There is always a week in September that feels like the middle of summer. After a relatively benign and at times even chilly end of summer and beginning of autumn (see my previous post about Labor Day weekend), the warmth and humidity struck down upon New York. Everything felt like summer except for the noticeably earlier sunsets and tints of orange and reds beginning to creep their way into the foliage.
Amidst the heat, Maddie and I set out to check off an event that has been on our calendars for a while by now: the first leg of the Steep Rock Trail Series, a 10k trail race held at the Macricostas Preserve just over the Connecticut boarder from Pawling. The last race in which we both participated was the Middlebury Maple Run in the spring – a road race with over a thousand runners. The race on Sunday was the polar opposite. The field was no more than sixty people, the start of the race was in a large field a good ten-minute walk from the parking lot, and the course was about as technical as it gets. The brainchild of a local ultra-runner and running coach, the Steep Rock series has three legs spread throughout the fall, each at a different nature preserve near Washington, CT.
I cannot speak for the other two venues yet, but so far, “steep rock” is by no means an exaggeration. The trails at Macricostas turned up a mountain after the first mile, reached the pinnacle after 550 feet of elevation gain, and plummeted down the backside. Then we did it all in reverse, doubling back and looping around the ridgeline before one last rocky descent. When we emerged from the woods and into the open field for the last half-mile, the heat and humidity of the day hit like a wall even though it was only nine o’clock in the morning.
Maddie was the champion of the day, besting me by a minute or two and destroying the other female competitors. I came in fifth for men – a respectable place to finish for my first race in four months. But it was not the overall standings that made the day a success for me; rather, it was experiencing the unique feeling of focus that comes over me when I race on trails. Navigating something as technical as the 10k race course required internal and external awareness, command over my body and my mind, and a whole spectrum of creativity and athletic abilities.
Trail running is so vastly different than road running, especially at venues as hilly and challenging as what I ran on Sunday. It is not a stretch to compare these activities to mountain biking versus road biking; one requires steady exertion and pacing, the other a broader athletic skillset. Trail running is better suited to my abilities and interests than road running, and that is why I jumped at the opportunity to race in the Steep Rock series.
I see the benefits and fun in both types of running. During the weeks, I have been participating in Central Park Track Club workouts, which have given me a chance to train with elite road runners. My endurance base is not quite where I want it to be, but I feel myself improving. Adding in longer runs as the weather cools down plus a more regular commitment to lifting and core will help prepare me for the half marathon at the end of the series. I have six weeks until that race, and I am sure, when I am knee deep in one of the three river crossings planned on that course, I will be wishing for the Indian Summer weather that we have now. Until then, and afterwards too of course, I will continue to seek out trails on the weekends, because nothing is better than a trail run on a crisp fall day with a blanket of colorful leaves cushioning every step.
No transition from one month to another is as definitive as that of August to September. Besides the clarity of the summer-to-fall weather patterns in New England (whereas every other seasonal transition seems unpredictable), Labor Day always marks the end of summer and the time to head back to school. And, of course, the commencement of another soccer season.
But this year it is different. Granted, I do feel as if September is really the start for me here in New York. August was my warm up month to get comfortable in my new office, learn my way around the city, and enjoy typical summertime activities on the weekends. With the financial world ramping up after the slowest months of the year, this month has a different aura. Maddie and I are also moving into our apartment in the coming week, which, once we are settled, will feel like the real start of things. (More on the apartment to come).
Yet, despite these various instances of new momentum in my life, I missed the definitive end and beginning that Labor Day has always represented. I will openly admit that I feel those pangs of nostalgia as I see my friends heading back to Vermont for the start of the semester and a new soccer season. It is not immaturity or jealously, it is the simple fact that Vermont in autumn is one of the greatest things in the world.
So, Maddie and I did what felt most natural: we made the trip up to Williamstown for the long weekend and set out on adventures. By far the biggest was her final triathlon of the year in Lake George. We rose Saturday morning to temps in the thirties and wrapped ourselves in the blanket of stars above us as we made the drive north. It was awe-inspiring to step into the bustle and energy of the triathlon transition zone so early in the morning, especially with the sun beginning to rise and the steamy fog rising off the lake.
Maddie, barefooted in her wetsuit yet still wearing a puffy down jacket, prepared for her final tri of the season while I mapped out my spectating plans. I like getting out on the course, especially once the swim leg is over and the competitors go out for the bike. Being an Olympic distance race, I knew Maddie would be on her bike for over an hour, covering the 24.6 mile counterclockwise loop that rose into the Adirondack foothills surrounding Lake George before descending back down to the transition zone. So, after she finished a challenging swim due to the dense fog and glare, I made my way out. My first stop was a coffee shop where I fueled up and grabbed a maple bacon donut. Feeling content, I jogged over to a turn where I could watch bikers coming in and runners finishing their first lap. Maddie was racing on her new tri bike for the first time, and she whizzed by me a few minutes sooner than I expected. I then jogged the route for the run in reverse, catching Maddie at mile one and then again just before mile four. We both arrived at the finish around the same time, and she ended up fourth overall and the winner of the run by two minutes.
I love watching triathlons, especially when I get to do a little exploring of my own. By the end of the race, the day had warmed to seventy degrees – a perfect Saturday on the edge of summer and fall.
The tenor of the weekend shifted gears as we made the drive back to Williamstown on Saturday afternoon, from high intensity and detailed preparations to laid back time with the family. Maddie certainly deserved a rest after her efforts, and I was excited to be home for a few days. I played soccer with my brother, who just started his senior year soccer season at Mt. Greylock, and ran with Maddie and my dad, but it was the birthday celebration that topped everything else.
My family, along with both sets of grandparents and the Storey cousins from Westport, gathered to celebrate two birthdays: Maddie’s twenty-fourth and my dad’s forty-ninth. It was a blast to see everyone and to take an evening to appreciate those closest to me. We missed my sister, who was already up at Bowdoin for junior year, but the party was still a blast. I got to be the grill-master and cooked burgers over an open fire because the gas grill was not working. No complaints on my end; the little bit of extra effort made the meal all the more special.
Back in the city on Monday evening (Labor Day and Maddie’s actual birthday), we celebrated once again with a dinner at Quality Eats, a new Upper East Side favorite. I am beginning to understand how the current popularity of lower Manhattan dictates culture all over the city, and I have been pleased to find many trendy restaurants and coffee shops opening locations further uptown and closer to where I am living.
As I settle into September and prepare for the move to the new apartment, I welcome and embrace the fall vibes that are starting to creep into my life once again. It is a fantastic time of year anywhere, and though I am not in Vermont or starting up another school year, there is plenty to look forward to. This is where I will be, and this is what I will be doing. I feel as curious and excited as ever.
I am back stateside, and my one-month whirlwind adventure in Germany is over. Ever since I returned from the German Exchange in 2009, I had dreamed of leading this trip. In the months before we departed from Camp Dudley, I had already constructed a vision of what the trip would be – built on memories from my past two stays in Germany and my expectations of what the third time around would entail.
Now the trip sits in concrete details, blurred only by the occasional foggy memories due to a lack of sleep. I have not written much about the last week of Intercamp or the round trip around Germany, so I will focus mostly on those sections of the trip. They were the weeks that flew by the fastest and packed in the most fun.
The one-hundred or so campers and leaders at Intercamp 2017 really became a community following our return from the hikes. With just a week to go, we were determined to form strong friendships and make every game better than the last. As the days progressed, I was struck by the sheer effort and selflessness of the German leaders who poured everything they had into the planning and execution of each day. With such a minute support staff compared to Dudley’s operation, everything fell on the leaders to make the camp go smoothly. That dynamic created a tight-knit community among the leaders – everyone had to have each other’s back or else it would not work.
I enjoyed increasing my responsibilities as time went along – taking on barbecuing jobs and leading wacky interest groups and even running the final game of the camp. In that game, based on the classic Saratoga Morning from Dudley, campers were assigned to roles as either a horse or a jockey, and they competed in races. There were, of course, odds on each horse and betting opportunities for the campers who were not racing.
Saying goodbye to the Intercamp community was challenging because it felt like it came too soon, but we quickly turned our thoughts to the excitement of the round trip. The week was stressful, especially for the leaders, because we were tasked with taking forty-seven kids from four different nations around Berlin, Dresden, and Munich. Every step of each day took coordination, which left little time for relaxation. Through determination and plenty of problem solving, the round trip ended up a success. We played beach volleyball in Berlin, ate Indian food in Dresden, toured the Dachau concentration camp, and spent an afternoon wandering freely in Munich – not to mention all of the guided tours and typical sightseeing activities in each city.
I rarely experienced the free-spirited feeling of exploring new cities that I had come to love during my gap year, but the few moments I had for myself were all the more refreshing and rewarding. I went on one sightseeing run in each city, found the best cup of coffee ever at The Barn in Berlin, snagged a few hyperlocal craft beers as a gift for my dad, and spent quality time with the other leaders on the trip. We spent the final day of the trip with only the Dudley / Kiniya crew, and traveling with fourteen instead of sixty-four was fun and much more relaxing.
Throughout the entire month, I was impressed by the maturity and general awesomeness of my Dudley group. I knew they would be great, but they blew me away. I felt really good knowing that I could help reward such a great group of kids with a month unlike any they have ever experienced.
On Sunday, we woke up early and began the last leg of traveling – from Hannover to Paris to Montreal and finally back to Dudley. As we neared the Montreal airport, knowing that the stress and responsibility of the trip was basically over, my body started shutting down. I heard a quote once along the lines of: “The best compliment your body can give you is to get sick the moment you finish a task into which you have poured every ounce of yourself.” I kept that in mind as I arrived back at Camp, weak and exhausted but beyond happy about how the month had gone.
That evening, I mustered up the energy to play in Dudley’s Sunday night brass quartet alongside my brother Sam. The moon and stars were out in full splendor, and I felt so lucky for everything Dudley had given me. Hopefully, my efforts in Germany could serve as a small way of giving back.
Mountain Day at Camp Abbensen has come and gone, marking the halfway point of Intercamp. I can describe the past week or so as nothing short of a rollercoaster ride, simply because of how much is asked of each leader at the camp. Camp Dudley has a model that is relatively sustainable for an entire summer; Abbensen does not. But because of the intensity of being a leader here, the teamwork and camaraderie among our leadership group is unique and special. Sure, there are moments when all I wish for is to simply coach a soccer match instead of having to learn a plethora of new extravaganza style games and take on different roles two or three times a day, but it is also refreshing to not always know what to expect each day.
My highlight so far was the “hike.” Three days off campus – two walking through farmlands and tiny villages, and the middle day paddling the Leine River. Everything was flat, except for the swamp on the first day, which was probably at a negative elevation. It was a far cry from the Adirondack hikes I am used to doing through Dudley. Still, it is a unique way to see Germany, and for me, I was actually revisiting places I had already traversed, because I did the same trip eight years ago. I remembered the swamp, the lake where we stopped for ice cream, the campsite locations, and all the rest.
Being out and about, especially with a few Dudley guys to chat with on the canoe segment, we did a lot of reflecting on differences between Germany and back home. For me, the single most frustrating difference has been the food. Bread, bread, and more bread. As someone who limits my gluten intake most of the time, I have struggled a bit with energy level and feeling healthy, and I attribute most of that to the bread at every meal. Nothing epitomizes Germany’s love of bread more than their campfire tradition: not S’mores or hot dogs, but “stick bread.” One wraps dough around a stick and bakes it over the open fire. Despite how sick I was of eating bread, the end result was actually pretty cool, and tasty too.
I know that the second week of camp, which is week three of being in Germany, will fly by. Soon we will be leaving Hannover for the round trip. But for now, I am loving that I was “thrown into the deep end” here at Abbensen. With a little flexibility on my part, it has been an exhilarating challenge trying to float.
The End of Graduation Celebration and the Beginning of the German Exchange
(This blog post was composed somewhere over the Atlantic en route to Paris during the first leg of my travels, and published upon arriving in Hanover, Germany)
A couple months ago, I wrote “Germany, Round III” detailing my initial plans to lead Camp Dudley’s German Exchange Trip during the month of July. Well, July 1st has come and passed, and with it my group launched our trip “across the pond.”
I spent much of the past week reacclimatizing myself to the Adirondacks after my whirlwind of a road trip out west. The implications of my preparations during this time included not only the need to be ready to lead eight boys to Germany but also the need to enable myself to make a smooth and rapid transition to New York City and my job at Landmark upon my return.
Moreover, it was the last week that Maddie and I got to spend together in “graduation celebration” mode and it was our lengthiest stay in Westport of the summer. We loved being around my extended family, seeing Dudley kick off its 133rd summer, and squeezing in as many adventures as we could. Highlights included visiting the Keene Valley Farmers’ Market and then mountain biking at The Flume Trails in Wilmington, completing furniture and art projects for our apartment, “teaming up” as Maddie finished 5th in the Tupper Lake Olympic Distance Triathlon, eating straight out of the garden every day, and capping things off with an awesome trail run and mini-golf evening in Lake Placid.
It felt strange saying goodbye to each other, knowing that the following four weeks will be the longest we have ever spent apart, but also recognizing that with each passing day, the post-college life that we have imagined together draws nearer. We will certainly make many sacrifices in moving to New York, but we will gain incredible opportunities and our first true chance to be adults, together.
All of that is ahead of me, and it is something I look forward to with eager anticipation. But for the next month, my number-one priority is to my campers, all of whom will be seeing Germany and attending Camp Abbensen for the first time. I remember vividly the mixture of elation and nerves that I felt flying to Germany with Camp Dudley eight years ago. It was my first time abroad, and the experience would and still continues to have ripple effects in my life. I found role models and close friends on that trip, both within my Dudley group and among the Germans I met. For me, the trip was a perfect mixture of intensity, leisure, and exposure to new people and places, and I was also challenged to be open to outcomes in a way that Dudley’s structure does not always allow.
I want to instill that magical feeling in my campers. It might happen when the meet a new friend during their homestays, when they participate in the longstanding tradition of a midnight extravaganza at Camp Abbensen, or when they are inspired by the history or grandeur of one of the cities we will visit. And I want to be able to rekindle those same feelings of astonishment that I felt during my first exchange trip and again when I lived in Germany during my gap year. I would certainly bet on making plenty more of those memories – the type that will stick with me forever.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Being done has been nice. On Friday, with finals in full swing on campus, the temptation of warm Spring weather luring me outdoors, and the need to move some of my personal items from the dorm to Westport for the summer, I headed to the New York side of Lake Champlain for a solo adventure.
First, I delivered a car-full of items that needed to be stashed temporarily in my grandparents’ barn. I was happy to help out with the necessary springtime upkeep in exchange, clearing a few small downed trees, moving patio furniture, tidying up the barn. I was also thrilled to join Mommom and Babo for dinner – I even got to grill for the first time this year! The Storey Farm is looking beautiful, with apple blossoms and lilac trees in full bloom. Mommom said this has been the best year for lilacs that she can remember, and I feel lucky to get to enjoy moments of Spring in Westport, when so many of my family members and Dudleyite friends only see it in the Summer.
Connecting with my grandparents in a setting different than the large family gatherings of summer or of holidays in Williamstown is something I appreciate more and more every time I get to do so. They have a different perspective on my college experience and plans for the near future than my family or friends, but it is one that I cherish hearing.
After dinner, I set out for North Point on Camp Dudley’s campus – a destination for cabin suppers, overnights, and council rings. It is the most exposed promontory, jutting out into Lake Champlain and enclosing the cove that is home to Dudley’s boating and swimming areas. I have fond memories of fishing at North Point and watching the moon rise over Vermont’s Green Mountains. This time, I was alone and content to enjoy the quietude, embracing the serene calm that Dudley experiences ten months out of the year.
I strung up my hammock, built a fire, and settled down to read Walking To Listen, a powerful coming-of-age personal narrative written by Andrew Forsthoefel. Andrew graduated from Middlebury in 2011 and in the year following walked across the U.S. – traversing from eastern Pennsylvania to California over the course of nearly a year. Though I am only partway through the book, I can recommend it, because I believe that his true anecdotes and thoughtful reflections speak to the empathy that is so lacking, and so necessary, in modern American culture and society.
I fell asleep with the fire still flickering and the stars above me shining bright.
Sleeping outside, I am always more in tune with the cycles and rhythms of the natural world. So I was not surprised when I began to stir at 4:30 in the morning, just as the earliest glow of the sunrise began to grow across the lake. I stirred the fire and quickly brought it back to full strength. I sipped coffee and at my overnight-oats. All the while, I watched the sunrise fill the sky.
I get conflicted when taking photographs in beautiful moments. I had not watched a sunrise like this in years, and my camera felt ancillary – a distraction from being present and enjoying the moment. But I can also draw a distinction between photography as a stand-in for memories and photography as an expression of art. I choose living memory, that which is encrypted into our brains, over static memory, that which is stored in hard drives, every time I can. But I also choose to be artistic, to improve my abilities, and to seek out things that make me proud.
I cannot capture the essence of a sunrise, the vastness of a starry sky, or the warmth of a campfire in words alone, nor can my pictures to them justice. If given only one means of expression, I will always choose words. But part of why I enjoy this blogging process is because it allows for a unique combination of modes of communication.
The day with my grandparents and the night at Camp Dudley served many purposes, but most of all, it was a reminder of how lucky I have been to go to school so close to my second home. The benefits have ranged from simply having a place to store my personal items to having access to a loving community of people who all take utmost pride in Camp Dudley and its mission. I am so appreciative for all of it, and I can say with full confidence that it has been one of the defining aspects of my college experience.
SUMMER TEMPS, A VISIT FROM PEPPER, & A ROUTE 100 DAY
The day of my final assignment at Middlebury College was Tuesday, May 16th. The chill of my 7 AM bike ride across campus to the Atwater dining hall did little to shake the glowing warmth. Inside, I knew that only a few hours remained between myself and the completion of my critical thesis defense, which would mark my final task as a college student. Outside, the clear blue skies signaled a swift rise in temperature – what I project to be the final departure from early spring chills.
That afternoon, as expected, I walked down the English Department hallway one last time. I had defended my thesis, and I was done.
First on the list of celebrations was the consumption of a special Hill Farmstead beer called Birth of Tragedy that I had acquired in March and was saving for this very moment. I was not bothered by the fact that I was drinking a heavy stout in summer-like temperatures, nor was I concerned with the foreboding name of the beer (it’s all down hill from here, right?!). I paired it with a Busch Heavy, the beer that kicked off my college experience, and enjoyed.
I have not yet mentioned that I went home for Mothers’ Day and returned to school with my dog Pepper in tow. Her presence helps to ease the stress of finals week for Maddie and other friends, and we love taking her on our adventures. The following morning, I launched an epic Route 100 Day – one of the bucket list items that I wanted to complete before graduation, and an adventure that I highly recommend. Maddie, our friend Lisa, Pepper, and I kicked things off with mountain biking at Blueberry Lake in Warren. Discovering new trails combined with the first day on the mountain bike of the spring made for an epic morning, and when Pepper got tired, I had no issue slowing down to enjoy the sunshine, practice my photography, and hang out in the river while she cooled off.
We enjoyed lunch at Mad Taco in Waitsfield after the ride – a mandatory stop along Route 100 that must include hot sauce sampling (all made in-house), outdoor seating, and perhaps a beer from Lawson’s. After our meal, Maddie and Lisa returned to Middlebury while Pepper and I continued North.
Between Waitsfield and Stowe, which was my ultimate destination, Route 100 winds over hills, through valleys, and past the town of Waterbury – the original home of the Alchemist Brewery and its famed Heady Topper. Though the old brewery is not open to the public, Waterbury is still revered as a beer destination because of the breweries, restaurants, and stores that have popped up around the town. Though I did not stop everywhere, I would recommend Prohibition Pig for a bite to eat, The Reservoir for outdoor seating, and the Craft Beer Cellar for an outstanding selection.
Beyond Waterbury, I arrived at the Ben and Jerry’s headquarters and visitor center for a drippy ice cream cone, swung through the Cold Hollow Cider Mill to check out their apple products (although it was much busier when I had stopped last Fall), and stopped by the Cabot Cheese Annex Store for unlimited cheese samples. It was a wide-ranging and less-than-healthy culinary experience along Route 100, but it was prototypically Vermont, and I loved it.
The final stop was Stowe, a town that boasts a multitude of attractions and shops. Though many are overpriced, the two places I visited are both of excellent quality and not too pricey, either. First up was PK Coffee – the modern design, simple coffee menu, and screened-in porch made it an ideal place to recharge. Second, last but not least, was the Alchemist Brewery & Visitor Center. Gone are the days when scoring a single four-pack of Heady Topper means standing in line, tracking down delivery trucks, or just getting really, really lucky. The new brewery is visitor (and dog!) friendly, offers free samples, and has quantity limits that far exceed anything I could carry or afford. Plus, they offer a variety of beers besides just Heady; when I visited, they had Broken Spoke APA, Focal Banger IPA, The Crusher IIPA, and Beelzebub Imperial Stout. Coming home with a case or more was certainly not a bad way to stock up for my graduation party next weekend over in Westport, nor do mixed Alchemist four-packs make bad gifts.
I watched my car thermometer reach and then exceed 90 degrees as I turned south for Middlebury. The most direct route offers fewer exciting stops than Route 100 but plenty of appealing views. I especially like the stretch between Richmond and Hinesburg, with its winding dirt road and expanses that make you slow down and appreciate the quiet thrills of Spring in full bloom. My adventures like this one are not over, for I have a week-and-a-half until graduation and then a few weeks of Adirondack living in June, but they are waning. I approached this blog project to increase my own sense of mindfulness, but as I traversed Vermont’s roads, I realized that sometimes, the pursuit of mindfulness is sometimes just a big descriptor for the desire to have fun.