The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie By Dan Szczesny Book Review


Northern New England abounds in guidebooks. Authors of every stripe have churned out guides on every possible subject pertinent to the North Country.

There are hunting guides, numerous guidebooks on fishing, as well as guides to New England’s canoeing, kayaking, backcountry skiing, rock climbing and, of course, hiking. From Thomas Starr King’s 1859 The White Hills; their Legends, Landscape and Poetry to the ubiquitous up-to-date Appalachian Mountain Club’s mountain and paddle sport guides, these works offer a blend of facts and pragmatic advice. Sometimes they include some backcountry philosophy or inspiration. Rarely do they tell a deeper story.

Then, along comes The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie, which is both a guidebook to New Hampshire’s mountain list called the “52 With a View” and a surprising, evocative and compelling story of something very special. Buffalo, a.k.a. Dan Szczesny, has penned the tale of his year-long pursuit of the 52 With a View peaks, accompanied by Tough Cookie, a.k.a. Janelle, his ten-year-old hiking partner and muse.

Theirs is an unusual partnership based on teamwork and bonded by trust and mutual admiration, forged in the White Mountain backcountry. With the trail name “Buffalo,” Szczesny is the wilderness-experienced, responsible adult, but his words leave no doubt that this ten-year-old girl, Tough Cookie, is a full partner in their mountain climbing endeavor. He does not lead her up the mountains so much as he supports and sustains her climbing ambitions. Along the trails, they both grow.

As Associate Publisher of The Hippo, New Hampshire’s largest weekly newspaper, Szczesny is an experienced writer and a known figure among the Northeast’s hiking community. Janelle is a city girl from Manchester, with an abiding love and deep curiosity for the natural world. Together they tell their story and reveal for the rest of us the blessings we have outside our doors and windows.

Szczesny states, “I wrote The Adventures of Buffalo and Tough Cookie not as a definitive guide to this (52 With a View) list, but rather as a story between two friends.” And so it is, but each chapter contains descriptive information on each mountain climbed, trails used, mileage and driving directions. Beyond that, the chapters illuminate the experiences of Buffalo and Tough Cookie on that mountain that trail, that day. As the year progresses, so do these two characters, each in his or her own way.

Every chapter contains a black and white photograph from somewhere along that particular hike. As engaging as they are, these pictures leave the reader wishing the publisher had had the foresight to print them bigger, bolder, and in color – like the adventures themselves. But that minor point in no way detracts from the overall read. I defy anyone not to read this unique book in one straight-through, lost-in-it session.

Scattered throughout the book are five side bars meant mostly for adult readers. These reflections are joyful, if practical, revelations about hiking in the backcountry with a child. Anyone considering a trek with one or more youngsters ought to read these studiously. They are great.

From first page to last, the reader hopes that as Janelle matures and faces all the challenges and experiences her life offers, she will retain her passion for the mountains and her grit at overcoming obstacles. Hopefully, this partnership has many more adventures ahead.

To find out how Dan and Janelle became Buffalo and Tough Cookie – read this book.



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