Tuesday, April 03, 2012

An UP Evening in Cambridge

For those of you that read this blog regularly this post may seem out of character.  It isn't a hiking trip report or a day of paddling.  It's not even the occasional "urban ramble".  It is however the story of some amazing challenges and successes and the connections that can bind so many of us together in this amazingly small world.

I'll begin with a short segment more in the usual Ramblings character - an afternoon of wandering in Cambridge, MA on an absolutely beautiful April day.  We had an event to attend in Cambridge on Tuesday evening, but it was too nice a day to not take advantage of.  We arrived mid afternoon and spent several hours walking from Harvard Square along the banks of the Charles, through some of the surrounding neighborhoods and around the Harvard campus.  Cambridge is one of our absolute favorite city environments and I expect we'll be spending even more time there in the coming years.  (More on that later)

Picture perfect day in Cambridge

Rowing crew on the Charles

Harvard over the Charles

Spring in full bloom

We stopped for an early dinner and then headed to the Harvard Coop bookstore for the evening event - the book signing for "UP: A Mother and Daughter's Peak Bagging Adventure" by Patricia Ellis Herr.  This was the launch event for the first publication day of the book and one that we'd been looking forward to for a long time.  I'll get to talking about the event and the book, but first I need to rewind a few years.

I first became acquainted with Trish on the Mt Washington Observatory Forums sometime in 2008.  I had joined the forum not long before, looking for information and advice on hiking in the Whites, which we had just gotten into in earnest.  Trish and Alex began their quest for the NH 48 in June of '08 as documented on their original blog (Post #1).  I was an avid reader of the forums at that time and read pretty much every trip report that everyone posted.  I was really interested in this mom that was hiking 4000 footers with her 5 year old daughter.  We had started going to New Hampshire with our daughter Jamie when she was a bit older than that and although we all loved being in the mountains we never tackled anything nearly so ambitious.

I often commented on Trish's forum posts and generally said how great I thought it was that she was doing this with her kids.  In September of that year we actually ran into each other (by chance) on the summit of Mt Jackson on Flags on the 48.  It was already their 12th 4K.  I actually recognized them first on the summit when I saw this girl that looked way to small to have hiked a 4K sitting with a huge smile on her face and a flag in her hand.  I walked up and said, "you must be Alex".  It turns out that this was the last time we'd meet until this week.  But the connection was not lost.

Alex on Mt Jackson

I'm not going to talk any more about their journey - the book and their blog tell the story in detail and it's definitely one worth reading.  Here are the references:

The original Trish and Alex Hike the 4000 Foot Whites blog:  http://trishandalex.blogspot.com/
The current Trish, Alex and Sage blog:  http://www.trishalexsage.com/

There is also a great interview with Trish and the girls posted yesterday on Dan Szczesny's EKP Adventures blog titled "Climbing as a way of life: An interview with White Mountain hikers and girl power adventurers, the Herr ladies".  It's a great read!

I do have a couple of thoughts to share beyond the stories though.  When Trish and Alex first started hiking and publishing their stories of the 4000 footer quest there were many in the hiking community that were shaking their heads.  The title of the first chapter in the book is in fact "Are You Out of Your Mind?", acknowledging what many were saying and thinking.  My initial reaction was how great it was that Trish was giving her kids such a wonderful opportunity by taking them out there and letting them challenge themselves and most importantly have that connection with the amazing outdoor places that are more and more becoming lost on today's youth.  I wasn't without my doubts though.  When I read the early trip reports of the hail storm on Mt Tom and the encounter with the "ax-wielding shirtless man" (chapters 1 and 5 in the book) I found myself questioning whether Trish was going beyond beyond what was reasonable and actually putting her kids in danger.  What I saw though, was that each time she acknowledged the lesson that was learned.  She was taking many significant precautions - way beyond what most parents do when taking their kids out on the trails.

After those first few doubts I never again questioned whether they were doing the right thing.  We put our children in danger every day.  We do it when we let them go out on the playground or walk across the street.  We do it when we put them in the car and take them to the store.  But mostly, we do it when we let them sit in front of the TV or play video games all day rather than getting them out to fall in love with this beautiful, natural world that we live in.  Are there greater risks for a 5 year old hiking in the Presidentials with one adult than there are on the playground?  Probably.  Are the potential consequences worse?  Probably.  Is it really worth that risk when you could just be taking that child for nice, safe walks in the woods rather than climbing mountains?  In my opinion, yes.  What those kids have gained through those experiences will shape the rest of their lives.  It will give them the confidence to believe that they can accomplish anything - and in this case I believe that they absolutely can!

There was another question that was asked often and that I pondered myself.  Was Trish pushing the girls to do things that they really didn't want to do?  Was she not allowing them to just be kids?  To play in the yard and have fun with their friends?  The answer to this was always easy for me.  Trish said it best during the talk at the book signing.  You can make a kid hike up one mountain - you can't make them hike up 150 (which is about the number of 4Ks Alex has now done).  I know from experience that this is true.  Jamie always loved being outdoors and was truly happy when she started climbing mountains (small ones) with us.  We never pushed her too far though.  I have to confess to a couple of times where the promise of a chocolate treat on the summit was used to convince her not to turn around when she was tired and a bit unmotivated, but she was always happy when we got there.  I wish we'd been able to do more of them since she might not have lost interest as a teenager and stopped hiking with us.  I hope that those childhood memories draw her back to the mountains someday though.

As for wondering if Alex (and Sage) really wanted to be out there or whether Trish was "making them do it", the evidence was clear (at least to me).  The thing that I always liked most about Trish's trip reports were the pictures of Alex with that ear-to-ear smile across her face, those twinkling eyes and the hilarious clowning poses that she so liked to strike along the trail and on every summit.  There is no way that such unbounded joy can be faked.  Each time I would smile, shake my head and think how wonderful it was that she found such joy in something that was going to be such a great influence on her life.

Is this the face of an unhappy child?
(Photo courtesy of Trish Herr)

There was a second connection beyond hiking that formed between us last fall.  Since she was a little girl, all our daughter Jamie has ever wanted to be was a writer.  When she was not much beyond the age where she could read, she started to write.  Stories, poems and even some "books".  As she got older that passion continued to grow.  Last fall, as a senior in high school, she had to choose a topic for her senior project.  Her choice was to explore the publication process.  She would edit some of her recent short stories into a manuscript and submit them for publication.  The senior project requires that the student have a mentor and work with them for a significant number of hours in completing their work.  The school had found someone local for Jamie to work with and all the logistics had been worked out.  On the week before the project was required to begin Jamie contacted her mentor and was informed that she'd no longer be able to do it - she was too busy.

Jamie was in a panic.  The senior project is a key requirement for graduation.  I immediately thought of Trish.  It was not long after she had received the news that her first book had been accepted for publication.  Who better to mentor Jamie on this than someone that had just been through it?  I sent a note to Trish and explained the situation and she immediately said yes.  Jamie was so incredibly happy, relieved and grateful.  This was going to be more of a challenge though.  The majority of the work with the mentor has to be face to face and we live almost 200 miles apart.  Nat and Jamie drove up to NH for their first session together.  We're more than used to the drive with our hiking day trips, but it still seemed a daunting task for the rest of the project.  Trish then made a suggestion.  She and the girls were going to Boston once a week and she offered to have Jamie meet her there instead of driving all the way to NH.  They did this for all the remaining meetings and it worked out wonderfully.  In the end the senior project was completed, presented and was a total success.  Although she has received all rejections from her publication submissions, she understands the process now and has gained greatly from the experience that Trish has shared with her.  We're all so grateful that this worked out the way it did.

Jamie applied and was accepted to a number of colleges.  Last week she finally made her decision. In September she will be starting in the Creative Writing program at Lesley University in Cambridge - right next door to Trish's alma mater Harvard.  My favorite author, John Muir, said "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."  So amazing the way that experiences bind our lives in this very small world...

And so we went to Cambridge this week.  It was wonderful to be there for the book signing and see Trish launch what will hopefully be a long and successful writing career.  It was also great to meet Hugh and Sage for the first time and see Trish and Alex for the first time since that day on Mt Jackson in 2008.  Congratulations to Trish and Alex on not only finishing the 4000 footer list (which they did in 2009) but on also finishing the winter 48 on Mt Flume this March and on Sage finishing the 4Ks as well - one month younger than Alex did.  Just amazing stories and accomplishments made by three amazing ladies!

As of this morning I'm about half way through reading Up.  Since I followed all of the adventures in real time through Trish's blog and forum posts the stories are all very familiar.  The re-telling of them however puts them in a new light.  They are all presented as lessons, and I believe that there is much to be learned from them.  I'm really looking forward to reading the rest, and even more to hopefully sharing the trail with them soon!

"Signs" of things to come

Urban hikers?

Trish and the girls ascending to the Coop highpoint

Alex, Sage and Trish during introductions

Trish begins the reading

Hugh and Alex look on

Alex gives Trish a suggestion.  There's that smile!

Standing room only crowd

Signings begin

Sage giving her autograph

Alex doing a signing

Dan waiting for his autographs from the girls

The full album is here:  https://picasaweb.google.com/114856685929776719960/CambridgeAndUPBookSigning4312#


  1. So great Mark! And speaking of connections, it was great to meet you too! Thanks for the shout out, and the kind words. Hope to see you again soon!

    1. Thanks guys. It was a great evening to renew connections and make new ones. We need to get on the trail together soon!


  2. Interesting thoughts. Based on your trip reports, it sounds like writing skill may run in the family. Good luck to Jamie.

    1. Thanks Owen. I love to write and always have. Jamie is the one with the real talent in the family though. I hope to be attending her first book signing someday...