Moosilauke 2 ways.

Ruff Patterson.

My pain face. Photo: Ruff Patterson.

This weekend I experienced Mount Moosilauke in two parts. Neither was relaxing, exactly, but Saturday was a comfortable kind of work, closing up the Ravine Lodge for the winter.

David Asmussen, an alumni, bucked logs with a chainsaw while I operated the hydraulic splitter. We split and stacked several cords of wood, and he pointed out that I had lifted quite a few tons, so it was all right that I didn’t get into the gym over the weekend.

I enjoyed the harmony of four chainsaws, the splitter, a maul, and the work truck taking away the fruits of our labor. Especially since the weather was decent.

As Hannah Dreissigacker said, manual labor makes you think, but it is not intellectual like schoolwork. You enter a different state of mind as you try to find the most efficient way to complete your task, and it’s a great time to contemplate life.

Our work was repaid with a feast that night: one and two-thirds roast turkeys, stuffing, cranberry, gravy, sweet potatoes, challah, asparagus, potato skins with melted cheese salad, duck with maple-glazed apples, and five kinds of pie (I only tried three).

I fell asleep that night to the sound of rain on the Lodge roof, and worried that at the top of the mountain, the precipitation would be in the form of snow. After only a few minutes, though, the hard work of the day sent me off to sleep, snuggled deep inside my sleeping bag.

The next morning, I ate more pie for breakfast and tried to prepare myself for the days’ task, our annual time trial with Middlebury and whoever else feels like showing up.

I was nervous because three weeks ago, I had come down with a cold.

Being a sick athlete, especially an asthmatic, pneumonia-prone one, is distasteful. I build my life around, among other things, getting out the door to run or rollerski at least once every day.

So I took a few days completely off, and went two and a half weeks without any intensity. Friday, I did my first set of intervals after concluding that I was healthy enough to try. It wasn’t so bad.

Unfortunately, “not so bad” doesn’t cut it when you’re racing up a mountain.

I was given number 32, and started after all the alpine skiers, several mothers, and about half the nordic field.

I started out along the Baker River, running fast on the flat. By the time I got to the first uphill section, which seemed like it was actually a stream filled with rocks, I could see Sophie McClelland from Middlebury in front of me. I felt good.

As I passed a few hikers and spectators, I developed what I would term a “death rattle.” My breathing was even, but not particularly effective as the mucus bounced around my throat and lungs. I crossed the first bridge and turning onto the Gorge Brook Trail. More and more frequently, I stopped to walk in order to negotiate the rocks in the trail without tripping.

After crossing the second bridge and running past Last Sure Water, I began getting caught by the faster runners who started in back of me.

My teammates Hannah Dreissigacker and Rosie Brennan passed me at about the same time as Cassidy Edwards from Middlebury. Although they definitely gave me some motivation to run faster than I could have on my own, when I pushed to keep up with them and run with a pack, I ended up coughing and slowing down.

Climbing up and up through the trees, I thought that each corner would bring me to the landmark I could picture so clearly in my mind: granite steps curving to the left through scrubby conifers, when all of a sudden the view opens up to the sky above treeline.

I glanced at my watched when I finally got to the steps I was looking for: 46:50. My goal time was 50 minutes, but there was no way I could possibly reach the finish in the next three minutes. I still had to climb up to the false flat, cross it, and then make the final ascent to the summit.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t going to get even close to my goal time, I pushed to the finish and finally passing Sophie on the flat. One of my biggest challenges in racing is to continue trying when I know my result will be disappointing.

I think this time trial has something against me. I did not compete my freshman year, because I was running cross country for Dartmouth at that point. My sophomore year, I wasn’t completely healthy, and last year I had an asthma attack.

It turns out that the last time I was proud of my race was in high school.

Maybe that means I’ll have to come back and try again next year – and lucky for the Lodge, maybe I’ll split their wood, too.

Balancing.

I spent a lot of time dancing with Brett Palm on Wednesday.

It wasn’t at a frat party. Instead, we were on wires and logs suspended thirty feet off the ground.

In order to balance, I found myself putting my hand on his shoulder, and sometimes we’d take up a waltz position.

Some of us were skeptical when it was announced that we would be completing Dartmouth’s ropes course. We’d miss our usual Wednesday practice, a 2 or 3 hour rollerski which increases endurance and gives us a chance to work on our technique.

Sure, it would be fun, but what was the point? Shouldn’t we be doing something that would help us ski faster?

(l-r) Sophie Caldwell, Development Coach Martin Benes, Eric Packer, Alice Bradley, Sean Jones, and John Gerstenberger prepare for a challenge. Photo: Ruff Patterson.

We ran out to Oak Hill and counted off to divide into groups of 7 or 8. My group was half boys and half girls, and also half upperclassmen and half freshmen. On solid ground, we practiced watching and checking each other as we transferred our carabiners from one wire to another.

After climbing up a cargo net, our first challenge was traversing four wires with a few square wooden platforms scattered in the middle. Each one could comfortably fit three or four people, and was a diagonal leap from the one before.

After we unsuccessfully tried to develop at strategy for the challenge, Brett Palm jumped out onto the first platform.

I was excited to get started and not intimidated by the height. Using Brett’s arm to stabilize myself, I moved onto the platform. As I landed, it tilted and wobbled back and forth until we had moved to balance our weights. I felt like with one wrong move, I might slide right off.

We huddled into one corner to provide a landing spot for Minal Caron. Then Brett leapt for the next platform.

We tried to keep two or three people on each platform as we moved across,  so that they could use each other for balance while moving.

But at one point, after Brett and I had already reached the other side and were on solid wood, Erika Flowers was left alone on one of the wooden squares.
She looked terrified. “Someone has to come get me! I can’t stand here by myself!”

Our teamwork, frankly, sucked. Looking around, we saw that the other groups had already finished their first challenges and were partway through the next ones.

Rory Gawler, an alumni now working for the Outdoor Programs Office, was our guide. He asked us to think about how we could have done the challenge better; by working together, we could have finished much more quickly.

We did improve over the course of the afternoon. Our breakthrough challenge was one with two large logs, a few feet apart, swinging back and forth.

The first pair to cross, leaning across the void to each other’s shoulders, was Steph Crocker and Wiley Dunlap-Shohl, both freshmen. Steph is over six feet tall, and Wiley is very small. Wiley was nervous and didn’t want to commit to leaning forward; his hips were back and he pulled Steph towards him, almost off her log.

“Put your hips forward!” We encouraged. “It’s just like skiing! Hips up, hips up! Come on, Wiley!”

Despite a few tense moments, the pair made it to the midway station on the other side.

Brett and I went next and we sashayed across the logs in about half the time they had. College athletes are competitive – but more to the point, we’ve known each other for four years and we trust each other.

After Rosie Brennan and Erika followed our example, there were two skiers left on the far side of the obstacle. Without any teammates to support them, Minal and Alex Schulz needed to trust-fall to lean on each other’s shoulders.

Minal was convinced that they couldn’t do it. So Rosie and Erika – who had been so scared before – scampered back across the logs and assisted the boys.

Steph Crocker lends a hand to Rosie Brennan and Wiley Dunlap-Shohl. Or was it the other way around? Photo: Ruff Patterson.

By the end, we were moving faster than some of the other groups.

In athletics, being the best is exciting – but being the best because you have made enormous improvements is even more satisfying.

Do I still think we should have rollerskied on Wednesday? I will admit that I’m nervous about losing those hours of training, but I know that we learned a lot when we were using each other to balance 30 feet off the ground.

Yes, it sounds cheesy, but you can’t be an athlete by yourself. I’m surrounded by fast skiers who have the same goals as I do. If we work together, we can all get a lot faster.

This attitude has been a constant during my time on the team. It makes our team unique and fun – and also one of the best teams in the country.

(more photos can be found here)

Homegoing.

photo: Geof Little

This was the last weekend before Dartmouth homecoming.

It was a coincidence that before I spent most of the weekend elsewhere. But after all, in order to come home to Dartmouth, you have to leave first.
So I went to my real home in Lyme.

We Hanover High graduates are made fun because we could do our laundry for free if we wanted to, but the truth is that most of us get sucked into campus life and don’t spend much time with our parents.

I only go home about twice a term, and it’s usually on a moment’s notice. Sometimes I don’t even bother to warn my parents I’m coming (hi Mom and Dad).

I’m not the only one. A lot of my friends on the ski team are from Vermont and are grateful to be able to go home if they want to.

Freshman Sophie Caldwell headed back to Peru, Vermont this weekend to recuperate after being sick ever since she arrived at Dartmouth.

When Sarah Van Dyke had mono three years ago, she went to her parents’ house in Stowe, because it was nicer to spend all day in bed there than in a noisy dormitory.

Illness is one of the most obvious reasons to go home. There’s nothing quite like sleeping in a quiet house, in your own bed, with your parents and making sure you take your cough medicine and eat enough meals.

But it’s not the only reason we seek comfort outside our dorm rooms and apartments.

Kristin Dewey and the women of the Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority met, greeted, and deliberated over potential new members until 4 a.m. on Thursday and 2 a.m. on Friday.

By the time Saturday rolled around, Kristin wished she could go home to recharge. Unfortunately, our Sunday morning practices made it impractical; while I can drive down from Lyme by 8, she would have had a challenge.

“I think going home on a weekend or something is a really good way to relax and chill out and kind of re-group,” she told me. “I only go home if I have free time to hang out with my dog and my family… I’m glad I live close by.”

Pavel Sotskov’s family just moved from Gilford, New Hampshire to Meriden, where his father is the new athletic director at Kimball Union Academy. Even before the move, Pavel spent the majority of his weekends with his parents.

“I tend to relax more when I am at home – I can sleep in and get a good breakfast cooked. On the other hand, most of the time I don’t get as much work done… I get carried away with stuff I want to do at home, from going to the store to tinkering with bikes.

“If I didn’t live so close I probably wouldn’t go home as often, but I think it’s a convenience that I might as well use.”

As I left my apartment on Saturday, Hannah Dreissigacker asked, “are you going home? I’m so jealous! It’s going to be beautiful up there!”

And she was right. Our family has the kind of house you are probably familiar with: an old farmhouse with a barn that’s sinking into the ground, miles and miles of decaying split-rail fences and crumbling stone walls, and more grass than our animals can possibly mow.

I spent Saturday afternoon sitting in a field across the driveway, with my dog, Bravo (who is only partially mine after four years of college), sitting next to me watching over the farm.

When I looked up from the biology papers I was reading, I could see across the valley to Thetford, where the hills were blanketed in color.

Did I do as much work as I might have on campus? No.

Elsa Sargent would head home before final exams and finish her term papers days before the rest of us. I’m not so focused. To me, mental recovery is more important.

Hannah and I discussed how a lot of students forget that there is a “real world” outside of campus. Maybe going home isn’t the best way connect with the real world, but at least you get out of the Dartmouth bubble.

Hannah hails from Morrisville, Vermont, but her family has a farm in West Fairlee. “It is my absolute favorite place to escape to.  I like going there with friends to pick apples or tap the maple trees for sugaring, and it reminds me that school is not really that important after all.  The only problem is that it makes it hard to go back to classes.”

Right, classes. Maybe I should have spent more time on them this weekend.

We succumb to peer pressure.

This weekend I was guilty of convincing friends and acquaintances to race and support the Presidential Ridge Relay Race.

That’s why, at 3:40 on Saturday morning, I was turning on the light at the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge so we could get dressed and on the road by 4.

And that’s why, at 6:30, Hannah Dreissigacker was laying out some ground rules as we hiked up the Greenleaf Trail to Mt. Lafayette.

“If you have to fart, fart. If someone says drink water, drink. If you have to pee, stop and pee. If you need to slow down, say slow down.”

Noted.

That’s also why a few skiers were absent from practice on Sunday. We needed to recover from the 21 mile effort that left us aching and exhausted. Brett Palm’s foot was so sore that he wasn’t walking, but he thought he’d be at practice on Monday.

The idea for this race originated with Lebanon native Ed Warren, a former classmate of mine at Crossroads Academy. His Tufts Mountain Club hosted the event for the third time this year, and the first since his graduation.

Race teams and support crews from colleges around New England arrived at Crawford Notch early Saturday morning.

At 5 am, it was announced that the course was moved from the Presidentials to the Lafayette – Garfield – Zealand system because of inclement weather on Mount Washington and the ridge.

“Screw this. I just want to do the Presies. We’d be fine,” Brett grumbled. I agreed, but I wanted the sprit of competition, and I didn’t feel like getting blown off a mountain by the wind.

Cars and buses zipped off to Franconia Notch for the new start, music blaring to keep racers awake and energized. We found a station playing the Top 40 from this day in 1984.

The race course was divided into three relay legs, each four to nine miles long, and three competitors had to complete each leg together.

The Dartmouth team, which I was organizing for a third and final time, took a different approach this year. Six of us, mostly skiers, completed the entire route.

Others joined us for the first or last legs, and a few very well-appreciated friends provided us with water refills, Oreos, and dry layers at the handoffs.

On Lafayette, there was snow, enough to come over the tops of my running shoes, and ice covering the rocks that formed the trail. The wind raged, making it even colder. We all fell on the ice, but nobody was injured.

Ironically, our path was marked by the footprints of several of my Outing Club friends, who were attempting a 50-mile hike from Crawford Notch to Moosilauke. They had crossed this summit at 4 a.m., and most of them dropped out afterwards. Without their prints, it would have been hard for us to stay on the trail.

Two and a half hours after we started, we reached the first handoff on the Garfield summit.

When we arrived, we saw support crews from several schools as well as organizers from Tufts who checked every team off as they came through – we were the first. It was strange to see all these chilly faces for only a few minutes.

Hannah Jeton snapped pictures as she handed us Sunbelt coconut granola bars. We tried to change shirts with the least possible exposure to the cold, and then ran off down the other side of the mountain.

Hiking up the Twinway, I lost traction trying to climb up a rock. I was obviously tiring, and fretted that I limiting our group’s speed. “You’re not a slowpoke,” Jeremy Huckins assured me, but I didn’t buy it.

We reached the handoff atop South Twin before our support staff, but luckily Alice Bradley and David Nutt, who were joining us for the third leg, had hiked ahead and arrived in time.

On the cold summit it was another daze of faces before hustling down the other side and out of the wind.

By the third leg, we were all losing spunk, but we were also confident that we had a healthy lead.

We stopped to snack of Clif bars without worrying about the teams chasing us, and admired the foliage that, for the first time, wasn’t covered by clouds. We slipped on rocks, fell in puddles, and ran into branches as our attention to detail faded.

All in all, it took us six and a half hours, and we won, just like last year. With a team of nordic skiers, I sometimes feel like we have an unfair advantage.

Our prize was a pair of giant stuffed boxing gloves. When I put them on and punched a friend’s shoulder, they made sounds from The Hulk like “Aaarrrrrr!” and “You’re making me angry!”

We thought we had been provided with endless entertainment, but mostly we just fell asleep. Anson Moxness was a hero for driving our bus back to campus.

I sometimes think I need new friends, so that we won’t convince each other that waking up at 4 a.m. and wrecking our bodies is fun.

But who am I kidding – I love this stuff, and I have the best friends in the world.