Prouty on!

Don't be fooled, it was NOT sunny out.

Yesterday was the 29th Annual Audrey Prouty Memorial Ride. The ride, which is not a race, has options of biking 20, 35, 50, or 100 miles, starting and ending in Hanover, and is a fundraiser for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center. This year the Prouty had 4,500 participants and raised over $2 million. I decided to ride my bike 100 miles – how hard could it be compared to some of the training that Pepa makes us do?

I had another reason, too, for choosing the longer option. I was riding in memory of my grandmother, Jean McIntyre.

I was a lucky kid growing up, because my grandparents lived on the other side of town. I could go over to their house after school every day, and I got to know them and spend more time with my grandmother than many kids get to spend with all of their grandparents combined. “Mommom” was a truly amazing lady: kind, thoughtful, hard-working, creative, and very nurturing. My first pony lived at their house, which made it even more exciting to visit. I learned my first lessons about taking care of animals, and always got to help name the lambs when they were born. I’d go over after school, and Mommom would make me cream cheese and homemade cherry jelly sandwiches, cut on the diagonal just like I liked. She taught me how to bake cookies and how to knit, using yarn that she had spun herself from the wool from her flock of sheep. When I was in high school she gave me a Canon A-1 camera and taught me how to use a darkroom.

But more than any of the skills she taught me, she taught me to be a good person (to the skeptics out there: think of how much more of a bitch I would be if it weren’t for her). I really enjoyed all the time I got to spend with her.

Jean.

I rode my first Prouty (that I can remember) after Mommom was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2001. Even though she was going through treatment and the cancer was wrecking her body, she and the rest of our family rode 20 miles together. It was amazing to see the willpower she used to get herself through that bike ride, and she was incredibly cheerful the whole time.

After Mommom passed away in the spring of 2005, I decided I would ride 100 miles. I had never done much bike riding and back then, I wasn’t in the kind of shape I am now – I was a senior in high school, a decent runner but not a great skier, and I didn’t even own my own bike. Nevertheless, my aunt Liz, my friend Julia Schwartzman and I rode 100 miles in the rain in memory of Mommom.

I missed the next few Proutys because I was working in Colorado. Last year, when I started living in Vermont (a manageable commute!), I rode 100 miles again, this time with my neighbor, Ray Clark. Ray is in great shape for being 60 and no doubt rode his bike much more than I did, but still rode kind of slowly. The 100 miles didn’t seem to hard.

This year, I rode with Sara Cavin and Ed Meyer. Ed is a really, really good rider. He goes to Cyclocross National Championships and stuff. Sara is also a very good rider. She rides about a million times as often as me (I hadn’t ridden in the last three weeks).

Not surprisingly, the ride felt a little bit harder this year! We rode much faster, and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there were moments when I doubted I could stick with them for the whole 100 miles (this might have been in part because the first 25 or so miles, until we went down the far side of Mount Cube towards Wentworth, were in the rain, which was pretty discouraging). But in Haverhill, when I realized that we had already covered 50 miles, things started looking up. I knew I could ride the next 40 miles, which were basically flat, with Sara. Hills were my real problem. So we rolled along, taking turns leading and joining up with two other riders (whom we didn’t know) to make a 5-person pack. It was fun. It even stopped raining and turned into a nice day, and the scenery was beautiful: acres of farm fields in Woodstock, Newbury, Bradford, Fairlee, and Orford.

When we made it to Lyme, we were almost home. Just 12 more miles left. Unfortunately for me, we faced more hills, too. It’s not that they were big hills in any sense of the word, but for some reason my legs just weren’t with me yesterday. Sara and Ed dropped me at one point and it took me a while to catch up on the downhill – just like in the Tour de France, if you’re one rider trying to catch a group, it’s tough work.

In the end, though, we rode into Hanover together, triumphant, tired, and covered completely in sand and road grime. We munched on pizza and burritos, drank chocolate milk, and caught up with Sara’s parents and their adorable puppy, Cider.

Remember how white this jersey was in the first picture? I'd never worn it before. Not so shiny and new anymore!

Remember how white this jersey was in the first picture? I'd never worn it before. Not so shiny and new anymore!

I’m proud of myself for riding 100 miles in the rain, and sticking with Sara and Ed even when my legs felt like rubber. But I’m much more proud of my mother.

She’s the one standing next to me in the top picture. My mom has ridden the 20-mile loop numerous times, but she doesn’t really like biking. Last year she volunteered instead of riding. But this year, she decided to do the 35-mile loop. To get ready, she’s been riding her bike to work (15 miles) twice a week, and I think she’s even starting to like it. Yesterday morning, her riding partners bailed at the Lyme support station and decided to do 20 miles instead, because of the rain. So my mom rode on, by herself, and finished the longest ride she’s ever done in her life.

I like to think that my grandmother would be proud of both of us. Mommom, this was for you.

I’m all graduated!

senior nordie girls! well, most of us. l-r: co-captains Courtney Robinson and Hannah Dreissigacker, me, Audrey Weber. Photo: Judy Geer.

senior nordie girls! well, most of us. l-r: co-captains Courtney Robinson and Hannah Dreissigacker, me, Audrey Weber. Photo: Judy Geer.

Sunday morning, I woke up to the rain. I also woke up to decisions: I hadn’t yet picked out what to wear under my graduation robes.

I had, however, decided to wear my cowboy boots, a well-worn tan and black pair with intricate stitching that I had found for four dollars at a thrift store in Gunnison, Colorado. As they would cover almost all of the visible part of my leg, the rest of my outfit didn’t matter much. I chose a skirt and a polypropylene t-shirt to ward off the rainy cold, because one of the mottos of any endurance athlete is this: cotton kills! I’d leave a dress in our locker room in Robinson Hall for later, when I’d want to look nice for pictures.

It was eerie to be so alone on this morning, when later in the day I would be flooded and overwhelmed by friends and family. I quickly ate two pieces of toast in my room, and then gathered my things and left. I wasn’t late yet, but I faced a stream of robed seniors walking to Leede Arena to line up. It seemed like I was the only one walking towards campus, pushing upstream, the wrong way.

When I opened the locker room door, the light was on. Hannah Dreissigacker was rummaging through our “costume locker” and had just pulled out the purple and blue one-piece spandex suit to wear under her gown. I can’t express how relieved I was to see her: finally, I was not alone heading into this thing called commencement.

Less than thirty minutes later, I was walking up East Wheelock Street, only twenty people behind the bagpipers. I listened to the music, breathed in the wet air, and looked around at the leafy green trees and white buildings that I knew so well. This was the only moment in the whole ceremony when I thought I might cry. The bagpipes lent an incredible air of solemnity to the proceedings. They might have been my favorite part of the whole thing.

When we reached the green and the tone changed. The bagpipers finished, and a brass band took over. As the faculty processed by us, the trumpets sounded like they could be providing music for a circus. Which, in a way, is what the ceremony was. An extremely meaningful circus. When we finally resumed the march towards our seats, I spotted my parents and grandparents and waved.

While the rest of the ceremony was not forgettable, it was predictable. Names of graduate students were read for minutes upon minutes. We gave President and Susan Wright a well-deserved standing ovation when they were awarded honorary degrees. We listened to speeches, which had high points and low points.

When it came time for the undergraduates to march up to the platform, I watched for people I knew. In a way, it made me realize exactly how many of my classmates I had never met, never talked with, and, in some cases, never even seen before. But on the other hand, it reminded me how many friends I had, and how great they were. Courtney Robinson, wearing her sparkly ski team headband over her cap just like Hannah and I were, and wearing cowboy boots like me, pumped her fist before she shook President Wright’s hand. I couldn’t help but smile. Yes, Courtney would make a scene.

When I went up on stage, Dean Carol Folt wished me the best of luck and complimented my headband. I thanked President Wright and as I walked down the steps back towards my seat, I wondered how many people in the vast audience even knew who I was. For those who did, I thought: thank you. I did it!

After singing the alma mater (I wondered if I would ever do so again), we processed out. When we reached the back of the green, that was it. It was over. We milled around, a little confused until we could find a familiar face to latch onto. This moment in time was perfectly emblematic of graduation: all of a sudden, the structure we had been following was gone.

I eventually saw my teammate Brett Palm, and we stood together until we ran into Hannah and her family, then our friend Clara Chew, then Courtney’s brother (but not Courtney). Our support systems re-emerged.

Hannah and I hurried to Robinson Hall to put on our nicer clothes. Because of the rain, we had not been handed diplomas at the ceremony, and instead they were being handed out inside “Robo”. To get to our familiar locker room, we had to wade through people, who kept telling us that we were cutting the line. We tried to assure them that all we wanted was to get to our oasis of a locker room.

Back outside, we nibbled crackers and cheese and slices of watermelon that were provided by the Outing Club. We hugged our friends and posed for picture after picture. It was difficult to assemble all twelve of the senior skiers, so we kept taking photos with slightly different groups as people came and left. I caught up with Cami Thompson and Ruff Patterson, our coaches, but in a way I didn’t even know what to say. Short phrases like “Well,” “Yeah,” and “Thank you” seemed to be all that left my mouth.

Three of my freshmen teammates had come to watch, and had made a gift for each of us: a photo from some women’s team gathering, framed in white with messages written all over. We took a picture with them, and with junior Ida Sargent, who had also come down to watch. It was great to have so many teammates around.

There were so many people I wanted to see, to hug and say goodbye to, but too soon I had to leave and return to my house in Lyme for a gathering with my family.

Because, even though graduation is about ending this stage of my life and saying goodbye to all the different parts of it, as so many people told me, it is not really about me. It’s about thanking the people that helped me through, and it’s about what they want graduation to be. I was luckiest when those two things overlapped, and what I wanted was also what my family wanted.

But it wasn’t, always. So to all the people I didn’t get to say goodbye to, goodbye. The fact that I didn’t see you doesn’t mean that I don’t care, and it doesn’t mean I won’t miss you. I hope we’ll meet again.

And to my wonderful readers, goodbye. Thanks for giving me a place in this community over the last year. I never would have guessed that so many people would actually follow my column; it has meant an incredible amount to me. Thank you. With some luck, maybe you’ll read something else of mine in the future.

Long overdue post: The average athlete

The average athlete enjoys getting food as prizes. left to right: Julie Carson, me, Courtney Robinson, and Katie Bono at the Wonalancet Wander.

The average athlete enjoys getting food as prizes. left to right: Julie Carson, me, Courtney Robinson, and Katie Bono at the Wonalancet Wander.

When I began writing these columns, my idea was to show readers in the Upper Valley what life was really like for a college athlete.

The Valley News does a great job reporting scores and describing games. They even have fantastic human interest stories about athletes of all ages. But the purpose of these stories is to show something exceptional: the athletes who are chosen as subjects are noticed because they are outstanding or unusual in some way. What about the average athlete? Doesn’t anyone want to know what our life is like?

In general, I’m not sure they would. College is four years long. It’s a discrete phase of our lives, to be lived and enjoyed before we go and accomplish something in the real world. A lot of people aren’t even interested in sports; of those who are, many aren’t interested in skiing. And athletics are by definition frivolous, especially in times like these.

But as I’ve written these columns, reflecting every week on what has been going on with the team, I have realized that skiing has been by far one of the most important parts of my college experience, on par only with the research opportunities I took advantage of with my advisor at a first-class field station in Colorado.

I often grimace at the ridiculous salaries of famous baseball players – how could their skills possibly be so important that they deserve such compensation? – and occasionally laugh at friends who are rabid fans of their hometown football teams. So it has been an interesting revelation: athletics are far more than something I do. Skiing is part of who I am.

In a way, although I hadn’t said it so plainly before, I guess I must have known that when I set out to write the columns.

In showing the daily life of a college athlete, I wanted to dispel some of the stereotypes that people have about us.

For example, there’s the dumb athlete stereotype. People ask me if I got recruited (then they ask me if I’m a legacy). When I say no, they often act surprised. Until people get to know us, a lot of them assume that we can’t compete with the intellects of our non-athlete friends, and wouldn’t have gotten into Dartmouth without a push from our coaches.

While I’ve only written about schoolwork in one column, that’s because I don’t think it’s a big issue. Yes: we do work. No: we’re not dumb, As I mentioned in that column, 60% of the Dartmouth women who raced at Eastern Championships were named Academic All East. Of the senior men and women, more than a third wrote theses. The notion that we take easier classes than the rest of the campus is false.

Another stereotype that I wanted to dispel was that we’re all rich and spoiled. We’re spoiled because we get to go to a beautiful school with incredible academics, and we’re spoiled because we get to spend a lot of time doing a sport that we really love. Are a few of my teammates spoiled by their parents? Yes (sorry, guys). But for the most part, we have to work for what we have.

Skiing is expensive, that’s not something I’m going to deny. And for the majority of the team, racing is not something Dartmouth bankrolls: if you’re not one of the top six on a given weekend, you have to pay your own entry into college races – a system that we’d all like to see changed, but it probably never will be. What other sport takes only six athletes to each varsity competition?

A lot us are on financial aid, so skiing expenses aren’t exactly something that our parents can afford to help us with. My roommate and I both hold steady jobs to pay for race entries, equipment, and travel expenses (not to mention regular college expenses such as rent).

Finally, I had wanted to show that athletes aren’t boring or one-dimensional. Just because we spend a lot of time training, and a lot of the rest of our time studying, doesn’t mean that we never do anything else.

We have lots of adventures: I’ve written about hikes, bike races, potluck breakfasts and dinners, and a trip to Tuckerman Ravine. I’ve written about how much we joke around on the bus, and about watching fireworks outside when the thermometer drops below zero and we’re trapped in a hotel.

I guess I haven’t written about is how my teammates drive up to Thetford Elementary School every week to mentor younger students, or how they are involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, or any of the other community activities they’re involved in. But that’s because, like doing homework, it seems unexceptional to me. This is my team. It is filled with good people. Why is it surprising that they do good things?

Back to my original point, because you must have been wondering how “I just realized that skiing is who I am” and “athletes are not dumb, rich, and boring” are related. This is the link: I am an athlete, and I am not dumb, rich and boring. I wanted to show how great our team was, and how it was filled with wonderful people.

I wanted to show how even when the going got tough – whether in long rollerski workouts on bad pavement in the rain, or when I had a really bad race and needed someone to console me – our team was there for each other.

I wanted to show how when we had problems, with boys, or schoolwork, or family, or just life, we’d all go for a really long ski until we’d run out of emotions for a little while, and then make dinner together.

I wanted to show how when we have ideas of fun things we want to do, we almost always turn to each other: “Hey, you know what I want to do? You should come!”

I wanted to show how much we laugh.

And I wanted to show how, even though we are each other’s best friends, we’re also each other’s competition, and that’s okay. For us, competition is a part of life. In every race, there can only be one winner: you’ll almost always be better than someone and less strong than someone else. We know each other so well that we can be happy when our friends have breakout races.

I had realized that this was an essential part of my makeup, being an athlete. And I didn’t feel like I fit any of the stereotypes that people have of athletes. When I looked around at my friends and teammates, I didn’t think that they did, either. This is what I wanted to show.

We’re people, too. Just like all of you.

Keep that in mind next time you read the scores.

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.

Back to the Grindstone

With the ski season over, there’s only one event left in my Dartmouth career where there will be spectators. Well, two if you count graduation. But I was thinking of was my thesis defense in the ecology department: The Effect of Soil Metals on Pollination of Subalpine Wildflowers.

I don’t know when it is yet, but I am going to do a great job. The specter of possibly not doing a good job is guaranteeing it.

There were many occasions this winter that I did not rise to, the most important being Nationals, the Stowe SuperTours, Dartmouth Carnival. But a skier can do everything right to prepare for a race, and it can still go wrong. You can spend a year preparing for race season, but training hours are not linearly correlated to results. And in fact, their effect differs greatly from athlete to athlete. There are too many confounding variables.

It’s one of the mysteries of athletics: how two competitors who did the same preparation can get different results. And then the next year, the tables can be turned.

Academics, to me, seems a little more straightforward. It is usually pretty clear what you have to do to succeed, and you know exactly how close to being done you are. Working hard now will have a direct effect on how well I do in my defense.

Yes, people will ask me questions which take me by surprise, which I was not expecting to answer, which maybe I will do a bad job answering. But at least I should have a good sense going in about whether I’m well-prepared or not.

And so I am creating contingency tables for whether sample mass and run order affected detection of metals in my plant tissues.

I am feverishly learning how to analyze nested and crossed variables with the statistical software I bought, and repeatedly asking my statistics professor for help (he must be getting sick of me).

I am reading more and more papers – each useful one seems to have five new references I should check, which in turn have three more new references, et cetera, et cetera.

I am trying to use my statistical software and Microsoft Excel to make graphs, tables, and figures, which always takes an incredibly frustrating amount of time.

The thesis holds an interesting place in Dartmouth culture. Unfortunately, it’s often a culture of holing up in the library and becoming a social recluse. Many people attempt theses; those who don’t pity us and say something like “I’m glad I’m not spending my senior spring doing that!”

Why do so many people want to do this despite the fact that they have spent three years watching senior friends stress out in their last spring? Well, we’re Dartmouth students. We got in here. We’re pretty smart and we’re pretty well organized. Somehow, all of us look at the poor souls holed up at their desks and think, “I could be more organized that that. It wouldn’t be so bad for me.”

And despite the fact that some people inevitably think that athletes are only here for sports, avoid hard classes, and are lousy students, we don’t evade the thesis any more than the general population. We accept the challenge. After all, we’re used to testing what we can do, and we obviously expect a lot from ourselves. There are at least four of five nordic skiers working on senior projects right now.

But everyone, athletes and otherwise, end up stressed and scrambling during in the last few weeks, even though we were sure we could do a better job managing our time than the last year’s seniors. I only know one person who finished his thesis well ahead of its due date. I don’t know how he did it.

At dinner last night I wondered out loud whether every thesis was good. After all, just attempting a thesis doesn’t make you a good student.

As my friend Mark Davenport replied, “There seems to be sentiment here that, by taking on a big project or responsibility, a person automatically will ‘rise to the occasion.’ When really, what makes rising to the occasion such a big deal is that most people don’t. So if you take for granted success, you’re either being overconfident, or you’re mistaking something trivial for a challenge.”

I think I was as prepared for my thesis as any other student. I got the idea for my project a year before I started fieldwork, and I had plenty of time to prepare. I had abundant resources, both in grants from the college, my advisor’s funding, the support of the field station where I worked, and a very full complement of professors and researchers willing to consult on the project.

But just because I can handle it doesn’t mean I realized how much work it was going to be. I didn’t realize how many steps backwards I would be taking for every step forward. I didn’t realize that multiple times, I would want to break down crying as my analysis fell apart in front of my eyes.

This morning, I listened to my statistics professor tell me, “If you have nested data and your replicates are not balanced – you don’t have the same number in all parts of your study – then it’s a nightmare. I think you’re in nightmare mode.”

I am? Shoot, and I didn’t even know it. Back to the drawing board.

But no worry. Somehow, I’ll be ready when I have to defend myself.

Loving Spring

At Dartmouth more than at many schools, the end of a winter sports season really means the end of one thing, and the start of something else.

That’s because of the quarter system. Dartmouth skiers returned from Junior Olympics and NCAA’s and had to make up their finals. From there, they went on break. End of skiing, end of term, end of story.

The rest of the college racers? Well, they just went back to school, back to the same second-semester grind they saw before the championships.

I say “end of skiing” even though there was racing to be had over break. A few of us made the trip to Maine for the Sugarloaf marathon, and three skiers were competing through this weekend at U.S. Long-Distance Nationals in Fairbanks, Alaska.

But even if we raced over break, it’s definitely the end. A few days ago I started putting my race skis away for the year. It’s a relaxingly banal rhythm: apply soft wax, scrape it while it’s warm to pull dirt out of your bases, repeat, and then apply some storage wax. The ritual has a tremendous sense of finality: these skis will not be skied on again for a very long time.

When return to campus, it will seem like ski season has long since passed. We will be confronted with new classes – often difficult ones that we avoided taking during the competition season – and a distinct lack of snow. For a few seniors, myself included, there’s a thesis waiting to be written that we ignored all winter.

Before we completely move on, we have to take a minute to look back over the season to see what went well, what didn’t go well, and what we learned for next year. I suppose this is more true for some athletes than others, but I was taught by the Ford Sayre club to write out your goals at the beginning of the season, and then review them at the end.

Goal: I want to be a varsity member of my team. Achieved? Yes.

Goal: I want to have carnival results I’m happy with: top 20s in skate, top 10s in classic. Not really achieved, as I had only a few top 20 finishes.

Goal: Be higher on the NCAA qualifying list than the last skier who gets to go, recognizing that there is a 3-skier limit for each school and Dartmouth will far outpace that. Achieved? No, complete failure.

Goal: Go to big races and get experience. Achieved? Yes. Even if the experience part was, “wow, that went really poorly!”

Any competition season leaves you wishing for one more chance to prove what you can do. While this is fresh in your mind, you’re supposed to think about what affected your performance this year and decide what to do better next year. That’s the new beginning part of spring: the next racing season always seems like it will be better than the one that just passed.

And trust me, I have plenty of ideas for how to make next season great. As my coaches will tell you, I think too much. But I have a bigger problem: I don’t know if there is a next year. I’m graduating. College is over.

When I put away those race skis, it was even sadder than most years. I wondered, will I ever use these again for what they’re made for, racing? Then I told myself I was being dramatic. Of course I’ll find a way to race sometime, even if it’s the only skiing I do that year. I love it too much to walk away completely; I’d rather muddle along, out of shape, in some citizen’s race. The real question is whether I can find a way to train, so that the racing is actually good.

These are serious thoughts. But even if winter and skiing are over, spring brings fun along with the warmer weather. Classes start again and so does our concept of exercise. On the weekends, we might head up to Tuckerman’s Ravine, where spring still involves snow, but during the week, there’s plenty to do. We’re all dusting off our road bikes and giving them the once-over before we head out on our first rides.

That’s why spring is so great. In a few weeks those of us who are lucky enough to have another season will start training again, but in between now and then, there’s a mandatory period of recuperation.

It’s a period where “PLAY” is on the training plans. A period where our only athletic homework is to go remember that the sun shines and we love to be outdoors. Conveniently, this corresponds to the beginning of the term when, theoretically, homework is at its lowest.

Even when we do start training, it’s spring training, not summer or fall. Running and biking and hiking all count as training. Maybe we’ll run a local road race, team up for a relay at the Vermont City Marathon, or jump in the cycling team’s home race weekend. We’ll bring out the rollerskis eventually, but first we have to rediscover all of those endurance pursuits we went without over the winter months.

We’ll do more or less whatever makes us happiest. Spring training in a way holds the most promise of a great season to come, because you’re looking forward months and months to racing, but the gritty hard workouts haven’t yet started.

So thanks, Dartmouth, for giving us spring term.