Michaud tried the police station. "I wanna see that there mountaineering gear," a cop said. The next morning, however, the sheriff sent a forest ranger out to find Driskill Mountain, and soon a troop of Girl Scouts was following in Michaud's tracks. At the summit he climbed a tall tree and demonstrated rappelling for them. Two weeks later the Girl Scouts sent him a packet of letters and a homemade survival kit.
In Arkansas, Michaud made two ascents. No one was certain which was higher, Magazine Mountain or Blue Mountain, both listed at 2,850 feet. Atop the latter Michaud got a little worried for the first time. How will people know I'm really making these climbs, he wondered. He scratched his initials on a fire tower before strolling down and driving to Missouri for a 30-minute walk up 1,772-foot Taum Sauk Mountain. Aren't you bored by these little hills, he was asked in Iowa. "No," he said, "because no two are alike," and it was more than diplomacy. He reached the top of 1,675-foot Ocheyedan Mound at dawn. "It was a great sight," he recalls. "The sun was rising and there was a clean sweep of the state beneath me."
The most frequent question, though, was: Why do you climb? Michaud replied that climbing was like life, that he could take the same route up a mountain 20 times but that each time it would be different because he was never the same. His moods and perceptions changed from day to day, and climbing, he suggested, was a natural form of psychoanalysis. Instead of words to free-associate with there were varied panoramas, and the myriad shapes and colors of leaves and trees and rocks. "Each day is another summit in my life," he said. "Quite often I'm concentrating so hard I'm not even aware of what I'm doing, and I've made many an important decision on mountains that had nothing to do with climbing."
By mid-March Michaud had already done 19 states, but he couldn't afford to dawdle; by fall there would be real mountains and, possibly, delays on account of weather, and if he climbed only 49 the year would have been wasted. Alaska's Vin Hoeman, who was killed in an avalanche on Dhaulagiri in the Himalayas last year, had once climbed all 50, but it had taken him a lifetime.
All-night driving and bad food were beginning to get to Michaud, and he rushed through easy ascents in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. Then he had to pay a buck and a half to a farmer for letting him climb Charles Mound, Illinois' highest (1,241 feet). The farmer's wife, a nervy type, asked Michaud to please send her a stone from each of the remaining summits. In Ohio a security guard accompanied him to the top of 1,550-foot Campbell Hill, which is located on an Air Force installation near Bellefontaine. Indiana's highest was a nameless 1,257-foot rise in a bean and corn field. Michaud climbed it, drove to Chicago, flew to Portland, said hello to his family and flew to Hawaii to climb Mauna Kea.
Mauna Kea may be the world's highest mountain, but this possibility is of interest only to oceanographers, not mountaineers, since only 13,825 feet of it are above the Pacific Ocean; the rest continues steeply downward through more than three miles of salt water. Michaud spent a night at the Mauna Kea Beach hotel, where he got a $68-a-day room, modified American plan, in exchange for the promise of a plug. The next morning he hiked up a dirt road to within 200 feet of the summit, then roughed it the rest of the way. One Girl Scout accompanied him. By now he was getting a little tired of answering questions. "I just like to climb," he told a reporter from the Honolulu Advertiser before flying back to Portland.
Mitch Michaud locked up his home, put his furniture in storage and his wife and two stepdaughters in a 20-foot Aloha trailer, which he pulled with a four-wheel-drive camper. It was April 14. Wendy, 16, and Halle, 17, are students at Portland's Metropolitan Learning Center, where unstructured study is the going thing. The girls' only assignment was to "keep a diary, visit specified schools and exchange ideas and philosophies." Mem Michaud packed boxes of biodegradable detergents for washing clothes in unpolluted streams and leaving them the same way.
Michaud's stepson Peter, 19, also joined the party. He had graduated from Portland's Ulysses S. Grant High School, where he was chairman of the National Honor Society and a straight-A student, but though three universities had accepted him he was a little scared. He needed a year off, he decided, to think and roam, and like many of his generation he had spoken of hitchiking across the country. His stepfather didn't think that was such a hot idea, although he didn't say so, and he was glad to have Pete along.
The two had climbed together since Michaud married Pete's mother in 1966. Mountaineering builds Mitch Michaud's kind of men; he regards it as Rockne did football. However, different sports, different virtues. Independence is paramount with Michaud. "Pete has never let me down," he says, "but you learn fast on a mountain. You can't afford to be a drag on anyone else."
They were all set—Mitch, Mem, Peter, Wendy, Halle and 7-month-old Tym Yvette. It was an opportunity that comes to few families and few trailer dealers. Michaud had persuaded Aloha to lend him the vehicle; it was, Michaud assured the dealer, great publicity. The Michauds motored down to Flagstaff, Ariz. and 12,655-foot Humphreys Peak—No. 20. On May 5 Mitch and Wendy hiked up a snowy slope beneath a ski lift to the summit. Coming down, they filled a large plastic bag with tin cans and other litter and brought it to the editor of the Flagstaff Star, and the next day there was a story. The Michauds were guests on a local talk show, too, and Wendy was furious when the host blithely said: "I see no reason why we shouldn't throw these cans down. In a few years we'll be mining them."