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, July 14, 2015

A New Adventure


Six days before Christmas, 1968, my mother, Isabel Shea Ryan, died in her hospital room. It was due to complications from third degree burns that came from smoking in her hospital bed, which caught fire. I was eight at the time and I don’t remember much about her. Truthfully, I don’t recall much about my childhood at all. But one thing that I do remember was something my father did in the summer of 1969.  It was about as courageous as anything a widowed father of nine could possibly do.
 
In August, he piled the seven youngest of his children (John and Joanne were already out of the house by then) into a station wagon, bought a tent trailer and we took a month to discover America. We didn’t go everywhere, but it sure seemed that way.

There were stops at the Grand Canyon and the Redwood Forest, Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore. Of course we did Disney and Sea World, too, while out in California. I remember some of the trip, but more than anything I remember the utter grandeur of the experience and the views and, most of all, I think of Jack Ryan’s courage.
 
I have often thought of taking a similar trek on the fiftieth anniversary of the “Big Trip.” I think most of my brothers and sisters who experienced it have given some thought to re-living it on their own.
 
However, now that Atticus is thirteen, pretty healthy, still sharp, but also a too old for the intensity of our past mountain explorations, I think we’ve both grown restless waiting for a new journey to share. Therefore, I have decided that once Will’s Red Coat is nearly completely done and in the hands of our publisher, but not quite ready to make it to the stores, Atticus and I are going to set out next spring on a two month quest to see as much of our country as we can while he can still enjoy it.
 
There are many details to be ironed out.  There are no definite plans of where we are headed, although you could say we’ll be chasing the colors of spring.  We’ll follow the coast down to Key West, then the Gulf Coast until Louisiana and then after that, who knows? The bulk of our exploration will take place west of the Rockies and once there we will where the wind takes us. We’ll avoid major cities, and concentrate on National Forests more than National Parks since Atticus will be allowed more freedom in the former. There are many particulars to figure out – and that is part of the fun of it all, but the one certainty is that we are going and I imagine it will be an expedition of a lifetime. I know we'll be flooded with suggestions but we mostly are going to wing it.  That's part of the fun of it all. I find my daydreams taking us to magnificent open country, along twenty thousand miles of road, to mountains and rivers and mesas and coastline, and perhaps some wildlife too.

I’ll be taking photos every day and keeping everyone up-to-date on Facebook, Twitter, and our blog. Other than meeting up with a few friends during the trip, we’ll be off on our own doing what we do best. I expect there will places in the backcountry we’ll love so much we may stay for a few days.  It will be a life without a schedule, built around wanderlust and nature.
 
Soon after coming home the finishing touches to Will’s Red Coat will be taking place and we expect it to be out soon after, in the autumn of 2016. While we won’t be doing book appearances during our two months of living like gypsies, we will most likely be on a tour for the book after that, depending on what our publisher sets up for us.
 
We hope you’ll enjoy reading about our experiences as they come our way as we head south, west, north, and finally east.
 
Throughout it all, I’ll be thinking of dear old Jack and what he did for our family back in the summer of 1969 when he took grieving hearts and introduced them to wonder.

You’ll have to excuse me now as I go back to studying the Road Atlas to figure out the best way to catch every western state.

66 comments:

Putman Lake Designs said...

Sounds like one fantastic trip!!! If you get to the northern lower peninsula of Michigan give a call to a former Bay Stater!!

Cheryl H. said...

Sounds wonderful!

Anonymous said...

So very jealous! Enjoy!

Ruth LeBlanc said...

If you pass through Baton Rouge, I'd love to have a cup of cafe' au lait and some beignets, cher. Best place is Coffee Call, and it's right off the I-10 as you pass through town.

Anonymous said...

Summer of 1969, very cool, its the year I graduated from high school with all the exciting dreams of life ahead of me. Your adventure sounds wonderful and I am happy to hear you will be posting pictures on your journey! Way to go Tom & Atticus! Exciting for sure! jg

Tina Michalski said...

If you ever have the chance you and Atticus need to visit Mackinac Island in Northern Michigan. It is a place that will take you back in time when the only way to get around was to walk, ride a bike or by horse. There are no automobiles allowed on the island. It is wonderful in the spring when the island is covered in lilacs and the fragrance permeates the island. A very magical place.

Diane Hawey said...

Sounds awesome - the trip of a lifetime for you and Atticus. I am very happy for both of you.

Nancy said...

That is very exciting and not what I expected. How wonderful!

Cheryl said...

I feel sure you will receive far more travel info than you could possibly want, but you might take a peek at the Delorme atlas books for each state you feel you might visit. They cover so much, page by page, show you places you would never know existed, and are truly worth the cost. We have done what you describe 5 times, and there is never enough time for all the info you will gather, but JOYFUL are the moments you share with John Muir's stomping grounds or others who left us this gorgeous country and it's treasures and gems. Have a wonderful time "loosely" planning it, as that is as much fun as the going. Leaving your spirits to blow in the wind is the perfect way to enjoy a trip like this, and as the wind changes direction frequently, it will take you places you would possibly never go otherwise.
I wish you and Atticus the most glorious exploration. What a wonderful way to share more excitement with your sidekick!

Denise Peck said...

I'm thinking your publisher needs to give you an RV, because it sounds like another book to me!

Sandra Bigelow said...

Wheee! Adventure bound! Enjoy every moment!

Denise Peck said...

I'm thinking your publisher needs to rent you an RV, because it sounds like another book in the offing!

Shannon Zapf said...

Sounds amazing, and I can't wait to see the photos and posts you will share. Your descriptions of everything will, no doubt, make us feel as if we are seeing it with our own eyes!

Lynni OHaver said...

What a grand adventure!!! I am excited just to know you will keep us updated with posts & pictures!! I will be standing by the road waving & smiling as you & Atticus drive by....

Susan Shipe said...

A perfect plan!

Anonymous said...

Route 50 from Sacramento in California, through Nevada (also called the loneliest road in America) is well worth taking. Beautiful, empty and other worldly.
Highly recommend it, Nevada stretch has nearly 300 miles of nothing!

Tammy Nicks said...

Banff National Park is beautiful in summer and winter, heck all year. Enjoy your trip :)

Fran said...

What a fantastic idea! I'm envious. I would love to do something like that. We will all be waiting to hear about your adventures.

loisinvt said...

How about an old Airstream trailer?

SE64 said...

How very priceless that you get a chance to do take a trip like that with Atticus. And what a wonderful way to remember your dad. So very happy for you and am excited to be a part of what you'll be sharing with all of us.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your ROAD TRIP. Having lived in South Florida and the Keys as well as New Hampshire I highly suggest visiting the Florida & Keys part of the country in early March or April the latest - the humidity and heat will be tough on Atticus especially at his age. Any later will be intolerable and if you can make it out west by June you can beat the heat of the south and make it to the higher elevations of Colorado and Montana and Wyoming where its cooler.

John

SE64 said...

How very priceless that you get a chance to do take a trip like that with Atticus. And what a wonderful way to remember your dad. So very happy for you and am excited to be a part of what you'll be sharing with all of us.

Anonymous said...

All I can say, is, "You're going to love it!" Made me so happy to read this...what a wonderful new adventure and the trek of a lifetime for Atticus also. I would have lent you my RV, but sold it. I've been to every state in the U.S. except Alaska, and that one's on my bucket list. My family did the same thing for two months when I was around 11, and then I did it again with a husband for a year or so. Too bad in a way, that you weren't on book tour funding, or some speaking engagements to help fund etc. Well, I'm sure you'll figure it out. I'm sure you will get plenty of recommendations, but throwing in my two cents, the Grand Tetons are a must IMHO, and Sedona, AZ is quite special, but best during the autumn for the latter. For this trip, you may want to upgrade on cameras....even though a really good point and shoot would be the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ70. That's all I've got for now...Happy Planning! :D

Vickie Wiliams said...

That is awesomw news....there are so many beauriful areas in rhe U S to see....and I am glad you will be sharing them with us...

Marcia Hale said...

My dog and I also take to the road with little to no plan. It always works. Hope you put the beautiful Northwest on your list of places to go. The Oregon Coast is wide open with all the beaches public (and most, amazingly dog friendly...though I know Atticus is not a water dog). The Rockies (my home turf) are incredible and in states like Montana and Wyoming quite free from crowds (as long as you avoid the big tourist areas). I'm sure we will all be giving you suggestions as the time grows near. What a wonderful adventure and we will all be right there with you through your pictures and wonderful words!

Pam Sheppard said...

I grew up in the Air Force and have wanted to do a similar trip to the places we were stationed. Now I'll get to see the country thru your and Atticus's eyes. Looking forward to this journey!

Anonymous said...

We would love to see you in Jonesboro, AR!!

Ruthie said...

This is just what I would have expected for you & Atticus. There is equally as much, if not more natural beauty at ground level as there is in the heights of the mountains. So much to see, discover & share. Given Atticus's slowed mobility it is the most obvious choice that will allow your journey to continue & adfitional memories to be made. I look forward to hearing of your adventures and bid you a safe journey x

Sandy Zerbinopoulos said...

Did that so many years ago! Wishing you the best travel memories that will forever be held in your heart and mind! Once again you will be following Atticus with a joyful spirit....all the best as you plan and dream, Tom!

SILVIA SOOS-KAZEL said...

Wishing you Tom and Atticus a Wanderlust of a lifetime !

Mollie said...

Your father was an amazing person to take this family trip after your mother died. I hope you have a wonderful reunion with some places you visited 50 years ago and form wonderful memories with the new places you visit. IF you come close to San Diego (there is the Cleveland National Forest east and north of the city) I would be honored to meet Atticus and you. Here's my email address just in case: mmartinek72@gmail.com.

Also, while it's mostly national parks, but not all, Southwest Utah is incredible! Zion National Park is one of my favorite places in the world and they are about an hour or so away from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab. Just a thought.

Upward and onward!

Mollie

peacefreak said...

Love hearing if your adventures. Best wishes on this one.

Cate R said...

What a wonderful fun adventure! "Travel is the only thing you buy,that makes you richer ." Onward by all means!

Lynn Heiligenthal said...

I think this sounds like a fabulous idea as one should do those things we put on our "Bucket List." It offers us the stimulation we seek to broaden those horizons and keep our brain and body active!

3Up Beth said...

If you find yourself in Western Colorado, Sprocket and I would love to take you and Atticus on a high country Jeep adventure. Sprocket would love to wander an alpine meadow with Atticus. :-)

Betty said...

Hi Tom,

Traveling this beautiful country is so exciting. Lenny and I have been doing as many road trips as possible ... it is so glorious out there. No plans, no schedule, and the only commitment is to see as far as you can see and share it with your buddy. It really doesn't get any better than that. The repeat places you may have visited with your dad and siblings will be interesting from a different perspective and I hope they bring sweet memories back to you.

I single parented back in 1988 -89 when my husband died of a massive heart attack in early January. He was 37 and I was an instant 35 year old widow with two children aged three and four. I took them on a trip that summer first to Estes Park, CO, to disperse his ashes, and then on to Nevada to visit friends. I thought I was incredibly strong and brave to take on that trip. Your dad was an amazing man to plan and take his children on that trip in 1969.

I'm so excited for you and Atticus. The places you will see and the memories you will make ... priceless and full of love!

Think of you and Atticus often.

Be well and peaceful.

Betty


Theresa Shea Moore said...

Sounds Fantastic! By the way my Grandma's married name was Helen Ryan Shea. So surprised when reading your mom's name. :)

Anonymous said...

I love in the UK but have visited the US of A a few times but I have only managed to see New York, Washington DC and North Virginia so I really am looking forward to following your trip!

Hazel said...

It will be a great amazing journey, with your pictures and writing we will enjoy the quest with you both.

Carol Casavant said...

Such an awesome plan...!!

SusanSerene said...

Two words, Tom: Oregon Coast.
With National Forests and so much to see, I believe you and Atticus would truly enjoy "The Peoples Coast" (they're on Instagram). Knowing you'll get thousands of suggestions, just follow that Road Atlas and your curiosity and you fellows will have a grand adventure. I'll look forward to your stories and photos; after all these years sharing your story and Atticus and Wills stories, you two are family and I wish you safe travels and joy in each day of your journey. Onward, by all means!
P.S.: Is it okay to say "I love you both"?? I do, my friends; I do. <3

black sheep #2 said...

I remember that the air conditioner in our brand new station wagon broke down in the Mojave Desert. later that day we drove through Las Vegas with the windows open and it was 120 degrees. it was like getting an extreme steam bath. it was a motel room that night, no campground for us in that heat! N

black sheep #2 said...

I remember that the air conditioner in our brand new station wagon broke down in the Mojave Desert. later that day we drove through Las Vegas in the day time with the windows open and it was 120 degrees. it was like getting an extreme steam bath. it was a motel that night, no campground for us in that heat!

Georgette Grey said...

Tom, Prescott and I would love to have you and Atticus visit us -- lots of beautiful back country here. Our county is about the smae size as the state of MA, but we have a population under 20k. There is a wonderful NWR: Bosque del Apache (the Woods of the Apache) where Atticus would be welcomes. Lots of birds, javelina, elk, sometime bobcats, mountain lions, even oryx. It is my go-to place when the world or life send me running for cover. Two hours there and I am cured of whatever ilss besieged me. We have a comfy guest room and can take you lots of places most tourists never see (high clearance 4-wheel drive required, and we have one). Keep us in mind, please, when doing your planning.
Georgette

Anonymous said...

Be sure to put Yosemite on your list. And if you need a place to hang your hat, Jireh and I are only 90 minutes from the park. I'm a little jealous, but I will enjoy living that trip vicariously through your writings.

corinne levesque said...

what a fantastic idea, Atticus will be so happy. It reminds me of your story when on your book tour you refused to fly so Atticus would not be caged. trips with friends are great.

kathy consigli said...

Oh my goodness...I can so relate to this adventure! My mom was widowed at 41 with 4 teenagers to finish bringing up. A year after my dad died she put the 4 of us in the car and drove out to California with us. It seemed like no big deal at the time but looking back, I think how courageous it was of her. At 17 I was the only one besides her to share the driving! You are so lucky to be able to do this, I envy you for sure. It will be epic and awesome. Something I hope to be doing in the next few years. Have a blast, Tom and Atticus, can't wait to see the pics and hear about it!

Anonymous said...

I also have this dream. Are you going to RV, camp or Motel 6? Or somewhere in between?

Anonymous said...

I can just imagine the new book this will produce " Following Atticus- 48 States, One lLittle Dog, One Great Adventure "
Can't wait!!! Thanks for sharing.

mlaiuppa said...

That sounds wonderful.

I've often thought of doing something like that, but I can't leave my little man at home and have never traveled with a dog.

I'm not sure camping would be safe for us.

You might consider a teardrop trailer. It's small and useful for when you need something more than a tent. You can rent them. I've thought about building my own. That way the dog and I would always have a safe place to sleep.

Our family did Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, etc. when I was younger. The trip I remember the most was Slate Creek in the Sierra Nevadas in the camper shell. We had our dog and week old puppies along on that trip. My Mother thought my Dad was insane. But it was one of the best trips because it wasn't in a park but just out in the wilds of the mountains.

They say the north rim of the Grand Canyon is as beautiful as the south and less traveled. Someday I want to go down to the bottom and see the falls. I'd also like to try rafting.

Deb Middleton said...

I remember when I met you, Atticus and Will at a book signing in Holyoke, MA about 3 years ago and I told you I was from Washington state, you said you hoped to get out here one of these days. I hope you will give yourself the great pleasure of going to Sunrise, Mt. Rainier, and traveling Rt. 20, the Cascade Mountain Highway. Truthfully, you could spend 2 months in Washington State! I hope you will enjoy your trip immensely!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful!!
from sue chamberlain

Janet Hitchens said...

This sounds like a wonderful adventure for you and Atticus. So much to see and experience. Glad you're devoting a lot of time to the 'left' side of the country. I second the comments from others about the Oregon coast - well worth the time! Putting in my own two cents, hope you will be able to visit Glacier National Park in Montana (which truly is big sky country in other parts of the state!!!). I look forward to traveling with you through your postings and wish the two of you the most wonderful times along the way.

Linda P said...

Your trip sounds wonderful! I can't wait to travel vicariously with you and Atticus.

David Boersma said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

For some of us, this could be our most favorite road trip we never went on. Can't wait for you to share your adventures with us. Perhaps Jack Ryan is smiling upon this next chapter of your life. Happy Trails Tom and Atticus.

Ginny McVarish said...

Wow, Tom,

Thank sounds so exciting. Truly a trip of a lifetime as well as a tribute to your father and to Atticus and to continuing to explore the world and enjoy life. And I can't imagine a better traveling companion. I know it's a while away yet, but enjoy!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful experience for both of you! I have done many road trips with my dogs and enjoy their company on the road. As you mentioned, National Parks are pretty restrictive with pets but National Forests, BLM land, and many state parks allow more freedom. I'm looking forward to your posts and pictures!

chrllrobb said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip. Prayers for you and Atticus to have a safe trip. I know you will see so many wonderful things. It was a great thing for your father to do for all of you at such a sad time. What a handful. So glad you all could do that.

Marian Lippard said...

I would love to meet Atticus. Will look you up if you come through Oklahoma. Happy Trails........

Sarah said...

That is a worthy goal. "America the Beautiful" for sure! Your travels and adventures will make my day! Blessings to Atticus and Tom.

Paul Dakai said...

Wow, a trip I have dreamed of. I thought about using the old U.S Highway system and not the interstates so I can learn more about and see more of the country. I live in Beverly, Ma so I figured starting at U.S. 1 and head south. Also studying the Atlas I saw that U.S 10 joins 1 in Jacksonville, Fl. U.S.10 goes west to West Texas driving along the gulf most of the time. At the end of 10 is where I have come to a stop. So much to see in the west I cant decide which road to take (less traveled maybe). I did find 2 choices to go home. U.S. 6 and U.S 20. 6 is in California and ends on the cape. 20 starts in Oregon, goes through Yellowstone to major cities near the lakes an ends in Boston traveling 20 from coast to coast.
Happy exploring.
Paul

Victoria Howell said...

What could be more wonderful than traveling the U.S. with your best friend!? Can't wait to hear details as you plan the trip.

Pam Hicks said...

Hi Tom! It's been a while since I've commented on anything. Thinking it's time for that camper van :-))))) Your trip sounds wonderful. All the best!

kaiserhog said...

What a wonderful thing to do. If you make through the Ozarks ( lots of national forest here) please do stop in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. If you don't have a great wonderful and safe trip.

Corky Oakes said...

Where are you now? How is Atticus? Just finished reading your book and fell in love with Atticus...and part of you too! We share a drive for adventure. What an inspiration the two of you are!