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Following Atticus: Man and Dog Tackle the Winter Whites

by Philip Werner
October 14, 2011

Hiking has the power to heal us. That's been my experience and why I love it so much. If work is stressful or I'm troubled by family matters, I know that a long hike through the forest or in the mountains will restore my perspective and ease my soul.

The transformational power of hiking is the theme of a new book called Following Atticus, written by Tom Ryan. Part memoir and part adventure story, it chronicles the adventures of Tom and his small dog, a miniature schnauzer named Atticus, their unique human-animal bond, and how hiking and climbing in New Hampshire's White Mountains changed their lives.

At the beginning of their journey, Tom is a political journalist and newspaper owner in the seaside town of Newburyport, Massachusetts. The town has a tradition of cut-throat local politics and Tom makes his living exposing the nefarious schemes of corrupt politicians and real estate developers. But it's a stressful life with little relief until he unlocks his heart and becomes a dog owner.

One weekend, Tom and Atticus join Tom's brothers to go hiking in the White Mountains, where they had spent childhood vacations. Little Atticus proves to be a natural born trail dog and races ahead of Tom, who follows in his footsteps, huffing and puffing his way to the summit. The experience proves so enjoyable and healing that they return frequently on weekends to find solace and peace, hiking in the hills together and communing with the world from the mountain tops.

Inspired by the courage of friend who dies of cancer, Tom and Atticus set out on a quest to climb all 48 of the White Mountain 4000-footers to raise money for cancer research, memorializing a different victim of the disease on the top of each mountain they climb. But instead of climbing the 4000-footers once, they set out to climb them twice — 96 summit attempts in all — during the 90 days of winter. It's a goal that few have achieved.

A pudgy middle-aged man and a little 20 pound dog, they made an endearing but unlikely pair of peakbaggers in the winter Whites. Yet, bad weather and blizzards prove to be the least of their obstacles. Buoyed by an uncanny mutual awareness, and a miracle or two, they triumph and establish a new life and identity in the mountains.

Following Atticus is the first book in years that I've read cover-to-cover in one sitting. It's not really a book about hiking or a dog, but about the power of love and the freedom to change our lives if we choose. I'm sure you'll like it and you'll want to follow Atticus, too.

To learn more about Tom and Atticus, visit their website, The Adventures of Tom and Atticus.