Wish Stories

Donald Takes a Railway Ride on the Edge

There’s something intangible about the mountains that draws people in. Spending time in the mountains is not a hobby; it’s a relationship. And for many, it’s a love that lasts a lifetime.

But it’s not an easy love. The mountains are challenging, dangerous, and constantly changing—perhaps that’s what draws us in. But even with the risks, the beauty brings us back. And a mountain lover will tell you that each adventure leaves you waiting for the next.

Donald certainly falls into this category. He’s spent most of his life facing challenges, taking risks, and having experiences that made him feel alive.

“When I hiked in the mountains, I never cared what the weather was.” He explains. “I went up the mountain rain or shine. That was all part of the experience.”

There’s one mountain that’s been a big part of Donald’s life in particular: Mount Washington, the standout peak of the Presidential Mountain Range, among New Hampshire’s majestic White Mountains. At 6,288 feet, it is the highest mountain in northeastern America. On a clear day, you can see for miles in either direction. But locals and tourists alike can tell you it is not for the faint of heart. The Presidential Range is infamous for having some of the most extreme weather conditions on earth, enough so that mountaineers train on its peaks before climbing Everest!

“I have this memory of standing on the edge of the top of the mountain,” Donald said. “The wind was so powerful you could lean into it and not fall—thrilling!”

Mona and dance instructor practice a move
Mona and dance instructor practice in front of mirror

Donald’s family moved frequently throughout his childhood, and he attended 8 different schools. It was not easy, but having to constantly adapt to new settings taught Donald how to become independent and self-sufficient at a very young age.

Never afraid of taking a risk, Donald joined the US Navy at nineteen. He spent most of his service on one destroyer. After his four years of service, he wanted to pursue something new: an education in forestry. Donald and his wife packed up their old Dodge station wagon and drove across the country to Corvallis, Oregon. Donald found a job with the Oregon State Forest Nursery. But the pay was limited, and the harsh economic climate forced Donald and his wife to return to New Hampshire, where he could get a forestry degree. But when he graduated, there was simply no work for foresters anywhere. So, Donald did what he did best—he kept moving forward. He found a job as a mechanical engineering draftsman, which turned into a career taking him all the way to his retirement.

All through his life, the mountains never stopped calling. He hiked the Presidential Mountains many times, including Jacob’s Ladder, the steepest part of Mount Washington’s Cog Railway. Donald loved camping out on mountain peaks, sometimes even without a tent. He would lay right on top of the snow, wrapped up in a down sleeping bag, staring up at the night sky full of bright stars.

Donald had to give up hiking when his physical abilities began deteriorating from diabetic neuropathy. It has been almost 40 years since Donald has been back to the mountains. He has missed the adrenaline of a challenging hike and the feeling of the sharp wind against his face.

Close up of Monas feet in ballet shoes
Mona poses on the ballet barre
Mona poses in white lace ballet costume

Wish of a Lifetime was honored to help Donald answer the call of the mountains once more.
But this time, he wouldn’t be hiking to the top—he would be riding in style!

The Mount Washington Cog Railway has been climbing to the top of New England since 1869. The historic train takes a thrilling ascent up the mountain all the way to the peak.

On a sunny Monday afternoon, Donald and his close friend Lone took a trip on the Cog. In true Mount Washington style, the weather quickly turned wild and windy, and by the time the pair was up at the peak, they were surrounded by mountain mist.

“The Cog Railway was really exciting,” Donald said. “I feel that my wish was fulfilled… it was beyond my expectations. I was so pleased to be on top of the mountain once again, to see what that feels like.”

In the face of the crisp mountain air, Donald remembered the thrill of the outdoors.

“I felt that same thing when I was up on the mountain in the fog. You have to live your life, at least sometimes, being on the razor’s edge. When you take a big risk, you will remember that moment, over and over and over again. You will never forget it.”

He and Lone explored the Tip Top House, a historic hotel circa 1853. Some people believe this might even be the oldest mountain-top hotel in the world! Donald couldn’t resist walking up to the mountain’s edge to reflect on the adventures he had as a young man.

“Some of that feeling came back to me when I was being pushed around by the wind. I spent a lot of time in the mountains when I could. I never thought I’d be able to see the top of the mountain again, but the Cog took me right to the top.”

At age 86, Donald was having yet another adventure. And his story is a reminder that you can continue to take risks at every age.

“When you are on the razor’s edge, you are so much more alive. I had a little bit of that feeling when I was up there. My legs are so weak, and I was struggling so hard, even though I had plenty of people helping me. I still felt that a little bit. For me, I was taking a risk.”

Shadow of hot air balloon on the trees below it

One incredible story at a time, Wish of a Lifetime is changing the perception of aging—not just how we view our oldest citizens but also how we see and value ourselves as we age.

Do you have a wish you want to realize? We want to hear your story!

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Learn more about how wishes connect seniors to people, purpose, and passions to eliminate feelings of isolation and help them live vibrant, purposeful lives.

All wish activities are conducted in accordance with CDC, state and local health regulations and may be subject to increased COVID-19 preventative precautions as outlined in WOL’s COVID-19 Policy.

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