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.