Over my shoulder.


My friend, inspiration and shrewd strategist, Cory Delavallé indicated to me a few weeks ago while we were hiking Saddleback Mountain toether that it would take roughly 10 days before my body was fully recovered.  Today is day 2 and now that I have actually done this project what it means and what the impact in my life will be is beginning to sink in.  Cory, who is an ADK giant, knew exactly what I needed when he and Albee broke out the north side of Seward for me.  Every step of the way down that deep unconsolidated furrow that they created I was thanking them and my lucky stars that I had such friends.

Years ago, another friend mentioned that when the elderly were interviewed about what they regretted not doing in their lives they never mentioned anything work-related.  They regretted not taking certain trips or doing certain projects.  I love my work but I love doing special projects either alone or with my wife Sylvie and my boys a lot more.

Aside from the planning and training, about which I will write soon, I learned a valuable lesson regarding humankind’s social nature.  We are indeed hard-wired to be socially involved.  One would never expect to find someone indigenous living all alone in the Amazon jungle or African plains.  People, even pre-“contact” Innuit were socially inter-connected.

I conceived this project, put it together and executed it as part of a community.  My closer hiking colleagues and friends, who include the Foundation executive board, has been in on this event right from my first glimmers of an idea.  Jack Coleman and Geoffrey Day were selfless and avid team-mates, running the behind-the-scenes technical aspects and they answered all of my frequent questions about setting up this blog, on-line fund raising, downloading Spot tracks onto Google maps and so on.

Kevin “Mudrat” Mackenzie pulled every string he could to get the message out into the Adirondack print and on-line media and is still working as I write these lines.

Joe Bogardus, who has accumulated a vast archive ( a treasure trove) of personal hiking experience and data regarding elevation gains, distances and times for hiking the 46 High Peaks selflessly shared his data and we exchanged many e-mails throughout the planning phase.  He also joined me for 4 days and 17 peaks.  Incidentally, Joe, at age 65, completed his fifth consecutive single season winter 46 on Grace Peak during one of Project 46’s hikes.  He’s a youngster on snowshoes with the hiking savvy of a wise man.

Glen Bladholm (hope I spelled it right Glen!) is probably the hiking partner with whom I have logged the most miles and smiles, chuckles, laughs and difficult personal life events.  He and Geoffrey Day (Kyler on the forum) did 3 consecutive days including a huge day in wicked weather (Day 4 on Giant-Rocky and Whiteface-Esther).  Glen has the best unintentional comic relief line of the Project, “you know things are bad when you turn the wipers on high as you approach the trailhead”.

Taras “Trail Boss” Dejneka played a huge role in the months leading up to Project 46.  He and I car-pooled from Montreal and we did a lot of really tough hikes together, mentally and physically tough.  He was always game and when the going got tough was always right there, solid.  More than once he drove my vehicle while I slept, having gotten out of bed at 3:30 am after a full day’s work, hiked 12 hours, finishing well after dark and driving home to get up and do another full day’s work.  Taras was with me on Day 6 when we hiked the five Dixes with Joe and Justine Mosher (veggielasagna on the forum).

David Gomlack stepped up to the plate big time for my most demanding hike of the ten. Close to 9000 feet of elevation and almost 50 kilometers (sounds more impressive than 30 miles) of hiking in cold weather on exposed summits in big wind.  David is a fountain of good cheer and is a bottomless pit of humerous commentary and quick repartée and he never runs out of material.  The miles melted away under his endless stream of banter and chatter.  Thank you David for being there, so solid under your pranksteristic and light demeanor.  Thank you also for going in and breaking out Seymour the day before I did it.

Al (Albee) Bernier, who is a rare completer of the 777 list (777 3,000 foot peaks in the NE USA), became a close friend almost instantly we have so much in common, and he ended up joining me on 3 hikes and 11 peaks (correct me if I’m wrong, I’m not checking the numbers). He showed up near dark at the Cascade trail head for our first hike together with a nalgene bottle full of hot tea.  Another one of those little gestures that speaks volumes.

Rik, Inge and friends broke out the Dixes for me and Inge joined me, sort of, on Allen.  After chatting with her near the bottom of the Allen “slide” my step was a lot lighter.  Inge’s bubbly personality and incredible hiking force do that to one.

Boghollow, another great hiking power house and friend, accompanied me through the 4 Sewards and fed me pastrami, Mountain Dew and home-made beef jerky.  As we were early into the very long hike out from the base of Seymour to the gate I said to him, “you better go first or we’re never going to get out of here”.  Back at his truck at 9pm after 14 hours of hiking he handed me chocolate milk, his own home-made oatmeal cookies and a bag of jerky.  These things take on huge meaning at times like that.

Alistair Fraser and I go way, way back to our early ADKhiking days and he came up for some big training hikes and was there, fittingly, on Day 10 for the finish.

Tom Haskins and Doreen Heer should get a whole blog post just for them.  I’m still at a loss for what to say but over the next week will figure out how to put into words my feelings of gratitude for their faith in me, their love and total friendship.  For now just a humble thank you will have to suffice.

Bruno from Fousderando, the French-language hiking forum, and Claude Cartier and Diane Lafrenaye, my brother and sister in-law did a bang-up job of taking my blog in English and creating a very professional french translation. Alex, the creator and keeper of Fousderando even created a special section on the forum just for the Project.  The members of ADKHighpeaks and Fousderando were a source of inspiration when, each evening with my supper prior to planning the next day, I relaxed and chuckled while reading the forums’ posts.

Finally, none of this would have ever happened without Sylvie, my friend, my life companion, and my lover with whom I look forward to the best third of our lives.  Lives which will be spent together in a quest of meaningful and life-enriching experiences (like spending 2 weeks in a pup tent near a mosquitoe swamp studying nature just for fun).  Sylvie was with me every step of the way from the conception to the end.  My next project is going to be helping her conceive and execute her project, whatever it shall be.  It’s her turn now.  But before that she and I will be going to the French Alps to do some……hiking!  Her favorite: hiking and culture, which in french sounds better: “nature et culture”.


11 thoughts on “Over my shoulder.”

  1. Fantastic Neil– congratulations on accomplishing your goal here and thanks for the great photos! Also a big congratulations to your team! enjoy the alps with Sylvie and all your future adventures. your cousin mary

  2. What a fabulous endeavour ! The team makes the man and the man makes the team. A very nice summary of an interesting challenge. Bravo!

  3. We’ll done old friend, I’m glad I was able to play my small part in the success of this adventure. Next challenge will be to find some worthwhile endeavors to distribute the fund raising dollars to.

  4. Merci d’avoir partagé avec nous ces beaux moments de nature, de défis personnels et de poésies sur l’amitié, la complicité et l’ amour. Jean

  5. Neil,
    tout simplement bravo pour ton dépassement, ta croyance en ton potentiel et ta persévérance. C’est inspirant de te suivre et ça donne le goût de réaliser nos rêves.
    Merci de partager ces moments intenses!

  6. Great determination and preparation, Neil. The ‘details guy’ I remember with fondness. So moving to honour Dominic in this way. Winnipeg made you tough! (couldn’t resist)

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