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A Promise to Keep: My Son's One Year Journey in Honor and Remembrance of His Mother

Chris enjoys photographing the places he visits. He shares these photos as travel articles and also mixes them with creative writing.

Dan Mills, My Son, at the Summit of Mt. Katahdin, Maine

Dan finished the Appalachian Trail on Sunday, July 22, 2018.

Dan finished the Appalachian Trail on Sunday, July 22, 2018.

Update

Dan has completed his through hike of the Appalachian Trail, from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. This was more than just the AT. It was nearly a year-long journey from northern Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico by sailboat and the AT on foot. It was also the keeping of a very important promise.

If you haven't read this entire article before, this update might not make a lot of sense. I encourage you to read on. Thank you.

Chris Mills

July 23, 2018

My Family

Dan in the foreground. Scott in the back with Kelly, his girlfriend, on the right.

Dan in the foreground. Scott in the back with Kelly, his girlfriend, on the right.

A Promise to Keep

As I write, a young man named Daniel Perry Mills is in Lincoln, New Hampshire preparing to hike to the summit of the highest peak in the northeastern United States. Mount Washington is part of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains and rises to 6,288 feet. The highest winds ever recorded on the surface of the Earth swept across this peak on April 12, 1934.

On June 25, 2018, Dan will begin the journey across the peaks of mountains with the names, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and more. But this is only one section of a much longer trail my son has taken. He is now at mile 1,800 on the Appalachian Trail that runs 2,190 miles from the U.S. State of Georgia in the south to the State of Maine in the north.

The Appalachian Trail is only a part of the bigger picture of what Dan has been doing for most of the last year. In the fall of 2017, Dan set sail, alone, in his twenty-six-foot sailboat and headed south from our home in Leelanau County, Michigan. Many weeks later, he drifted out into the Gulf of Mexico.

I’ll leave out the details, but his travels took him to the Bahamas on board the forty-eight-foot vessel of a friend, back to Florida, back across the Gulf, and eventually to Springer Mountain, Georgia, the starting point of the Appalachian Trail (AT).

Dan first began the AT in March of 2008. Our family invested a lot of time and effort helping Dan get ready for the AT. We bought all the ingredients to make high-calorie meals which we would send to post offices in towns he would pass through. His mother and I traveled to the AT in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania where we went out on a day hike to one of the sleeping shelters Dan would eventually reach. We each wrote a letter to Dan, placed them in glass jars, and buried them beneath the shelter.

When his mother and I sent him off on that trip, I knew he would not finish. In fact, he was only on the trail for three weeks when I called and told him to head home.

Breast cancer entered our lives in September of 1998 and remained as an unwanted guest until April 1, 2008. That is why Dan had to come home. His mother’s health had begun to decline quickly. He took a bus and made it home in time to spend a few days with his mom. The last thing she said to him was this: “Dan, promise me you will finish the trail.”

The following March he attempted to do just that, but circumstances again brought him home early, although he did reach the shelter where we had buried the notes. This promise he made to his mother has weighed on him constantly for ten years. Sometime in the next twenty to thirty days, Dan will have kept that promise.

But it is not simply a hike. Dan is making connections between his AT experience and his mother’s fight with cancer. There are parallels between the daily plodding on the AT and the daily grind of fighting cancer. He saw his mother rise up and live fully during her battle. He is discovering a way to relate all of this in writing.

When Dan is finished writing about his experiences over the last year, the reader will know much more than simply what it is like to hike the AT. They will understand the impact of a woman’s battle against breast cancer on her son. The reader will know the pain of a boy watching his mother fight for her life, the pride of a young man witnessing his mother becoming a hero, and the despair as he finally loses the woman he adores and worships.

These final 390 miles are the most physically taxing of the entire AT. While other hikers are frantically packing in the miles to get to the end, Dan is slowing down a bit. He wants to savor the White Mountain experience and hammer out how he will relate all of this to anyone who would like to read his story.

Sometime in mid-July, Dan will climb to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine as the Promise Keeper, the man who endured hardship to achieve his goal just as his mother fought hard to be there for her family for as long as possible.

I am proud of my sons. They have proven that death does not have to claim the final victory.




© 2018 Chris Mills

Comments

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2019:

Yes, I am. Can't wait.

Suzie from Carson City on November 19, 2019:

Wonderful!! Congratulations. You're in for the best time of your life, Gramps!!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2019:

Beaming everyday, Paula. I am going to be a grandpa for the first time in April.

Suzie from Carson City on November 19, 2019:

Chris......This is such a wonderful article....uplifting, inspirational and I must say, it brought tears to my eyes. You can all be very proud. As a Mom, I can feel what your precious wife must be thinking....

Sending you and your very handsome, loving sons, hugs and a huge Congratulations to Dan. Of course you are entitled to beam with pride, Chris!! Peace, Paula

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2019:

Charlie, Thank you for stopping by and commenting on the article. Dan is an inspiring young man. I am proud of him.

Charlie Halliday from Scotland on November 19, 2019:

Chris a very moving, but also a very inspiring story of your sons dedication to keep a promise to his mum.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 06, 2018:

Rinita, Thank you. I appreciate you stopping in and reading the article.

Rinita Sen on October 06, 2018:

Happy to know Dan has completed the trek. You must be so proud! Congratulations to both of you, Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 06, 2018:

Kerry, I remember you. Yes, I will pass this on to Dan.

Kerry Fleet on October 06, 2018:

Hello, my name is Kerry Fleet and I went to school with Dan. Your blog was passed along to me from a friend who told me Dan finished hiking the AT. If you see him please tell him congratulations. It’s such an incredible accomplishment and I’m so extremely happy for him. I’m sure his mom would have been very proud.

Take care,

Kerry

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 23, 2018:

Becky, you understand what Dan has gone through for ten years. This has been on his mind every moment. He could not rest, could not proceed with life until he accomplished this. It is done. What now? I have no idea. It is Dan's life. But I doubt he will stop making his mom proud. Thank you for understanding.

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on July 23, 2018:

Chris, This is so moving, and I am happy that he has finished. I know how the grieving process goes. They promise something and will not rest until they do it. My husband died a year and a half ago, while my daughter was taking her finals in several classes at college. She went to school and aced her finals, because she had promised her dad she would. She got done with her finals and collapsed. Her friends did not understand why she even went to school that week. She had promised him. She is in her final semester to get her associates degree now, and I know he would be so proud of her for finishing. She did have to take a semester off, but made up for it since then.

Her youngest brother just finished getting his associates, in computer sciences, because he had promised dad he would continue on. He is doing well and has even had his classes discounted, because he is doing so well. He will be starting the Bachelor's program in August. Promises to a deceased parent, make powerful motivators.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 12, 2018:

Rinita, You are right that this was, at some points, difficult to write. But it is also a joy to remember the good times. We had plenty of those as a family. I'm sure Dan will be reading this as well as the comments, so he will see your wishes for him firsthand. Thanks for stopping by.

Rinita Sen on July 12, 2018:

I am sure this was a difficult yet proud piece for you to pen down. It was certainly difficult for me to read, being someone who lost both fathers (dad and dad-in-law) to ALS and Cancer respectively. I can totally connect, as I am sure many others can, to the process of grieving and subsequently healing by doing things that they would have loved to see us do. Thank you for sharing this emotional yet strong story. I wish Dan all the best for the remaining part of his trek.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 09, 2018:

Thank you, John. I am very proud.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on July 09, 2018:

What a wonderful and moving true story, Chris. Much better than any fiction. I can't wait to hear that Dan has completed this remarkable journey. Thank you for sharing. You should be proud.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 28, 2018:

Shauna, When I talk to Dan now, I can tell he is finally healing. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts here.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 28, 2018:

What an awesome feat to accomplish! The inspiration for making the trek is so strong. I love that you and your wife sent meals and planted notes along Dan's path. It's almost like you were making the journey with him. I can only imagine how loved he felt with each bit of nourishment and nurturing symbols of support he received along the way.

What an amazing story. I can wait to read Dan's version. Dealing with loss and grief in the quiet and awe of Nature has to be one of the most powerful sources of inspiration on this Earth.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 26, 2018:

Thank you, Gilbert.

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on June 26, 2018:

Together, you formed a very interesting relationship, Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 26, 2018:

Thank you Dora, you are a blessing yourself. Thanks for the kind words.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 26, 2018:

Linda, My sons have come a long way since Sandy passed away. Dan is becoming more focused even as he finishes the AT. This has been a necessary part of his grieving. Thank for visiting here today.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 26, 2018:

Linda, My sons have come a long way since Sandy passed away. Dan is becoming more focused even as he finishes the AT. This has been a necessary part of his grieving. Thank for visiting here today.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 26, 2018:

Beautiful story of a father's pride and many other aspects of a strong family bond despite illness and loss. The hike seems a fitting symbol for your positive attitude toward life. Blessings to you all as you continue supporting each other.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 25, 2018:

This is a very moving article, Chris. I admire the efforts of your son. He is certainly honouring his mother.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 25, 2018:

Sally, Their mom was an awesome woman. She would be very proud of how they are progressing in life.

Eric, you've done these things. You know what it means to achieve these challenges. Thanks for being an insightful and understanding friend.

Delilah, it is a pleasure to have you visit my hub and comment.

Arby, Thank you so much for reading this and for commenting. It is good to meet new friends on HP.

Venkatachari M, We have both been through the valley of the shadow of death. We know the pain of living without our loves. Thank you for being here today.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 25, 2018:

Gilbert, Dan will write the real gem. I may do some more writing about it, but he is the star...him and his mom. Thanks for stopping by. It's good to see you again.

Gilbert Arevalo from Hacienda Heights, California on June 25, 2018:

Chris, it's a gem at the center of a real-life tragedy tale. I wish you success developing the story you're compelled to write.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on June 25, 2018:

This is a very heart-throbbing story. The same is the case with my family. My wife fought with depression, schizophrenia, Diabetes and BP for more than 10 years. She was brave enough to come out of schizophrenia, but BP and Heart failed her in 2012. She died in the lap of my younger son while the elder was himself a victim of anxiety and depression. But, their mother was confident that the younger son will take care of all of us. And, it is true.

I will be waiting to read the story from your brave son.

Arby Bourne from USA on June 25, 2018:

Oh, my heart. Wonderfully written. I look forward to reading more about Dan's adventures.

Delilah from Kentucky on June 25, 2018:

Such an inspiring story, thank you for sharing!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 25, 2018:

I am in awe. I am inspired. I will tell others. I am humbled. Thank you for that.

I am happy to have lived these places.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on June 25, 2018:

Thanks for sharing this, it is heartening to read about the pride you so clearly have in your both of your son's achievements. I am sure their mother would be so proud.