By Philip Daley
As someone who has lived in New Hampshire most of my life, I’ve always enjoyed being outdoors. When my friend James Bode hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in California a few years ago, I followed his progress on his blog and thought how cool it would be to try something similar someday. It was just an idea until last fall, when my uncle Edmund Daley – an avid hiker – died of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). His passing motivated me to make my trip a reality.
I decided to hike the entire length of my home state and raise money for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund, honoring both my Uncle Ed as well as my friend Tommy Chalmers. Tommy was treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for a pediatric brain tumor in 2004 and has been cancer-free for 11 years. Today, he organizes cancer support groups and fundraising events. Since we believe the generosity of others is a big reason Tommy is doing so well today, he and I agreed the Jimmy Fund was the charity to support.
I mapped out a route that would take me 10 days and 215 miles north across New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont – from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border. I’d be hiking 18 to 28 miles a day, depending on the terrain, and camping out each night. Since many of the miles would be through mountains, I scheduled my trip for Sept. 17-26, 2015, and spent the spring and summer getting in shape. I kept track of my journey through a personal blog and webpage, which linked to a fundraising page that Jimmy Fund staff helped me set up.
My family was a great source of support, especially my parents Charlotte and Terry (Uncle Ed’s brother) and my Aunt Rita (Ed’s wife). My mom and dad walked the first few miles with me on Sept. 17, and my Aunt Pat and Aunt Claire joined in. We had a little parade going for a while, but soon they all headed home and I was by myself.
I’m used to hiking on summer weekends with hundreds of people around, but because this was the middle of the week I was often alone. One day, when I was going through the Presidential (mountain) Range, I had six uninterrupted miles of exposed summits and incredible views. It was the most amazing hiking experience of my life, and I thought about my uncle and what an inspiration he had been for me as a man, a husband, and a father.
Even as he endured CLL and other health challenges, Uncle Ed continued smiling and loving life. His devotion to family and friends was unwavering. Whether representing his clients as an esteemed Boston trial attorney, or trying the latest cancer treatment, he never stopped fighting.
Throughout the hike I kept friends up-to-date by uploading journal entries and photos to my blog, and I met up with people like Tommy or James Bode – whose California trip had given me the original idea. My dad joined me on the second-to-last day, which turned out to be the most adventurous. Way up in northern New Hampshire, we came upon a big pile of bear poop. Ten steps from the pile we saw trees shaking and heard the growl of the bear less than forty feet away. As we walked slowly by the trees I could make out a bear behind them, and we were on high alert for the next four or five miles. It was pretty scary.
The trip definitely lived up to my expectations and I completed the goals I set out at the start: I was able to fundraise about three times as much as my goal, honoring both a great man in my uncle and a great friend in Tommy; and I was able to experience some wildlife.
I just wish I had seen the bear from a bit farther away.