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.

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.