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.

Kinsman Ridge

This has been a pretty busy week for us, with the Regional Elite Group camp in town and it being a speed week to boot.  Even after the time trials we did with the juniors, we have another coming up on Saturday. I had pretty much put my head down and figured I was in it for the long haul when I got an e-mail from my friend Andrew McCauley, asking if I wanted to go hiking because he had quit his job(!).

After much hemming and hawing – a long hike is decidedly NOT the best thing to do in between a bunch of time trials, and I knew Pepa would be mad – I decided that this was an opportunity not to be missed. A hike? In the Whites? With a friend? Awesome! We decided to do Kinsman Ridge, from south to north, because it’s the only ridge that Andrew hadn’t hiked all in one go, and I had never been to the top of Cannon. More importantly, it would be long, and hard, and that’s generally what we look for in a hike. I was psyched.

Andrew had a job interview in southern NH on Thursday morning, and so it came to be that he arrived at the Lafayette Place parking lot at 10:45 in a dress shirt, khakis, and leather shoes. Ha! This was soon remedied and we were heading south to Kinsman Notch to start our hike.

It is almost ten miles from Kinsman Notch to the Eliza Brook Shelter, but it is the easiest part of the hike and we cruised along, catching up. I am embarrassed to say that although we have been great hiking buddies in the past, we hadn’t actually seen each other since graduation a year ago. It was great to chat and the miles passed easily.

Mt Moosilauke hulking in the distance.

I was so incredibly happy to be in the mountains with a friend. I was rejuvenated, mentally, spiritually, whatever, even though I was tired and my legs hurt from all the hard training I had been doing earlier in the week.

We stopped for lunch a bit before Eliza Brook on some sunny rocks. Little did we know it would be the sunniest, nicest view we had for the rest of the hike – things were moving in and out of rain showers and the sun. We ate our crummy lunches – mine a PB&J, Andrew’s a bagel, hooray for unemployment – and I lay back on a rock to soak up some Vitamin D.

After some hard climbing up one of those rock piles that passes for a trail, we reached South Kinsman, the first peak of the day even though we’d already been hiking for several hours.

Unfortunately, the elevation gave us a chance to see the weather that was coming our way, which was rain. I put on my raincoat and we headed off into the clouds.

I thought that since we’d reached the first peak, the rest of the hike would be easier – after all, we were already up high, right? How hard could it be to traverse the ridge?

Of course, I had forgotten that the ridge in question was Kinsman. It wasn’t too hard to reach North Kinsman (no view this time), but then things got tougher. For one thing, continuing along the ridge meant leaving the Appalachian Trail, and the trail became narrower and bit less maintained. For another, we were all of a sudden going steeply uphill and downhill. The next 3.2 miles took what seemed like forever.

Plus, it started really raining. Not just drizzling, but raining. The last mile to the top of Cannon Mountain went more quickly, but I was getting cold. I climbed the fire tower just because it was my first time up Cannon, but there was zero visibility, and we were exposed to the wind. So down we went.

We decided to take the Hi-Cannon Trail down instead of heading back to Lonesome Lake. The first mile was really hard, and, as I said, “Hour six: Andrew and Chelsea get grumpy.” We were walking down steep, wet slabs of rock, in the rain, and my fingers were going numb. If I had slipped and fallen, I’m not sure my hands would have been much use. Plus, we regularly looked ahead of us to see steep drop-offs into the mist…. nobody wants to fall off a cliff.

The bottom of the trail was much nicer though, dirt switchbacks which we were able to speed along. By the time we reached the car, I wasn’t even cold, and I was back to being happy again.

In fact, I soon forgot how cold I had been, and how much I had longed for dry clothes and hot chocolate. I seldom hike unless it is long and hard, and the key to wanting to go hiking again is to quickly block out the unpleasant parts. Plus, it had been a long time since I’d been in the mountains, and my pure joy easily overrode the grumpy parts.

We hopped in my car to go pick up Andrew’s car at Kinsman Notch, and then grabbed McDonalds in Lincoln for dinner. It was my first bit of fast food in quite some time. After a long day on the trail, anything tastes good, and prospect of getting a burger and fries for $2 is always alluring. I’m ashamed of myself.

We said our goodbyes and drove off our separate ways, me north to Vermont, him south to Massachusetts. I was sad, driving away, because I had enjoyed the company, the mountains, and a day of freedom from my regular obligations.

As I headed back toward Franconia Notch, though, my spirits were lifted by a beautiful sunset. The clouds were drifting and spinning over the Cannon cliffs, lit up orange and pink by the setting sun.

What a wonderful way to end a wonderful day. I drove back to the Kingdom still a bit sad, but in peace.

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.

I Try Tuckerman’s.

Nat and Han hiking up to our lunch spot. Photo: Courtney Robinson.

Nat and Han hiking up to our lunch spot. Photo: Courtney Robinson.

Last week I wrote that I wasn’t a bike racer, but I enjoyed a bike race. Well, I’m not an alpine skier either, but I still went to Tuckerman’s Ravine this weekend.

It started something like this: having dinner with friends on Thursday night, they started talking about going to Tucks on Saturday. I wanted to go. Oh man, I wanted to go. But… “I really should work on my thesis, guys. I just don’t think I can go.”

My friends pretty much think that I’m crazy and all this work I’ve been doing is somewhat unnecessary. So they convinced me (it didn’t take much): I hadn’t been to Tuckerman’s in four years at Dartmouth, and this would be my last chance. I could always make up for it by working harder the next day, right?

And so on Saturday morning we shoved our skis in the car and hit the road. The cast of characters included this outgoing ski team captains Hannah Dreissigacker and Courtney Robinson, incoming captain Ida Sargent, senior teammate Sarah Van Dyke and her friend Nate Mazonson, and my old Ford Sayre teammate Natalie Ruppertsberger, who was home from Bates on break.

When we arrived, we ran into more friends: Pete Van Deventer, Lizzy Asher, Katie Ammons, and Zoe Acher. They had driven up the night before to get an early start, but their plan had obviously failed since we all met up around 10.

Natalie, Hannah and I don’t own our own alpine gear, so we had brought nordic skis. As we stood waiting for people to get ready at Pinkham Notch Visitor’s Center, the AMC staffer came over and asked us if we did this often.

“No,” I replied, “Not really.”

“Well, just be careful. Those skis aren’t really appropriate. You’re not planning on skiing the bowl, are you?”

No, we weren’t. But it seemed to us that anyone who bothered to bring nordic skis probably had, actually, a pretty good idea of what they were doing; it would never occur to an out-of-state novice to bring nordic gear. This was evidenced by how many times we were asked if we were crazy.

As we started up, Pete said, “Less talking, more walking!” which turned out to be his mistake. Natalie and I power-hiked up, passing dozens of people on the highway of a trail. We were aided by the fact that our skis weighed so much less than everyone else’s heavy alpine skis and boots or snowboards. Nonetheless, it was a workout; I guess maybe we are a little competitive with each other! I was drenched in sweat by the time we reached the Hermit Lakes shelters, where we paused for a snack before continuing up into the bowl.

There were so many people. It was overwhelming. Where could we put our packs and eat lunch? Before we even figured this out, someone shouted “Avalanche!” and we watched as a huge section just below the cliffs come tumbling down as people sprinted out of the way. It ran out before it reached us, but we still retreated towards the scrubby trees.

We decided to climb up to some rocks on the right side of the ravine, high above the “Lunch Rocks”. It was a steep hike, and I wondered a few times, “how am I going to get down from here?” But I put these thoughts on hold.

We sat in the sun eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, slapping on sunscreen and watching people tackle the headwall. It was probably sixty degrees and not a cloud in the sky; I could have sat on those rocks forever, although I would have ended up with quite a suburn.

It was amazing the risks people were taking. We saw a guy break his femur. While he was being helped, not a minute after his crash, a snowboarder attempted the same line and carwheeled all the way down; I don’t understand how his neck wasn’t broken. “Look at those knuckleheads,” Natalie said. It made me nervous, even though of course I wouldn’t be trying anything nearly as dangerous. I just thought of how unpleasant it would be to be carried out from Tuckerman’s on a stretcher – it’s a long, jolting way down.

After lunch, half the group bootpacked up to the summit so they could ski in the Great Gulf, where it was less crowded. The three of us with nordic skis stayed in the bowl, hiking and sliding our way down through the rocks and scrub to the bottom. Sarah and Ida hiked over the rocks to the Right Gully, and skied down from there.

Hannah, Natalie and I decided to tackle the left side of the bowl. We hiked up to a set of rocks below the Chute, and looked down. It was steep, but not too steep (not compared to the terrain I foolishly attempted to ski in Colorado this summer…); the difficulty was more that the snow was heavy, thick slush, and there wasn’t much chance we could push it around with our skinny, light skis.

Hannah tackled the problem by doing telemark turns. They weren’t the as graceful as turns on real telemark skis, and she fell every once in a while, but they worked. She was having fun.

As for me, well, I can’t do tele turns. As far as I could see, this left me only one option: jump turns. The first run, I did okay turning to one direction (as long as I didn’t get up too much speed), but the other way I crashed every time. Once we got down to the shallow bottom of the bowl, we could step around the turns and go faster. It was fun.

We immediately hiked back up to those rocks. People started asking us, so what trick are you going to do this time? We would smile and laugh and say we didn’t have too many tricks up our sleeves. That time, I think I made it down the whole way down jump-turning without any falls. I was feeling pretty good about myself.

The third time, of course, I was overconfident and fell on almost every turn. But so it goes. We were enjoying ourselves, enjoying the sun, enjoying the atmosphere; there was nothing that could make the day better, it seemed.

And we were sad when, after a few more runs, the time came to leave the bowl and head back down the mountain. Couldn’t we just stay there forever? Did we really have to go back to school? And did Natalie have to go back to Bates? Why couldn’t she just hang out with me all the time? We were exhausted from the sun, and the ride back was quiet. I was just glad I’d had the chance to experience Tuckerman’s once before I graduated.

Epic Weekend

Seniors who raced Rangeley: Courtney Robinson, Sarah Van Dyke, and I.

Seniors who raced Rangeley: Courtney Robinson, Sarah Van Dyke, and I.

As I may have mentioned in this column before, my teammates, friends and I are plagued by a disorder called the pursuit of the epic.

As we see it, there is Type I fun, which is fun when you are doing it, and then there is Type II fun, which may be quite miserable at the time but always seems fun when you look back on it. We are addicted to Type II fun.

Our whole team, mostly, competed in the Rangeley Ski Marathon on Saturday. Marathons are very common in the ski racing world, so while many of us approached the 50 kilometer race with some trepidation, it was not regarded as one of our crazier pursuits. Lots of people do marathons. Half our team had already done a marathon this season. It couldn’t be so bad.

Well, okay, it was pretty hard. When you are racing for two and a half or three hours, it is impossible not to go through periods where you feel completely miserable. For me, this point came between 12 and 16 kilometers. It was quite early in the race, and I was distraught: if I already hated it so much, how could I finish the 50 kilometers? I gave up the hope of a podium and just wanted to make it around the course.

Luckily, my teammate Alice Bradley found me around 22 kilometers, and my mood improved greatly. Oh, it was still a sufferfest. But I finished. Thanks Alice.

We stood around in the heated tent at the touring center, eating cups and cups of soup the volunteers provided, drinking Gatorade, wolfing down cookies. Ida Sargent, who won the women’s race, described getting to the final hill – which was literally ten meters long – and being unable to coach’s skate up it because she had “bonked” so hard. Our bodies were wrecked.

For some of us, though, our weekend was not over. Alice, Courtney Robinson, Ruth McGovern and I avoided talking about our task for the next day.

***

When the rest of the team headed back to Hanover, we took our own bus to Jackson, New Hampshire. As we drove along Route 16 past Mount Washington, we looked up at the mountain and whimpered. In the morning, we would be racing up the Auto Road all the way to treeline.

But before that, we arrived at the Blake House Bed and Breakfast, home of a high school rival Kathleen Maynard, who now skis for Colby. We have become good friends since starting college. My Ford Sayre buddy Jennie Brentrup is now Kathleen’s teammate, and the two of them, along with Sam Mathes, made us a delicious hot dinner.

I don’t think I can explain how wonderful that dinner was. After a long day of racing and driving, we arrived exhausted, smelly, and bedraggled, and the Colby skiers took care of us. Nothing could have been better than what we had.

I was also thrilled to be able to chat with my friends. We see each other at ski races throughout the season, but it’s always a quick hello or, at most, a fifteen-minute cool-down together. That night, we sat around the dinner table and finally got to catch up on everything we had been up to since the summer, telling stories, discussing the differences in how our teams were run, and eating tons of Kathleen’s amazing banana bread.

As I fell asleep, I heard rain pouring down onto the roof. It was very similar to the feeling you get in a tent when it starts raining: is it going to stop? Maybe it’s just a passing cloud. Wow, it’s really raining. Tomorrow is going to suck. Oh well.

***

Courtney and I woke up in time to go to registration at Great Glen by 7:30. We plodded through an inch of watery slush in the driveway to get to the bus. At Great Glen, we looked down on the field and saw a giant puddle, literally a small lake. Great conditions for ski racing. After picking up bibs, we returned to the house.

Over breakfast we debated whether women’s higher body fat ratios made them better suited for long races. I pointed out that there were two sticks of butter in the dough of the cinnamon rolls I had made, and with an audience of skiers, there was hearty approval. This weekend, we needed all the help we could get.

I warmed up for ten minutes, and my skating muscles were definitely tired. I skied up the Auto Road until the first gradual corner, then bogged down quickly. I was not optimistic about the race.

The first four kilometers were rolling around the Great Glen trails. It was fun because nobody was going very hard; we knew we had to save our legs for the next six kilometers, which went straight up the Auto Road and gained 2200 feet in elevation.

When we hit the Auto Road, I slowed down. I knew it would be a long climb, and I didn’t care that people passed me. I was in it for the long haul. Almost immediately, sweat was pouring off my face, and I could feel it on my back. I stopped to roll up the sleeves of my uniform. I would never stop in any other 10k, because those seconds were valuable. But this time, it didn’t matter.

I could see my teammates Alice and Courtney in front of me for the whole race. Jennie – the lucky one who hadn’t raced the marathon – took off fairly early. I mentally wished her the best of luck. After a while, Ruth was out of sight, too.

Sense of scale is totally different when the entire distance is uphill. I had no idea how many kilometers I had covered or how many I had to go. At one point I passed the two mile point, which was marked by a snowman, and someone shouted, “3 kilometers to go!” Are you kidding? I’m only halfway there? I’ve been climbing forever!

After what must have been another kilometer, the snow became more icy and less slushy. The wind picked up and the air temperature dropped. It was a relief; I was still sweating from my face, but it wasn’t as uncomfortable. Besides, it felt like I must be getting somewhere.

Soon, Olympian Justin Freeman passed me on his way down. I immediately thought, well, if he’s finished, I can’t be far. But then I realized that I was moving very slowly, and I could still be very far from the finish. Several more people passed me in the next few minutes, and they started telling me I was close. I didn’t know whether to take them seriously or not; I just kept plodding along at a steady pace. Then, I could see it. I tried to speed up, but it was impossible. Making it across the finish line was good enough for me, at any speed.

***

Even more than at Rangeley, we had engaged in Type II fun. Did I enjoy the race? I guess. It was incredibly painful. But I knew, when I was doing it, that I would be able to say I had skied (halfway) up Mount Washington. I knew I was doing something fairly impressive, that the rest of my team had chickened out of. I knew I was achieving something epic.

Times like this weekend, the epic is our reward. We get to say we did something that most people would call crazy. We get to tell stories. We bond with each other when we attempt the improbable. And these are always some of our best memories.

Love Story: Dartmouth Carnival

We get our kicks at Oak Hill. Photo: mama Koons.

We get our kicks at Oak Hill. Photo: mama Koons.

This has been a season of second chances. I haven’t been skiing as well as I think I ought to be, but I have somehow still been able to race on the best and deepest women’s team in the East, and perhaps in the country.

How? Luck. And the Flu.

In our four weekends of college action so far, I have been named the alternate every time. Unusually, I’ve gotten to race three of the four weekends as first Rosie Brennan, then Hannah Dreissigacker, then Steph Crocker succumbed to illness.

For four years, I have dreamed of racing for Dartmouth at Oak Hill, my home course ever since I started skiing in 10th grade. My sophomore year, I made the cut, but there wasn’t enough snow in Hanover; we raced in Stowe.

This year, I muddled through the early part of the season and Cami Thompson promised that if there was any way she could get me the start at Dartmouth, she would.

Last weekend at UVM, I completely imploded in some tough waxing conditions. I even tried to drop out of a race for the first time in my life (the spectators wouldn’t let me). I was sure that my chance to race at Oak Hill had disappeared, but Cami named me the alternate anyway.

At 4 o’clock on Thursday afternoon, Steph Crocker decided that she was too sick to race. I ran around Robinson Hall telling anyone I saw, “I’m racing! I’m racing at Oak Hill!”

Never mind that after UVM, I was unsure about how to move forward and hadn’t been planning on starting even a non-college race this weekend. Never mind that I had stayed up until 1 a.m. writing a paper on Wednesday because I figured I wasn’t racing so sleep didn’t matter. Never mind that I hadn’t worked on my skis at all.

I was racing! Even though I had done nothing to deserve it, my dream was coming true.

***

Friday was bright and clear, and the rain had stopped. The Oak Hill trails were covered in sugar snow, the S-Turns in sheet ice. Our development team raked snow over the ice after each racer went by, and then watched it pushed to the edges as nervous skiers snowplowed and slid the corners.

My teammate and captain Courtney Robinson was in the announcing booth with “the voice of American skiing,” Peter Graves. As I inched closer to the starting line, Courtney talked about me over the loudspeaker and I grinned up at her.

I crashed in the first kilometer, narrowly avoiding a tree. And I had serious difficulty with my classic wax, as has been unfortunately usual for me this year. Maybe I just didn’t have enough time to get into race mode after the late notice; excitement only takes you so far. In any case, it didn’t match what I had visualized the night before.

But instead of getting upset and crying as I often do after an unsatisfactory result, I just rolled with it. No matter that my five teammates were all in the top 10 and I had struggled into the top 50, by far my worst carnival finish of the year. I was there. I had raced. I told Ruff Patterson my wax had slipped in case he wanted to adjust it for the men.

Then I walked out on the long, rolling stretch behind the ski jump with my high school teammate Jennie Brentrup. It was sunny; we didn’t get cold. She cheered for her Colby teammates and I cheered for the Dartmouth men, and we urged on anyone else we thought was cute.

After everyone was finished, Mr. O’Brien grilled up burgers and Mrs. Koons ladled out hot cider. I sat alongside my teammates, the freshmen with their neon pink hair (girls) and mohawks (boys), which they had spiked with wood glue and spray-painted green.

With a few exceptions, the men hadn’t raced particularly well, but for them that meant filling in the spots between 10th and 20th. They asked how my race was.

“Oh, I rocked 49th place,” I would reply.

“Nice!” Ben Koons said. “You made the top 50!” And so we joked about it, all understanding that it shouldn’t have gone that poorly, but it did, so what can you do.
***

women's start. Photo: Judy Geer.

women's start. Photo: Judy Geer.

I was more excited for Saturday’s mass start race. The 10k course climbed all the way up Oak Hill. This intimidates a lot of skiers, but I wasn’t scared. Long skate races had been my strength all year.

The men raced first. It was exciting and inspiring. Nils Koons hung with the lead pack the whole time and finished 4th; Eric Packer moved up from bib 23 to finish 5th. Juergen Uhl of UVM lost a ski in the final 300 meters and dropped from podium position to 8th as he scrambled to find it in the ditch.

I have been told that Robinson played Britney Spears’ song “Womanizer” as we sprinted out of the stadium, but I didn’t notice. The sound of sixty pairs of skis on the icy snow was loud. I looked for gaps and had made up a few places by the time we headed down the hill. Chunks of ice flew up in my face as the girls in front of my snowplowed. Two racers crashed in the deep sugar snow, but I managed to get around them.

Then the uphills started and the field slowed down. We came to a standstill at several points as racers tangled up and fell. I relaxed into the pace of the skiers around me, slipping by them when the time was right.

The race course was lined with spectators shouting and screaming, mostly for Dartmouth; I imagine that racing up the Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France would feel like this. Senior co-captain Hannah Dreissigacker said, “Racing up the Oak Hill switchbacks with a huge crowd of people sprinting up the hill to cheer for us at each one was just really exhilarating.”

By the time we reached the outback loop, I was in contact with the top 20, skiing behind Alice Nelson of Williams and Beth Taylor of Bates, both fellow Ford Sayre alumni.

On the next S-Turn, I fell hard. I guess I was overconfident after too many days of skiing Oak Hill in powder; I forgot that it was sheet ice. My pack was gone and another had passed me as I got up. I couldn’t make up much ground over the last three kilometers because the skiing was fast and most of the terrain was downhill.

***

froshies with pink hair. Photo: mama koons.

froshies with pink hair. Photo: mama koons.

It is tradition for racers to exchange Valentines on the last day of Dartmouth carnival, and we ran around giggling and watching each other’s presentations. And we had the customary barbecue with 26 species of meat. I was a particular fan of the quail Don Cutter had been advertising to me for days.

Saturday was the most fun I’ve had in a ski race in almost two years. The scrambling, the sun, the hint of spring, the crowds shouting my name. Once again, I didn’t mind that my results weren’t as good as I thought they should have been. I soaked it up: my last Dartmouth Carnival, my only college race at Oak Hill, and, excluding any more cases of the flu, possibly my last college race, ever.

As every Dartmouth skier knows, our home carnival is the most special race of the year. Dreissigacker says, “There’s something about racing at Oak Hill that is just awesome.  It’s more than just the fact that it’s our home course. I’m sad that it’s my last Dartmouth Carnival-it’s always been the highlight of my racing season.”

And Robinson said, “standing up in the little announcing shack and watching all of you start, I just wanted to be able to fly over you, encouraging you strong women. I felt so lucky to be able to call this group of green clad racers my friends, teammates, suds buddies. Perhaps it comes a little close to what a parent might feel watching their children out in the world. Not that I am the Mom but I know what it took all of you to be on that starting line, or crossing the finish!”

I have to thank luck, and Cami, for giving me the opportunity to be one of the green-clad racers.

Ode to Oak Hill.

Ruff Patterson.

Alice Bradley, Katie Bono, and I (l to r) skiing at Oak Hill last year. Photo: Ruff Patterson.

After traveling around the country for ski races over the holidays, it was great to come home to Hanover. For the first time in years, there has been consistent snow through December and January, and Oak Hill is a wonderland. It’s some of the best skiing I’ve ever seen in town.

I would like to say that I grew up skiing at Oak Hill, but I didn’t. I grew up on touring skis in my grandparents’ woods in Lyme, where there is a small trail system groomed by Mike Smith. As an elementary school student, the trails there seemed endlessly long.

When I started ski racing my sophomore year of high school (thanks to peer pressure), I found out that skis were made for more than walking on: you could glide! I began training on the 5k loop at Garipay Field and the 15k system at Oak Hill. Although I still do easy training at my grandparents’ house once or twice a year, it’s just for fun; we rarely race on such small trails.

Learning to ski at Oak Hill was an adventure. One of the first things people mention about Oak Hill is the technical downhill corners. Some people I know have hit trees or skied off the trail on the S-turns coming down from the 10k; I’ve been spared that fate so far.

In the beginning, it was because I was timid. I remember one Saturday that first year when my friend Julia Schwartzman made me ski the S-turns coming down from the 10k, over and over, probably ten times, so that I would stop being terrified of them.

Now, they don’t scare me, and I can make it down with the best of them. In practice, we sometimes race from the top all the way to the stadium, or that’s what it feels like at least, trying new lines and seeing how far we can lean into the corners.

The other thing people mention about Oak Hill, of course, is the uphill. Switchbacks cut across the old alpine trails and wind up and up. Then there’s the outback loop, which isn’t actually very long but has a monster climb.

I remember once in high school I watched a Dartmouth carnival race, a 15k skate, and the girls were suffering up the switchbacks, complaining to the spectators about how hard it was. The Dartmouth girls, of course, were doing fine.

Our coach, Cami Thompson, made us ski the whole 5k loop without poles once. So when we race there, the hills don’t seem so bad. If you can ski them without poles, then when you have poles, you’d better be able to catch that girl up ahead.

We have a definite home course advantage on the whole course: the uphills, the downhills, and the way they go together. We know where we can recover on the switchbacks, we know exactly when they’ll be over, and we can make up time on the downhills. The men do workouts on the outback loop so that when they get there in a race, they can make a break and drop the competition.

It’s too bad that with the snow conditions over the last few years, we had a three-year period where Dartmouth carnival was held at other venues. We did fine for ourselves, but we didn’t have the advantage or the satisfaction of winning on our home course in front of our home spectators.

Because, in my seventh year, Oak Hill really is home. When we leave college carnivals on Saturday afternoons, we know that we have to do a long ski the next morning. I look forward to it. Skiing the familiar terrain can cheer me up if I’ve had a bad race, and it’s like a victory lap if the weekend was good to me.

One day on our long ski, I came across Katie Bono sitting in the trail. This isn’t our usual practice activity, so I asked her what she was doing. For her Environmental Studies class, students were supposed to sit outside and write about their relationship with the natural world around them. The back loop seemed like the perfect place to her.

Another time, Hannah Dreissigacker was lying the middle of trail. She was tired and thought she might rest.

Did I mention that Oak Hill is our home?

When I got back from Alaska last Friday, I put on my skis and was very excited to get out on the trails. It completely escaped me that the freshmen had never skied in Hanover before – fall term ended and we left for ski camp before the trails were skiable.

I started out of the stadium, cutting up to the switchbacks rather than starting the 10k or the 5k loop. Steph Crocker began skiing the wrong way up the trail leading into the stadium.

“Steph!” I shouted. “The trails here are one-way!”

“OK,” she said, and kept skiing.

“No, one way the other way!”

There’s a lot of learning to be done your first time at Oak Hill. Another freshman, Nancy Dietman, is from Minnesota, where hills are not so technical. She is a tentative skier. We predicted, “Oh, Nancy, you are NOT going to like Oak Hill!”

We have exhorted her to wedge instead of snowplowing, and to step the turns instead of wedging. Keep your hands in front of you, Cami always says.

When I asked her about her first impressions of Oak Hill, Nancy said, “Ouch!” But she’s learning. I don’t think she loves Oak Hill – the downhill corners have already sent her flying and broken one of her skis – but maybe she’s getting used to it. Maybe by the time she graduates, she’ll feel as at home there as I do.

But I have a three year head start on everyone else, so maybe not.

Moosilauke 2 ways.

Ruff Patterson.

My pain face. Photo: Ruff Patterson.

This weekend I experienced Mount Moosilauke in two parts. Neither was relaxing, exactly, but Saturday was a comfortable kind of work, closing up the Ravine Lodge for the winter.

David Asmussen, an alumni, bucked logs with a chainsaw while I operated the hydraulic splitter. We split and stacked several cords of wood, and he pointed out that I had lifted quite a few tons, so it was all right that I didn’t get into the gym over the weekend.

I enjoyed the harmony of four chainsaws, the splitter, a maul, and the work truck taking away the fruits of our labor. Especially since the weather was decent.

As Hannah Dreissigacker said, manual labor makes you think, but it is not intellectual like schoolwork. You enter a different state of mind as you try to find the most efficient way to complete your task, and it’s a great time to contemplate life.

Our work was repaid with a feast that night: one and two-thirds roast turkeys, stuffing, cranberry, gravy, sweet potatoes, challah, asparagus, potato skins with melted cheese salad, duck with maple-glazed apples, and five kinds of pie (I only tried three).

I fell asleep that night to the sound of rain on the Lodge roof, and worried that at the top of the mountain, the precipitation would be in the form of snow. After only a few minutes, though, the hard work of the day sent me off to sleep, snuggled deep inside my sleeping bag.

The next morning, I ate more pie for breakfast and tried to prepare myself for the days’ task, our annual time trial with Middlebury and whoever else feels like showing up.

I was nervous because three weeks ago, I had come down with a cold.

Being a sick athlete, especially an asthmatic, pneumonia-prone one, is distasteful. I build my life around, among other things, getting out the door to run or rollerski at least once every day.

So I took a few days completely off, and went two and a half weeks without any intensity. Friday, I did my first set of intervals after concluding that I was healthy enough to try. It wasn’t so bad.

Unfortunately, “not so bad” doesn’t cut it when you’re racing up a mountain.

I was given number 32, and started after all the alpine skiers, several mothers, and about half the nordic field.

I started out along the Baker River, running fast on the flat. By the time I got to the first uphill section, which seemed like it was actually a stream filled with rocks, I could see Sophie McClelland from Middlebury in front of me. I felt good.

As I passed a few hikers and spectators, I developed what I would term a “death rattle.” My breathing was even, but not particularly effective as the mucus bounced around my throat and lungs. I crossed the first bridge and turning onto the Gorge Brook Trail. More and more frequently, I stopped to walk in order to negotiate the rocks in the trail without tripping.

After crossing the second bridge and running past Last Sure Water, I began getting caught by the faster runners who started in back of me.

My teammates Hannah Dreissigacker and Rosie Brennan passed me at about the same time as Cassidy Edwards from Middlebury. Although they definitely gave me some motivation to run faster than I could have on my own, when I pushed to keep up with them and run with a pack, I ended up coughing and slowing down.

Climbing up and up through the trees, I thought that each corner would bring me to the landmark I could picture so clearly in my mind: granite steps curving to the left through scrubby conifers, when all of a sudden the view opens up to the sky above treeline.

I glanced at my watched when I finally got to the steps I was looking for: 46:50. My goal time was 50 minutes, but there was no way I could possibly reach the finish in the next three minutes. I still had to climb up to the false flat, cross it, and then make the final ascent to the summit.

Despite the fact that I wasn’t going to get even close to my goal time, I pushed to the finish and finally passing Sophie on the flat. One of my biggest challenges in racing is to continue trying when I know my result will be disappointing.

I think this time trial has something against me. I did not compete my freshman year, because I was running cross country for Dartmouth at that point. My sophomore year, I wasn’t completely healthy, and last year I had an asthma attack.

It turns out that the last time I was proud of my race was in high school.

Maybe that means I’ll have to come back and try again next year – and lucky for the Lodge, maybe I’ll split their wood, too.

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.