In defense of hanging out

At the farm earlier this spring: (l-r) me, Audrey Weber, Julie Carson, Katie Bono, Courtney Robinson, and Hannah Dreissigacker. from Julie's camera.

At the farm earlier this spring: (l-r) me, Audrey Weber, Julie Carson, Katie Bono, Courtney Robinson, and Hannah Dreissigacker. from Julie's camera.

I celebrated the beginning of Memorial Day with a few friends, eating brunch on the porch of their apartment. Audrey Weber introduced us to homemade pannekoeken, the Dutch pancakes which resemble overgrown popovers but are even more delicious than that description might suggest, especially when doused in maple syrup.

We accompanied this treat with fresh orange slices and grapes, which Laura Spector said she had been wishing for all weekend during her long workouts in the hot weather. Well, mission accomplished.

I was in the midst of planning a bike ride up to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge for dinner later in the week. Audrey offered to drive up and give me a ride back, since she recently had shoulder surgery and is mostly stuck biking on rollers for her workouts. But, she said, “I’ll be busy, it’s my last week of hard work…”

…. in college. Ever. We looked at each other, each thinking about what that meant. Then we shrieked. Two men walking past on West Wheelock Street looked around, wondering where the noise had come from.

It’s predictable, I suppose: we have known for moths that all this was ending. But only now, when it is really, really ending, are we beginning to realize what it means, how our lives will change, what we will miss.

Because how many more brunches can we have like this? We talk all the time about how often we will visit each other, how we will race the Alley Loop in Crested Butte together in two years, how we will sit on a porch in rocking chairs when we’re seventy, and all have short haircuts and gray rat-tails.

Maybe these dreams will pan out. Maybe, two years from now, Courtney Robinson will skip a few days of dental school, and I’ll leave my Vermont home and my new ski team to fly out to meet her in Colorado for the Alley Loop. Maybe our friends, to whom we’ve suggested the idea, will jump on board and use some vacation time. Maybe Courtney will strap on her Rossignols and me my Atomics, and we’ll chase each other in loops around the snowy streets. Maybe we’ll win, but probably not (after all, there’s usually a few Olympians in attendance). Afterwards, we will enjoy the beer tent provided by New Belgium Brewery, and the free pizza from the Brick Oven. I can already taste it….

In a way, this particular dream is perfectly emblematic of my state of mind: in this vision of the future, I bring the people I think I will miss most to the place I think I will miss most.

Because that’s what the future is, an opportunity. Right?

We swear it will be. We promise that we’ll see each other all the time, that the fact that Audrey, Hannah and I are going to keep racing next year means that maybe we’ll all swing through the Front Range to see Courtney.

But at the same time, we know that we don’t know the meaning of that word, “opportunity.” The future is different from the present, and while it will be populated by the same friends, it will also be populated by new friends, new responsibilities, and new possibilities we can’t even imagine. Next year, our teammate Sarah Van Dyke will be in China. How does that fit into our imagined concept of “opportunity”?

And so, in the meantime, we try to do absolutely everything in the last few weeks of school. There’s a push and pull between the sense of urgency to do as many fun things as possible, and the recognition that we have to sit back, relax, and finally just enjoy being here without worrying about how many things we can fit into a day.

Driving back from a ski race in March, Courtney and I made a list of things we were going to do in the spring: spend a weekend in the Second College Grant, drive up to Quebec City, traverse the Presidential Ridge. We haven’t accomplished many of them, but there’s still time. That’s why I’m riding to the Lodge. It will be one box checked off the list, but more importantly, one afternoon I spend with my friends doing what we love.

Between adventures, we’ll keep cooking brunch and grilling bratwurst and corn on warm evenings.

And we’ll still harbor the dream that in fifty years, we’ll all be safe and healthy and wealthy enough to retire and sit in those rocking chairs, looking out at some mountains, and shudder about how we thought it would be funny to have rat-tails, back when we were in college.

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First OD of the year!

As you may have noticed from my last few columns, I love road biking. It’s an ideal activity for early spring: easy, fun, and we get to ride far and fast and see different corners of the Upper Valley.

It’s ideal, too, because in the summer and fall we will focus on ski-specific training: running, but also lots of rollerskiing and bounding with poles. It’s good to avoid those activities early on so we’re not too sick of them by the time September rolls around.

However, in the middle of the spring, training begins to become less carefree. Yes, I’ll still ride my bike. But face it: you can ride a bike for 3 hours as many times as you want. While you’ll be tired at the end, it’s still a lot easier to ride a bike for three hours than it is to run for three hours.

On the other hand, doing intervals on a bike is pretty tough. Because your upper body is stable, your legs have to be working hard to raise your heart rate. Imagine riding a bike at threshold for 25 minutes. To get your heart rate to threshold – for me, 170 beats per minute – you have to be riding aggressively up a steep hill. Now find such a hill that lasts for 25 minutes. You begin to see where (part of) the problem lies.

So there is a moment every spring when real workouts become a necessity. We start adding: first, maybe one threshold session a week, and one really long session that isn’t on a bike. Then we start adding the max interval sessions we’ll include in our training for the next eight or nine months.

Usually it’s a bit of a shock. I am so used to training all year, training 15 or 20 or more hours per week, that I expect that I can do anything. I won’t really be that tired after intervals, will I? Why would I bonk on a long run? We do this all the time! But being accustomed to one-hour runs and easy long bike rides does not prepare you for harder training days.

And so it was with some trepidation that I set off running on Saturday. My teammate Katie Bono and I had decided to do our first long run. We were joined by our teammate Julie Carson and her boyfriend, Mark Davenport, who may not have realized what we were up to: he didn’t bring water, unlike us girls who modeled our stylish hip-belts.

We slowly jogged across the bridge into Norwich, and by the time we started up the hill on the other side, Julie and Mark were out in front. I smiled to myself: I was in for the long haul, mentally alternating between purposely going easy and refusing to think about how long we would be out.

We ran up the Ballard Trail from the Norwich pool. It was beautiful and quiet in the woods, with the ferns still unfurling and the trees just sending out bright new leaves. In places we had to jump along the side of the trail to avoid submerging our sneakers in mud, and in others we had to climb over and through broken tree tops which had fallen across the trail.

By the time we got to the end of the trail, on Beaver Meadow Road, we had already been out for the time of my longest previous run all spring.

As we started up Tucker Hill Road and Julie and Mark once again took off. Katie and I shuffled along, chatting about how this was one of our favorite roads to run on. The views were beautiful as always, and I daydreamed about how much I’d like to live in any house we passed. Or, as I told Katie, in any of the barns. Imaginary house-hunting is a great way to occupy time on long runs.

We girls said goodbye to Mark when we turned onto the Burton Woods trail. None of us had run it before, and we soon realized that the first mile of trail was entirely uphill. I picked my way around the spring stream that ran down the trail, leaving the surroundings mucky and wet, and hiked a few steep spots where the bedrock was exposed. Katie tripped over a down log and joked that her coordination was disappearing as she tired. We laughed, but all knew it was true; the same thing was happening to each of us.

We hit the Appalachian Trail in a small clearing, where a sign pointed south to Podunk Road (1.8 miles) and north to Elm Street (3.5 miles). We ran toward Norwich. It was one of the trail sections I am most familiar with, since it’s so close to campus, but at the same time, it is one of the sections I understand least. So much looks the same. The obvious landmarks are only close to the end.

And so while the forest type changed from hardwood to pine and back again several times, we wondered how close we were actually getting to Elm Street. It was at one of these transitions to a dark, pine forest where the ground was soft and muted the sounds of our footsteps that I realized I was tired.

I wasn’t bonking, no. But while only a few minutes before I had been bounding over rocks and logs and roots, I could feel that my pace had slowed. I was more apt to walk a few steps up a steep section. It was more of a chore to stride out the flat parts. It was more dangerous to run freely down the hills, because I was starting to trip over things. My curiosity and energy were dampened just like the sounds of my feet, but Katie and I kept talking, discussing the subtle psychology of training in groups.

At the same time, Julie was developing blisters. Mark had drank half her water before he left us, and she was out. She lagged behind and stopped talking. I worried, sometimes slowing down to let her catch up, sometimes trying to draw her into the conversation. But it was fairly useless. Julie was in her own world.

We finally crossed the powerlines, and then the stream that told me we were only minutes away from Elm Street. I have an incredibly distinct memory of running up the hill from that stream with Kristina Trygstad-Saari, class of 2007, on a fall day two years ago. I wondered why the memory was of that place and not some other along the trail.

As we ran up the long hill into Hanover, we could smell the pig roast at Theta Delt, a fraternity on West Wheelock Street. It was a reminder of how different we might be from the rest of campus: on this Green Key party weekend, our classmates were wearing sundresses and had probably only woken up a few hours earlier. We had been running for three hours, and were drenched in sweat, exhausted, smelly, and covered in scrapes from tree branches.

But after we showered, we went to Theta Delt ourselves to restore our energy supplies, munching on corn and meat. As we discussed plans for the evening, I thought we weren’t any different from the rest of campus after all.

And in any case, we had survived to rejoin our classmates in their revelry. We had survived, and the next difficult workout, number two of the year, would be entered with more confidence, less trepidation, and a sense of satisfaction: we did what we needed to do. As recovery, maybe I’d do an easy bike ride the next day, just like nothing had changed.

Maybe it is about the bike, actually

Lance Armstrong says that it’s not about the bike. I don’t know if he’s telling the truth though.

My last week was framed by two rides. On Monday afternoon, my roommate and I spun up route 132, over the hill from South Strafford into Sharon, and back along the river on Route 14. I rode with the understanding that I was hurting myself by spending these three hours on a bike instead of at a desk working on my thesis, but I didn’t care.

Riding bikes with girls is refreshing. I could have written a column last week that was called, “riding on bikes with boys,” and would have said how tired and sunburned I got, and how I never wanted to give up and be slower than the boys. I’m too competitive, and when someone is actually better than me, it leads me to exhaustion.

But Monday, that wasn’t a problem. Kristin and I don’t compete with each other. Not going up the hills, and not going down them, either. As we came down the hill into Sharon, we were followed by a logging truck. I tried to pull to the side, but with no shoulder and so much speed, I was worried about hitting the edge of the pavement. The logging truck had to wait for the curves to end. With boys, we would have had to race, and I would have been scared.

Kristin and I talked about school, our house, our team, boys, the economy, the future. The miles go fast when you’re talking, even if it isn’t anything particularly important.

She didn’t know the route, so as we rode I pointed out the things I grew up with: the Elizabeth Copper Mine, where my AP Environmental Science class did a lab in high school; the Strafford Saddle Shop, where my mom and I would drive every spring; the burnt-up parking lot that used to be Brooksie’s in Sharon, where we’d stop to get breakfast before going to Tunbridge.

It was the kind of ride where you feel the wind in your face without having to work for it. We basked in the sun and the green and the smells of spring, and the coolness rising from the river.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were not kind to me. I slept an average of three hours every night and spent the days frantically running statistics and trying to write them up coherently. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt so isolated in my life. I’ve been solo backpacking and felt less alone.

I watched my friends go about their usual routines, going running and biking after class, making dinner together and going out at night, while I was stuck. I didn’t even get much sympathy; nobody seemed to notice I was missing. I began to wonder what it said about me as a person if nobody noticed that I wasn’t there. Everything bad anyone had ever said about me came back and I began to think it was all true.

So by Friday, I was ready for another ride, regardless of whether I should be doing work instead or not. I e-mailed the team asking if anyone wanted to join me. Nobody did. But that was all right. I could go my own pace.

I set out at 1 p.m., and after a half hour of biking up into Hanover Center, it started pouring rain. I thought about turning around, but then I hunkered down and kept pedaling. In a sense, this is what I had wanted: an outlet for my frustration and anger. Unlike the million thesis revisions I had been frantically completing, this was something I could control and overcome. It was just rain. I was stronger than rain. It wasn’t going to stop me.

About as soon as I got into that mindset, I rode out of the rain. The pavement smelled wet and warm and I only worried for a moment that it was greasy. Then I bombed down the hills on Dogford Road. The sun started to dry the rain off my jersey.

Being alone, I could pedal slowly while I daydreamed. So what if my heart rate was below 130 beats per minute and my new coach had told me I’d have to train 5 hours to make that pace worthwhile? Today was not about training. I didn’t have that luxury. It was about mental recovery.

So when I pedaled back into the rain, which was almost hail-like on Greensboro Road and left pink welts on my exposed arms, I thought about my ride, and the one on Monday. No, they weren’t about the bike. But what allowed them to be about anything else? In truth, the bike.

Sorry, Lance.