4,444 miles.

4,444 miles is how far Google Maps says I drove between June 28th and July 13th. But secretly, it was more than that. Those 4,444 miles don’t count driving up the Taos Ski Valley and back, twice. Or lots of other little detours and mysteries. I moved from Eugene back to New Hampshire, but I didn’t take a direct route.

How on earth do you write about a road trip that is four and a half thousand miles long? I’m not sure, but I’m going to try. Before I begin: internet is slow here at 92 Highbridge Road, so don’t expect many pictures. And unrelatedly, I’ve started a tumblr called Cooking For My Parents about the food I’ll make them for the month that I’m at home. I don’t have time to write up every culinary adventure on this blog, but on tumblr I don’t feel bad just posting a photo and a caption with a short story and a link to the recipe. Already up there is some chicken, an improvisational salad, and some fantastic ice cream.

Back to my road trip. I had an inauspicious start: for some reason I thought it would be a fine idea to work through Tuesday and leave early Wednesday morning. I think at the time, I figured I would pack the weekend before I left. The problem was that the weekend before I left was U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field, right there in Eugene, and I ended up working. No time to pack. Plus I wanted to see my friends. So all of my packing happened Tuesday morning, before work, and then after work that night, with an extended break to get dinner with some friends at the Friendly Street Party Cart (highly recommended! local and cheap!) and then beer with some other friends at Eugene’s best new brewpub, Falling Sky (amazing, ever-changing selection and happy hour prices when it’s raining, a questionable business move in the Northwest). Oh, and Laura and I also had to clean the house! Long story short, I was finally packed up just after 1 a.m. and sacked out in my sleeping bag on the floor.

The next morning, the two of us woke up at 4:30 and drove our separate cars – with a lounge chair somehow stuffed into Laura’s Prius with her other stuff – to our friend Mike’s. Mike wanted the chair and kindly offered to make us breakfast at 5 a.m. before we left. So we ate waffles and hit the road, in our two cars, connected by walkie talkies! Laura is the best. It was Salt Lake City or bust.

And it was almost bust. After just about four hours of sleep, I wasn’t ready for a 14-hour drive. Somewhere in Nevada I got drowsy… and drowsier… and drowsiest until I was nodding along and driving was completely terrifying. I sent Laura an SOS on the walkie talkie. We were in that stretch of I-70 where there are no services for a long time, and I was at a loss. But Laura saved the day by revealing that she had a french press and a thermos full of hot water. We went for a walk in the sagebrush and she made me coffee, and when we hit the road again I was good as new.

After a brief stop in the Bonneville Salt Flats, we made it to Salt Lake, where I handed over the walkie talkie and we parted ways. I drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon to my aunt and uncle’s cabin. Uncle Ross and my cousin Mary were rafting the Grand Canyon, but my aunt Kathy was there to meet me and offer my an amazing dinner of cauliflower fritters, baked eggplant (better than it sounds), fruit salad, homemade pizza, and several other things that I can’t remember but were extremely delicious. After dinner I immediately fell asleep in the big bed upstairs and slept until 11 a.m. the next day. Whew, I needed that!

I can’t remember when the last time I slept that late was, and Kathy gets a big thank-you for being patient! It certainly limits what you can do with your day. But we went for a lovely hike that afternoon to a lake on the other side of the Brighton ski area and watched the dog launch himself off a rock over and over chasing a stick into the water. Then we ate at an Ethiopian restaurant – yum! And had a glass of wine in the hot tub.

By Friday it was time for another long drive, this time down to Taos, New Mexico. I really thought my old car – it’s a 1998 4Runner – was going to croak going through Moab, where it was about 100 degrees. The air conditioner spit out room-temperature air, which was better than hot air but nowhere near what a fully functional car would produce. Luckily we made it to cooler temperatures and I arrived in Taos around 9 p.m. to meet my friend Andrew. We – shamefully, considering all the great food Kathy had just plied me with – ate a fast food dinner and found a camping spot up towards the mountains.

In the morning we began our ascent of Wheeler Peak, which at 13,161 feet is the tallest mountain in New Mexico. Our hike began with a mile or more of steep trail through the woods. Eventually, we came above treeline and things opened up – beautifully. But it was several more miles; when we initially popped out of the woods, we couldn’t even see the peak we were aiming for. It was beautiful hiking, though, with views of the many tall mountains in the “enchanted circle,” as the area is known.

We snacked on top and appreciated the views, but soon heard thunder and saw rain so decided to skedaddle. Andrew revealed he had a headache. I wasn’t feeling so hot either – coming from sea level, 13,000 feet is fairly tough. We ran briefly to make sure we wouldn’t be on the ridge in a thunderstorm, but we needn’t have worried; more hikers were streaming up. In a nice meadow we stopped for lunch. As we ate, we heard what sounded like a very loud cow and wondered aloud whether it was a chainsaw. Minutes later a herd of cows burst out of the woods, pushed along by two cowboys and a dog.

“Are you going to Wheeler Peak?” one of the cowboys asked.

“We’ve already been!” we said.

“You’ve been up and down already?”

We nodded.

“You must be in hell of a good shape,” he said before riding off.

The whole thing – the cows above treeline, the cowboys – made my day.

By the time we got back to our cars Andrew had a migraine. We drove down to the lowest elevation we could, found a campsite, and I set up a tent; he crawled inside and slept. There was still a bit of the day left so I got out my road bike and went for a ride. Hey, when life hands you lemons – it was a nice ride, from Questa to Red River and back. The next day, Andrew feeling better but cautious, we hiked up to Williams Lake, which was nice but relatively unimpressive considering the scenery from the day before. After a Tex-Mex lunch, we parted ways and Andrew drove back to Midland, Texas, where he’s doing an internship.

Next I drove East from Taos to see my friends Maggie and Brad, who live just outside of Ledoux, New Mexico, which isn’t even really a town. Basically, into the mountains from Taos. Maggie sold me my horse Jenny when I was in middle school; she breeds Morgan horses and Australian Shepherd dogs. Back then, I’d go over to her house for a couple of days at a time in the summer, help out around the barn, and ride the horses. For my 14th birthday, she gave me Bravo, my dog. Then she moved to New Mexico.

I hadn’t seen Maggie in ten years and it was a joyous occasion. I stayed for three glorious days, helping with barn chores and riding the horses just like in the old days. Only this time we had Western saddles and real trails to check out. At the end of the day, we’d feed the horses, ride a few bareback down to the pasture for the night, and then sit back and drink beer before dinner. In the hottest part of the day, we’d hole up inside with her granddaughter and play rummy. In three days we ate two watermelons. I didn’t want to leave.

But I did, driving north on the fourth of July to see my college teammate Courtney in Vail. She graciously allowed me to bust in on her family get-together, which was great. Courtney had just gotten back from leading a group of high school students on a trip to Bolivia to install clean water pumps. We looked at her pictures and oohed and ahed. We both wore red, white, and blue outfits. For the first time in my life I felt like Courtney – with her job at the dental office and her boyfriend who owns the house they live in – was way more of an adult than I was. Not that that made things any less fun.

The next morning, Courtney had to leave for work around 6 so I drove over the pass and made quick stops in Morrison for breakfast with my great uncle Donald and then in Boulder for coffee with my co-worker Audrey. Then it was down to Pitkin, another not-really-town, this time outside of Gunnison. My friend Sean had built a cabin and the last time I’d been there, in 2009, it had been, shall we say, unfinished.

This time, the cabin was beautiful and impeccably organized and a place you’d really want to live, despite its ten by twelve foot footprint – and that’s exactly what Sean and his girlfriend Sarah were doing for the summer. They cooked me a birthday dinner of fish tacos (unbelievably delicious) and even made a cake in the tiny gas-powered oven on the porch. We drank the last of the glogg I had made in Eugene this winter. I can’t think of a better place to have a birthday.

Our plans for the following day included hiking Fairview Peak, which looms in Sean’s backyard and is casually taller than Wheeler was. Gotta love Colorado. But the weather came in early and bizarrely, from all directions at once, and we decided to abort. Instead we hiked up to an amazing abandoned mine which featured a huge, still-standing log building for some sort of ore processing. We marveled at how it had been built by hand with such giant logs, and wondered how large of a hammer was needed to pound in the massive nails at the top of the roofline. We were easily at 11,000 feet, but people had lived and worked here back when everything was done by human and animal power – it boggled the mind.

That night, steak, corn, asparagus, lots of booze, and evening walks in the woods. I woke up with a hangover and drove to Granby to see my aunt, the very last stop in the West. It was not a pleasant drive.

But a pleasant visit: I never want to leave Lizzie’s. My friend Ed had come down from Cheyenne, which made the visit even sweeter. Lizzie and her partner Paula are some of my very favorite people in the world and they always take such good care of me. We lounged around, took the dog for walks (that’s another story though), and did a couple great bike rides, one up Willow Creek Pass and the other into Rocky Mountain National Park. We cooked and ate good food. We sat on the porch in the sun and drank beer. They’re lucky they could get me to leave at all.

Finally: Eastward at breakneck speed. Spent the night in Princeton, Illinois because that’s as far as I could get. Then I stopped in Syracuse to see an old friend, Thomas, and his girlfriend Becca. We ate at a Mexican restaurant, Alto Cinqo, which I swear would have beat anything in Taos – the jerk chicken tacos were to. die. for. Then beers with their friends, a late-night run to Insomnia Cookies, and bedtime.

Thomas and I had more of a chance to catch up when I gave him a ride back to the Upper Valley the next day. For the first time all trip, I had a buddy in the car! And it was great. Despite steady e-mail communication, I barely ever see my friends from middle school – we are scattered all over the place. I was just glad that I had been able to carve out enough space for Thomas to sit in, because my car was absolutely jam-packed full!

When I drove up the driveway of 92 Highbridge Road, Bravo barked; he seemed to have forgotten all about the 4Runner in its extended absence. When he saw it was me, he bashfully wagged his tail. I was home.

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Best vacation ever

So I had the best vacation ever…:

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I got to see Sean's cabin. This isn't it, but it's on the ridge above his land.

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I got to go hiking in Crested Butte. Here, Sean and I posing in front of the Maroon Bells.

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I got to play an ultimate tournament with my team, newly re-named the Lawn Gnomes.

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I got to hike with some great Dartmouth friends: here, Lizzy Asher, Clara Chew, and Dom Winski.

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And I got to get on top of a whole bunch of 14,000 foot mountains! This is Holy Cross, outside of Vail.

A few things could have made it better – there were a few people I would have loved to spend more time with – but nothing can be perfect and I think this is one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was a nice reward for having made it through college.

towards the Gold Rush NRL.

To race or not to race? That is the question.

The end of November is early. It falls more than a month before the first major races of the season, U.S. Nationals, which are held in the beginning of January.

And yet, for many skiers, late November is the start of everything. The SuperTour series kicks off in West Yellowstone, Montana, offering up valuable points for qualifying and seeding races later in the season.

Thanksgiving races provide an opportunity to test your fitness and to get on snow – if there’s going to be a race, there has to be somewhere to ski, which is more than you can say for most parts of the country.

These starts can help clear the jitters, remind you how to push yourself, and, one always hopes, get any disasters out of the way before the races that really count.

There are, nonetheless, some negatives about early-season racing. It would be unfortunate to start the season off strong, but to tire by Eastern Championships in late February because you’ve been racing for too long. Both from a physiological and mental perspective, racing is a tiring business.

For college skiers, too, it’s a challenge to travel and find ample time to adjust to on-snow training while missing as little class as possible.

Because there is seldom snow in the East until December (or, as it was two years ago, January), many people overlook the negatives and see West Yellowstone as a golden opportunity to get on snow and readjust to racing.

Meanwhile, I am sitting here in Colorado, doing some intervals by myself. What gives? If I made the commitment to finish the term early and travel to snow, why aren’t I in Montana?

Last year, I did make the pilgrimage to the SuperTour races. Our entire women’s team did. I was beyond excited to be able to race the best skiers in the country. Traveling made me feel like I finally made it as a skier.

When we arrived, there was no snow in town. We crammed into various vehicles to drive up to the plateau, where we skied an out-and-back swatch with what seemed like a hundred athletes from Duluth, and that’s not even counting the other teams.

The races didn’t go particularly well, but since it was November and I wasn’t used to starting my season so early, I was told not to worry, that better results would come.

Instead, I fell into a continuous mental loop of pressuring myself to keep up with my teammates, expecting that I should be able to do it, having anxiety attacks, and racing horribly.

Oops, there went my season.

All right, it’s unfair to blame my demise on West Yellowstone. That’s not what I’m suggesting. But understanding the challenges I face – that I’m in great shape and racing is 95% mental – made me plan a different November and December this time around.

Maybe my body isn’t meant to race in November. Maybe I need to keep doing what I did every year besides last year, which is training. I spent a week doing two-hour distance skis, and once I was adjusted to the altitude, I started alternating these days with intervals.

I may not have training partners, but my trusty heart rate monitor keeps me honest in my workouts.

I can spend this time getting used to how it feels to be on snow. Even though I don’t have anyone to shoot video, I can try to improve my technique – something that is always shaky when on-snow training begins.

Yes, I’m racing while I’m out here. But not until next weekend, not against the usual slate of top college and professional racers, and, for the most part, not against my teammates.

I’m hoping that starting the race season against unfamiliar opponents will remove some of the pressure that I always find a way to place on myself.

I’m hoping that spending time training alone will clear my head and boost my confidence.

And I’m hoping that when I return to racing in the East, I will already have a good finish under my belt. I’m trying not to turn hope into expectation.

I peeked at the results from the West Yellowstone races. There, bam bam bam, where three of my teammates, who all had great races and finished within 10 seconds of each other. I sucked my breath in, thinking, maybe I’m doing this all wrong.

And then I remembered that many of our other top skiers weren’t racing either: Vermonters Ida Sargent, Sophie Caldwell, and Hannah Dreissigacker. I exhaled, and thought, what happens happens, and I’m in great shape, so go get ’em when it counts.

Tradeoffs = happy me.

Bruce's Trail on Rabbit Ears Pass, Steamboat, Colorado.

On Bruce's Trail, Steamboat, Colorado.

I am a very lucky girl. My fall term is over, even though my classmates will be toiling away for another two weeks.

Even before school started in September, I had a vague idea that maybe I could finish school early and head west to ski. During the first week of classes, I talked to my professors, and a few weeks later bought plane tickets to Denver, Colorado.

Once I had my tickets and the dream seemed to be a reality, I had to get to work to finish projects and labs. The only way I could justify having my own ski camp was to finish my schoolwork before I left, and to do a good job.

Now I can look back on my last week of school and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s over. There were a few nights when I came home from the computer lab so late that all of my housemates were in bed. Hopefully those days are gone for good.

There was nothing I wanted more than to be able to work in the comfort of my apartment, with a cup of tea and maybe some cookies or bread in the oven.

Unfortunately, the computer software I was using for my Geographic Information Systems project doesn’t run on the Apple operating system, so my MacBook and I were out of luck. Plus, the two monitors attached to every computer in the lab made running multiple programs much easier.

When I finally left the lab for the last time Thursday afternoon, I wasn’t sad. It was fun to play with maps, but the hours and hours of creating, combining, and analyzing datasets made it much less so.

I gave a “final” presentation on my last day, the same day when my classmates were presenting their progress reports. I wish the presentation had gone a little better, but I had finished working with my data the night before and didn’t have much time to come up with conclusions. This is not out of the ordinary for many college students, but I usually finish my work with plenty of time to spare.

After class, I said goodbye to my professor and promised him I’d e-mail in my final paper as soon as I could, It was surreal to realize that there was nothing left to say; I was free!

Now I am just thrilled to be skiing and I don’t mind that my free time is spent writing papers and working on my thesis. There’s no snow here in Granby, but it’s only an hour and fifteen minutes to Rabbit Ears Pass, where the Steamboat Springs Nordic Council grooms 5 kilometers of trails. There’s great snow cover and I haven’t seen a single rock.

I’ve skied close to two hours each of the last two days. There are three loops, and I ski them over and over again. I see every other person there several times, and I’m getting very familiar with the ups and downs and corners.

My aunt, who is hosting me, is somewhat incredulous that I keep wanting to ski the same loops every day instead of going biking with her. I don’t mind the repetition, though. This is one of only a handful of places in the country with skiing, and the snow is fabulous.

But despite my bliss, I’m a little bit lonely out on the trails. I’ve been thinking about the last few workouts I did before I left, and missing having teammates to train with.

Wednesday afternoon was the last running “OD”. No, we don’t do drugs; it stands for “over-distance”, our longest workouts. We parked our bus at the Marion Cross School and set off into Norwich.

It was a small group due to conflicts with classes and labs, and we all ran together up Bragg Hill Road. Ida Sargent and I were the only ones who were familiar with the run, and after a while we were being asked, “Does this hill ever end?”

Just like any other workout, we kept plugging along and eventually made it to the top of the hill with its huge houses and beautiful views. The wind howled and Ruth McGovern ran with her hands over her ears because she hadn’t worn a hat. We used the architecture, fences, and paint-color choices as a lesson in what is or is not old-style New England.

On our way back on Beaver Meadow Road, I waved to friends as they drove home from work. Erika Flowers said, “If we stay out here any longer, you’re going to see everyone you know!”

We looped up Brigham Hill Road and down Tilden Hill Road, but the run was still the shortest one we’d done all season. We didn’t mind; it was cold and we were all stressed and sick of dryland. We climbed back into the bus for the short drive back to campus, chatting about classes, plans, and gossip.

Just like everything, my solo training camp is a tradeoff. I’d rather be skiing here than rollerskiing in the below-freezing weather in Hanover. And the fact that I’m done with school is totally worth the miserable week I put in earlier. To me, it’s worth missing my teammates for a few weeks, especially since I get to visit with my favorite aunt.

But when I return for a team camp in Quebec in mid-December, having my team around me will truly feel like coming home.