On The Trail With Tom Ryan


Today we’re going to take
a hike with an old friend and a few dogs. We’ll see some
beautiful fall colors and hear some great outdoors
stories, so stick around. [music playing] Welcome to “Windows
to the Wild.” I’m Willem Lange. Several years ago, I met
a writer and storyteller and his dog. We hiked together
and became friends. The dog was named Atticus. And following right behind him
was a storyteller, Tom Ryan. Every year since
then, Tom calls. We get together and
take another hike. Well, today we’re at it again. Thomas. Good to see you, my friend. It is the customary
pleasure to see you. You’re ready [inaudible] today? I am ready. I’m ready to take you
to a pretty place. Good. Sawyer Pond. Sawyer Pond. And that’s a simple trail. And you can tell by the
foliage it’s perfect. Yeah, and the sky very
nice, too, following a rain. Good. Two gentlemen in the
autumn of their lives in the autumn season. Thank you. I appreciate it. I thought I was farther
along than that. Well, I was being kind. Yes, you were. OK, why don’t we
cross the bridge? Metaphorically or– As it were, yes. [inaudible] OK, and go to Sawyer Pond, OK? You ready, Emily? You guys ready? Ready, Kiki? Oh, yeah, they’re ready. There’s Sam. Here we go. All right. OK. [music playing] We’re off to Sawyer Pond. For me, it’s a new destination. The trail begins at the end of
Sawyer River Road, just south of Crawford Notch. It’s a 3.1 mile round trip. It looks like a
pretty easy hike. Today it’s going to be really
easy, at least for one of us. But it’s a 3 mile hike round
trip and about 350 feet of elevation gain. Beautiful. As you can tell by the foliage,
it’s the best time of year to be here. And I’m really excited
about showing it to Will. And when we get to
the end, there’s going to be a
beautiful cliff side on the other side of the pond. And for the bang
for the buck, it’s one of the most beautiful,
simple hikes in the Whites. Tom Ryan and I have been hiking
buddies for about six years. We get together with our dogs. Each outing is a chance
to explore a new trail and catch up. You’re 84. 84, yeah. A lot of people at 84
have trouble just getting around the house. Yeah. You’re staying active. You’re traveling a great deal. So what challenges do you have
now with your body with hiking? Because you told me
now you’re only– you and Kiki do about a
mile and a half each day. Yeah, just about that, yep. So the most activity
you’re getting is when you do your shows. That’s true. Yeah, that’s the most strenuous. Now, what did we do last week? We went for a hike somewhere. I remember that Kiki was
out like a light going home. And what about you
when you got home? I got home. That’s the big thing. I don’t want to go out like
a light before [inaudible].. During the last couple of hikes,
it was Tom who was tested. He was sick. We’d oftentimes stop in the
middle of the forest and– This is from one of our
previous hikes together. I always go back to
[? thoreau, ?] and it’s this simple little place. It was a great place
for Atticus and I to go in between hikes just for
walks and still feel nature. One of the things about
my health coming back is an appreciation of the stuff. I mean, till July
last summer, I didn’t think I was going to be able
to do a lot of these things. And I thought I only had
about five years left. But I find myself looking
up here at the foliage, and it’s like seeing it anew. And not to borrow from
that old religious term, but a different way,
I’ve been born again. Tom’s love for the
mountains came in midlife. He’s a newspaper guy from
Newburyport, Massachusetts. His brothers coaxed him to New
Hampshire’s White Mountains, and that’s all it took. Seeing that this kind of thing
existed only two hours away from Newburyport, and I went
from being a little city dweller who loved coffeehouses
and restaurants and city hall– Which [? isn’t ?] bad, I
mean, except city hall. –to I couldn’t get enough. I became addicted to
this stuff and the quiet. And I think one of the
things that helped me with the mountains is,
after being in a small town of 18,000 people and knowing
everyone’s business for 11 years, there wasn’t a person
walking down the street, as a newspaper editor, the
only person in the paper, that I didn’t know about
something about everyone. So [? funny ?] you survived. Hey, it is sometimes,
some of the stuff I wrote. But I realized that it was
constant noise for 11 years. And then when we got up
here, the shock of the quiet was addicting. Hello there, young fella. Hi, buddy. [? i’ve got ?] it all. How are you? See, I’ve got a treat for you. First time I met
Tom, he was following his miniature schnauzer
Atticus, the namesake of his bestselling book. The first time we hiked
was the Hedgehog Trail– That’s right. –with Atticus. Yeah, dear Atticus. I was in better shape
then, and you were not in better shape
then, as I recall. I was in healthy shape– Yeah, you were OK. –but not inside healthy, hiking
healthy but not inside healthy. And you had Ida. Oh, that’s right. Yes, I did. A lot of things had have for
both of us since then, hey? I had to go on without
Atticus, and you had to go on without Ida. Oh, god. And we were talking
in the parking lot. You talked about one of the
things you’re dealing with. I asked you [inaudible] was,
and you said loneliness. Yeah, yeah. Getting out and seeing
people just seemed like too much trouble
sometimes, you know? Yeah, I don’t want
to go [inaudible].. So I go, or I don’t. And if I go, well, OK. But then I’ve got to leave
her home half the time. And she’s your main squeeze,
so you don’t like doing that. Oh, yeah, 24 hours a day. How does she handle
you leaving her? Well, she has a big Kong
that I put peanut butter in. And that helps. She loves that. Yes, she does. Yes, you do. And how does she treat
you when you get home? Oh, all over my legs.
[? yeah, that’s ?] [? you, ?] [? while ?] you jump
up and down, yeah. [inaudible] let me out. Let me out. She’s OK with that. [music playing] There was another dog
in Tom’s life, Will. He could neither see nor hear,
but he loved the mountains. He inspired Tom’s second book. Very arthritic, came
from a kill shelter. Family had him for 15 years,
dropped him off there down in Jersey. And we ended up adopting him. Atticus and Will are both gone. Tom now hikes with
Emily and Samwise. As you can see, Emily
is the instigator. But I got her for Sam. But I think she needs us
more than anything else now. She has really bonded
between the two of us. So you [inaudible],, and I
brought this up earlier, that Ida saved you. Yeah. Has Kiki saved you. Well, she– I got her about,
oh, three months before Ida died, maybe four
months before Ida died. And it was the
transition, you know? I took her up to see Ida
every day, and that was fun. But Ida was upset
because she knew she wasn’t going to
get to train her, and I just wasn’t
competent [inaudible].. Right on cue, right? She said, that’s all right. I liked my life the way it is. She was afraid you’d grow
up [? rough ?] and stupid. And look at you. You’re bright as a [inaudible]. And then she died, and
it was just the two of– once the kids left, it
was just the two of us. But that house is awful quiet. I mean, it was quiet anyways,
because she was in the– It’s quiet. No, [? no ?]
[? more ?] [? tv ?] on. And it’s just quiet. And what role does loneliness
play in your life now? Loneliness– who can tell? It’s the big thing these days. It is, yeah. It’s the in thing, loneliness. [inaudible], thanks. Oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. I sit down and write a letter
to somebody or an email, or I call somebody. No, I don’t call. I hate to call. And you only write
certain people. You don’t write to me. Would you like me
to write you, Tom? Oh, I’ve written to you. But the English
was so bad, I hated to answer you because
I knew I couldn’t do it without commenting. Oh, the smells. That’s the one thing that
you can’t show in your show. You can’t convey it, really. The sense of smell is the one
scent you can’t really portray. I enjoy hiking with
Tom and the dogs, but today I want to
find out how he’s doing. So now you’ve seen
what the trail’s like. Plenty of roots, some rocks
here and there, but mostly flat. One of the challenges I have is
I told you I get dizzy still. And it’s something that happened
when you consider the stroke or heart attack, the kidney
failure, the lung disease, everything that happened. I can be sitting at
the kitchen counter, standing at the kitchen counter,
just chopping vegetables, and I’ll start to
get [inaudible],, and my blood pressure
will just plummet. Really? And I have to go lay down. If I don’t, I’ll lay
down without trying to. Yeah, [inaudible], yeah. And it happens now
that we’re hiking. 4,000 foot is,
again, something I never thought I’d get back to. It happens on the
steeper sections. And I know to sit down
because I feel it coming on. It comes in stages. My eyes start to swim. I start to get a little dizzy. And then the worst part is
when I get a little nauseous. Then I know I’m
going to pass out. So I made a mistake when I first
started hiking [? when i ?] [? got out ?] of the hospital. Trying to go up, I passed out
sitting on a log like this. And I fell over and hit
my head on a bigger log. I’m on a blood thinner, so I
had all this blood running down my face. And I had to go down
this steep trail. And this other hiker
was coming up the trail, and this was when Samwise
was first with me. And Samwise was ahead of me. And the other hiker saw Samwise
and started petting him. Then he looked up at me,
and he saw this blood. Kind of looked like Carrie
from the Stephen King movie. And the hiker said, are you OK? And of course, he sees
this horrible thing. Well, how do I look, [? you? ?] Yeah, and all I said was, have
you been up that trail yet? He said, no. And I said, it’s horrible. Be careful. And I just kept walking. [laughter] That’s great. [music playing] Tom’s return to New
Hampshire’s 4,000 footers brings him renewed joy. The joy of wild things,
as Wendell Berry says in one of his poems– I’ll send it to you. It’s the joy of wild
things and the idea of having taken so
long to find this life, to appreciate these
views, to learn what it’s like to be
at peace with myself. I am happiest [inaudible]
the trail now. And I find now that
I’ve learned to cook. I love cooking. My only problem is I
love cooking so much I have to find
other people to give it to at times
because I overcook and let it become
one of my passions. But I think what keeps me going
is just the idea of peace. I just love this peaceful,
quiet, stoic life, stoicism. We were not too far
from you the other day. We were speaking in Woodstock. Tom credits a change in diet for
the healthy steps he’s taken. I was already vegan. I wasn’t eating meat. But I was eating
Oreos, drinking Coke. That’s vegan. Oh, good. [? licorice ?] [? twist ?]
[? star, ?] Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream– none of it’s healthy. That changed. No oils whatsoever, no nuts,
no peanuts, no any kind of nuts, no nut butters. No olive oil? No oils. It ruins what’s called
the endothelial cells in your arteries. Framingham Heart Study decided– they’ve been doing
it for decades. And they discovered people
who are healthy in their 50s, by the time they
got in their 70s were not because the
standard American diet. And that’s all about oils. And what oil does is it turns
your arteries from Teflon into Velcro. And that’s where clots start. Wait. Well, how about butter? Same thing. I don’t do it. How am I going to fry eggs? You don’t have eggs. Oh, no. Wait a minute. So I bake every week now. And instead of using
oils, I use applesauce. Yeah, I can see that. And I don’t have
nuts or seeds at all, except for chia and flaxseeds. And it’s gotten me
off of my medications. My resting heart rate is right
around 50 beats per minute. Good. And I can hike again. Good. And you got a [? dog ?]
to [inaudible] to if you need to bring
your blood pressure down and your respirations
[inaudible].. Well, if I need to do that,
I– no, I think of you. Oh, yeah. That would raise
your blood pressure. I pet Kiki, and I go
down to 112 over 62. That’s amazing– It is. –from 120 over 75. So I keep her around. Hi. [inaudible] [? we’re ?] [? going to ?]
go to the right [? here, ?] [? willem. ?] Yes, [? “kayn-kuh-magus” ?]
is only 4.6. [? they ?] [? make ?]
[? up ?] my lunch. [? “kayn-guh-mah-gus.” ?] I’m sorry,
[? “kahn-kuh-mah-goose.” ?] [? “kayn-guh-mah-guh.” ?] So my recovery started because
I missed this, because I just missed being out here. And I’m a lot less
social than you are. My company I like
to keep is trees. And I never feel
lonely in nature, just like I never feel
lonely holding a book. And I never feel lonely when
I’m alone out here, especially– I’m never alone with
Samwise and Emily along. And before that, it
was Atticus and Will. But nutrition is what
helped me get going again, clean eating, beans
and greens and berries, and watching the
weight come off, and as the weight came off, to
be able to do more and more. And then I figured,
what better place to start trying a
4,000 footer again than where I started with
Atticus 15 years ago? So we climbed Mount Garfield,
our first 4,000 footer, that beautiful amphitheater
that looks over the [inaudible] wilderness. And we made it up in 3 hours. And I realized that’s as
fast as we ever made it up. I was stunned by that. That’s gratifying, yeah. That first week, we
did five 4,000 footers. [music playing] It was really emotional. And what I did is I brought some
of [? atty’s ?] ashes with me. For me, my
[? scatter-your-ashes ?] place is Garfield, because it
was the first place I went, the first place I fell in
love with the mountains, and the first place that
I saw Atticus sit and take in the view. So I brought some of
his ashes up with me, and I spread them out there. And I spread some of my
tears at the same time. And it’s really interesting
to have this life with Samwise and Emily and have
had that life with him and have them be so different. They are, yeah. It’s amazing. Not just them different,
but me different. You’re different too, yeah. And having what
the mountains mean to [? me ?] is so different. But to me, it’s– my life felt incomplete
without being able to go up after he
and I went up for so long. I felt the passage of time when
I was there without Atticus and [? as ?] [? they ?]
[? were ?] Samwise and Emily, and not missing him but
feeling a bit fragile in my own existence, if that makes sense. Yep. [music playing] [inaudible]? [inaudible] you. We’re about a mile and
a half into the hike, and sitting right in front
of us is Sawyer Pond. Isn’t that pretty? Oh, yeah. [music playing] It’s great. It’s nice to be out and
to be in a new place. I’ve never even heard
of this place before. This is nice. And as your body changes and– because I went through
changes before where I was older than you with my health. So I revisited these places. I get to revisit them
now as I’m healthier. The Forest Service did a really
nice job with the lean-to. There are also six tent
platforms along the shore. This is a perfect
trail for people who don’t have the
spunk they used to have or the flexibility. Yeah, sleeping bag,
stove, little groceries, mattress, and you’re all set. Well, I’m not spending the
night with you out here. No, not you, but anybody. You got a nice lean-to
with a tight roof. [? very nice. ?] The setting’s
fantastic, isn’t it? Yeah, there’s no firewood
just because it’s all been cleaned off the forest floor. But what a beautiful spot. [music playing] I like bringing you to some
quiet places you’ve never been. This is one of them. Thank you. The other was Pine Mountain. Remember that? Yeah, [? it’s ?] [? one ?]
of the things we do now. That was a big challenge
for me that day. And I actually got dizzy. That was two years ago. But now we do Pine Mountain
four or five times a week just as a walk. Is that right? Yeah, and we park further down. So we do the four-mile loop– Oh, nice. –just as a nice walk. And we’ve been going
every morning or night. [inaudible] and
[inaudible] get the change of the seasons above the notch. It’s been fantastic to
have that freedom again. Nice. [? go get ?] [? them. ?] The quiet and beauty
invite Tom to contemplate about living at a time when
he thought he might not be. Good job, Emmy. I don’t know if I’ll live
longer, because at one point I thought 5 or 10
years at the most. But my quality of
life is better. And I actually keep
something on me when I hike now that I
didn’t used to keep– a name, an address,
and a phone number. I have a friend who
will take in Samwise and Emily in case
something happens to me. And they are spoken
for and will be taken care of the rest of their life. And I think I might
have said this to you when we spread Will’s
ashes that day, that Samwise was the first dog
I ever had that I thought he might outlive me Outlive me, yeah. And then Emily came
along, and it’s like, well, there’s two
of them that’s going [? to need ?] [inaudible]. And I found a wonderful family
who loves dogs and I trust. And they treat dogs
as partners, as I do. So hopefully nothing will
happen to that extreme. But I have to also tell
you, one of the changes, one of the reasons I changed
was watching Emily and how bonded she is to me. Samwise, you’ve seen,
does his own thing. He used to be a
street dog, and I think he’d be fine without me. But Emily is tightly bonded,
like Kiki is with you. And I thought, oh, I feel
so guilty that Atticus died. And those five weeks I
was in the hospital right before he died. I wasn’t there for him
when he was suffering. And there’s nothing
I can do about that. But I thought, I’d like to
be around for these guys to the very end
if I can, instead of them having to be
around there for me. And so actually, even though
I’m doing it for myself, they were the spark, my
emotional spark to say, I want to live. The bouts of dizziness
are well worth it to push myself to the point
where I’m not in danger. But a little bit
of discomfort is great for this kind of commute. I mean, this is stuff we
can’t get anywhere else. And once you lose
it, [inaudible] back. [music playing] Well, here we are once again
at the end of a lovely hike, this time up to, what,
Sawyer Pond, right? Yes. So it’s time to
hit the trail back to the cars, easy hour and a
half, mile and a half downhill. Well, the way we walk– The way we walk, it’ll
be two and a half hours. Yeah, yeah, right. So we bid you all a [? fun ?]
[? to-do ?] and hope to see you again. I’m Windows to the Wild. Thanks, Tom. Thanks, Willem. Always a pleasure. No, it’s not always a pleasure. Bye bye. [music playing] Support for the production
of “Windows to the Wild” is provided by the Alice J. Reen
Charitable Trust, the Fuller Foundation, the Gilbert
Verney Foundation, and viewers like you. Thank you. [music playing]

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