I’ve never hiked. Until I read Dan Szczesny’s travel journal/friendship narrative The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie, I’d never even thought about hiking. What’s to think about? Strap on some boots and hearty clothes, walk uphill. Instant hiking. Simple.
It would be too easy to suggest that this clever book disavowed me of those notions. After all, descriptions of 40-pound packs, muddy trails, and some seriously challenging weather conditions certainly shed light on the difficulties hikers face. But for explorers like Dan and his young protege and friend Janelle, it seems that the best kind of hiking really is simple – or perhaps it’s the quest to find simplicity.
The book consists of a series of vignettes that chronicle Dan and Janelle’s quest to scale the mountains on the “52 With a View” hiking list (a list of New Hampshire locations with the best scenic views). Dan is a seasoned hiker and climber (and author); Janelle is 11, and quite new to the sport.
The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie cleverly educates while it entertains. The end of each vignette is marked by a tidy writeup of that particular trail, including directions and tips. There is enough information doled out about the particulars of hiking – everything from “going” outdoors to choosing quality gear to cataloging the kinds of snacks that help boost and maintain energy – that I feel just about ready to go on my first hike as soon as I’ve finished reading. And I learn some interesting things about what can be found on mountains (remnants of fire stands, groups of tourists, the odd forgotten “souvenir”) and that hikers give themselves great “trail names” (Buffalo is Dan, and Tough Cookie is Janelle).
For all the great information, though, the star of this story is the friendship that thrives between Dan and Janelle. Recounted through Dan’s eyes, one cannot help but feel the various emotions he feels as Janelle progresses through the learning process on her way to become a knowledgeable (and formidable) hiker. He is proud, anxious, worried, protective, and amazed by Janelle – and rightly so – but he also seems careful to let the adventures speak for themselves. He doesn’t linger on learned life lessons for too long, and he doesn’t try to ascribe some grand purpose to his story.
Instead, Szczesny allows his tale to unfold with the same purposeful intent as the steps of one of his and Janelle’s hikes. He lets the many moments of joy – summits reached, creatures spotted – relay their own importance to the reader. The result is that one can experience Dan and Janelle’s journey as it happens, and with all the joy that comes from appreciating the journey just as much as the destination. Here’s to hoping that the end of this book is only the first of many destinations for Buffalo and Tough Cookie.
This book is highly recommended to all readers, with a great deal of local interest and a family friendly story that would be great for a shared read with kids. Griffin Free Public Library is working to have Dan and Janelle visit us next spring to share more about their adventures.