dreary.

Tio Chris recently wrote in an e-mail:

“You do have to include some rainy miserable day pictures too.  Svalbard looks like England does in movies–always sunny and beautiful and the perfect place to be!”

So, without further ado:

Oh? You wanted to hike up to that ridge and see over the other side, out over the glacier and onto the rows and rows and rows of mountains?

Hahahahahahahahaha

It’s raining.

1

(and yes, that is a huge icy glacier below Helen.)

Northwest autumn.

Look at this sky. This is how moody the Northwest is in the fall.

On Wednesday I left after my Norwegian class and began the drive up to Washington. As is the case more and more often now, I was traveling solo, leaving the postdocs on campus with their spreadsheets and paper revisions. As I drove north I crossed through bands of drizzle and lashing rain; every time I passed through a small patch of sunshine I would hope that it might be sunny at our field site, and then immediately acknowledge to myself that this was a ridiculous thing to hope for. No way would it be nice, and I might as well not set myself up for disappointment.

When I arrived at Tenalquot Prairie, though, it was actually sunny. I was confused. This was impossible. I quickly set my tent up – yes, I was here for two days – and got to work. First I took the NDVI in all the plots. That’s the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, or basically a fancy way of shooting light down at the ground and assessing the “greenness” based on how much light comes back at you. It’s most frequently used in remote sensing from a space platform, but also in agriculture and, I’m discovering, ecology. I held the instrument at hip height and let it do its thing. At least I’d have the fancy equipment all packed up and dry in the car if it started raining, I thought.

And after I had moved on to weeding the no-competition zones of our plots for about twenty minutes, by golly if the rain didn’t appear. I pulled on my rainpants, zipped up my raincoat, and steeled myself for a completely miserable two days.

It was cold. It was wet. My gloves, which I needed to get a better grip on the plants I was yanking out of the ground, had the effect of just turning my fingers numb. I couldn’t work as fast in the rain, either – the plants were more slippery and I also was thinking about how I moved so that I wouldn’t end up with a river of water running down my back or something like that.

I worked until it was too dark to see the plants. I had originally planned to keep working after dark with a headlamp, but by this point there was no way I was going to keep working in the rain. I fired up my electric kettle – yes, our plots have electricity in them – and, I’m ashamed to say, crawled in the car. I turned the heat on and ate my cup noodles (I felt like a college student, and I promise I never eat that crap when I’m at home with a kitchen) and stared out at the rain.

At some point I had to make the dash to my tent with my sleeping bag, and I was not psyched to venture out into the rain. But the car was packed full and tiny to boot, and I had a little too much dignity to sleep in the back. So dash I did. With my rain fly on my tent stayed pretty dry, but even when you aren’t actually wet knowing that the rain is right outside never makes for a fun night of camping. I might have felt a little sorry for myself.

I fully expected to rain for the whole of my second day, too, but when I woke up in the morning I couldn’t hear any raindrops. I peeked out the tent and saw a beautiful sight.

The rain had stopped and just a few cotton candy clouds dotted the sky. Literally, I could not have been more happy.

The good weather enabled me to have a solid second day of work and I got more done than I had expected. I could almost forget how grumpy I had been the night before! As I learned when I got home, this is what differentiates fall from winter in Oregon. When it rains, it’s just as cold as it is in the winter, and just as miserable; but in the fall, you still get a few sunny days, some brief respite from the soggy chill.

I guess I’d better enjoy them while they last.

sunny pie for a rainy day.

Let me sum this pie up for you: it’s a stew, wrapped in a croissant. How could you possibly go wrong with that?

I must admit that I have been eating abysmally. First we were camping, and then I was tired. I’ve had too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, too many bowls of oatmeal, and I am ashamed to say that I may have even eaten a can of tuna for dinner one night. It’s been grim.

On an entertaining note, I just got enrolled in state health insurance here in Oregon, and I was urged to take this online health assessment. So I did. It told me that my health score was 63 out of 100, which seemed terrible until I saw that the average score was 54. Really, America? Okay, I guess I’m not that surprised. But it turned out that my diet was one of the main reasons I scored so poorly. I had filled out that I ate 2 servings of fruits and veggies per day, 3 of whole grains, and 1 of nuts and seeds. That was all. I guess that looks really bad, but they only asked about low fat dairy, and I drink raw milk, which is whole! They only asked about lean red meat; I don’t cook red meat for myself very often, more often choosing pork or chicken. And they didn’t ask about eggs. Or beans and legumes. Or all sorts of other things. Anyway, they told me that my diet was very unbalanced and I needed to meet with a nutritionist. I laughed a little.

Perhaps part of the reason that my eating habits have been so bad recently is that it has been raining. Nobody wants to ride their bike to the grocery store in the rain, much less ride to the farmer’s market and walk around in the rain. But today I decided that this monkey business had to stop – I swear that this was not related to the health assessment – so I sucked it up and drove my car over to the grocery store.

Yesterday, I had been looking for recipes for dulce de leche or confiture de lait (I later realized that I didn’t have as much milk as I would need, so abandoned the idea). On my way I came across a wonderful Australian food blog which had this recipe for chicken, leek, and fennel pie with cream cheese pastry. I love pies. I love fennel. I was hooked, and the ingredients in the recipe became my shopping list for today’s venture to the store.

For some reason I was worried that there wouldn’t be enough filling in the pie, so, never one to leave well enough alone, I added one more ingredient: a giant golden beet. I like purple beets, but golden ones add an extra bit of sweetness which I thought would compliment the fennel well. An unusual combination, for sure, but I was ready to try it.

To make the pie filling, I sautéed up the chicken, then the fennel, leek, beet, and garlic. I added some white wine, chicken broth, and flour to thicken it up, plus thyme and rosemary. It took a long time to reduce the liquid, but in that time, my kitchen began to smell amazing. Fennel isn’t something that everyone likes, but I like it. And you can’t deny that it smells divine.

The crust…. how to describe the crust. Butter, flour, salt, and I made a substitution of crème fraiche for the cream cheese. It required a little bit of water to come together, but turned out fine. I knew as soon as I added the crème fraiche that this crust was going to be unusual. It gave the dough a different texture, very flexible, very light, very stretchy. It was a breeze to roll out, although I had to generously flour my countertop to keep it from sticking.

And when it came out of the oven. Wow.

When I cut into the pie, the crust crinkled and crunched. It was airy and didn’t feel like a pie crust. I slopped some out onto a plate and steam poured out with the filling, which was golden like the beets and the sunshine I was so dearly missing.

The pie was phenomenal. The crust, as I said, was like a croissant in texture, but a little tangy because of the crème fraiche. The filling was lovely – the dark meat from the chicken thighs I used was so much more pleasing than the white meat you find in a traditional chicken pot pie, and the taste was more spicy, more complex, more warming. It had never really occurred to me that you could make a chicken pot pie that was different than the yummy, comforting kind you are served at New England church suppers. But this pie was just as comforting in a more interesting way. It’s good to try change every once in a while.

Unless you’re one of those anti-fennel folks, make this pie! Thanks to Citrus and Candy for a great recipe. The crust will definitely stay in my repertoire!

Sunshine Chicken Pie with a Crème Fraiche Crust

Adapted from Citrus and Candy

3 boneless chicken thighs
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 leek
1 fennel bulb
1 golden beet
1 cup white wine
3/8 cup white flour
1 cup chicken stock
a couple each of thyme and rosemary leaves, finely chopped

1 ½ cups plain flour
pinch of salt
11 tablespoons cold butter
½ cup crème fraiche
a couple tablespoons cold water

Start by making the filling. In a large pot or pan over medium heat, melt the butter until it just starts to turn brown. While it is heating up, cut the chicken thighs into half-inch cubes (or a little bigger if you want). Toss them in the olive oil and salt, and then add them to the butter in the pan, cooking until done. Place the chicken in a bowl, leaving as much of the butter in the pan as possible. While the chicken was cooking, you could chop up the vegetables: garlic into a small mince, the leek in half lengthwise and then the white parts only into 1/4-inch semicircles, the fennel and beet into half-inch cubes. When the chicken is out of the pan, toss the veggies in and cook five to ten minutes, depending on the size of your pan, or until they have softened in the chicken-butter. Then add the white wine and crank the heat up. Cook until the volume of wine is decreased by half. Add the flour, stir quickly, and then pour in the chicken stock. As the mixture starts to thicken, throw the chicken and herbs in as well and continue cooking, stirring often, until the filling is as thick as you want it for your pie. Put it in a bowl in the refrigerator to cool as much as possible before using in the pie.

For the crust, when you are ready, put the flour and salt in a bowl and then chop the butter into the bowl as well. Use your fingers to mix the two together, breaking the butter into smaller and smaller pieces and incorporating it with the flour. When the butter is in pea-sized pieces, add the crème fraiche and stir with a fork until the dough is as well-mixed as possible. Is it still too dry? Add some water, but be careful not to make it too wet. When you can mush it into a ball, stop and let it rest in the refrigerator for ten minutes.

To assemble the pie, take the dough out of the refrigerator and divide it into two slightly differently-sized pieces. Flour your counter well, and your rolling pin, and roll the larger piece into your bottom crust, stopping frequently to reflour and make sure that it does not get stuck to your rolling surface! Place it in a greased pie pan, the bigger the better – there’s a lot of filling! Next, roll out the top crust. Pour the filling into the pan, place the top crust on top, pinch the edges, and put the whole thing in a 450 degree oven. Bake for five minutes before turning the oven down to 425 and baking for another 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is golden.

Gloomy Days

When you open your eyes and see this out the window, it’s hard to get out of bed:

Dark. Gloomy. Rain in the distance. These are things that seriously hamper my motivation to go train.

Yesterday was particularly tough – the morning workout was threshold around the lake, something I often struggle with. “Around the lake” sounds flat, doesn’t it? And Big Hosmer Pond isn’t that big, is it? Well. The loop is actually 7.1 miles long, and starts with a long climb – about 200 feet of height differential in a mile.

Threshold work is supposed to be light and fun. The idea is that you are working hard, but not accumulating too much lactic acid. For me, I try to keep my heart rate at 180 to 185 beats per minute for threshold work. That’s about 90% of my max.

When you do 8 minute intervals at threshold pace, it feels good, like you could keep doing intervals at that pace forever.

When you run for 7 miles straight at threshold pace, it doesn’t feel so easy. Except for the fact that you don’t sprint at the end, the pace is not all that different than racing over the same distance.

Anyway, yesterday morning I woke up and looked out the window. It was gray. It was drizzling. It was a little bit cold. And I didn’t have a training partner for the workout: Ida, Susan, and Hannah are gone on extended trips, and Lauren was in Jericho doing biathlon. I ate a quick breakfast and set out on the workout.

Even on gloomy days, you have to suck it up and try to motivate yourself. Was I as excited for the workout as I would have been if it was perfect running weather and I had a buddy to run with? Absolutely not. But I did manage to get the workout done and accomplish what I was supposed to accomplish. When I got home, I made zucchini bread, with lots of chocolate chips, and ate it warm out of the oven. Gloom calls for hot baked goods with melty chocolate.

This morning, I was faced with another similar situation. Before I went to bed last night, I checked the weather, which called for rain all day. Lauren and I had planned a 3 1/2 hour bike ride, and we had to do the workout no matter what the weather did. When we woke up, it was indeed wet and cold. But we put on our long-sleeve shirts and headed out promptly at 8 a.m. anyway.

On the first downhills, our fingers and toes felt frosty. But after ten minutes of riding, we were headed up the East Craftsbury road, which climbs about 700 feet in 4 miles. It’s no mountain pass, certainly, but it did warm us up.

On numerous occasions we felt sure we were about to ride into the rain. We could see it, right there, on the hill across the road. But after a minute of light sprinkles, the rain would disappear, and we would once again be riding through the wet, cold air – nothing to get too excited about, but at least it wasn’t wet, cold rain.

The ride went perfectly except for one thing: I flatted twice. The first time, I was upset, but changed the tube and used one of Lauren’s CO2 cartridges to fill up with air. As neither of us had used one of these handy tools before, there was a lot of giggling and screeching, especially when the cartridge seemed to freeze onto my valve. New skill: check!

The second time, we were in Irasburg, with less than 45 minutes left to ride. I chickened out and didn’t feel like fixing another flat so close to home. Luckily, my housemate Anna happened to be driving through Irasburg and picked me up! So I got a ride home, where I took a long, hot shower and ate some more zucchini bread.

Fall is in a way the toughest time of year for finding motivation. It should be easy, because racing is so immediate: you need to get out there and get ready. But at the same time, you’ve been doing dryland training for months already, and you’re kind of sick of it. Do you really want to go for another long rollerski now that it’s cold and, invariably, raining?

I know that I have to buckle down and stop being such a gloom-bucket myself. There’s always a hot shower waiting for me at home – so how bad can it be?

What's wrong with this picture? Look closer....

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.

Campers

Hannah Dreissigacker.

Around the dinner table, after most of the food is gone. Photo: Hannah Dreissigacker.

December means two things to me: Christmas and ski camp.

Many Dartmouth teams have a December camp: The swim team was in Maui, and the rowers were in Florida. I just returned from Monte-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, where we have camp at the same time and place every year.

As soon as finals ended, all sixteen members of the women’s team piled into a minibus and a Sprinter van with our giant duffel bags, five or six pairs of skis apiece, and boxes full of meal ingredients from the BJ’s in West Leb. The drive is about six hours, and we napped most of the way up.

When we arrived at the Chalets Montmorency, where the Dartmouth team has been staying for almost 30 years, we unloaded our bags and claimed bedrooms as fast as we could before piling back into the bus to go ski.

That first afternoon is always heaven, since there’s rarely much white stuff in Hanover in early December. This year it was a winter wonderland of freshly fallen snow. There was so much powder that the groomer couldn’t pack it and we kept falling through, sometimes up to our knees. The pink sunset bathed the snowy forest in magic.

Our first dinner was self-assembled burritos. After the meal we had a team meeting and got down to the nitty-gritty of camp.

Every other morning, we did a short jog and strength routine. Breakfast was always at 8, and it was always a big pot of oatmeal and some English muffins. The bus left at 8:45 for the morning ski. Lunch was on your own, everyone crafting different concoctions in the oven and on the stovetop.

During the afternoon break we worked on skis, napped, or did some other quiet activity. Then we were back in the bus at 2:45 for a second ski, followed by a short break and dinner at 6. We all went to bed early.

Camp is predictable. We ski, a lot. We watch the same movies over and over. We eat ridiculous quantities of food. We sleep, a lot. We don’t work on our skis as much as we could.

But the most memorable times at camp are the days that break the routine. One of my favorites is the day we do our long ski, then join the men’s team for a Thanksgiving-style dinner.

This year, we scheduled a long classic ski. The goal time was three to four hours, but I was hoping for five, because there are enough trails at Mont-Sainte-Anne to ski that long with no repetition. The snow had been great packed powder all week, and I was excited.

Unfortunately, when we woke up that Monday morning, it was pouring rain. The snow was melting and waxing classic skis would have been a nightmare; even if we had found the right wax, it wouldn’t have lasted the whole ski. We switched the workout to skating.

I skied up Lac-Sainte-Hilaire with Kristin Dewey, our co-captains Courtney Robinson and Hannah Dreissigacker, and our Development Coordinator Martin Benes. The trail winds up and up and up, and soon I was skiing in only my race tights and a polypropylene shirt. If it’s warm enough to be raining, it’s warm.

We saw the Lebanon High School team heading down from the top of the trail. I recognized a few of the skiers and waved to Les Lawrence, the coach.

We had been hoping to ski up to a cabin on top of the ridge, but the final section of trail was not groomed and in the wet snow we didn’t feel like forging our own way. That section is rarely groomed and in the three years I’ve been to camp there, I’ve only made it to the cabin once. We turned around and headed down the hill.

I took off on my own on a long, only somewhat groomed trail along a smaller ridge. I was making third tracks on the trail, which was slow going. Wet snow built up on top of my skis, and the downhills weren’t much faster than the uphills. But the woods were quiet except for the sound of the rain, and it was peaceful.

I crossed under the massive power lines which are so prevalent in Quebec. There was a strong buzzing as the rain hit the lines and evaporated. I thought of the studies suggesting that living next to power lines increased one’s risk of cancer.

After skiing for two and a half hours, I was completely soaked and too cold to keep skiing. I got on the bus, where I found Ida Sargent, one of our most talented and dedicated skiers. I felt better about ending early once I knew she was, too. There was no point in making ourselves sick.

Most girls skied back along the power lines. Some skied longer than we did, some shorter. As we trickled in we all took hot showers, ate lunches with hot cocoa, and crawled into our beds to warm up. I took a nap before the next portion of the day got started: Thanksgiving.

For this event, we split cooking responsibilities with the men’s team. Max Hopkins, a former Hanover High teammate of mine, is the master of the deep-fat fryer, where he cooks five turkeys. The boys also prepare stuffing (from a box), cranberry (from a can), and carrots (in lots of honey). We girls are responsible for pies, mashed potatoes, and green beans.

It was chaos as we try to fit three tables, thirty-four chairs and place-settings, and five turkeys into one condo unit. But we were eventually all seated somewhere, and began loading up our plates. Max rehearsed a poem and an irreverent version of grace. Every part of the meal was delicious, especially the turkey. Chatter filled the room.

Besides training, this is the point of camp: with no more academic responsibilities, we can relax and get to know our teammates better than we ever have before. Just like any other Thanksgiving, this one felt like it was with my family. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing better for a team than that.