Tom Ryan and his dog Atticus are the unlikely pair of hikers in “Following Atticus” who set out to tackle the high peaks of the White Mountains in winter. Along the way this adventurous duo finds abiding friendship, physical challenge, rich natural beauty, personal renewal, true love and a wholly new outlook on life. It’s a heartwarming story that will delight hikers and outdoor lovers of all stripes.

While Ryan and Atticus battled the snow, ice and wind on Mt. Washington one frigid day, the clouds suddenly parted and revealed the Presidential Range in all its rugged beauty. Right then, Ryan and Atticus, “man and dog, connected in adventure and solitude, stood together, gazing out at a world few had ever seen before,” a moment in time that changed the two friends and how they each viewed their world.

Ryan, an overweight, over-40 bachelor living in a small apartment, ran his own tabloid newspaper in Newburyport, Mass., covering the good and bad news of small-town life. Life was good but it became clear something was missing, namely close friendship and intimacy.

One day, quite unexpectedly, a miniature schnauzer named Atticus M. Finch entered Ryan’s life, reluctantly sold by a breeder named Paige Foster. Foster knew something was very special about this particular dog but let Ryan have him anyway, figuring he needed him more than she did. She was right on both accounts.

“Carry him everywhere you go” for the first few months, implored Foster. And so Ryan did, developing an amazing bond with Atticus and earning his unbreakable trust.

Outside of hiking with his father during camping trips to the White Mountains as a youngster, Ryan had little interest in hiking. But after a trek up Mt. Garfield with his brothers, Ryan and Atticus got hooked, and soon enough they were on their way to hiking all 48 of the 4,000-foot peaks of the White Mountains.

As if summer hiking wasn’t enough, Ryan then decided to hike all the 4,000-footers in winter. It was tough slogging during those first few treks, with plenty of trepidation, gear problems and physical exhaustion, but surprisingly for both, man and dog won out.

After the cancer death of a close friend, Ryan decided to turn his hiking adventures the following winter into a fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund, and the Winter Quest for a Cure was born. It was no ordinary fund-raiser, however, for Ryan and Atticus would attempt to hike all 48 peaks not once but twice in the 90 calendar days of winter, a feat achieved just one other time. They came up a few peaks short, but nonetheless made great strides for cancer research.

Soon after, Atticus developed cataracts and was going blind. But after much heartbreak and many vet and hospital visits, incredibly, Atticus received a clean bill of health. Ever thankful, Tom and his beloved dog set out again the next winter on yet another adventure to climb the high peaks twice, this time to raise money for Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, where Atticus had received such wonderful care.

“He led, I followed, and in the end I found the man I always wanted to be,” Ryan said in a recent interview. “Our destiny was to go on these journeys, to become the most we could be.”

And every time Ryan looked at this amazing 20-pound dog ahead of him on the trail, Ryan was buoyed by the gift of his little friend’s good nature, energy and enthusiasm.

“Magic exists in the world and one should always be aware of it, it’s always there” said Ryan. “Be grateful for everything.”

Follow the further adventures of Ryan and Atticus at tomandatticus.blogspot.com.

Carey Kish of Bowdoin is an avid hiker, camper and freelance writer. Comments are welcome at:

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