a real vacation.

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Slideshow at the bottom of the post.

For the first time in…. years?… I took an actual vacation to a warm place. Not a vacation so that I could ski, not a “vacation” so that I could work for FasterSkier, not a “vacation” so that I could go to a conference or summer school and just tack on an extra day for exploring at the end. Nope, this was an honest-to-God vacation, a reward to myself for making it through the first six months of my PhD and passing my first committee meeting.

I flew to Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. It was a real vacation where I could sleep until 12 if I wanted, stay up late if I wanted, go lie on the beach and be useless if I wanted (although I did read a great book, The Orchardist, so it wasn’t totally useless). I ate a lot of seafood, which is something I don’t do here in Zürich for obvious reasons given our lack of proximity to the sea; I got sunburned and suntanned. I tried to use my small amount of Spanish, but got tripped up by the very different pronunciation in Spain from Mexican Spanish… since I don’t speak much anyway, that proved to be the killer stroke.

It never would have occurred to me to go to the Canary Islands, to be honest, since they seem far away, and they are. It’s almost 2000 miles from Zurich. But in the grand scheme of things, that’s not far (certainly not as far as it is from the U.S.!). Flights aren’t insanely expensive, and things in Spain are a lot cheaper than things in Switzerland. Crazily enough, with where I’m based right now it was a relatively affordable vacation – and when you can go somewhere completely unexpected, why not? We get in ruts sometimes in going to the same type of place over and over again. I broke my own cycle. I bought a shirtdress from H&M, a running hat from Adidas because I seem to have left my beloved RMBL trucker hat in New Hampshire, packed my bags, and hopped on an Iberia flight in Zurich.

Later that day, I was in an apartment overlooking the rocky shoreline of the Atlantic. The next morning I slept almost til noon with the sounds of the waves crashing in the background.

Being me, of course the relaxing vacation also included quite a bit of hiking. It was hiking that didn’t involve waking up at the ass-crack of dawn, though. Tenerife is a beautiful island and a volcano, Teide, that is over 12,000 feet tall and last erupted in 1909. It turns out that if you want to hike to the top of the volcano, you need to get a permit in advance; by the time I realized this, all the permits were booked for the next three weeks. So I didn’t go there. But there’s a big national part around the volcano with a very arid, Martian-seeming landscape. It reminded me of parts of the American West. I hiked another mountain, Guajara, across the big caldera, and the view across to Teide were amazing – it was also a quiet hike, and maybe actually nicer than the volcano itself. A perfect place for lunch on top.

Another great mountain range to explore is the Anaga mountains in the northeast of the island. Unlike the recently-disturbed volcano in the center of the islands, the Anagas are very old, and they feel like it. Incredibly steep and jagged, they are covered in temperate vegetation even though the ground seems bone-dry. Farming villages with terraced agriculture are scattered throughout; some farms are only accessible by trail, with the houses built into the hillside itself, just a door and maybe one window to tell you someone is living there. The driving is interesting to say the least, but the views are spectacular.

There’s also lots of canyons, or Barrancos, all around the island leading from the volcanic highlands down to the coast. A few are famous and full of tourists; there are many more that are beautiful and more quiet.

Tenerife is a paradise of different ecosystems, vegetations, and geologies. I wish I had read more about the geologic history before going! But if you’re not up for being so active, there are also plenty of beautiful beaches to lie on, local wine and produce to check out, and fish to eat. I can recommend a great AirBnB apartment in a small town, Icod de los Vinos, on the northern coast.

Right now I’m back to fieldwork for me PhD, but the chance to get away and relax was truly special. As my life changes towards being a bit more grown up – in Switzerland even PhD students are given vacation time – I’m realizing that even if I only made one “vacation” trip a year, of one week each, for the rest of my life, there are so many different parts of the world I could see! That’s an exciting prospect. So much of my travel the last few years has been a long weekend trip here or there within Europe. Those are great trips, but you’re limited in how far you can go on a long weekend. There’s more out there to see and as I start to have jobs with actual benefits, instead of being just a masters student, I will have the opportunity to see them. That’s exciting.

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lisbon.

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A little late on the report for this one, but I recently got back from Portugal. Portugal! The warm, sunny Iberian peninsula.

For some reason it had never occurred to me to go to Portugal before. On my list of things to do in Europe, this wasn’t on it. No offense, Portugal: neither were a lot of other typical tourist things. But when my masters classmates and I were planning out our “winter school”, we had one primary criterium: cheapness. After that we were divided between whether we should go somewhere typically wintery and play in the snow, or go south. South won, and after a heated debate between Greece and Portugal, we ended up in Lisbon.

It was great!

My friend Lore and I built in an extra two days to be able to explore and do touristy things. We hit all the famous monuments, the gardens, big churches, and wandered the twisty, hilly streets of the old city. It was awesome. The first day, we arrived to our beautiful hostel right near Barrio Alto (Lisbon Calling; the rooms are beautifully designed, the beds comfortable, and the price cheap: an amazing community which will forever make other hostels seem depressingly inadequate), and wandered up the hill.

We got a “refresco” at a kiosk in the square; we sat at the foot of a huge statue. We ate petiscos, the Portuguese version of tapas, at Taberna da Rua das Flores. Holy cow, were they good. Lore doesn’t really like fish that much, but she was brave and ate them anyway – even more remarkable because it was mostly raw. But the flavors! Sort of fusion, but a little bit of tradition. The first dish we had was some kind of small herring-like thing, raw with a sauce and sesame seeds and seaweed. I’ve never liked pickled herring but I was floored at how good it was (and the seaweed too, yum!). I’m on a student budget and basically never eat out these days, so maybe the food seemed even more remarkable to me. It had just been a few hours in Lisbon, but we were already pretty sure we loved this city.

We slept well in our beds, woke up to a lovely Portuguese breakfast included in the hostel’s room fee, and set off toward Belém, west of the city of Lisbon proper. There, first we tried the famous pastéis de Belém, some pastries which I can’t even describe other than scrumptious. They were warm out of the oven; the line out of the pastryshop extended around the corner. Not even in Paris have I seen such a queue for a pastry. And, dusted with cinnamon, we soon found out why.

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We spent several hours exploring a large Hieronymite mosastery, then wandering through some gardens, past a large monument to Portugal’s explorers, and up to the Tower of Belém. I’m fascinated by old things: we don’t have many of them where I come from. The Abenakis lived in our part of New Hampshire, and they don’t leave behind big monuments (which, of course, is actually better in a number of ways….). The first European settlers arrived in my little town of Lyme in 1764. We have a few very old houses, but nothing like this. While my town was a little collection of settlers and farmers trying to scrape by, Portugal was the richest empire in the world. (okay, well, it was a little past its prime in the late 1700s, but still)

I got to see that. It was cool.

Everything was beautiful. Everything was sunny. It was a perfect day.

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I had been working quite hard before I left for winter school, and was really still working there: while I waited for Lore to arrive that first day, I had been busily typing away. In Sweden alone, we have one paper which has come back from review (and to which we must, of course, make huge changes), one which we are finalizing with co-authors, and one for which I’ve done about half the analysis and none of the writing. I’m also finally turning my Switzerland thesis into a manuscript. Plus, money is getting tight and I’m trying to apply for more grants (do you know of any small grants for graduate students? please!? I’m getting desperate!!).

So to walk along in the sun with Lore leaving all of our cares behind us – I can’t even explain how good that felt.

It felt good.

After our Belém sightseeing it was 2 p.m. and we were starving, so we were forced to stop and grab lunch at a touristy cafeteria and while not exactly disappointing, it was overpriced and nothing compared to our meal the night before. We headed into Lisbon proper and explored a bit in Baixa/Chaido, and bought gelato and sat looking at the river. Nice.

Then: we met up with my friends Marta and Gonçalo! They started the masters with us in Uppsala so many months ago, and Marta was one reason I was really excited to move back to Uppsala. I actually lived with her in January. They took us to a miradouro, basically a nice park up on a hill overlooking the city. Classmates Min Ya and Berenice soon arrived from the airport and joined us. We sipped beer and relaxed and were so happy to be together.

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Ah so happy!! (l-r) Lore, Marta, me, Min Ya, and Bere. Photo from Bere’s camera.

I’m all for sightseeing, but I found out what people really do in Lisbon: they relax and sit in miradouros with their friends. There are no laws against public drinking. It’s a lovely, lovely way to spend an afternoon. At some point a few days later, I stopped being so set on running all over the city to see this cool thing or that, and realized that hey, maybe we should take this message to heart, and stop and sit and relax and enjoy ourselves somewhere with a nice view and a glass of wine.

Man, this is getting long. The next day, winter school itself started. We moved to Quinta Sao Pedro, a lovely estate across the river, and it was more like a retreat.  It was a very productive session: we all workshopped the introductions of our theses, which was super helpful. The next day we worked on figures, each presenting three from our papers and getting feedback on what we did well, what we didn’t do well, and how our visual representation of our data could be improved. In another session we worked on our CV’s, comparing notes and how to organize things. It was, in all honestly, a much more useful and helpful experience than I thought winter school would be.

hard at work. photo: Lore Ament.

hard at work. photo: Lore Ament.

We did other things. We went to the beach, and to the aquarium. We ate a lot of good food. We drank a lot of beer and wine, and I fell further in love with Portugal’s vinho verde. We went to a fado house and listened to great music as we ate dinner.

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Our message for the half of our classmates who decided not to come to winter school. You lose, suckers!! Photo: Berenice Villegas.

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Photo: Berenice Villegas.

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Photo: Berenice Villegas.

Looking west. MEMEs from across the ocean (l-r): Brazil, Mexico/USA, just USA, and just Mexico. Photo: Berenice Villegas.

Looking west. MEMEs from across the ocean (l-r): Brazil, Mexico/USA, just USA, and just Mexico. Photo: Berenice Villegas.

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phew. Arash and me relaxing. Photo: Berenice Villegas.

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photo: Berenice Villegas.

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Sunset on the beach. Photo: Berenice Villegas.

In the end, almost everyone left. Min Ya, Lore and I stayed a little longer, and went to a beautiful botanical garden in Principe Real. We could have stayed there forever exploring.

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And then, after another night in the hostel and a morning sitting by the river soaking up the sun, Lore and I left too.

Getting home was a nightmare. Fuck Air France.

I’m left with nothing but happy memories of Lisbon, and I can’t wait to go back again. I can’t believe that I had never known how obvious a place this was to go visit. Go! visit it!

I’m back to work, back typing away at all those papers, but I feel quite a bit better after a week in a totally different place.

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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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une evasion de la vie quotidienne.

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As soon as I stepped off the plane in Calvi, Corsica, on Thursday night, I let out out a sigh of relief and wonder. Six hours earlier I had been in the lab, sweating and stressing over locusts. The project wasn’t going well; coordinating with my supervisor wasn’t going well; communication between us and the other research team sharing the lab space was downright horrible. This setting is not good for your health.

But as I stepped onto the tarmac, I absorbed the sun. I felt the mountains. I smelled the sea. Life was about to get better.

By the time I took a taxi into town, checked into my hotel, dumped my stuff, and headed out the door, dusk was coming and there was about to be a sprinkling of rain. Clouds were rolling in, but it didn’t matter. I had no idea what the city held, so I hiked up to the most obvious interesting part: the citadel. The wind blew my hair as I looked back over town, across the bay, and into the mountains. I was free from locusts, on my own, in this beautiful new place. Why weren’t more people up here!? (Probably, the rain.)

Then I walked down through the port and out onto the rocks. There’s no better way to calm yourself down than to sit by the water, looking at the horizon and listening to the waves. This was just what the doctor ordered.

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And so began three days that I would call one of the best vacations I have ever taken. I don’t spend much time vacationing in warm places – usually I’m chasing snow – but Corsica was a reminder that focusing solely on winter is a mistake. Between this and the trip that I took to the canyons of southern Utah last spring at about this same time, warm places are asserting themselves as pretty darn great.

I slept so late on Saturday, waking up just in time for the hotel’s breakfast. It was bright and sunny and I needed to get out exploring. A quick look at the map revealed a huge peninsula just south of town: Punta della Revellata (things are always mixed up French and Italian). That’s where I headed, running along the road for ten or fifteen minutes before dropping down onto a dirt track along the coast. Every time I turned a corner I wanted to stop and take in the view, or take a picture. It took some discipline just to get 20 minutes before taking a water/photo break. It felt like forever to get to the next acceptable break.

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At the end of the peninsula is an oceanographic studies center of some sort, so I started finding dirt roads to follow. I followed them, winding back and forth up the steep slope, until I got to the top of the hill, almost 500 feet over the Mediterranean. The great thing about being a retired athlete is that every day doesn’t hinge on executing a well-conceived workout. I set out to go on a run. But everything around me was too much to take. By the time I reached the top, I had to stop and appreciate what was around me. I climbed up onto the rocks and lay in the sun for a long time, succumbing to the reptilian warmth-seeking genes I inherited from my mother. (Love you, mom!)

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Finally, I ran home. I’d probably run just an hour and a half, maybe 1:45, but I was tired – the sun takes it out of you, as does a week of getting only five or six hours of sleep per night. I hadn’t been taking care of myself, and part of the point of this vacation was to fix that.

For long periods of my life, I did not take vacation. After I entered middle school, we barely ever took family trips; in college, I visited some amazing places, but my travels always had a purpose, whether it was work or training or racing. The idea of just taking vacation – to do nothing – was foreign.

Now, as an adult balancing school and a job and living by myself, I have a different outlook. The harder you work, the more you need a break. Think of it like intervals as an endurance athlete: you can do long threshold intervals with short rests in between. Or you can do really hard, short intervals, where you need rest more frequently. At this stage in my life, I’m doing some very high-intensity intervals. I can go on one weekend trip and feel like I’ve come to a revelation about some aspect of my life; apparently it took five to realize that I need to keep taking these trips.

I needed recovery, and I am going to keep needing it. I have to build it into my plans. Burnout is not an option; periodically doing nothing is a very good one.

I arranged the trip less than a week before leaving. With my current project, I have to work most weekends and holidays. In theory I split these obligations with my supervisor, but I’m never quite sure what her schedule is, which leaves me in the lurch and often on the hook. So, suddenly, it was a mad dash: I need to get out of here. I can get out of here! Train tickets, a plane ticket, a hotel reservation. And here I was, running back along the rocky coast of a famous island. (Besides all the Napoleon stuff, Christopher Columbus was apparently born in Calvi.)

And it’s amazing that I have the opportunity, and the means, to something like this. I am a lucky girl. This semester my trips have never been more than long weekends, but they have gotten progressively more expensive: each time, the hotel ten Euros a night more than the last. After a few trips, that adds up. And Calvi was the worst; you can stay somewhere cheap, or stay somewhere decent. I’ll be skimping for two weeks to make up for it, but it was completely worth it, even the ill-advisdely pricey last dinner I ate at a restaurant in the citadel, overlooking the harbor.

The island has incredibly natural beauty. I wish I could have spent a week, or a month, exploring it all. With little public transportation, I was limited to forays on foot from town, but even just in three days, just around Calvi, I was amazed by what I could do. I would spend the mornings running or hiking (I’ll post a separate photo gallery from my last hike), and then make sure to spend each afternoon on the beach.

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beach 2By the time I left on Sunday, I was in a different state of mind, a more calm, relaxed, and centered state of mind. It was hard to say goodbye to Corsica, because I really fell in love. I want to come back in two months, when the Tour de France rolls through with three long stages. (I can’t; it coincides with the week my project is due.)

I want to come back every spring for the rest of my life.

That probably isn’t possible, but I know that I will be back. So in that way, and with my newly zen outlook, it wasn’t so hard to say goodbye after all.

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skiing in fourcade’s hometown.

I can understand if you think that all I do is go on vacation.

But let me assure you: it doesn’t feel that way. After only a week of statistics class, I feel about as far from a vacation as someone can get. Greek letters for sums and products, derivatives and coefficients, dance before my eyes; my waking hours are spent thinking about residuals, deviances, normality, likelihoods. I can assure you, it is no picnic.

And so last weekend, despite the strong protestations of our professor, I took off on Friday to spend the weekend in the Pyrenees. After all, they’re only a couple of hours away. Oh, happy, happy day.

panorama2(Click to enlarge, I think.)

I left Sjusjøen, Norway, a month ago, thinking that I’d had my last ski of the year. I tried to hard to make myself be satisfied with that concept. It had been a really great ski – shouldn’t that be sufficient? Now it would be back to work, I’d have a whole new city to explore on foot, even if there wasn’t any snow.

But while Montpellier is great for many things, I don’t even like running here. There’s no green space, no anything – just narrow sidewalks carpeted in dog shit, cars that drive too fast and don’t like to stop for pedestrians, and too many intersections to have to stop at. It’s a lovely place to be a person, and a terrible place to want to exercise. I needed the mountain air (even if it wasn’t for exercise). I escaped.

I woke up on Saturday morning to bright, bright sunlight streaming through the window of my little hotel room in Font Romeu, and immediately set about procuring breakfast: pastry, of course, and some fresh yogurt. Then, up the gondola to the ski area. Yes, that’s right. If you don’t have a car, you can take the gondola from the center of town and it’s a ten-minute ride to the base lodge. Even with your cross country skis. As the valley falls away behind you, there are some quite nice views.

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The cross country trails don’t actually start at the base, but above it. So I corked in some VR50 kickwax – it was warm, but the snow was still cold – and started making my way up a wide trail groomed with corduroy but meant for walking on. Strangely, walking is something you do at resorts here – trails lead to refuges and vistas up on the ridges, and are groomed every night. I took one of these to the La Calme lodge, where I got my first look at some classic tracks. They were beauties.

I spent most of Saturday skiing around on the right side of the mountain. A trail named after Martin Fourcade climbed up to the ridge of the Col Rouge, crossing a major downhill-skier thoroughfare on the way; after that I dropped into the woods and wound back and forth, but mostly up, through the trees until I popped out near the top. I climbed a gradual grade separated off by snowfence from the alpine trails and was soon at the very highest point in the whole resort. One lift dropped off one side of the peak, another of the other. Skiers were unloading from both and I felt very out of place on my skinny skis.

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I had to check my map to be sure what to do, but just as I thought, I skied though the melee and in between the two lift lines, before dropping down out of site on a trail made just for me. Ha! It was quiet, beautiful, and all those people probably didn’t even know that there was a mirror trail system, a sort of alternate universe, to explore just beside their own.

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I skied another big loop, with glimpses of tall ridges peeking through the trees. It was a glorious day, incredibly sunny and with a gentle breeze to cool you off. My skis started slipping and I had to put on some warmer hardwax, which then of course started sticking in the shady sections. No matter: I really didn’t care. The skiing was lovely and I managed to go for three hours despite the fact that, as I said, I haven’t been getting any exercise. My hip flexors were protesting loudly by the time I was done.

And – to decide you are going home is definitely a treat. Think about it: you’re at the height of the resort, and you just get to go downhill, on trails that are built for cross country skis. All of my training on the S-Turns at Oak Hill came in handy as I flew down the mountain. I think I was having as much fun, and probably going as fast, as the tourists on their alpine skis. When I got back to La Calme I was so exhilirated that I (slowly) climbed back up the Martin Fourcade trail a few more times, just so I could have the rush of zipping around the corners again.

Although I had to spend the afternoon working on school and other things, I did get to relax and explore the town a little bit. It’s a fairly old place for people to come to enjoy the mountains, and gave me an idea of what a traditional European winter getaway is. The streets were windy as the town is perched on the side of the hill, and they were also decorated. I found a nice spot to get a coffee and enjoy the sunset.

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Can you tell? So much sun. I’m peeling now, and for two days after I got back to school I still had a serious sunburn. My friends made fun of me, but to me, it’s worth it: why the horror at a sunburn? Okay, so I’m going to get cancer, but it means I was outside, enjoying life. If you live in fear of sunburn, if you find it incomprehensible that someone would come back from the weekend with a sunburn, then… you’re missing out.

On Sunday I explored the other side of the trail system. I’d seen on the map a long 11-k loop, and wanted to check it out. That required going to the other side of the La Calme base and checking into a separate set of trails (they connected high on the ridge). To my surprise and delight, this set of trails was completely different than what I had skied before. It was like someone had built two separate resorts. Instead of climbing through the trees, I sailed through huge open vistas with incredible views of the mountains on all sides.

Just a few kilometers into my ski, in short sleeves and skate skis, I raised my arms above my head as I flew through the fields and laughed out loud. This was life. I was free.

That sounds corny, but seriously, that was what was passing through my head. I felt alive. I felt like there was nothing better, in the whole world, than being here on this snow in this sun. If the world could stop and I could relive this day over and over, I would not have complained.

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I skied a couple of laps of this big loop, adding on some smaller ones that I had to check out at the top and at the base. But the feeling was the same. Even when my legs got tired, when it felt like the muscles in my calves were disintegrating and cannibalizing themselves as I pushed up the hills, even when the wind coming across the top of a ridge made it feel like, in my feeble state, I wasn’t going anywhere – I kept skiing. There was always the next spot of sunny snow around the corner, the next downhill to rest on, the next incredible view that I knew was coming up.

At one point there was a small sign that pointed to “Pic de Mauroux, 0.4 k”. Curious, I skied about 200 meters up a hill before dirt began to intrude into the trail. I took my skis off and kept walking, and soon found myself on top of a “pic”: it wasn’t anything incredible, except that, at the edge of the plateau, the valley dropped off and the views were, once again, beyond pretty. It was strange to be on a snowless hill after skiing all day, but I sat in the sun for a moment and took it all in.

panorama1Another place to recover was a small “refuge”, a stone building with a fireplace inside and a deck and picnic tables outside. Every morning the man who ran the place would head up the mountain on his snowmobile, carrying some supplies for the day. You’d be skiing and come around a corner, in the woods feeling like you were far from everything, and there it would be, tourers sitting at picnic tables and laughing over their soup or omelette. For me, I just got a cup of tea, and sat out in the sun. People come and go, with kids or dogs, wives or parents, and it turns an afternoon in the mountains into a social experience to be shared only by explorers under their own self-transport.

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As I skied down the hill to the gondola for the last time, I was pretty sad. Why did I have to go home, when all this was here? But, it must be said, vacation can’t be every weekend. For one thing, Font Romeu is priced exactly like what it is – a resort. But for another, I have to actually be a good student and do my work.

Still, these trails, this snow, that sun, it’s so amazing. To think that it’s right there, a train ride away – it’s taunting me. Maybe my monthlong absence of winter made me appreciate the trip more than I normally would have, but I think it was easily the best place I’ve ever skied in my life. If you have the chance, go! Maybe I will, too.

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Home is where the heart is.

I’ve been out of touch for a while.

See, first my friend Sean came to visit. We had a great time, traipsing about New England, climbing mountains, canoeing, going to the circus, talking about books, and all that good stuff.  Then I went home. Then I lost my camera cable.

And that was a problem, because what I really wanted to show you was pictures. Pictures of home, in the summer.

I don’t remember feeling this way last year, but right now, my heart is on Highbridge Road. I often wish the rest of me was there too.

When I was home last week, I spent a morning walking around the farm taking pictures. It was a beautiful morning and I knew that the photos would capture the feeling of home that I miss so much.

I love all of the old things we have. The old house, the old barn, the old truck. They are old because they have been loved and grown up with.

I also love the feeling of quiet. You can be peaceful without even having to seek it out, to isolate yourself and shut the door.

Things are growing up and out, overgrowing, aging, devouring and entangling. Fences disappear. Views are obscured. I idly threatened to take a saw out and cut down some saplings, but all of this growth doesn’t actually bother me.

I love all this. But of course the last great thing about being home is my parents. I think I have finally reached a level of adulthood where I am not ashamed to say that I love them, not ashamed to go home to see them, not threatened by what it means about my independence to do all of this. Did you read that article in the New York Times about twenty-somethings? Thanks Mom and Dad, for everything, and for letting me live my crazy life, figure things out, and still come back home when I need you. I swear I’ll wear that suit you gave me to an interview one of these years…

Stay tuned for more posts, I have a backlog to be published.

Best vacation ever

So I had the best vacation ever…:

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I got to see Sean's cabin. This isn't it, but it's on the ridge above his land.

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I got to go hiking in Crested Butte. Here, Sean and I posing in front of the Maroon Bells.

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I got to play an ultimate tournament with my team, newly re-named the Lawn Gnomes.

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I got to hike with some great Dartmouth friends: here, Lizzy Asher, Clara Chew, and Dom Winski.

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And I got to get on top of a whole bunch of 14,000 foot mountains! This is Holy Cross, outside of Vail.

A few things could have made it better – there were a few people I would have loved to spend more time with – but nothing can be perfect and I think this is one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. It was a nice reward for having made it through college.