The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Devil’s Tower, White Sands, and an almanac of other such places.
The trip was to be completely selfish. Two friends doing something plucked from dreams on last time. We’d head down the East Coast, down to Key West and then along the Gulf Coast. The idea of seeing all that glistening blue-green water after a long White Mountain winter excited me. But the portion of the trip I was looking forward to the most started at Big Bend National Park in Texas. That was to be our gateway to where I most wanted to be - the West. New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas. On the way home, we'd hit Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Sprinkled throughout the approximate 20,000 miles, and two months on the road, the plan was to stop in on half a dozen friends and my brother John and his wife Yvette in Minnesota. But mostly it was going to be just about us. Lots of solitude to mix with those incredible landscapes. A time to become anonymous and get lost in our friendship again.
Alas, we both became sick. I almost died. Twelve days after I returned home from a five-week stay in the hospital, Atticus did die. He lay in my arms under a gentle rain at the foot of some pine trees.
As fate would have it, another four-legged friend came into my life. It was much sooner than I expected. Within three weeks six-month-old Samwise Atticus Passaconaway came to Jackson.
That first night, it was overwhelming. So much change.
But that first night gave birth to a more optimistic first day. In the light, we set out in the car. I wanted Samwise to see the mountains that would become part of his life. There was a stop in Woodstock to visit with Ken and Ann Stampfer, and in Lincoln to visit Steve Smith at the Mountain Wanderer. It was a good day. It led to another. And another. During those first times together, Samwise showed how tied to me he was and when we went to the forest, off came his leash. Freely he cavorted with me along the trails, staying close but drinking in the wonder.
I knew from those first few times off-leash that he would be a good partner. He was smarter than any puppy I’d ever met, and it was important to him that we stick together. That’s when it hit me.
The trip was back on. We’d deliver some of Atticus’s ashes to the Pacific Ocean he never had the chance to see. One of Samwise and my first chapter's would take the place of what I was planning for perhaps the last chapter in the story of Atticus and me.
We were going to go in December, returning home in February, before the release of “Will’s Red Coat” in March. But that meant leaving out a lot of the states I was excited to visit. We would drive to the west coast, as I had originally planned, head as far north as Oregon, and then reverse our route.
But recently, when talking to Cassie Jones, my editor at William Morrow, and Brian DeFiore, my agent, I let them know we’d postpone the trip until after the book tour for “Will’s Red Coat.” So on my fifty-six birthday, April 21st, the fates willing, Samwise and I will start our trip at Jack and Isabel Ryan’s graves in my hometown of Medway, Massachusetts. Then it’s down along the vast waters of the Atlantic. The rest of the trip will mirror the original plans, except for two additions. We’ll drive through the place where Atticus was born, and where Samwise was born.
Actually, there may be more than those two additions. I talked to Cassie and told her we’d be open to having our publicity team at William Morrow set up a handful of stops for us along the way if some bookstores wanted us to come in for an event.
We will still be basing our trip on a select few objectives: hitting national forests more than national parks, because dogs are more welcomed at national forests; stopping by various Whole Food Markets to ensure I can eat vegan during those two months no the road; and most importantly, making time for quietude and breathtaking beauty as whim moves us.
I look forward to sharing this trip with you all from our blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account. And who knows, if some book events are set up along the way, perhaps we’ll even meet some of you.
Onward, by all means.