It’s been just over three weeks since we returned from Baxter State Park and the official end of my Epic Hike (although it continues, please read on!). It’s been a busy few weeks, as I returned to my job and we took our son Philip off to Hamilton College in upstate New York. And right now our hearts are with our family and many friends in the Houston area – you should all know that everyone here in Boston is thinking of you all and trying to find ways to help. Meanwhile, I would like to share some reflections from this summer.
I love to hike, love the outdoors, love the forests, love the mountains. I love New England, and the Green Mountains in Vermont, the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and Baxter State Park in Maine. I love the Rocky Mountains also. That is why, when I was diagnosed with ALS last October, I decided to hike to raise awareness and funds for research to fight this merciless disease. It’s something I know how to do. I hope to help find a cure by 2020 in tandem with ALS ONE and the rest of the ALS community.
I had never hiked the Appalachian Trail except for some individual mountains here and there over the years, but it’s always been a goal. That is why I decided to hike the final 600 miles of the AT from Mount Greylock to Mount Katahdin. Last October I felt I could climb every step of the way because I was in good shape at the time. However, I had to wait eight months for summer in New England to begin. Over this time ALS affected me; in particular, the left side of my body was weaker. I had to get a foot brace because my left foot was weak and floppy, and a neck brace to support those muscles.
We started on June 17th, and it became clear pretty quickly after the first few days that I would have to scale back my aspirations for the trek. I had to skip certain sections of the White Mountains because they were too difficult. I also had to skip the infamously rigorous parts of Maine, notably the Mahoosuc Range and the 100 Mile Wilderness. But I ended up hiking 128 miles, including Mount Washington, the tallest mountain in New England. I want to thank all the people who joined me on the AT – forty-five people in all! I could not have done this without you, my friends. You have given strength to me and my family, and brought significant awareness to the fight against ALS. We were glad to have the chance to celebrate with you all on a very special evening, with heartfelt thanks to our good friends Audrey Loria and Laura Krotky.
I want to thank all of the people who donated to ALS ONE and who commented on my blog or donation page. Your encouragement meant a lot to me and kept me motivated when I got tired. Finally, I want to thank Bank of America for giving me eight weeks of paid leave so I could complete my Epic Hike, and my outstanding colleagues past and present who have supported me over the thirty years I have been with the bank. My last day will be September 15th, when I will go on long-term disability.
I was disappointed not to be able to hike every one of the 600 miles this summer. To my surprise and delight, however, other people stepped in along the way to hike some of the most challenging sections, including as you know 10th grader Tori Barrow who completed the 100 Mile Wilderness and Boy Scout Troop 507 who summitted Mt. Katahdin. Overall my friends hiked an additional 247 miles of the AT, for a total of 375 miles toward the original goal. But it’s not over! Your efforts are continuing, and I hope that together we can complete the entire 600 miles by the end of this year. Stay tuned to this blog for occasional posts on our collective progress.
Meanwhile, over the past three weeks since we got back from Maine I’ve had a chance to help in the battle against ALS in a couple of other ways. On July 18th Eileen and I were honored to attend Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s signing of the Ice Bucket Challenge Week Bill at our State House, along with Pete Frates and his family, Jen DiMartino from ALS ONE and other ALS advocates. Since 2014 the Ice Bucket Challenge has raised over $200 million for ALS research and care. We were also happy to join in the pre-race dinner for the 125 runners on the ALS ONE team for the Falmouth Road Race who together raised over $250K – we encourage all of our runner friends to consider joining the ALS ONE team next August!
Yesterday, I received an extraordinary gift from Winnie Li, a friend and Winchester High School classmate of Philip’s. Among her many talents, Winnie is a painter. Last month she asked what some of my favorite moments on the trail have been. She then worked from photos to create this beautiful rendering of the Lakes of the Clouds Hut as seen looking back from the ascent of Mt. Washington. I will treasure Winnie’s gift, her kindness, and this memory of a truly unforgettable journey. We wish Winnie the best as she embarks on her studies at Northeastern University.
Boy Scout Troop 507 continues its unwavering support for our family. We are looking forward to Rick’s Fall Festival at Wright-Locke Farm in Winchester on September 10th from 3-7pm to benefit ALS ONE. This family-friendly event, open to the public, is being hosted by Troop 507 and Wright-Locke Farm, and will feature food, games, hiking, raffles and live music. For more information visit Rick’s Fall Festival. We hope to see all our Boston-area friends there, and meet some new ones!