Is there an I in team?

The college experience includes more than just one student, one professor or one friend. College, in most cases, is a group activity. And my group includes a cast of characters I spend a lot of time with: my teammates.

Teammates are like family. You can’t pick them, but you have to love them.

Athletics can make these relationships tough, especially in individual sports where one athlete’s success is automatically someone else’s loss.

We only send six women to each varsity race. There are a lot more than six talented women skiing at Dartmouth.

The worst team squabble I’ve seen was in my biostatics class last year. Three of us, who all thought we deserved the sixth spot, were sitting next to each other when our coach announced the team selection over e-mail.

One of us was named. The other two were not. One girl complained loudly about how unfair the selection was, since she thought she deserved it more. We tried to stay mature, but didn’t succeed. When we returned to histograms and correlations, two of us had hurt feelings.

It’s hard to compete against your friends.

But while we bicker occasionally, most of the time we have fun. Those same two girls and I have been on countless bike adventures, cooked experimental dinners, and helped each other with homework and boy problems.

Some of my favorite experiences at college have been with my teammates.

There was that time when Pat O’Brien’s father picked us up after a ski race and there was a dead deer in his truck.

Katie Bono, who’s from the city, didn’t like that. She’d never seen stiff, bloody legs sticking up from truckbeds in Minneapolis, and she didn’t want to put her skis next to dead animals.

Another time, Pete Van Deventer, Pat and I skied through the streets of West Yellowstone after the first snow, and then snuck into a nice hotel to use their pool, water slide, and hot tub.

I’ve spent sunny days on spring break digging sugaring lines out of the snow at Hannah Dreissigacker’s farm. My summers have passed working with Susan Dunklee ever since she suggested I apply for her job when I finished my freshman year.

I’ve visited my teammates houses and met their families. Susan’s mother sewed me a fleece blanket, and Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess’s mother taught me how to shoot a gun. I’ve seen Pete’s sheep and played Lucas Schulz’s family’s piano.

In short, I guess we know each other pretty well.

It’s hard not to, when at races you cramp seven men and women into a hotel room to save money, and you drive out to Michigan in a minibus together to avoid paying for plane tickets.

You also live with them. Both of my housemates, Kristin Dewey and Nils Koons, are on the ski team. Three other skiers live down the stairs.

For years, our building has served as a hub for the ski team. We gather for dinners, birthdays, movies, and fresh-baked cookies and apple pies. Any team member can sleep on our sofa if their bus gets into town at 2 a.m.

I didn’t know Kristin very well before this year because we’re in different classes and we’ve both had our ups and downs on the ski team.

If I’m skiing fast, it seems natural to spend a lot of time with other skiers.

If I am disappointed and frustrated with racing, sometimes I want to get as far from the team – physically and emotionally – as possible.

As a senior, I am realizing that there are a lot of people at Dartmouth I wish I knew better, and a lot of friendships I wish I had started sooner.

But even if my teammates aren’t the first people I want to see, I know that they will be.

We’ll get together early Thursday mornings for our required yoga class, on Fridays for time trials after we’ve stressed out about school all week, or on Sundays at 8 a.m. for a long workout after we’ve stayed up too late dancing.

And I know that, whatever our differences or whatever each of us thinks is our place on the team at that moment, we will laugh, joke, gossip, and, well, love each other as we ski and run across the Upper Valley.

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the last first day.


Tomorrow, I will begin my senior year at Dartmouth College and with it my final season of collegiate ski racing.

Although winter sports teams can’t hold official practice until the first day of fall classes, the reality is that we are all deep into our training seasons.

Training started in April for me. I began lifting weights in the gym and going on short runs and long easy rides on my road bike. Even though I grew up in Lyme, there are corners of the Upper Valley which are still unfamiliar, and my bike is the best way to find them.

In May the runs lengthened to one or two or hours, often in the hills of Norwich with teammates and friends. We watched the deciduous trees leaf out across the valley from the top of Bragg Hill Road, and we tried to stay dry while negotiating the mud and streams on the trail from Tilden Hill to Beaver Meadow Road.

Summer came and while the sophomores stayed on campus and practiced daily with Ruff, the men’s coach, the rest of us scattered across the country to places like Park City, Utah; Morrisville and Orleans, Vermont; Crested Butte and Durango, Colorado; Worcester, Massachusetts; Bend, Oregon; and a large, green bus or a slim bicycle criss-crossing the United States.

My teammates told me stories from camps with regional development teams, practices with high school teammates and coaches, and visits to see each other.

There is a book titled The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. I haven’t read it, but it must describe my training pretty well, because I never had a partner.

I worked 40 or more hours a week on my senior thesis project, time spent outside observing and measuring plants. It was stressful to be responsible for my own research and results.Training was one of the things that kept me sane.
I’d rollerski out from Crested Butte along Highway 135, starting in the cold at 6 a.m. before the sun came over the hills and before the cars were on the road. The coffeeshop was my reward for getting out of bed, and I’d finish with a mocha before scrambling off to work at 8:30 or 9.

Those early mornings gave me time to think about things at a slower pace, to organize my life, and to maintain an emotional existence instead of becoming a research robot. In the field, the plants had all of my attention; training gave me the time to plan weekends and trips, and to get over it when my boyfriend broke up with me.

Eventually, we started coming back to Hanover, one at a time, to lead freshmen trips or to move into apartments before taking one final vacation. Only a few of us have been here consistently over the last few weeks – those of us with lab or office jobs to pay for rent, tuition, and new skis.

We train in small groups, rollerskiing out along Route 10 after work, or on our own, hitting up our favorite running trails before official practice dictates our routes.

Tomorrow all of this will end. Not only will we spend the day in classes, exercising our slightly musty minds – I’ll be learning about the environmental applications of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) – but at 2 o’clock, we will all assemble in Robinson Hall and do the same workout.

Just like classes, practice means tests. You can no longer fool yourself into thinking that you’re in better shape than you actually are. There are time trials and strength testing, especially in the first week. Maybe you’re right where you want to be, or maybe your teammates are leaps and bounds ahead of you – now you get to find out.

Before the first practice of every year I get little butterflies. I feel like I have to prove myself in these early weeks and I’m nervous for our first time trials. Sometimes I want so badly to do well that I sabotage myself. I know that for me, staying in it mentally is 90% of the race, but even knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to stay tough.

My teammate Minal Caron said, “I was nervous freshman year. But testing just is what it is, and you’ll always have excuses, so I don’t worry about it that much anymore.”

Yes, I’ll always be able to make excuses if I do poorly. Most athletes could take up side careers as professional excuse-makers. But nervousness is another degree of excited, and I’ve always thought that if you aren’t at least a little nervous, then there’s something wrong.

So I’m ready, senior year. Bring it on, butterflies and all.

Weekend Update: Great Circle

Since I just wrote a column about hiking which featured my friend and fellow Dartmouth senior Andrew McCauley, I figured I couldn’t write my second column about the hike we did this weekend. However, it was a really great way to spend my last few days before classes started, so here’s a summary.

Andrew and I had discussed the possibility of doing a Great Circle hike, but things didn’t come together until late Thursday night. When we met up, we realized we didn’t have a map, so we went to Robinson Hall, planned a route, confirmed that I had a tent and he had a stove, and somehow remembered to discuss dinner. We left early on Friday morning to drive up to the Lincoln Woods trailhead.

It quickly became apparent that we had different packing styles. I own one sleeping bag, rated at -5 degrees. I have one sleeping pad, a RidgeRest from elementary school, which is giant and doesn’t really fit in a pack unless you want it to be really tall. I am cold all the time, so I brought a down parka, a fleece, a softshell bike vest, and two long-sleeve shirts. Andrew thought I was crazy, and his pack was smaller and lighter than mine.

We took the Osseo Trail up to Flume, where I was excited to be able to see a view. After being out West, hiking up and up in the trees is relatively unsatisfying. After I looked out over New Hampshire for a little while, Andrew asked, “So, do you want to keep going, or what?” Right. Yes. I need to readjust my expectations back to normal.

Continuing along Franconia Ridge, we passed over Liberty, the Haystacks, and Lincoln before arriving on Lafayette, where we saw two other Dartmouth seniors eating lunch. Sam is a fellow ecology major and Nick had been in my creative writing class. Nick said, “well, you’re a skier, so this must be a piece of cake for you!” Not quite; even though we were making good time, I was worried the whole time that I was slowing Andrew down. Nevertheless, I was flattered by his compliment, because how often does a football player admire someone else’s athletic endeavors? (sorry football players, I know some of you are nice like Nick!)

View from the Lafayette summit towards the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

View from the Lafayette summit towards the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

We continued down the Garfield Ridge Trail and up and over Garfield. “I hate this mountain,” Andrew said. It’s  frustratingly steep on both sides, making a difficult climb up and a slow, sometimes nervous climb down. I’m like a hurdler with a stutter-step on rocky descents like these; even though I know that hesitating will probably increase the risk of falling on my face, I have a hard time committing to my footwork.

After a quick stop at the Galehead Hut to refill water, it was on to the Twinway, 0.8 miles of steep uphill rockwork to get to the South Twin summit. This had been described to me as “a mile of death,” which was good because I expected the worst and it didn’t seem so bad. Hiking along the ridge from South Twin I could sense the alpenglow, but we were in the trees so we couldn’t see it. We headed over the Guyot summit in the last few minutes of light and arrived at the nearby campsite just after the sun went down.

Lucky for us, there was one tent platform left. We made a quick dinner of tortellini and olive oil with side dishes of raw carrots and fig newtons. I was cold, even in my down jacket. Andrew had brought flip-flops and no socks to wear in camp. Maybe he didn’t mind being cold, but I was happy with my extra layers. We had discussed earlier how mountaineers are so soft now and how back in the day people would just hang out in disgusting weather for days and being miserable was part of the job description… Hmmm, maybe I am a wuss…

The bonus of doing a big Day 1 was that Day 2 was easy and we could sleep late. At the leisurely hour of 9, we left Guyot campsite. After climbing up a lot of rock steps to rejoin the trail, we dropped our packs and took the spur out to West Bond. While the weather had been perfect and clear the whole trip, this was the first summit that really took my breath away. It’s in the middle of the Pemi and all you see is wilderness; Franconia Ridge is blocking all the towns and structures on the other side. It has got to be one of the best summits in the state.

We hiked up and over Bond and stopped to have a snack on Bondcliff, the last summit of our trip. Bondcliff was as beautiful as West Bond, or at least close, and the cliffs reminded me of the West a tiny little bit. Except, as we noted when other hikers were afraid of standing out on the rocks, that to get to the edge of the boulders you don’t have to do any class 4 climbing or cross any scree fields.

Andrew McCauley.

Atop Bondcliff (see me?). Photo: Andrew McCauley.

The rest of our hike was downhill along the Bondcliff Trail and then a long flat section along the Wilderness Trail. This was pretty uneventful. We were tired, we’d used up a lot of conversation topics, and the Wilderness Trail has the property of making you just want to get back to the darn car. We did have a great discussion about the merits of hiking and playing ultimate frisbee in kilts and skirts though.

After a stop at Fat Bob’s in Warren to get ice cream, we arrived back on campus. I accomplished nothing that night, and was still tired today; I managed to go to the gym and make an apple pie, but that’s all. Andrew went up to Mount Washington to climb. Shall I say that I admire his energy?

Tripping.

Sometime last week, I found myself running along Franconia Ridge with a half gallon of milk and two ice packs in my backpack.

Me running is not unusual. I am a cross-country skier on Dartmouth’s ski team. However, this occasion was special. Two of my friends, Andrew and Kelly, were leading one of Dartmouth’s freshman trips, spending three days hiking the ridge with a group of seven freshmen. I was attempting to intercept their group to chat with my friends and get to know some freshmen – and play in the mountains.

In my backpack was a gift of my favorite recovery drink: chocolate milk. It has the perfect mix of carbohydrates, which are needed to replenish glycogen stores in muscles, and protein, which speeds this process. I was afraid that the milk would warm from my body heat as I hiked up the Falling Waters trail and ran the ridge, so I insulated the back of my bag with my extra shirt and placed an ice pack on either side of the carton.

The hikers took a lot longer to traverse the ridge than I had estimated. I had somehow forgotten that they had to make breakfast, break camp, and carry huge packs. When I reached the Lafayette summit, I sat down in the shelter of a stone wall and had a snack. About the time I finished eating, I heard voices, and my friends’ trip arrived on the summit.

It took Andrew a moment to realize that I was someone he knew, but then he and the other hikers put down their packs and joined me in the shelter of the wall. As they savored their chocolate milk, we introduced ourselves. It turned out that two of the seven freshmen were younger siblings of my friends, and one would be a future teammate of mine. Go figure.

After spending the summer on opposite sides of the country, I had a lot to catch up on what my friends had been up to. Rather than alienating the freshmen, our conversations ended up being useful in introducing the Dartmouth experience. Kelly was about to embark for South Africa, which brought up the topic of foreign study programs and allowed me to describe my experience in Morocco. Although the freshmen were initially quiet, they started asking questions when we mentioned something they weren’t familiar with. We talked about how to get funding for leave-term internships, how every student should go to lunch with professor Jay Davis, and which parties were best over homecoming. Andrew and I joked about how we had run against each other for the Dartmouth Outing Club presidency, and both lost; then we made a plug for the students to come on more outdoor trips.

Although one important part of the program is for upperclassmen to share advice about adjusting to college life, not everything is educational. The group had shared a campsite with a Harvard trip the night before, and, in true Dartmouth spirit, they had streaked the Crimson.

Hiking back along the ridge, we were offered magnificent views of the wilderness. While the valley towards Kinsmans’ was marred by the highway, Cannon Cliff is always a surprise jutting out from the forested ridge. The view in the other direction revealed no manmade structures, only opportunities for future trips and tantalizing reminders that fall foliage would eventually arrive.  We stopped for a snack and ate local apples with flesh so perfectly white that we thought they seemed like cartoon poison apples from Snow White.

Visiting this group of freshmen made me remember my own trip. It’s something you can’t exactly relive, because you’ll never be in the same place in your life – about to leave home for the first time and apprehensive even if you’re confident – but you can reminisce. You’ll inevitably forget how hard the hiking is with your giant backpack, and how much it sucked when it rained and you fell in that huge mud puddle and then all you had for shelter at night was a tarp. But you’ll remember the good parts, and I still have friends from my trip who I think I’ll keep for a very long time.

Now, back to the present. Senior year is about to begin and ski season is just around the corner.

My first article.

My first article.

Intro….

Oh hello. I’m Chelsea. Theoretically you know me; I’m not quite narcissistic enough to think that if you didn’t, you’d be reading this. cool. glad we got that cleared up.

So I’ve been given a weekly column in the local newspaper, the Valley News, which reaches, according to its website (I am a damn good fact-finder) 50,000 households in the area. The editor gave it a kind of silly name, “School Days.” I’m not complaining though.

Anyway, I am planning on posting my articles on this blog as they get published every Tuesday, and I might add some extra posts as well. So keep checking back, if you aren’t horrifically bored already. Since I like my work better before it gets edited, I think I will post my versions, with (maybe) a link to the published version. That’s the plan so far.