The Gift of Eileen - Whiteface and Passaconaway

Submitted by Nancy

Mountains: Whiteface (4020) and Passaconaway (4043)
Date: September 13, 2009
Time: 9 hours
Miles: 11.9 miles
Steps: 29,722
Elevation Gain: 3,747 feet
Trails: Dicey's Mill Trail, Rollins Trail, Blueberry Ledges Trail
Dejah: 34 and 35 of 48

Picture Gallery

"Your spirit will live on in me, cheering me on!"
          Eileen Scannell in a letter written to Pat and I

Each of us has a spark of life inside us, and our highest aspiration ought to be to set off that spark in one another.
          Mark Albion

Once you've found your own voice, the choice to expand your influence, to increase your contribution, is the choice to inspire others to find their voice.
          Stephen Covey

Live your life from your heart. Share from your heart. And your story will touch and heal people's souls.
          Melody Beattie

Eileen is like fireworks. You know those fireworks that go off in a series of bursts? I looked them up on a fireworks website. They are called multi-break shells. A burst of bright colorful stars come out with a bang that ignites another burst of stars, birthing even another colorful shimmering burst of stars. What I love about these is that you never know how many star bursts are in there and I oooohhhhh and ahhh a bit louder and with more surprise and delight with each one.

Eileen has climbed 27 (maybe more now) 4,000-footers since she saw our presentation in March. And each time she regales us with a hike story on our hike up Passaconaway and Whiteface, I feel like I am seeing another colorful burst of Eileen shooting out into an evening sky, lighting up the world. I don't know how many colorful hiking bursts she has in her - but Pat and I are cheering her on.


The first time I meet Eileen she has tears in her eyes. Pat and I had just given our very first "It's Not About the Hike" presentation, sharing our hiking journey with about 30 people at MoCo Arts Wellness Center on a Saturday morning in March. This very pretty woman with red curly hair comes up to me after most of the audience had left, tears ready to spill onto her cheeks, and tells me how she happened to be here. She said she was collecting newspapers to take to the dump that morning and paused to read the story about our presentation in the Monadnock Shopper. She said she knew immediately she was supposed to go, but it started in 25 minutes in Keene. She lives in Northfield, Massachusetts. She googled directions, drove to Keene, and arrived 17 minutes late. She said our presentation touched her in a very deep way. I remember feeling awed by whatever that greater power is that guides us to the next open doorway. The following day we received a 4-page letter via e-mail from Eileen.

"I feel so blessed to have serendipitously discovered you both and I think it was divine intervention or something that I allowed myself to be spontaneous and late! I was filled with a sense of joy, hope, gratitude and inspiration that is hard for me to really express on paper. Suffice it to say, I cried more on the way home. Not tears of sadness, but tears of gratitude. …After your presentation, instead of feeling just good, I was pumped! Exhilarated! Inspired as I have never been so inspired in my life!!!!!!!"

The presentation itself was born out of that same feeling Eileen had -- the feeling WE were supposed to do something. We had been talking about putting together a hiking presentation, but we were too busy hiking to spend the necessary time to do that.

Sarah Ban Breathnach says "Our deepest wishes are whispers of our authentic selves. We must learn to respect them. We must learn to listen."

We didn't listen. So the whispers got louder. We got injured. Both of us. At the same time. Pat injured her Achilles tendon, I pulled a calf muscle, and we couldn't hike. So we had plenty of down time to develop the presentation. I thought it was going to be easy putting it together. I mean we knew the title -- It's Not About the Hike. And we knew we wanted to talk about what our journey has meant to us personally. But it was far from easy. It was actually excruciating. I remember sitting with Pat at my dining room table trying to choke out how I felt about our hiking. It is deep stuff. In my heart stuff. I did not realize how deeply I had been touched by our hiking journey until I said it out loud. You know how that happens. You think something inside and it feels right, but then you say it out loud to someone, it is a completely different experience. First of all - it is harder to say the words than it is to think them inside yourself. And when you say them, you find out if it is true and you find out how deeply you feel about it. It was painful to share that deeply, to feel that deeply. It hurt to say the words. We cried. That was hard enough. Then we had to find a way to put those feelings into a presentation we would share with the world. And then we had to practice it until we could say the words without crying. We still get emotional sometimes but how can we not? The journey is too close to our hearts to not feel it.

About three months after we gave that first presentation we heard from Eileen. On Saturday, June 13th at 11:04 PM Eileen e-mailed us that she had just "bagged" her first 4,000-footer! She hiked Hale with a AMC hiker named Bob Humphrey, an inspiration himself, who continues to fan Eileen's hiking fire with his hiking stories and his love of the mountains. She wrote in her e-mail:

"As of today I have a new goal:) It is all due to you and Pat fanning those embers in me that burst into flame when I met you both.

walking in the light,


Ever since that e-mail, I knew Pat and I were supposed to hike with Eileen.

On September 13, we head up the Dicey's Mill Trail together - Pat and me and Eileen. What a reunion! It has been so exciting, sitting on the Internet sidelines, receiving her e-mails about her hikes. But now we get to hear her stories first hand.

On the way up Eileen shares her amazing hiking journey. She started by signing up with the AMC, doing smaller hikes and then quickly graduating to 4,000-footers. She hikes with the AMC, with new-found friends, and solo. Nothing stops her. If she gets screened out of one trip, she finds another, or hikes by herself. She immerses herself in the hiking and is filled with joy. You can't help but feel it when you are with her. She says she has been a caregiver and spent much of her life caring for others. Now, she tells us, it is her turn. She says, "Maybe it is selfish, but I am doing this for me."

As we get close to the top of Passaconaway, Eileen tells us of a Bob Humphrey tradition. If a hiker has not been on a particular summit before, the group lets them go ahead so they can stand on the summit first. I love that. Both Pat and I step aside to let Eileen bag Passaconaway first.

Her passion is palpable as we hike the ridge between the mountains. We reach our special lunch place, a spot where Pat and I sat and enjoyed our very first lunch on our very first 4,000-footer hike. We sit on the same warm rock where we can see Passaconaway on the left and Whiteface on the right, and an incredible view directly in front of us. We take our boots off and wiggle our toes, just like Pat and I did the first time. It is special to share this spot with Eileen.

We drag ourselves away from the rest and head to Whiteface summit, take pictures and continue on to the ledges. It starts to spit rain when we get there and I am a bit nervous about those two places that scared the begeevies out of me the very first time I climbed Whiteface. But they are a cinch. We continue to learn about Eileen's experiences and with each story I am more impressed. She is on fire! There is absolutely no stopping this girl. She will be done her first round of the 48 in no time and I am sure she will move on to the 67 in New England, or start her second tour of the NH Whites. I can't wait to applaud her at the 4,000-footer awards ceremony. She is definitely on her own grace wave and is so full of happiness and excitement and enthusiasm for her hiking that it just oozes out of her pores. We arrive back at the car nine hours after hitting the trailhead, and get home three hours later, feeling completely full of the experience.


Listening to Eileen talk about her hiking journey, like watching fireworks, is a pretty special experience. It is even more special for me because I played a part, albeit small. Pat and I were sparks. Eileen was already packed with all the special "hiking" stuff, her fuse just waiting for a spark. Pat and I lit Eileen's fuse and that is all it took. Now we get to watch the spectacular show. As Eileen hikes and shares her experiences with others, maybe she will light someone else's fuse. And the gift goes on and on...

You know, I want to feel like I am making a difference in the world. I want to inspire others by being fully who I am. Giving the presentation allows Pat and I to make our journey and what we have learned available to others. Eileen was there, hungry for whatever she would devour at this presentation that she felt drawn to. Her fuse was ready to be lit. What a gift to be the fire-starters, and to know we made a difference in her life.

We have given our presentation 19 times to approximately 700 people. Maybe some of those people were there because they heard the whisper inside themselves and knew they were supposed to be at the presentation. Maybe they too had a fuse, ready to be lit. At the end of the presentation I say: When we share our journey and our joy with others, when we cheer others to the rim of the Grand Canyon or to the summit of a 4, just doesn't get any better than that.

Perhaps I should add...when we are the spark of life that sets off doesn't get any better than that.