Strides

You don't have to be IN IN the Alps to find beautiful skiing in Switzerland. I recommend Einsiedeln, just an hour from the Zurich main station.

You don’t have to be IN IN the Alps to find beautiful skiing in Switzerland. I recommend Einsiedeln, just an hour from the Zurich main station.

In the beginning, I really loved classic skiing, much more than skating.

I didn’t learn how to cross-country ski in a competitive sense until high school, and for the longest time skating was so hard: sure, I was fit, and I succeeded at it the way every high school runner-crossover does in the beginning.

But even through college the idea of doing a 2-hour OD skating was exhausting. My balance was bad, so V2 was the opposite of relaxing. My technique was bad, twisting to the sides and wasting a lot of energy. All this wasted movement made it tough for me to skate easily at a true “level one” with a low heart rate (especially going up Oak Hill….).

It wasn’t until after college that I began to get some acceptable skate technique, thanks to video session after video session with Pepa Miloucheva in Craftsbury. I began to get more efficient, and to really enjoy skating. I even ditched my former attitude that I could only ever do well in classic races.

In the past three years, things have gotten way more extreme. I initially moved to Sweden for my masters and never skated once in two years, instead vastly improving my double-poling. But then I moved to Switzerland for my PhD. I have barely classic skied at all because most of the citizen races as skating.

When I was home I also got to go skiing with my buddy from college, Courtney! She was staying a house nearby for a few days. It was super awesome to catch up! She picked me up at our farm before we headed out.

When I was home I also got to go skiing with my buddy from college, Courtney! She was staying a house nearby for a few days. It was super awesome to catch up! She picked me up at our farm before we headed out.

In addition, I have to take the train to ski so I don’t have much way of knowing snow conditions before I arrive at the trails. After all that travel, I just want to hop on my skis and go. I got lazy. I didn’t want to have to test hardwax or klister or, yikes, klister cover, after a long train ride. I didn’t want to bring a box of wax with me. I didn’t particularly want to sticky bring klister skis back on the train, either.

Was I just making excuses? Yes. But I think this is part of being a busy adult with two jobs: things that only take five or ten minutes, like applying kickwax when you get to the trailhead, seem like unnecessary, insurmountable, stressful obstacles. If I owned some of the nifty new waxless skis, maybe I would have classic skied more often. But I don’t. So I took the simple route and just skated. My skis might have been fast some days and slow other days, but they always worked.

I can’t believe that I had come to this. I had been a classic-skiing purist, shunning waxes skis, raving about the beauty of the classic technique.

But during these years of skate skiing in Switzerland, I didn’t feel like I was missing anything. For a girl who once said, “skating is so unnatural, I mean, look at evolutionary history, our bodies were not ever under selection to make this sort of movement!”, hopping on my skis and taking off always felt immediately exhilirating, washing away whatever work burdens I had been carrying on my shoulders.

Over the holidays, I returned to New England and volunteered coaching with my old club, Ford Sayre, at the Eastern Cup race weekend. The head coach sent out assignments for the weekend. I saw mine and froze: “Evan, Tim, Chelsea: classic wax testing, application”.

It had been a long time since I had classic skied – I estimated I had only done so maybe five times in the last two years – much less tested wax or tried to predict what would work best in a given set of conditions. I wondered if I remembered how to do either.

On the Friday afternoon of the race weekend we arrived before the van with the athletes. It was incredibly cold, maybe 0°F, maybe colder? We had special green on our skis. I hit the trails.

I instantly remembered: what a joy it is to classic ski, in nice tracks, on wax that kicks! It was so easy! So effortless!

I remembered back to my last year in Sweden. There wasn’t much snow in Upplands. I went to one marathon, a seeding race for the Vasaloppet, where it was raining – so slushy. Clearly klister skiing. I didn’t have any klister in my small traveling wax box, so one of the guys in my club convinced me that it would be fine to just go on skate skis and double pole 42 k (being a tall Swedish man, this didn’t faze him). He turned out to be wrong, wrong for me at least. The first 10 k felt okay and then after that? It was a long way. I hated it. I hated skiing for a few days after that.

Pow day at the best trails in NH. Second one around the loop.

Pow day at the best trails in NH. Second one around the loop.

And then later that winter, I did the 90 k Vasaloppet despite being utterly unprepared. I’ve written before about how that turned out.

Maybe more than moving to Switzerland, these memories of skiing slowly and painfully in the deep slush, hating my life and regretting my decisions had been traumatic enough to turn me off classic skiing.

This was nothing like that. It’s joyful! I automatically remember how to shift my weight. It turns out, it’s not something you forget. It’s like riding a bicycle. Once you’re good at it, it sticks with you. Thank God.

And I remembered why I used to love classic skiing. Striding is my jam. And it still is.

As I cruised around the Craftsbury trails, my old familiar stomping groups, I was happy. For a few loops. I hadn’t brought very beefy gloves with me from Europe though, so after a while I began to sense the precursors to frostbite. By the time the van with the kids showed up, I could barely ski another loop before I was forced back into the touring center, huddling in defense, to catch up with my old friends on the staff and try to breath life back into my fingers.

Over the holiday break, I got in some more classic skiing. I had new skis to test out and, for once, there was plentiful snow in the Upper Valley. I could ski all my favorite spots. (On skate skis, too.)

Taking these long, easy skis was one of the best parts of vacation.

After my first work week back from holiday vacation, I headed on a train to go ski early on a Saturday morning. In my single-pair ski bag were classic skis with blue kickwax. I had a great day.

Moral of the story: always have a few good klisters in your possession. Otherwise you might accidentally turn yourself off of something that you love, and you won’t remember what you’re missing until a former coach orders you to race wax a bunch of high school kids’ skis.

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sweet new hampshire home.

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A bit ago I made a very quick trip home to New Hampshire. I was lucky to have beautiful sunny weather the whole visit!

My parents recently got a new dog. She has a lot of energy, so she needs a lot of exercise. But she also has heartworms (the cure is in progress!) so she can’t exert herself too too much. This has resulted in a lot of really long walks – not runs, but walks. So I got to visit some of my favorite places.

New Hampshire is not a well-known state within the U.S., and even less so outside the country. I sometimes say I’m from Vermont because there’s a better chance people will know where it is (and I did live there for two years, more recently than I ever actually lived in New Hampshire, so it’s only a partial lie!).

So what is New Hampshire? This is New Hampshire.

With my mom and Missy, we walked up Pinnacle, an iconic hill in Lyme (also in the top photo).

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On a Sunday morning the whole family headed out to Trout Pond, which is a bit of a walk from my house, but a lovely conservation area established in 1990. It is so quiet out there. This is why we love it so much.

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The hay was also getting cut in our hayfield, but I escaped before it was time to put it in the barn. Sorry mom and dad.

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I also ran up Smarts Mountain, at 3,240 feet the tallest peak in the surrounding towns and a favorite spot. It has a fire tower on top which offers awesome views… but it is currently closed by the Forest Service for repairs. It has been closed for over a year now, but no repairs have been made. This makes me angry. You suck, Forest Service.

Since the peak is forested, the views from below the tower aren’t as good. But you can find some openings in the trees along granite outcroppings, and they are great. I love Smarts.

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It’s a mountain, but it sure isn’t Switzerland.

I love New Hampshire.

holidays at home.

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I’m sitting in the airport waiting to head back to Zurich. It was a whirlwind trip home for the holidays – since I got to spend “so long” (really, six weeks) at home this fall and since I just barely started my new job/PhD, I felt like I couldn’t justify demanding a really long Christmas break. So I was in the United States for just one week. Two and a half days traveling with the Ford Sayre ski team as a coach to the first Eastern Cup competitions of the season at the Rikert Touring Center outside of Middlebury, Vermont, and the rest of the time at home in Lyme, New Hampshire.

Leaving is always incredibly hard for me because I have such a tangible sense of home at Highbridge Farm, and in New England in general. I went to Middlebury almost immediately after arriving, and our little team stayed in a giant rambling old farmhouse in Rochester, Vermont, down the hill from the Snow Bowl. It was a part of the state that had never even occurred to me – up on a hill away from the valley, out of sight of the road I usually drive when I go in that direction. But it was in so many ways exactly Vermont and reminded me of why I was so happy to be back in New England for the holidays.

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And the NENSA Eastern Cup always reminds me, too. It’s the same community that I skied in all the way through high school, college, and my semi-professional “career”. It was really fun to see all my old friends, especially since so many of us are coaching now! A highlight was standing out on the side of trail during Sunday’s 15 k mass start with my old teammate Lauren Jacobs, her cheering for the Maine Winter Sports Center skiers, and me for the Ford Sayre athletes. And of course both of us cheered for a lot of other people too.

glueckIt was also nice to watch Adam Glueck, a 15-year-old I coached quite a bit when I was home this fall, get on skis for his first races of the season. Adam was third in the interval-start 5 k on Saturday and then skied a very smart race on Sunday but lost a group sprint in the 5 k mass start and finished fourth. It was also fun to reconnect with skiers I’ve coached at previous opening weekends, like Sara Spencer, Erik Lindahl, and Colin Pogue, and meet some of Ford Sayre’s wonderful new athletes. They all have such great attitudes, focused on having fun and learning and having a good time more than anything else. I think they will be great lifelong athletes.

It was a a beautiful weekend for ski racing, and especially after the grim winter we’ve had in central Europe so far, I was soooooo happy to be able to do some skiing!

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And, then, lunches with friends, dinner with my grandfather on Christmas eve, and Christmas dinner with just my parents at home. I love spending time in our farmhouse and I could stay there, probably forever. Well, probably not. That’s why I don’t live there now. But I’m always so content to stay there.

On Christmas, after opening presents, we went on a nice walk all around our property, up to the top of the hill and then down to the brook on the other side. After the nice weather of the weekend, it had rained hard and most of the snow had melted. The brook was running higher than I have ever seen it before – the place we usually walk across on stones was probably a foot under water, the current was running strong and fast, and I imagined how the beaver dams at the outlet would possibly deal with this. It has been an unusual year weather-wise, but even so, I never regret the opportunity to walk around our land and note what’s going on. I wish I was a better naturalist.

My mom took these few photos:

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When we got inside we read books we had received as gifts, and cooked up a giant ham that our friend Tim had given us (live in New Hampshire or Vermont and need an excavator? Call Northwoods Excavating!). Mom made maple-glazed parsnips from Nigel Slater’s Tender, we ate lots more veggies from Cedar Circle Farm, paused for our annual Christmas game of Parcheesi which my mom narrowly won over a late surge from Bravo the dog (we take turns playing for him to make it a four-person game), and culminated with a Shaker Lemon Pie.

And that’s it, I guess. It’s strange to leave and not have any idea when the next time I’ll be home might be. It might very well be next year at Christmas – and if so, I’ll make sure that after an entire year away, I have more time to spend in my favorite place.

home fires burning.

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There are some things that I have never written about. I realized it back when I was going through my old posts, trying to make an index by location (which I did: it’s here). I never posted anything other than a few photos from my amazing trip to Oslo to cover World Championships in 2011. I never posted anything about a beautiful trip walking through canyons in southern Utah. There are more. My trip home for the last 2 1/2 weeks was threatening to join that number.

Like all of these experiences, it is partly because it’s almost too much for me to absorb. If I can’t understand it myself, how am I possibly supposed to explain myself in words? Things are too beautiful, or in this case too comforting. There’s a reason that we seldom write about things that are heartbreakingly sad. But it’s just as difficult to write about something that so strongly swings your psyche in the opposite direction.

IMGP2069I have also felt oddly protective of my home. I hesitate to make “Lyme” a tag on a popular blogging network. Some of my favorite moments from my trip home were when I got to show friends – first Min Ya and then Lauren – the things I love about where I live. The mountains, sunny at the bottom even if it’s snowing on top; the farms with their fields of picturesque fall pumpkins; the ponds and lakes lying like jewels in the forest. But part of the reason that Lyme, and especially my corner of Lyme, is such a great place to escape to and relax is that there aren’t so many people. If you’re reading this, I love you and you are invited to Lyme anytime. Let me show you. To everyone else? Stay the hell away!

Like so many places, Lyme is constantly gentrifying. When my grandparents moved there, Ross was the first member of his faculty to move out to the hillbilly land up north of the college. It had been in a long decline since its height in the 1830’s, when the hills were stripped bare of trees and the sheep grazed almost all of the way up the mountains. In 1927, a history professor had called it, in a now-somewhat-famous paper, “The Town That Went Downhill.” My grandfather’s colleagues apparently thought he was crazy. The town had nothing but farmers in it, and was pretty poor. Of course, even Hanover had nothing compared to the wealth we see today.

In the last fifty years, Lyme has changed immensely. There are now more Dartmouth professors than farmers. About a third of residents have a graduate degree. The median income is $85,000.

Do I love where I live? Yes, I’m a grumpy old hypocrite and obviously many of the things that I appreciate wouldn’t have existed in 1950’s Lyme. But I can say that the idea of further gentrification – in fact, even of much existing gentrification – makes me as mad as this jack-o-lantern. Keep your money and stop building ugly new houses on pieces of forest that I love, or knocking down old farmhouses to make them more “liveable” to show off your wealth.

Most of the rest of my favorite moments came just being around the farm, either with my parents or my dog. Our house was built in 1820, and you can tell: when I drove in, first I felt the unimaginably wonderful sensation of “home”. Next, I noticed that the gardens were overgrowing and the paint was peeling off the dormers. Our farm is a sore spot for one of our neighbors, who really would like it if we would clean the place up a bit.

It’s not a shack or anything, but we are busy people. Both of my parents work easily more than 40 hours a week; my mom runs a nonprofit and my dad is a carpenter. Things around here are perfectly fine to live in – my parents have done beautiful updates on the farmhouse’s interior (even if I hate that paint color in my room, mom). I think our house is beautiful, although it would be nice to fix up the dormer! We speculate that the real reason for its disrepair is that my dad wants to knock it off the house entirely.

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When my friends came I scrambled around to clean up a little more, and later, once they were gone, I spent very satisfying mornings cleaning up around the front garden. I pruned things back for winter, cut the grass, pulled out weeds so that the creeping shrubs would stop taking over the lawn. By the time I was done, it looked nice – and we were all happier because of it. But that’s the utilitarian nature of our life on the farm. When someone has some time, they do the gardening. I’m sure the pruning would have gotten done before winter regardless, but now my parents can do something else instead.

IMGP2073We aren’t real farmers. We’re not forced to make our living from our land, and in that sense we are ourselves, the gentrifiers. We have some horses; we had some sheep. We make hay from the big field on top of the hill, with an old friend bringing her tractors and mowers over to this side of town and doing most of the work for us (we pay). Then we do the tough job of putting it up in the hayloft. Depending on the year and how many horses we have, we can sell some. Not recently.

(Luckily, we have the kind of horses that get fat on grass without any extra, expensive input. We actually have to ration their grazing time, or else they become rotund and roly-poly.)

My parents’ jobs are enough that they can’t do much more farming than this, and I’m not sure they’d want to. I’ve been thinking that we should lease out some pasture to some other farmer and let them keep cattle or sheep there. It would be a good way to keep the place up. But I can’t urge my parents to do it, too hard – I don’t live at home. It’s their bailiwick, and they are busy, busy people. Plus, having someone wander all over your land and partially take it over is a weird thing. We’re not Swedish – no open land laws here. We are private New Englanders. Well, okay, my dad is a very friendly southern guy, but he’s lost the accent and who knows what else.

When we are home, we like working on the farm. My mom has a love-hate, mostly love, relationship with her tractor, which she purchased when they encountered “empty-nest syndrome” after I left for college. Any summer weekend I’ll call them up and hear about where she was brushhogging.

But at least as much as that, we love just being outside. Maybe it’s working, or maybe it’s not. My mom used to walk up to a certain spot in the blueberry field (yes, there’s a blueberry field) every day with our dog. She would look out over the hills and into Vermont. The view up there is different every day. The trees lose and grow leaves; the fog and clouds come and go and the hills turn different colors by time of day. Sometimes you can see Pico and Killington. Sometimes, not so much.

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The last day we were home, we put on all of our brightly-colored clothing (it is hunting season) and walked up the hill with Bravo. First we climbed up through the pastures, then along a new trail that my parents put in partly funded by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which helps landowners take care of their land. The trail is eventually intended to help with forestry, maybe to drag some logs down to the house. For now, it’s nice for walking and will be a killer ski run in the winter. Bravo loves it, as it was just completed a few weeks ago. The animals are still learning whether to go through or around it, so there’s always new things for him to sniff.

We walked up to the hayfield – Bravo’s favorite – and then down through the hardwood forest on the other side to a small brook. It’s one of our favorite spots: the small, dark creek meanders through the woods, so quiet. Upstream of the crossing (nothing formal: trail on one side, trail on the other side, figure out yourself whether to splash across), the water is flat and you can barely tell it’s moving. Then it turns to ripples and rivulets bouncing over the rocks. From time to time, there have been beaver impoundments. On that day, we looked downstream at a tree that had fallen across the creek and the reflection of the water on the underside of the tree rippled magically. We couldn’t figure it out, and didn’t want to.

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Then, up and over the hill. My dad led us bushwhacking through the woods back up to the hayfield. We marveled at hidden ledges and new topography; my mom and I had never been this way.

On the way down, we looked at the old apple trees, vestiges of an earlier farm. One night, my dad collected apples from seven different trees. We don’t take care of the trees, and on the outside the fruit looked mottled and worm-infested. But when he cut them open, the flesh was crisp white and free of any worms and insects. The trees take care of themselves. That was one of the most delicious apple crisps ever.

I love looking around the farm. There are things that are ours, and things that are old. I love them all. Fall is a good time to appreciate everything; in summer there’s too much running around.

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That’s what I could do at home: Bravo and I spent so many mornings out in the yard, or fixing things up. He is getting to be an old dog and in an effort to reinvigorate him (it seems to have worked), I took him for a walk almost every day. Sometimes we would go a bit farther afield, drive the car out to the trailhead and walk out to Trout Pond. But mostly we just went around the farm. There’s plenty of space. As fun as it was for him, it was perfect for me. The quiet, to think about things, to just be outside of the hustle and bustle of a city. To work with my hands in the dirt instead of on a keyboard. To lie in the grass and just dream.

And of course come back and make dinner. And light a fire in the woodstove in the living room, and sit all together and watch the Red Sox win the World Series. Or be really, really mean to each other while playing Parcheesi. But then eat dessert together and let bygones be bygones.

And then I had to go back. Back to Europe, back to work, back to writing papers. Away from home. It was pretty hard to leave. Goodbye farm. Goodbye parents. Goodbye Bravo. Please be there when I get back.

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finagling favorites.

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I’m home. Home! It’s been since last Christmas, and I couldn’t be happier to be, finally, at home. I imagined this as a working vacation, where I would hole up in my parents’ house and write my papers. But it’s far too luxurious to be home – there are a million things that I’d rather be doing, so I have done them. And not worked so much. Unfortunately I arrived home still sick, so I haven’t been able to do some of the hikes I had imagined, either – no Moosilauke, no Presidentials. But there have been beautiful quiet moments on the hill behind my house, at the Skiway and Pinnacle, and out at Trout Pond (above), where I took my friend Rosalie for the first time. My aged Australian shepherd, Bravo, found his short little legs again and was running joyfully back and forth ahead of us. Rosalie laughed at his bobbed tail bouncing up and down as he bounded along. I love, so much, being home.

I was worried that I would arrive after the best of fall had already said goodbye, but apparently it has been an unusually temperate autumn here in New England. So there are still some beautiful leaves, and some warm sunny days that retreat into freezing clear nights. The full moon loomed over the hills during that first week. I picked pumpkins at a pumpkin patch and marveled at beautiful apples. I wished my friend Sean luck as he headed out to his tree stand in his very first season of bow-hunting; I commiserated with my friend Tim when he ended up chest-deep in the muck of Little Hosmer Pond while retrieving a duck. When Bravo and I go for a walk, he wears a bright orange vest that he comically despises. The horses are getting shaggy and unkempt as they begin to grow their winter coats.

It is fall.

One night I wanted to make dessert for my parents, even though we’re all eating less these days and often eschew the treat. I settled on an apple and pecan tart recipe from Florence Fabricant. In a more rotund world, I’d make an apple pie one night and a pecan pie another night, but we don’t need that at this point. Instead, the recipe combines the two, along with a lot of maple syrup. God, I have missed maple syrup. The tart turned out to be incredibly tasty and an extremely classy way to combine two favorites. As always, Flofab is right. We ate half the darn thing the first night.

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Apple Pecan Tart

adapted from Florence Fabricant / New York Times

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

1 large egg yolk + 2 large eggs

4 tablespoons ice water

2 medium tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

2/3 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Make the crust: preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a 10-inch fluted tart pan. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl and mix until blended. Add 8 tablespoons of the butter, cut into cubes, and mix with your fingers until the pieces of butter and dough are the size of peas. Add the egg yolk to the ice water and then pour the liquid into the butter mixture, stirring slightly. The dough does not need to form a ball, just come together in a shaggy falling-apart mass. Turn it out onto a floured surface and roll. Place the crust in the tart pan and weigh it down with pie weights or dried beans. Bake ten minutes, then remove weights and prick the crust with a fork a few times. Put back in the oven for 20 more minutes.

While baking, make the filling: place the apples in a saucepan with the remaining two tablespoons of butter, and cook just a bit until they begin to soften up. Add the brown sugar and pecans and cook two more minutes. This should make a syrupy, sticky, delicious coating for everything. In a separate bowl, combine the 2 eggs, maple syrup, and vanilla.

Assemble the pie: When the crust is getting golden, pull it out of the over. Spread the apple and pecan mixture in the tart shell, then pour the egg and maple syrup filling on top. Put everything in the oven for 15 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and bake 25 more minutes. Be careful that the pecans on top do not burn.

Especially delicious with vanilla ice cream on top!

Wishy Washy Mt Washington Weather.

There was a time not too long ago when I laughed in derision at peakbaggers. We all did, my friends and I: we were young, fit, motivated, and part of the finest college outing club in the world, of course.

What is a peakbagger, you might ask? Well, it is a hiker whose main goal is to summit a bunch of mountains – for example the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondacks, or all the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire, or all the 13,000-footers in Colorado – and are more driven by the desire to check things off the list than the actual challenge and experience.

While I don’t consider myself a peakbagger, I am, in my “old age”, beginning to understand why somebody might be. When you have a job and a grown-up life, it’s a little harder to get out the door sometimes to go on a run or a hike. There’s simply too many other things to do. Having goals helps with this, and once you’re out there, you’re always glad you left the house.

For example, when I was in Florida, I didn’t really enjoy running that much. There were some quiet neighborhoods but you had to cross large, busy roads, and the community wasn’t particularly pedestrian-friendly. I was often honked at, and not in a positive way. So to get myself to go running, I set a goal. When I returned to New England, I wanted to do a Presi Traverse. It was something I’d been thinking about for a couple of years, and now that I would be leaving for the west coast for an indefinite amount of time, it was now or never on the traverse.

There are a couple of ways to do a Presi Traverse and a few peaks which can be included or omitted, but I picked out a route, rented a Dartmouth Outing Club cabin in Randolph, NH, and then invited my friends to join me. We’d be hiking about 20 miles with approximately 20,000 feet of cumulative climbing, or so I’m told. Susan, Hannah and I mentally committed to waking up obscenely early on Thursday morning and hiking across the ridge all day. We made our pasta for dinner and then went to bed early in preparation for something that would surely make all three of us very, very sore all weekend.

And on Thursday we did wake up early, managed to get out the door, and parked at Crawford Notch. We headed up the Webster-Jackson Trail, still groggy but excited for what we thought was going to be an awesome day in the mountains. A traverse was something that we had all wanted to do – I wasn’t the only one who had spent a few years unsuccessfully trying to fit it into my training schedule. But I was perhaps the most excited, because in Florida, there hadn’t been any mountains. This was my glorious return, if only my body could deal with all that climbing.

Anyway, we got to the top of Mount Jackson, the first peak on our route, and suddenly the atmosphere changed from pleasant to difficult. It was extremely windy, windy enough to blow us slightly off course as we navigated over the summit. But it was still sunny, at least, and we had some good views…. in one direction. We looked toward Mount Washington and couldn’t see the summit. Huh.

We knew that if it was this windy on Jackson, Washington would be impossible. So much of the mountain is exposed, it’s not like you can just pop out of the trees and make a quick trip to the top. At this point, we more or less knew that our traverse was doomed. We still thought, however, that we might be able to take a lower route and stay in the trees- a sort of shoulder traverse, if you will.

When we got to the Mizpah Springs Hut, we consulted our map and didn’t see any way to stay below treeline on Washington without going way, way lower – something that didn’t seem worth it. And we saw that the forecasted winds were 55 to 75 miles per hour. Reluctantly, we agreed that we shouldn’t have any extended routes above treeline. At this point, it also started raining.

Not wanting to give up entirely, we pushed on over Mount Pierce and on up Mount Eisenhower. On Ike, things really got tough. The wind was gusting and fierce, and through the fog and clouds we couldn’t really see anything. In fact, the only way we could really tell that we were at the summit was the absolutely gigantic cairn we saw. This must be it, we decided, and snapped a quick photo.

Despite being cold and wet – our fingers turned red and white and swelled up in protest against the freezing conditions – we were pretty happy to have made it over three peaks. Still though, we were relieved when we started down the Edmands Path and into the trees. We kind of stopped to regroup. We could actually hear each other talk here! Up on Eisenhower, we had each been in our own little world, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I had been struggling to breathe in the cold wind, my asthma kicking in as it sometimes does when I climb through a severe temperature change. We hadn’t been a group, but rather three isolated hikers.

On the way down, we were back to chattering. By the time we got to the bottom, it was practically sunny, although when we looked up we still couldn’t see the ridge, was by now even more obscured by clouds and fog. It was 11 a.m. and we unexpectedly had half a day to waste. At least we had good company.

If I was a true peakbagger, I would have been dismayed not to check a half-dozen new mountains off my list. But that wasn’t why I was disappointed about abandoning our traverse. Mostly, I had wanted to spend those eight or nine or more hours in the mountains, looking out over my home state and drinking in the fresh, clean air. I had wanted to spend that time doing something difficult, making my body really earn its keep. I had wanted to spend it with my two friends, just as we had so many times before at Dartmouth and at Craftsbury.

But, the Presidentials will always be there, and we can always try again. We did have a great time and I still got to see my friends. I can’t complain too much.

Fall comes.

Did I mention that autumn has arrived in northern New England?

It has. It has arrived, in all its rainy, cold sogginess. Fortunately, for every day that features cold rain, there’s one – or at least half of one – which is clear and completely beautiful. Today was one of those days. The leaves are changing and almost passed, coating some hillsides in yellow and others in orangey red. A cold breeze tempers the warm air. These are perfect days to be outside.

Which was lucky for me, because I was supposed to do a long workout. I decided to run up Smarts – which I have written about before, but, well, I’ve run Smarts many times and every time is different. Last time it was summer. This time it was fall. Before, I’ve been alone, or with Dartmouth, or with my dog. This time I was with someone else’s dog.

Yes, that’s right, I took someone else’s dog for a workout. I’m housesitting and one of the two black labs is very rambunctious. I decided maybe a workout would be good for him, mellow him out a little.

And it was funny to watch: for the first 45 minutes, he was dragging me around on the leash, so excited to be going on an adventure. Gradually he ran out of steam and ended up just trotting behind me, but he still had enough energy in reserve to shoot off down the trail to bark at other hikers if I didn’t keep him on a leash.

It turns out that running on the Appalachian Trail with a dog in front of you isn’t really ideal. It’s important to, like, see where your feet are landing, and stuff. Also, even when you aren’t putting any pressure on the leash, holding it changes your running form by a surprising amount. I was not prepared for all this. The run took me longer than I thought it would.

But I didn’t really mind. It was nice to have a buddy; I love dogs and am sad I don’t have one in Craftsbury. Plus, of course, it was a gorgeous day, and I was outside. The view from the firetower was colored differently than the last time I’d been on the mountain.

I only have three weeks of fall left before I leave for Finland (still can’t believe it!), so it’s important that I can get outside and enjoy the season. I don’t want to miss this fall, and the best way to see it is undoubtedly on a trail, in the mountains. Rollerskiing is okay, but it’s not the same. On a trail, in the middle of nowhere, you can really be surrounded by fall.

Parting thought: when I’m older (like 27, maybe) and have retired from ski racing, I’m going to have a great dog and we’re going to go on adventures every weekend. That’s what I decided. Until then… housesitting will have to do.