done. When the book is sold to a publisher part of the agreement will be that a portion of each sale will go to Angell Animal Medical Center. And besides, there will be other fundraising adventures coming our way in the future – just not this winter. Here’s a few possibilities: Tom & Atticus Hike… the Adirondacks; the Appalachian Trail; all NH 48 in one month.

That’s it for now from a very chilly Tamworth.

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