He took his dog on an ambitious adventure — something, having recently completed a 25,000-mile journey with mine, I can relate to as well.
But climbing all 48 peaks of the White Mountains … with his dog … in the winter … twice? That’s something I’m more likely to plop down on the couch and read about than actually do.
And I’m glad I did.
“Following Atticus” is the inspirational story of a tiny dog — a miniature schnauzer — on an epic adventure, one undertaken to pay tribute to a friend who died of cancer.
Ryan was your basic cynical newsman, the editor of The Undertoad, a muckraking alternative newpaper in Newburyport, a small city on the north shore of Massachusetts.
(If you’re wondering about the name of the paper, it comes from John Irving’s The World According to Garp. If you’re wondering about the name of his dog, Atticus M. Finch, it’s from To Kill a Mockingbird, but with the middle initial changed.)
Atticus came from a breeder Ryan found over the Internet after the death of his first miniature schnauzer, Max, who had become a fixture around town. Ryan, in addition to refilling the void left after Max’s death, saw the new dog as a chance to make some improvements in his life, so he and Atticus started taking long walks, including — after he’d shed 75 pounds — one up the highest mountain in Vermont, Mount Mansfield.
The White Mountains took hold on him all over again. They’d been part of Ryan’s childhood, and returning to them brought back some of his few memories of happy times with his father, who would take the family there on vacation.
Climbing the mountains seemed to enrich Ryan’s soul — and maybe that of his dog, as well. “It was as if he were made for the mountains,” Ryan noted:
“Unlike other dogs, who run back and forth and do three times the mileage of their human companions or go crashing into the woods on either side of the trail in search of wildlife, Atticus walked purposefully, staying on the trail, and kept a slow but steady pace. He seemed part mountain goat as he hopped from rock to rock with ease.”
When a dear friend died of cancer, Ryan decided that he and Atticus, to raise funds for a cancer charity, would attempt to climb every mountain over 4,000-feet, and that they would do it all in the course of one winter, and that they would climb each of the snowy peaks, as only one person had before, twice.
The book chronicles their quest, its literal and figurative ups and downs, the three-way bonding of man, dog and nature, and how, with help from a tiny dog, a crusty newspaperman comes to see the world with fresh eyes.
We’d call it an inspirational dog story, but that — in addition to being redundant, in our view — would only be the half of it.
Ryan sold his newspaper in 2007, moved to the White Mountains, and over the last five years, they’ve climbed more than 450 four-thousand-foot peaks, in the process raising money for cancer, as well as the Angell Animal Medical Center. You can learn more about them on Ryan’s blog, The Adventures of Tom and Atticus.
(To see all our news and reviews of books about dogs, visit our Good Dog Reads section.)
Posted by jwoestendiek September 29th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: angell animal medical center, atticus, author, book, books, books on dogs, cancer, dog, dog books, dogs, following atticus, miniature schnauzer, mountain climbing, mountains, schnauzer, tom ryan, vermont, white mountains