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.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Beating the Crowds: Our Latest Tom & Atticus Column for the Northcountry News

Bryan and Sue Flagg, the ma and pa of this wonderful ‘mom and pop’ newspaper, have been busy lately. In a short period of time they climbed Mount Washington, Mount Monroe, North Hancock, South Hancock and took in sunset and moonrise on the Sugarloaves over in Twin Mountain. When I asked Bryan if he was hiking this weekend he responded: “No – we decided to sit this one out. Too many people in the mountains for me!”

Amen, Bryan.

My friends sometimes think me a misanthrope, but the truth is while I love mankind, I can do without people – especially in the mountains. (Besides, I put in my time. I lived in the heart of Newburyport for a dozen years, ran a paper and even took out papers to run for mayor. Is it any wonder I not only headed to the hills, but actually ran to them?)

The Abenaki Indians considered the Whites a sacred place. Imagine if they were here on a busy weekend and saw the conga line moving along any of the trails up Mount Washington or along the Lafayette-Lincoln loop.

Don't get me wrong. I believe the popularity of the White Mountains is a good thing. It’s one of the reasons people had the foresight to save them after the lumber barons had raped and pillaged them to their bank accounts content. Back then, even if people hadn’t been to the mountains, they felt like they’d been because of writers like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Starr King; poets Lucy Larcom and John Greenleaf Whittier; and the amazing White Mountain artists, who other than Benjamin Champney and Thomas Cole are simply too numerous to name, brought the White Mountains to the civilization. It was a shining moment in history when preservation was spurred by environmentalists and fueled so by the romantic vision of the writer, poet and artist.

But the knife cuts both ways. These mountains are stunning, soul-awakening and spirit lifting. Once you discover them, they don’t let you go. It’s one of the reasons Atticus and I found our way up here. When first I stood atop Mount Garfield I could not believe such a place existed. And it was only two hours from the hectic hustle and bustle of the upscale boutiques and the yuppie shoppers in Newburyport. So, being an outsider myself, who am I to complain about the crowds that flock to the mountaintops each stunning weekend, or the pizza, hot dogs and coffee served atop Washington, the most sacred of all the Abenakis mountains? They Abenakis called Washington Agiocochook, the Home of the Great Spirit. Today, they’d probably call it Visa.

Just what is a person who lives in the mountains and loves them supposed to do when it comes to hiking? If possible, head out for a hike in midweek, as Bryan and Sue did, and Atticus and I typically do. Alas, Bryan and Sue didn’t beat the crowds on top of Washington that day, but at least they reached Monroe, the Hancocks and Sugarloaves and it didn’t feel like it was Grand Central Station at rush hour; or worse – North Conway on a busy weekend.

As for Atticus and me? We’ve been sticking to smaller, less crowded peaks. When Ruth gets here we’ll be doing the 4,000-footers again but for now I’m pleased with avoiding them. However, we did hike Mount Moriah, starting about an hour before sunset and by the time we reached the ledges of the Carter Moriah trail for the last mile and a half, we were joined by the delightful full moon that was so bright I didn’t need my headlamp. But my favorite hike as of late was one that went into the woods and not above them.

We parked at the end of Zealand Road and took the Zealand Trail through the mostly flat woods, across the spider web of tree roots along the trail and the wood bridges spanning the moose and beaver ponds. When we arrived at the place we’d normally turn right to head towards Zealand Hut, Zeacliff and the Bonds beyond, we went straight. This took us into the heart of Zealand Notch where we walked along the tumble down remains of Whitewall Mountain and looked up at the giants around us that we have often stood on top of. Eventually, this gentle meander took us to Thoreau Falls. After a while at the falls we continued to Shoal Pond. There are few more isolated places in the Whites than where we were sitting on the floor of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. All-in-all, it was a perfect day to be out in the woods. Better yet, we didn’t see another person all day.

A fellow hiker who made the same hike a few weeks ago warned, “Beware, there’s no cell phone coverage out there.” All the more reason to make the 12 mile out and back journey, which is very easy, but does wonders for whatever it is that ails you.

Our next hike? You don't actually think I'm going to tell you, do you?

(On a personal note, Bryan and Sue, if you want to see Washington at her best, we’ll take you up there in winter. I can assure you the crowds will be gone and the museum, gift shop and cafeteria will be closed. And for a second personal note, I’m told Animal Planet will be airing their footage of Atticus on their second Dogs 101 show of the new season on October 10th.)


LM said...

Tom, Keep on weaving right down the middle inbetween the masses. I am a pro at it as well. I feel as if I could of wrote that read. When I get up to Jackson the first weekend in Oct with baby and wife we will be weaving. Maybe we will weave right on by you and Atticus....


Thomas F. Ryan said...

LM, check us out when you are in town. You can often find us on the rocking chairs in front of the JTown Deli each morning. Where do you stay when in Jackson?

LM said...

Hey Tom,

We actually rented a house in North Conway for a long weekend Oct 1 - 5. We will stop on by Jtown for coffee. We want to get baby Hazel up Eagle Mountain if my wife is up to it one of the days. We also plan to check out the festival at Black Mountain Sat Oct 3rd. With a three month old baby she is the boss in so many ways so she will dictate the time we get to places when we are up there. Have a great FALL if we do not "weave" by each other.....