At First Glance They Don't Have a Lot in Common
By Sam Brakeley
This book combines two very different stories.
One takes place between 1775 and 1776 in New York and Massachusetts, and features Henry Knox, then an unknown but ambitious volunteer in the newly minted Continental Army. Knox volunteers to undertake a challenging and dangerous mission to Fort Ticonderoga, which at this point in history is a twenty-year-old French military base in northern New York. There, he is to assess the heavy artillery and return to Boston—where George Washington has the British bottled up—bringing along any pieces of equipment that are in workable condition.
The second takes place in the winter of 2015, in Vermont, where I undertake to thru-ski the Catamount Trail—a rambling 330-mile cross-country ski trail that travels the length of Vermont—in a single expedition.
At first glance, they don’t have a lot in common. But the two resonate closely for me, for various reasons—not the least of which is that long winter journeys such as we both undertook have many of the same challenges and obstacles, regardless of the terrain being covered or how they are accomplished. We both battled intense cold, heavy snow, poor trails, thaws, and many of the other physical conditions that Mother Nature and a rural landscape can throw in one’s way.
Henry Knox was twenty-five at the time of his expedition, and just beginning a military career that would culminate with his role as secretary of war. Additionally, Knox had recently married Lucy Flucker, whom he loved dearly and missed while on the trail. They kept up a running correspondence that would continue throughout their lives, since this was only the first of many long separations.
I, too, at the age of twenty-seven, was facing a separation. My longtime girlfriend had decided to move across the country to pursue her career in medicine, and I needed to make a decision as to whether or not I would join her. Henry’s and Lucy’s thoughts on their separation provided me with some perspective on my own impending one, and I’ve taken advantage of their voluminous correspondence to reflect on my own decision-making process. I’m a passionate—albeit, untrained—armchair historian, particularly of the Revolutionary War era, and have frequently found lessons and experiences that are meaningful for me as I navigate the twenty-first century (which is how I stumbled across a description of Knox’s journey in the first place). For all of these reasons, I’ve chosen to interweave my story with his, into one larger narrative.
Knox’s story is told in the past tense—it happened in 1775 and 1776, after all. My own, in 2015, I’ve chosen to tell in the present, both to emphasize when I switch between the telling of one story and the other, and to dispel confusion, not cause it. I hope that I’ve achieved this result.
Throughout the telling of Knox’s story, I have made liberal use of quotations from a variety of primary sources. As any reader of eighteenth-century history knows, journalists and memoirists of the time were far more creative in their spelling than we are today. I have chosen to preserve as much as possible their unique styling of the English language, and have chosen not to overpopulate their words with “[sic].” Any misspelled words or poor grammar within quotations can be understood to have been the original author’s mistake and not mine.
As always, I am indebted to the numerous historians who have written about Knox and the Ticonderoga Expedition before me. I encourage interested readers to explore my Notes section for further reading.
And finally, while every effort has been made to ensure factual accuracy, it is possible that an error has been made. If so, it is no one’s fault but mine. Please forgive it.
In his author's note Sam Brakeley introduces the two physical and emotional journeys that converge in his book, Skiing with Henry Knox: a Personal Journey Along Vermont’s Catamount Trail.