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Mt. Willard: the Courage to Dream

I'd already said no.

It was too much work; too much energy; too challenging. I was too tired; too many logistics-- hotel, packing, driving...So many reasons to say no.


Under consideration was Waypoint Adventure's annual winter hike to the summit of Mt. Willard. I first learned of Mt. Willard, nestled in the heart of New Hampshire's Crawford Notch, through Waypoint, an organization that runs outdoor education programs for people with disabilities. Over the last year, I've participated in two Waypoint adventures, cycling and kayaking. The Mt. Willard trip, however, was more of a reach for me. From time to time, I marveled with wonder at past pictures of the weekend trip that showed the sparkling snow, the snow-covered trees, the smiles...and the views from the summit.

Yet, I hesitated. I know not why. Maybe it was too close to home for me? As a child, my family would hike in the White Mountains, and every Spring we'd all hike into Mt. Washington's Tuckerman Ravine to ski for the day. Winter is my favorite season-- the snow, the cold, the storms, the night air-- I love it all.

These days, I look out my window in winter and vacillate between joy and sadness, especially during a snowstorm or when it snows. Joy at the magic of winter's invitation to thoughtful introspection; its tranquil silence; its call to enter and experience and delight in the wonder of its magical world. Sadness that I can no longer just go out into its woods anytime to bask in its splendor as it feeds my being, spirit and soul! Perhaps I can, but it's much more complicated and different now. I strive every day toward acceptance. And yes, I do wish I adventured and explored more when it wasn't so different and complicated. I admit that I sometimes-- too often-- lean toward regret rather than acceptance and trying to embrace my new reality. But as Kristina, a new friend from this weekend, told me after she described the myriad of chronic conditions she is confronting, "It's ok, Peter...they don't define me..."


A reality of having Primary Lateral Sclerosis, and probably many very rare diseases, is that there is no roadmap for the future course of the disease. I know only that my physical and perhaps mental symptoms will likely continue to progress; not what they will be or how they will affect me. My symptoms may be similar or different than other people who have PLS. I never know when another window will slam shut.

On February 1st, two days before the hike; that day I was saying "no" to Mt. Willard, I now realize that PLS's war on me was attempting to launch an assault on a new front... my courage to dream...


Then at 11:00 a.m., I received a call from Carly and Dan of Waypoint. "We really want you to come," was their message. "I'll let you know by noon," I replied. I hung up the phone and recalled one of Waypoint's mantras--

Waypoint: where "I can't" becomes "Yes, I can."


I called at noon; "I'm in. Let's go for it." In a moment, my hesitation turned into adrenalin-infused excitement. My sister worked on reservations. Kim took care of the rest of the logistics and was ready to roll, despite having a long, busy week at a conference out of town. "Wow," she said, "Once you're IN, you're ALL IN," she laughed. For better or for worse, that does seem to be true. The next day, we were off!


We arrived in the afternoon at AMC's Highland Center, which would serve as the base and departure point for the weekend. We settled in, had a hearty, delicious meal and retired to one of the community rooms, meeting and sharing conversation with other Highland Center guests. Kim was even taking requests on the community piano!

After meeting the team early for breakfast, we shifted to an adjacent building to make lunches and prepare equipment. We gathered in a circle to discuss our theme for our expedition, and we each voiced our thoughts on what lay ahead of us. We were: Alison, Bill, Bob, Carly, Chao, Dan, Eli, Isabelle, Kim, Kristina, Maya, Oscar, Pierce, Rebecca, Stan, Theresa, and me.


You see, Waypoint is not just about having fun, although Waypoint adventures include it in spades. Waypoint is about growth, learning and self-exploration through outdoor adventure; about igniting the spirit that burns inside each of us; about breaking through barriers to adventure; about meeting us where we are; about helping us believe in ourselves when some of us feel like our world is closing in. Waypoint about freeing what's possible.

Theme for the day: "Yes, I can." "Can" as in:

  • Community

  • Adventure

  • Nature

Our expedition together was about to begin...


Bill and I were in our own sit-skis. One person was directly behind each of us, pushing and guiding our sit-ski, and we each had two people in front of us, each separately tethered to our 'sled,' with different rope lengths to accommodate the narrow trail that prevented two people walking side-by-side.

In front of us was Mt. Willard, and nearly 1,000 vertical feet to its summit. We would be climbing on a narrow, boot-packed trail, which included two stream crossings. The three people pushing/pulling each sled would rotate to allow rest and recovery.


Within seconds of our departure, we were amidst the trees, snow-covered from snow squalls that had passed through the night and early morning hours. The snowy clouds canvased Crawford Notch as the sun began to break through. In an instant I was transported to another world-- to a crisp, pure tunnel of snow-draped, forested branches of Red Spruce, Eastern Hemlock and American Beech trees; the sun's rays working their way to the snow below; and only the soothing sound of my sled gently gliding through the snow. We stopped for a moment-- sixty seconds maybe-- to listen, perhaps even hear, what the forest was saying to us, each of us in our own solitary world for a moment, yet together as one...

The first stream crossing woke me from my trance. When the communal assembly line was ready, Bill was seamlessly lifted across. I followed, fully letting go and fully trusting what had become my new family. A while later, another wider, more challenging crossing was in front of us. Again I let go, listening to the stream's timeless music as it flowed over the rocks that seemed to welcome its gentle caress.

Our ascent of Mt. Willard continued for the next couple hours. Through narrow passageways on a boot-packed trail, I tried to be an active participant in our journey, leaning to help distribute my weight in a way that helped my "mushers." I'll admit that their labored breathing made me wish that I was the one pushing; I tried to accept and let go of that thought.

Onward and upward we trekked, and then, a faint yet bright light that looked like a train coming at us began to appear in the distance. It grew bigger and brighter with each step as we approached; voices ahead seemed to be louder and vociferous. And then, we emerged from our tunnel to be greeted by the summit and its expansive, dramatic, striking panoramic view of Crawford Notch, the cliffs of Mt. Webster, Mt. Jackson, Mt. Eisenhower, and even part of Mt. Washington! I was overcome with so many thoughts and emotions, from how lucky I was to my disbelief that I was actually here. I hid a tear.

Over the next forty-five minutes or so, we each absorbed the moments together and individually, in silence and conversation, however we wanted, taking in the majesty of it all. After sandwiches, hot chocolate and ginger snaps, we quietly prepared for our descent and entered the trees.

We decided to have a bit of fun on the downslope. The system is a bit different while descending; Dan was behind me holding the sled, but instead of having 2 "pullers" in front of me, the ropes were held by Eli, who was behind Dan, acting as a sort of safety and to help with steering. "I kind of feel like sending it," Eli said. Well, that was all I needed to hear! "Send it!", I ordered. We let gravity do its thing, and with Dan and Eli running behind me-- the banked turns allowed me to shift my weight to help smooth out the banked turns. What a thrill, and the sensations of what seems like long ago came rushing back: a mix of skiing, cycling and bobsledding all in one.

So our descent was quick and different, but no less magical. As we neared the end of the trail, we got a bit uber-aggro on a hairpin turn and one of my skis bumped up against a rock, causing a piece of one of the bindings to come loose. But after a bit of finesse and ingenuity, we emerged from the forest and were back at Highland Lodge.


After detaching Bill and me from our sleds and breaking down all the gear, we all had a chance to decompress in the afterglow for a while before gathering for dinner. Later, we all gathered in the Shapleigh Bunkhouse for our final debrief circle, where Carly asked each of us to reflect on the day, inviting each of us to share our thoughts. She then led us through a closing exercise that encouraged us to creatively decorate a can (as in "Yes, I can!) that we could take with us as a memento. I am looking at such mementos as I write.


It is now two days off our weekend, and I still find myself replaying the many extraordinary moments and gifts from our adventure to the summit of Mt. Willard-- the friends, community, lessons, exploration, newness, triumphs, joy, spirituality-- the magic.

For me, my overarching gift from the weekend-- the gift from Waypoint and from Alison, Bill, Bob, Carly, Chao, Dan, Eli, Isabelle, Kim, Kristina, Maya, Oscar, Pierce, Rebecca, Stan, and Theresa-- the gift I hope to have with me forever...and to eternally protect that sacred the Courage to Dream...


When I am Among the Trees

Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”






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5 Yorum

Luke Quinn
19 Şub

Send it!!!!!!!!!


08 Şub

Dad this is so awesome!!! So happy for you


Carolyne Cooper
Carolyne Cooper
08 Şub

Pete you are one of a kind!


Martha Dutton
Martha Dutton
08 Şub

OMG Pete! Imagine if you had said "no"!? And it would have been understandable, to me.

But WOW. Just Wow. Remember to not hide the tear next time. I have many tears of joy and awe from this.

Reminds me of Jessie's sled-ski that I was blessed to be a part of.


08 Şub

Amazing on so many levels. I ache for you but also embrace your joy. Give you and Kim—and Waypoint—so much credit. Love you!

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