At Dave Fatula’s High School, cross country wasn’t an option. He didn’t have access to hiking or trail running communities. But that didn’t stop him from taking to the woods and creating his own paths for exploration.
A Born Explorer
Dave remembers leaving his suburban community along the southern coast of Connecticut and moving 30 miles inland toward the state’s capital. But, mostly, he remembers the way it made him feel not to be able to sneak into the woods and explore.
“I found hiking–well, exploring really–when I was younger. I loved being in the woods as a kid,” recalls Dave. “In high school, my friends and I would cut trails in the woods behind my house. We made a campsite with a fire pit.”
Eventually, that interest in pushing the limits of what his parents would let him do–and his physical limitations–led him to a Mount Washington summit attempt in high school. Dave doesn't remember if he and his friends even made it to the top, but he vividly remembers how racing down Lion Head made him feel.
“It was euphoria. I felt a freedom, or freeness, I never experienced before,” Dave said of his first descent from Mt. Washington. “At that moment, I was limitless; nothing else mattered. I wasn’t thinking about the outside world; I had to focus on the trail. There is nothing in your way, no one to stop you, nothing wrong. I loved it.”
Left: Young Dave (white shirt) playing in the woods behind his childhood house. Center & Right: Teenage Dave on a family trip to Alaska.
When Dave went to college, he didn’t have a car and couldn’t access that feeling again until he learned about a school ski and snowboard club. He joined the club for several outings and found that feeling again. He liked the idea of a group activity–something to be shared with friends–that also offered some individuality.
“I thought snowboarding was my serenity,” Dave explained. “There’s freedom in snowboarding because you’re in the mountains and focused on your line, nothing else. Once I got back into hiking and trail running, I realized the mountains were my serenity. It didn’t have to be just snowboarding.”
Several years after college, Dave reconnected to the woods outside of snowboarding. He signed up for an obstacle course race (OCR), the Tough Mudder event at Mount Snow in Vermont. It was a 10-mile mountain run with several obstacles along the way. This event–nearly two decades after he and his friends cut their first trail–introduced Dave to the trail running and hiking community.
“I loved doing that race so much; I became an OCR enthusiast. Then beyond the sport, I started finding ways to get involved in trail running and hiking in my local area,” said Dave. “It took me until then, seven or eight years ago, to get fully back into nature. But I’m so glad I did.”
To read more about how and why Dave founded Guineafowl Adventure Company, check out his bio.
Dave’s Favorite Hike in the Whites
Without hesitation, Dave’s favorite hike (or trail run) in the White Mountains–perhaps in the world–is the Pemi Loop, a 30-mile loop in Pemigewasset Wilderness. The route takes adventurers on a grueling 10,000 ft of climbing across at least eight of the New Hampshire four-thousand footers in the White Mountains. As soon as Dave heard about this route, he wanted to try it.
Dave loves this loop for a few reasons. First, it includes some of the most scenic trails in the White Mountains, including Franconia Ridge, Mt. Lafayette, and Bondcliff.
“It’s a beautiful, vast wilderness,” Dave says with a grin of remembrance. “If you don’t get out that far, those views and the awesome feeling of being a small piece in a big world isn’t attainable. There’s no easy way to get to Galehead Hut or Bondcliff. You have to work hard and be committed to the trail. That’s what I love about it.”
Most hikers complete a Pemi Loop in three days, staying overnight at tent sites on the trail, and/or the Galehead Hut for a more full-service approach–a perfect weekend backpacking trip. But the first time Dave took on the Pemi Loop, he and his friends finished 30 miles in one day. He trained for more than a year to prepare his body to run the entire loop. Now, he runs the loop at least once a year.
For adventurous and fit hikers looking to take on the Pemi Loop, it starts and finishes at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead, near Loon Mountain.
Left: The suspension bridge over the Pemi River at Lincoln Woods. Center: The approach to Mt. Bond on the Pemi Loop. Right: Dave shows his love to Bondcliff, his favorite section of Pemi Loop.
First Time on Pemi Loop
A year after hearing about Pemi Loop from a fellow trail runner, and a year after committing to training up to running 30 miles in the woods, Dave and two friends ended up in the Lincoln Woods parking lot.
“Originally, we had hoped several friends would do this run together,” Dave remembers of his first time completing the Pemi Loop. “It ended up just being my friend Lisa, her friend Serra–who I was meeting for the first time–and myself. The three of us ended up having to work together more than we expected, and I was glad to have the company.”
The trio started their run in the early morning, giving them plenty of time to cover the miles before nightfall. Nine miles into their journey, just after summiting Mt. Flume, Mt. Liberty, Little Haystack Mountain, and Mt. Lincoln–nine miles into the run–the group faced an unexpected summer storm along the ridgeline.
“We were hit with sideways rain and heavy wind,” recalled Dave. “There was nowhere to hide above the treeline on the ridge, so we just had to push through and get back below the treeline as fast as possible. There were times when it was challenging to keep moving forward in a straight line; the wind pushed us all over the place.”
Several miles later, just before summiting Mt. Garfield, Dave and his friends encountered a group of hikers. The oncoming hikers passed them and joked, “You guys get to run down the waterfall.” Dave thought the hikers were making a tall tale of the trail conditions. He was wrong.
“We summitted Mt. Garfield, came around the corner and were like ‘holy shit’,” jokes Dave. “It was cool looking, but it really was traversing a waterfall on the backside of Garfield.”
Left: Dave poses behind the Lincoln Woods trail sign before his first trek around Pemi Loop. Center: Dave and Serra embrace the challenge of traversing down a waterfall that formed on the trail after a rainstorm. Right: Near the edge of Bondcliff, Dave takes in the scenery on his favorite section of the Pemi Loop.
Luckily, by mile 20, as the group neared Mt. Bond, the sun came out to bid the group farewell in their final miles of the loop. The weather made Dave’s first run of Pemi Loop even more memorable.
Being the first time on this loop–and to do it under the weather conditions–made it even more magical,” said Dave. “I make a trek to Pemi Loop every year, that’s how special it is to me. And so far, I’ve had better weather than that first run.”