Skiing with Henry Knox: A Personal Journey Along Vermont’s Catamount Trail, Sam Brakeley 2019
Sam Brakeley was a 27 year old, native Vermonter, Colby graduate who in 2015 faced a tough choice—-follow his girl friend of 7 years to Utah where she was about to embark on a residency in Ob-Gyn or stay in Vermont where he had developed a construction/masonry company and where his family’s roots ran deep. In order to find the time, solitude, and focus to answer that question, Brakeley embarked on a difficult physical challenge—skiing the length of the 300 mile Catamount Trail from the Massachusetts border up the spine of the Green Mountains to the Quebec border during the coldest part of the winter. He pairs the tale of this expedition with that of a more famous winter expedition, in this case the southern trek of nearly the same length in 1776 when Colonel Henry Knox transported 8000 pounds of artillery and ammunition from Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain to my very own Cambridge, MA where the cannons enabled George Washington, the newly appointed commander of colonial forces to end the siege of Boston that began after the Lexington/Concord battles of April 1775 and force the British to abandon Boston, thought by many to be essential for the colonists’ ability to wage and win the Revolutionary War. Blakeley is at his best in describing the hardships of Knox and his men and the 250 pound former bookseller’s separation from his similarly rotund wife, Lucy who would go on to deliver him 13 children, ten of whom died in childhood. Knox was one of Washington’s closest advisors and friends ultimately serving as the first President’s Secretary of War before he retired to Maine. Blakeley also does a wonderful job describing the harsh beauty of the Vermont winter woods, and the tale of his completion of this journey on skis is truly remarkable. What is less successful is his description of his love life dilemma which never really captured this reader. Spoiler alert: Although the book ends with Sam’s decision to go to Utah with Emily, the final page of the book’s Acknowledgements indicates that this plan didn’t work out very well and he was back in Vermont. Googling Sam, I was able to find his construction company on line in Sharon, VT. It’s still not clear what happened to Emily. This could have been one of those hundreds of “why do I care about this memoir?” situations, but the pairing with the fascinating Knox (who’s commemorated by a stone marker on Cambridge Common where I walk nearly every day) and with my deeply loved Vermont woods saved the book for me.