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Month: June 2017

Big, Bold, and Beautiful: The Boys Take the West Coast

Big, Bold, and Beautiful: The Boys Take the West Coast

I have safely returned from a whirlwind road trip on the West Coast. Though traveling finally got the best of me during my return flight home, each day during the trip presented innumerable sights to see, new adventures to take on, and well-deserved opportunities for the six of us to enjoy this unique, fleeting moment in life as we transition from college to the real world.

Brett, Carlos, Hank, Alex, Nathan, and me at our final destination

We all took different paths to get to where we are today, and that was epitomized by the various locations that the six of us came from and departed to. Nathan had been in Peru two days before launching the trip, Hank was on his way to Hawaii afterwards, and Alex was meeting his family in Vancouver. I am off to Germany in a week. We will all settle into different cities – Boston, New York, Washington D.C. – to begin jobs over the course of the summer. But for one week, we were all together on a grand adventure.

In total, I saw two iconic American cities, explored three national parks, grilled out and slept in my hammock three times at various campsites, and covered nearly 900 miles. I will describe the highlights in chronological order, and between the six of us, we did well documenting the trip.

Las Vegas

Vegas was the most superfluous stop of the trip, even though it was the first for me. I knew that whether I loved it or hated it, the twelve hours I spent there would have little impact on overall experience. I would describe it as a pleasant surprise – everything from flying in over the desert, settling into a gorgeous six-person suite in our hotel, and even making a few dollars at the casinos. I can also see how it is such a trap. But the most defining feature of Vegas was the heat. It was 111 degrees when I landed, and even though West Coast heat had been described to me as more bearable because of lower humidity, the high temps hit me like a wall the moment I left the airport. I was happy to be out and about during the night when things were cooler, and happy to leave for California the next morning.

Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

Electing to camp for three of the nights during our travels through California’s National Parks was the best decision of the trip, and two items made my experience truly outstanding: my hammock for rest and relaxation, and my Aeropress set-up for freshly brewed coffee each morning. Though the rest of the crew slept well in an enormous tent, I was happy to create space for myself – be it elevated between two trees or during the early hours of the morning before everyone else woke. Our campsite in Sequoia was on a river that rushed loudly from all of the snow runoff, and the clean water made fantastic coffee.

Exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon consisted of a series of short hikes connected by an epic “scenic route” drive on Generals Highway.  We rose to over 7000 feet on precarious switchbacks, barely wide enough for our large Ford Expedition, to access the Moro Rock trail, and then hiked it to gain 360 degree views of the park. Perched above the valley where we camped, the sequoia tree forest where we hiked, and with snowcapped mountains in the distance, I was amazed that it was all real. That feeling of disbelieve at the scale, scope, and variety of California never left.

No feature of the park filled me with more awe than the giant sequoia trees. We walked through the Giant Forest and saw the General Sherman Tree – the biggest tree in the world. As I learned, it is not the tallest or the largest in circumference, but the volume of its trunk and branches beats out all other competitors. I was most impressed by the immense variety among the giants: some had massive root systems, some sat in dense groves, some had large burn scars, and some had hollows wide enough to walk through.

The scale of everything in these parks, and in California in general, remained larger than life from start to finish. Even driving around, we passed through so many different climates and landscapes: deserts reminiscent of South America, hills like Scotland, rolling fields like Kansas on one side of the road and rows of orange trees like Florida on the other. The largest solar and wind farms I have ever seen. Mountains that will remain snowcapped all summer long. Each new landscape spelled out a new chapter of our adventure.

Yosemite National Park

Some of the best moments of the trip came around the campfire, grilling up a well-deserved dinner. I attribute my willingness to attempt to cook just about anything over an open fire to my many years at Dudley, where I had regular opportunities to grill out for campers. Plus, any food cooked out in the woods just tastes better.

We grilled three consecutive nights, and each time the feast grew larger and more delicious. I got the group hooked on sweet potatoes that we cooked by wrapping them in tin foil and nestling them among the embers, but the highlight for me was chicken smothered in a local California hot sauce.

Yosemite required the earliest wake-up of the trip, but beating the crowds and the heat was well worth the effort of rising before the sun. It was especially important because of the hike we had planned: Upper Yosemite Falls, one of the most iconic and strenuous ascents in the valley. The image of the falls above does not do justice to the scale and sheerness of the rock formations and waterfall. Our hike began at the valley floor, traversed switchbacks, descended close enough to the falls to feel its mist, and then rose again through a narrow crevasse between steep cliffs on either side. In an hour-and-a-half, we were a top the falls. We watched the rushing snowmelt drop 2,500 feet to the valley floor and witnessed the morning sun casting shadows and highlighting the rock formations around us.

360 degree views atop Yosemite Point

Alex, Hank, Nathan, and I decided to push further to Yosemite Point, which was a mile and about 300 vertical feet above the falls. Again, we found the trek to be worth the effort. From the high point, we had sweeping vistas of all of the park’s iconic landmarks – especially Half Dome, North Dome, and Sentinel Dome – and we could also glimpse Yosemite Falls and the rainbow that emerged from the mist.

The descent turned into more of a run than a hike, as we sped around hairpin turns and cruised past tired-looking hikers on their way up. As the day continued to heat up, we were thrilled to have knocked out such a challenging and spectacular hike in the morning and that we would be returning to the lake by our campsite in the afternoon.

San Francisco

San Francisco, June 2017

After a wild and exhilarating series of adventures in California’s National Parks, San Francisco came as a welcome final destination. We took the scenic route into the city by circling the bay and crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge, but not before we stopped to explore the Marin Headlands and glimpse the town of Sausalito, which climbs the hills surrounding the bay just like some of the most iconic villages on the Mediterranean.

San Fransisco became just as much an exercise in culinary exploration as it was an opportunity for sightseeing. In fact, the two went hand in hand. Half the crew had to leave the night of or the morning following our arrival, so Alex, Nathan, and I decided to spend our full day in the city walking and consuming as wide a range of gastronomic offerings as we could find. Our list included Pork Buns from a street food stand, Sand Dabs and Sole at Soto Marre, a cannoli, coffee at Sightglass and Reveille, oysters, and a few divine craft beers at Cellarmaker. In doing so, we covered a large number of miles and did our best to burn off all of the outstanding food we were eating.

I was inspired by the San Francisco coffee scene, and though it was expensive to have baristas hand-brew a single origin cup of coffee right in front of me, I appreciated the quality and craft that went into each coffee shop and each cup they served. On the other side of the coin, I also loved a feel for the local crowd at The Tempest, perhaps my favorite dive bar ever.

Of all our stops, San Francisco did not quite fit into my “big, bold, beautiful” mantra as neatly as the other locations, but we found plenty of beauty nonetheless. The trip left me breathless in more ways than one: I was equally astounded by all that I saw and exhausted by all that we packed into our days.

I left San Francisco with no regrets about committing to such a wild adventure and plenty of newly instilled desire to continue to travel. I would love to get back to the West Coast and do it completely on my own terms, but for now, I will have to “settle” with a month in Germany.

I am not quite ready to wave goodbye to this month-long graduation celebration that I have crafted for myself, and I still have almost a week to enjoy in Westport. But when the time comes, I will be more mindful of my fortunes, and I will have all of these memories preserved to savor again later.

Marin Headlands, June 2017
West Coast Road Trip Preview

West Coast Road Trip Preview

What is certainly the most abnormal week I have planned in my grand Summer 2017 transition from Middlebury to New York has the potential to be the most eye-opening. I am joining five of my high school classmates, all of whom graduated from different colleges just a few weeks ago, on an epic week-long West Coast road trip. They are flying into the desert and exploring the Grand Canyon, Bryce National Park, and Zion National Park before meeting me in Las Vegas on Saturday evening. Though I wish I could be involved for the entire trip, I am glad that I elected the California section over the Utah and Arizona section, due to extreme desert heat this time of year. Granted, it will be 110 degrees or higher for my arrival in Las Vegas, but we will quickly return to more normal climates as we traverse west and north into the Sierra Nevadas of California. I am thrilled to see Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks, and I am also eagerly awaiting the chance to explore two of America’s iconic cities – Vegas and San Fran – with some of my best friends. It is my first time in any of these places and my first time exploring the West Coast. The only thing that I can predict is that the trip will be unpredictable. We will pack ourselves into the rented minivan for our drives and our six-man tent for most of the nights, but I am sure we will return with stories and a wide range of experiences worth remembering.

The general route we will take over the course of a week out West
Short Hikes in the ADKs

Short Hikes in the ADKs

INTRODUCTION

Exploring all that the Adirondack Park has to offer is, for me, as synonymous with summer as days at Camp Dudley and meals around my grandparents’ dining room table. The first iteration – pre-Dudley – consisted of family adventures to lakes, rivers, and short peaks. Once I began attending camp, my explorations transitioned into organized hiking and canoeing trips ranging from two to five days in length. These were the moments that got me hooked on the ADKs, especially as I began to plan and lead my own trips, trying to impart my love of the wilderness onto thirteen and fourteen-year-old boys. In the most recent years, I have returned to short excursions as a means of seeing new places in the mountains I love. This third iteration comes equipped with trail running shoes and a mountain bike, and I have realized that I can cover more ground running than I had previously thought possible. Though my progress towards my 46er may have slowed, I am getting out more than ever.

Because short hikes are often easy to complete, even on a whim, and still a ton of fun, I wanted to recommend my favorites. My disclaimer is that my excursions always begin in Westport, on Lake Champlain. Getting deep into the western High Peaks region is often beyond a half-day trip for me, so this list is inherently biased toward the eastern High Peaks. Still, I find each selection exhilarating and well worth the effort.

Indian Head, June 2017

RECOMMENDATIONS

Indian Head

This 8.5 round trip trek is the epitome of what a run-hike should be. It starts easy, with the first 2.5 miles on a dirt road leading away from the Ausable Club towards Lower Ausable Lake. After the uphill “warm-up,” the trail branches off into windy single-track along a river, but because it remains gradual in elevation gain, most of it is easy to run. The final mile of the approach features a short, steep section and a quick jaunt along a ridge to access the view. And what a view it is. The high peaks of Colvin and Blake tower to the left, and Gothics highlights the Great Range skyline to the right. Below, the valley and lakes are stunning.

Cascade

The most accessible and most summited 46er, Cascade is still an worthy climb despite the frequent crowds. Only 2.4 miles from the trailhead, which is halfway between Keene and Lake Placid, the Cascade summit is rocky and treeless – a rare occurrence for smaller ADK peaks. This allows for 360 degree views of the high peaks and into Lake Placid. But the best part of the hike, in my opinion, is a small flat boggy area that comes just before the final rocky scramble to the summit. It is unlike any place in the ADKs that I know, and when the light is right, it is magical.

Hurricane

Hurricane too short to be a 46er, but it is still a stout test. Whereas Cascade is moderately steep the whole way up, Hurricane’s 3.4 mile ascent features rolling topography in the beginning and gradual switchbacks in the middle section, which all contributes to great mountain running. Up top, the rocky summit is surpassed only by the fire tower – though the climb is the most nerve-wracking part of the entire hike, the views are worth it. Being one of the most easterly peaks, Lake Champlain is visible, and in the opposite direction, the whole High Peaks region unfolds amidst clouds or sun.

View from Hurricane, August 2016

Avalanche Lake

A round trip from the Adirondack Loj to Avalanche Lake can range from 4 to 5.5 miles, depending on how much exploring of the lake is on tap. This gradual, highly trafficked trail is wide in many places, which equates to a fast pace, less looking down, and more taking in the views. After ascending through Avalanche Pass, a view of the lake opens up as a sliver between steep cliffs on either side. Across the lake from the trail, the Trap Dyke landslide spills into the lake, and also presents the most precarious route up Colden. The lake feels bottomless, and a swim across provides opportunities to free-climb the rock wall and cliff jump from any desired height. Hikers often pass through the lake en route to or from some of the highest peaks in the ADKs, but the lake is well worth a trip of its own.

South Fork Boquet River

For a multitude of outstanding swimming holes, a hike up the South Fork of the Bouqet River is by far the best option. Though the best spots have undoubtedly received a wide range of names by locals, the Camp Dudley folks have our own nomenclature. There is “Shoebox” right at the start of the trailhead, which is off of Route 73 southeast of Keene Valley, the famed “Inkspot” a thirty-minute hike up the river, and the gloriously beautiful Venus Pools further up the valley. The trail leads all the way to Grace Peak and South Dix, but exploring anywhere from 0 to 4 miles up the river is an epic quest in swimming hole adventuring in itself.

The Big Questions

The Big Questions

It is still early June, but the weather in the Adirondacks is reminiscent of the deep summer heat of late July or early August. I am doing my best to embrace the warm temperatures, but as always, the crazy weather swings in this part of the world leave a constant feeling of unpredictability. That is how I am feeling, too, about my recent adventures, and those upcoming.

The biggest leap, my move to New York in early August and the start of my “real world job,” is both far off and menacingly near. I have seven weeks, but one of those will be out West road tripping, four will be in Germany through the exchange trip that I am leading, and six out of seven will be without Maddie by my side.

So I am trying to be proactive with my preparations and planning, but I am also considering the big questions. I will not find answers until I settle into New York, and perhaps not even then, but I still find the thought process appealing. It reminds me of a character I created in my poetry, a girl who is asking these questions herself – trying to “peel back the surface of the world. So, on this humid, windy, ninety degree summer day, I share “The Weathervane,” which I conceived of last summer and completed for my poetry thesis this spring.

THE WEATHERVANE

We begin with a single
angular shaft of light.

It filters through the hole
in the roof and traces outlines
through the movement of days
and seasons — patterns graphed
with geometric equations
and etched into memory.

In the dusty glow of its wake
the rats and moths circle —
edging close to feel its warmth
but always leaving space,
as if the light will scald
their eyes and wings.

The spirit hatch,
it was called,
or so the girl had heard
before she toured the old
family land for the first time.

In that moment she walks on tiptoes —
sidestepping erect rock outcroppings
topped with moss and tufted grass,
careful not to disturb the abandoned ruins
as she gazes at time past —
and through the spirit hatch
she spies the weathervane.

It spins for her,
dull screeches catching
a trailing wind, until
it settles on west momentarily,
though because of wind or rust
the girl cannot be sure,
and she finds herself stuck, too —
fixated with the colossal,
the simultaneous bliss and angst
of the nameless,
of brushing the overgrown
fescue with each step,
no matter how calculated,
and setting another course in motion.

Each spin the weathervane
bores infinitesimally deeper
into its mooring —
its purpose predicating its
demise in self-perpetuation —
a virtuous circle, like the light
from the spirit hatch that tracks
in predictable irregularity
over the broken home,
its arc waxing and waning
with the seasons —
but always returning.

The ancient timbers hang in balance,
held fast by the delicate hand of time
and weighed amidst the movements
of celestial bodies —
the stars are but a tapestry
weaving itself over
again and again.

These are the trajectories of the world:
the turning of the seasons,
the precession from young to old,
the ebbs and flows of knowing
and unknowing and understanding,
the dissipation of heat.

They will be so,
like the lone pine
or the steadfast mountain,
until the weathervane
rusts to a standstill,
in spirit or reality.

And she wonders:
how do we peel back
the surface of the world?

The Greatest 36 Holes Imaginable

The Greatest 36 Holes Imaginable

SHINNECOCK HILLS & NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA

I do not mention golf much these days, but for a number of years, golf course architecture was one of my biggest hobbies. By that I mean I spent a lot of reading and Google Mapping and occasionally had the opportunity to play a new golf course on my bucket list. Though I never played golf competitively, I have worked at courses, caddied, and enjoyed rounds with family and friends – especially my longtime hometown friend Hank Barrett. Though Hank went to Wesleyan and played lacrosse, our paths are intertwining again, as he and I will both begin jobs in New York this summer. We will also embark on an epic West Coast road trip in just over a week, but more on that in a later post.

Golf for me has always been a reason to see new places and spend time outdoors, unplugged, alone or with friends. Hank knows this about me, and when he received a golf-related graduation/birthday gift from his godfather, also named Hank, he was kind enough to invite me along for the ride. In a whirlwind thirty-six hours, we made it to the end of Long Island and back and spent the most spectacular day imaginable teeing it up at two of the world’s greatest golf courses.

Before I talk about the courses, I have to express how thankful I am for the opportunity; to Hank for inviting me, to Paul Barrett for joining and doing much of the driving, and to Hank Baer for getting us onto the courses and being such an incredible host. We made quite a foursome, and it could not have been better.

Me, Hank Sr., Hank, and Paul on the 17th at National

SHINNECOCK

Shinnecock Hills and National Golf Links of America are located in Southhampton on the eastern part of Long Island. The area is a golf mecca, at least in the sense that there are a plethora of elite private golf clubs located in a very small radius. None are finer or more historic than the two we played, ranked fourth and eighth in the U.S. by Golf Digest, and on pure architectural merit, they are both spectacular.

Shinnecock was the first round of the day, and from the moment we pulled into the club, I sensed the championship caliber that the place exuded. It is scheduled to host the U.S. Open in 2018, and the members, employees, and caddies were all excited to point out the changes being made to prepare for the tournament. The old clubhouse building sits at the highest point on the course, and because the grounds are virtually treeless, the vantage point allows for views of almost every hole.

#9 Ben Nevis and the clubhouse

As we teed off the first hole and descended into the open expanse of fairways and fescue, the difficulty of the course unveiled itself almost immediately. At Shinny, there is absolutely no margin for error. A well struck shot can miss by a yard and end up in a challenging position, and a poor shot can lead to impossible, futile attempts at recovery. I expected a few three-putts, but they were all but the norm. For instance, on two of the four par-threes, I hit the green but ended up with a bogey; on the other two, when I missed the green, I had to scramble to make triple. Those, #7 Redan and #11 Hill Head, are unequivocally the two hardest par threes I have ever played, and neither stretch more than 160 yards.

#7 Redan. The Redan is a template hole modeled after #15 at North Berwick in Scotland, and #4 at National also featured the same design. It is characterized by the front-to-back, right-to-left sloping green and deep bunkers protecting either side.

Shinny truly excels in the steady onslaught of stout par-fours that it presents, and I found the five two-shotters from #9 to #14 plus the brutal par-three at #11 to be one of the most exhilarating stretches of golf that I have played. My favorite hole was the tenth, named Eastward Ho, which required a solid drive to a blind landing area and a precise uphill second shot to a turtleback green that fell off in all directions. Photos do not do justice the scale of Shinny’s swales, especially on a hole like #10.

Shinny was unforgiving, the hardest course I have played, and it will be a true test next year for the U.S. Open. Hank and I won the match over the old guys in fourteen holes, and the second match over the last four holes was a push. The cool cloudy skies of the front nine gave way to sun on the back, and each hour, the day kept getting better and better.

Approach to #10 Eastward Ho

NATIONAL

Through the trees of Shinnecock’s property, we were able to glimpse National, and from the top of the hill, we could see its landmark windmill in the distance. It was a short drive to the clubhouse, which we found to be spectacular but less welcoming than its neighboring club. What National does have over Shinny is unspoiled water frontage looking out on Peconic Bay. It was amazing to all of us that the two courses and clubs could be so close to each other but feel so different.

We checked in, grabbed a lunch at “the birdcage” which hung off the end of the clubhouse and looked overt the first and eighteenth holes – lobster salad sandwiches on rye. Then it was off again, eighteen more holes, the third leg of our match, new caddies, and a wildly different venue.

National’s signature landmark, the windmill

National is less of a tournament course than Shinny, but that does not make it less challenging. I found it to be more forgiving overall, but there were plenty of moments when my lack of course knowledge was the difference between a par and a double bogey. Designed by C.B. MacDonald in the early twentieth century, an architect who was the master of designing template holes based off of the best from the British Isles, I knew National would have more quirk than Shinny. What it lacked in length, it made up for in blind shots and bunkers that verged on unplayable if you ended up in the wrong spot.

I loved every hole on the front nine, including two stellar par threes (#4 Redan and #6 Short) and an epic Alps hole at #3. The second shot played blind over a mountain and funneled towards a tiered, bowl-like green. Many holes featured fairway cross bunkering that provided unique angles of attack but also captured wayward drives.

It was the closing stretch, though, that won me over once and for all. Despite Hank’s low round, we found ourselves down to Hank Sr. and Paul on the back nine, and they closed out the match with four to play. Our combined record stood at 1-1-1 with a four-hole match as the tiebreaker. Each hole on the return neared the signature windmill, and the closer we got, the better I played. I parred #15 Narrows, lipped out for birdie on #16 Punchbowl, which was my favorite hole of the course, and parred #17 Peconic. From the seventeenth tee, right beside the windmill, we could look back on the outstretched course and all the way up the hill to Shinny. In the opposite direction, we had a panoramic view of the bay and the clubhouse. Our caddie made the claim that National featured the finest closing three-hole stretch in golf, and though I have played a final three holes that were more dramatic (Cabot Cliffs), I agree that these were the best closing holes I had ever seen.

#16 Punchbowl blind approach

We teed up on #18 Home, an uphill par five along the water, up in the match, and by the time I had hit my best drive of the day and poked a fairway wood up close to the green, the match was in hand. But ending with a birdie seemed like the only way to cap off the best day of golf of my life. I chipped up, waited for everyone else to finish out, and rolled in a ten-footer to close out the match. My score was nothing to write home about, but I can always say I was one-under on the final four holes at National, and that I clinched the rubber match for the young guys.

#18 Home, an uphill climb to the finish. Clubhouse on the left, Peconic Bay on the right.

We grabbed a drink in “the birdcage” looking out over the eighteenth as the sun set, rehashing the 36 holes and comparing observations and impressions. I would give the nod to Shinny as the better course, but I think National is the more fun of the two. I also know that going low at Shinny would be downright impossible; the course is designed to eat the golfer alive, and no where is safe. The next double bogey or three putt is inevitable. At National, knowing the tricks of the course, where to miss and where not to, would allow for potential low scores. And though Shinny has the championship pedigree, National has the best 19th hole imaginable, especially at sunset. Both catapult to the top of my personal rankings of courses played, and both were an absolute treat.

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