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Storytime: ‘Buffalo and Tough Cookie’ take on N.H.’s 52 with a view

Bunches of blueberries hang on top of Gap Mountain near Mt. Monadnock in Jaffrey. Hiking and gathering wild blueberries is a late summer New Hampshire tradition in some areas.
August 11, 2005
(Concord Monitor photo/Lori Duff)

Bunches of blueberries hang on top of Gap Mountain near Mt. Monadnock in Jaffrey. Hiking and gathering wild blueberries is a late summer New Hampshire tradition in some areas. August 11, 2005 (Concord Monitor photo/Lori Duff)

Despite what the title might lead you to believe, The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie is not really a kids’ book. If you’re a parent looking to create meaningful summer memories with your kids, however, it’s something even better. Written by Dan Szczesny, associate publisher of The Hippo weekly newspaper, the book tells the story of the author’s adventures hiking 52 New Hampshire peaks with a 9-year-old girl he unexpectedly finds in his care. Part travel memoir, part local guidebook, part feel-good adventure story, it’s the sort of book that inspires family expeditions and deep reflection on what it means to be a family.

Szczesny, a seasoned hiker who has trekked to Mount Everest base camp and bagged all of New Hampshire’s 4,000 footers, found his home “invaded” by the neighbor kids in spring 2011, shortly after the death of their grandfather, who had been helping raise them. Szczesny introduced 9-year-old Janelle to the joys of hiking, and after summiting Mount Kearsarge on a cold November day, she was hooked. After a few more hikes, the pair devised a plan to hike all of the “52 with a view,” a list of supposedly easier New Hampshire peaks, all featuring a pleasant vista to reward you for your efforts, in a year’s time.

The scrappy grade-schooler and her unflappable guide proceeded to scramble up the sides of mountains across the state, from tourist-trampled trails to little-known treks, reveling in the simple pleasures of peanut butter and jelly picnics and cold mountain streams along the way.

Janelle, whose stamina will amaze any parent who has coerced, piggybacked and bribed a child up a mountain, seems to gain energy with each peak. Szczesny, meanwhile, gains insights into nature and human nature. Through rain and snow, blisters and back strain, they form a deep connection.

“Spending 24 hours a day with a child, sometimes four or five days straight, alone, working on a specific project, creates something more than a bond,” Szczesny writes. “Sometimes being a family goes deeper than blood.”

The story is told trail by trail, with each one seeming to represent another milestone, another revelation, another reflection on life. Szczesny writes tersely and lyrically, including snapshot-like moments of their long days spent on the trails. There are humorous moments, such as on their very first hike, when Janelle peppers Szczesny with questions: “Is this the trail? Are we hiking?”

And there are touching moments, such as when Janelle tosses a handful of trail mix out to “the gods,” as an offering for her grandfather.

Each chapter is devoted to one hike and each also includes an at-a-glance description of the trail, which includes summit elevation, directions, trip mileage and helpful tips. Even seasoned hikers are likely to learn something in these pages. (Hitting the ever popular Mount Monadnock on a nice summer day? Try Lost Farm or Marlboro Trail for a scintilla of solitude. Or do it like this gritty pair and set out at 5 a.m.)

If you’re not a hiking family, The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie (the duo’s trail names, in case you hadn’t guessed) might just inspire you to try. If not, you’ll relate, at any rate, to the thrill of sharing a deep passion with a child who gets it.

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