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, June 13, 2013

Dreaming of Evans Notch

My broken foot - getting better by the week - still aches occasionally so I'm giving it a little longer rest before hitting the hiking trails.  Over the past six weeks Atticus has been more than a little patient with me and whenever I get frustrated about missing so much great hiking weather I remind myself (as I swat black flies on the back of my neck in the backyard) that in another two weeks we will be back on a mountaintop, my foot will be healed (or well enough to hike), and the thick of black fly season will be gone.

So today I'm sitting at my writing desk looking at a map, and daydreaming about some quiet time up high away from the constant roar of Bike Week just outside of my window.  The worn map traced by my fingers and smoothed by my hands has been folded and unfolded more times than I can remember.  And when I’m like this – away from the trails and looking forward to getting back out there – as I'm studying it, looking at the aging lines on the paper, I fantasize I that I am Long John Silver captivated by a map of Treasure Island, or Bilbo Baggins with a crinkled copy of the map to the Lonely Mountain and all the treasure hidden inside of it.

Maps have always had that effect on me.  They take me away from where I am and, at times, who I am.  They fertilize my imagination and open up entirely new worlds.  Anyone who hikes can tell you that a map in the hands of one without imagination is as flat as the world before Christopher Columbus came around.  But for those of us with adventure in our hearts, paper maps are three dimensional.  We look at where we will start from and where we are going to and then we remember every hike we've ever taken and how it's never quite that simple.  You don't simply go from Point A to Point B.  It's not about stopping and ending, it's about the journey that lies between the trailhead and the summit.  Hiking, I learned, is a lot like life.  We have our goals, start out with high hopes, but along the way the world meets us and challenges confront us.  Keep the goal in mind and understand the tests we'll undoubtedly face and we do fine, but step away from that reality and it's all so difficult.

So when I study a map, as I've been doing all morning with this crinkled copy of the Chatham Trails Association, Inc. Map of the Cold River Valley and Evans Notch, I keep space in my mind for the unimaginable.  After all, one never knows what's waiting for us out there.  There are the outward tests, and then those that sit within us.  Respecting those two allows us to understand that it's not just about starting, summiting, returning to the car, and getting something to eat afterward.  What awaits is the mystery of the forest, the sparkling and enchanting streams and rivers that can either charm us or sweep us away if we are not careful; rock slides; wind and rain; heat and snow; and the seeds of fear and thrill of the unknown.  It all adds up to the possibility of adventure whenever we leave home, leave the car, and enter the forest on a shady trail with only a backpack to carry everything we'll need.  What happens between leaving the known behind and returning to it is what makes hiking nearly mythical for us.

As I've elevated, iced, and wrapped my aching foot over the past month and a half my mind has drifted off to the trails and the golden, diffused light that pierces the wooded darkness in early morning, the magnificent blue ocean of sky filled with great billowing ships in the form of cumulous clouds, and that sense of working hard to get to such a heavenly place. 

In these tempting daydreams I’m drawn repeatedly to Evans Notch.  It is the forgotten notch or, for some, the unknown notch.  It exists on the border between New Hampshire and Maine and it's not easy to get to, especially for readers of the Northcountry News since it's far to the east and there is no direct route.  Being "forgotten" or "unknown" also means that nearly every time we've been there it's also been quiet and uncrowded.  On a stormy day it can feel desolate, but on a pitch-perfect June day it is heavenly, thanks to the peace that envelops you on any one of its peaks. 

Since none of the summits come close to four thousand foot high the peakbaggers often leave it alone and that only lends to its allure.  Add in views from the tops of mountains with names like Caribou, Blueberry, Speckled, the Baldfaces, and Eagle Crag and it even sounds like something from a different world.  And if you ever have stood on high on these peaks, walked along the open ledges, and taken in the view with nary another person around you come to understand that this is hiking at its purest.  No crowds.  Serene trails.  A good chance to see a moose or a bear.  And views – glorious, expansive, and stunning views.  Mount Washington and her neighbors in the Presidential Range can be seen in all their glory, but from this different vantage point they feel like a world away. 

To hike in Evans Notch feels like playing hooky.  It’s better than just going on a hike, it’s going on a hike far from the conga line of Franconia Ridge or the Crawford Path.  It’s a step back in time and into your unbridled imagination.  It’s the kind of hiking you first fell in love with when you daydreamed about getting away from it all.

So today, as I send this off to my dear editor, I think I may very well be crazy for sharing this special spot with others.  Then again, I know it will never be overly crowded and that’s part of what makes it so dear to me.  Perhaps we’ll see you there; most likely though, we won’t.


Cheryl said...

I've never been to Evans Notch but now I want to go!

Carter W Rae said...

Tom .. Evans Notch one of those places we all go to amid the dissonance of the day in the unusual backdrop of life... We journey with you Tom and enjoy it immensely... Thank you for leading the way Always Following Atticus with you in Spirit Thank you to Atticus and pack ..


Tom, reading between your words/lines, I feel for you and the frustration you are enduring being sidelined from your passion of hiking in the mountains. It truly becomes a test of patience when the spirit is so willing, yet the physical is incapable. My mind wandered as you so creatively described your interaction with the trail map. It is sad that many now rely only on the GPS to get from point A to B! In auto/trip traveling if one does not look at a map, how many points of interest may be missed along the journey! Also, you don't even have a good general idea, if the GPS is taking the best route~~LOL! Thank you though for another travel in spirit today of your wonderful hiking trails and mentally enjoying every moment! As always, the best to you and your constant trail buddy, Atticus! May your respite days soon be history and onward and upward to fulfill your passion.

Wendi said...

I agree with Silvia about the GPS. While I use it and appreciate it's ease, I miss seeing the "big picture" between A and B. The best things happen in the middle of the journey. Hope the foot is feeling better, and you are back out there soon, Following Atticus, of course.

ps - love that picture of Atticus at the end.

Anonymous said...

Evans Notch, the Cold River and the Wild River are beautiful places, far from the maddening crowds, with many trail beds kept in wonderful shape by the CTA and the lack of human foot traffic. Walk softly and enjoy, and let us know what wonders you find within and without.


Ed C said...

Always look forward to your entries.
Great reading.
Curious to know how Will is doing....

1HappyHiker said...

Hi Tom,

In the interest of brevity, will simply say that I can relate to so many of the thoughts you put forth in this superb article.

Oh! And yes, totally agree that one of the many pleasurable things about hiking in Evans Notch is that it's "far from the conga line of Franconia Ridge or the Crawford Path"!

It's wonderful to read that your injury is nearly healed and that you'll soon be out on the trails again.


Peter/Julie McClelland said...

The Newburyport Daily News failed to report your injury so we didn't know.

Obstacles are the stuff of life and your best writing, in my opinion, has been walking readers through some of the obstacles you've faced.

Hawk Mountain in Waterford (ME) might be a good hike to test the level of your recovery. You know where to find us.