What is next? This was one of the big questions I was asking myself when I launched this blog in the December 2016 – specifically in regard to sports and fitness. I had just completed my fourth and final season as a member of the Middlebury soccer team. Everything I had worked for in high school and beforehand culminated in the opportunity I had to play college soccer. I felt so lucky that the experience was so positive, that I found teammates who will be friends forever, and that the program encouraged me to pursue all of my academic interests just as strongly as they supported me while I was on the field.
And yet, coming to the end of my college soccer career left a void. Though I am sure I will have pangs of longing when its late August rolls around and I am not stepping onto the pitch for the first day of preseason, I have tried to see filling the empty space that soccer left in my life as an exciting opportunity.
As winter and spring sped by at Middlebury, I tried to use the time that I had usually devoted to offseason soccer training to enjoy other forms of physical activity. The winter included more skiing (both alpine and nordic) than ever before as well as rock climbing and IM basketball. During the spring, I ramped up my trail running, cycling, and mountain biking – and I now consider all three of those sports to be among my favorites. And there was always time for a hike, a round of golf, and of course, pick-up soccer.
One of the frustrating elements of my month in Germany was the lack of time and freedom I had to work out. Sure, I managed to enjoy some incredible runs, to swim in the pool, and to play plenty of knock-out and one-on-one on the Abbensen basketball court, but I missed many of the activities that I love.
Now I am living in New York City. The move felt like I could press the reset button on my athletics. There is plenty I can do in the city, but nothing will beat stepping out of my dorm and finding myself on the eighteen-mile Trail Around Middlebury (TAM), or seeing the sun set over the Adirondacks and scaling a peak the following morning. So I have entered a process of discovery: reconsidering my athletic goals, seeing what is possible (and affordable) in the city, and tinkering as much as I can to make both of those align. I am thrilled about Central Park, about yoga mats in small places, and of course, about Pawling.
Getting out of the city this weekend felt amazing. I fished and swam in Quaker Lake and went on a grueling twenty-eight-mile bike ride that featured a few Category 3 and 4 climbs. Pawling is a hilly place. I know that I have done little to deserve this fortune – for many, getting out of the city in the summer is not an option, let alone someone who has only worked for three days – so I am doing my best not to take anything for granted.
Between the city and Pawling, I will have plenty of opportunities to train and to stay in shape. I have a ten-mile trail race in the Shawangunks bookmarked on my calendar for late September, and I will go from there. My swimming and biking have improved tremendously in 2017, and I can see giving triathlons a shot down the road. And soccer will always be there. A team of mostly Midd Soccer alums plays on Sunday afternoons in New York, and I hope to get in on the action as soon as I feel settled in.
There is one thing I know for sure: New York will give me an entirely new perspective on sports and fitness, and I see that as a great benefit for my continued transition into post-Middlebury athletics.
Today is Friday, August 4th, and later I will leave Manhattan to spend the weekend in Pawling, which requires a subway to Grand Central and then a ninety-five minute train ride on the Metro-North Railway. It sounds very typical for a New York City resident during the summer months working a Monday – Friday job in the financial sector.
But “typical” in this context is relative. For me, the word is as inaccurate a description of my experience over the past few days as I can think of. Five days ago I was leaving Germany. Four days ago I repacked my life and took my Yukon on what is possibly its final drive, from Westport to Pawling. Three days ago I began settling into my temporary residence with the Leopolds on East End Avenue in Manhattan. Two days ago I started my job at Landmark. Yesterday I went on my first ever run in Central Park. Today, I am finally feeling the weight of this crazy transitional moment of my life lifting, and so naturally, I am writing about it.
Since the inception of this blog, New York was the final destination – both as a physical landing place and as the conclusion of my figurative growth trajectory from college to the “real world.” The entire time that I have been writing, I have tried to be mindful of the notion that it is not the destination but the journey that matters most. My journey took me to Norway and California and Germany, saw the completion of two theses and the reception of a diploma, broadened my artistic skill sets with improvements to my photography and the introduction of woodworking, deepened my appreciation for the places that I am lucky to call home, and brought me closer the the people I love the most. It forced me to ask tough questions of myself, to seek answers, and to see “not knowing” as necessary to the harmonic balance I was striving to achieve in my life.
I speak about all of this in the past tense, but landing in New York does not simply mean that I can wrap the previous phase of my life into a neat bundle and store it away. Neither does it mean that my present is static or permanent. It is quite the opposite of all these things. The people, places, and experiences that construct my past will shape every decision I make going forward. Furthermore, the distinction that I have given New York as my final destination is utterly false. Sure, I may be moving to the big city and I may be contractually obligated to work at Landmark for two years, but this new phase is a journey in its own right. Perhaps it will be bigger and more eye-opening than I could ever expect.
After three days at my job, I can report that I love the office environment and the people with whom I will be working closely. The summer is slow in New York, especially in the financial world, which makes it a perfect time to begin. I will have some time to get up to speed, and it is amazing how quickly you can go from ignorant to knowledgeable about something by just committing to reading about it. I love to read, and I love to learn, so it does not feel like work to me. Still, it will be a long time until I feel confident with the material, which is all the more reason why I am thrilled about the mentors I have here.
I am also still in a transition phase in terms of my living situation. Returning from Germany and starting my job was plenty for August, so moving into an apartment right away was not an option. Fortunately, Maddie’s family has been incredibly gracious to me, and they made sure I had nothing to worry about as far as housing goes during this first month. My walk to work takes about twenty-five minutes, and though it can be warm, I would so much rather be walking than taking the subway. Maddie and I have things lined up for September, which will represent a more permanent ending for all of the moving around I have done over the past few months, and I cannot wait for our setup.
So, I still have a train to catch to Pawling, and I still have a weekend to be outdoors and grill and relax waiting for me at the end of the train line. “Everything has changed, though nothing has,” to quote my thesis adviser Jay Parini. I have a new journey in front of me, a lot to learn about living in New York and working at Landmark, and plenty of new opportunities. And yet, I see no reason to change who I am. I will always love seeing nature and cooking fresh food and writing and making adventures big and small out of every day. New York will certainly have its impact on me, and I welcome it, but I am not shy about bringing some of my crunchy-Vermonter self to life in the big city. And that gets me excited.
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.
When I launched this blogging project, I imagined that I would be able to create a digital space to stash anything and everything that I was passionate about. Writing has always been my favorite and best talent, so that was obvious, but I left everything else up to the passing moments of inspiration I experienced. I have kept the blog in the back of my mind at all times, and because of this, I know it has affected the way I see the world.
What I could not have predicted as a result of this project was the amount of time I have spent thinking critically about photography. I have flip-flopped with my views towards photography over the past few years, ranging from my seventeen-year-old self who strove to capture as many images as possible in my travels to my twenty-year-old self who rejected many forms of social media and rarely pulled out my phone to take a quick snap. When I was first stepping out into the world on my own, my camera was a way to notice, remember, and quantify my experiences spatially and visually. Later, I became fixated upon a speech by Jonathan Safran Foer, in which he explained to the Middlebury Class of 2013 the dangers of being satisfied with “static memory” – a quick snap when receiving a diploma, for instance – as opposed to “living memory” – which requires an emotional engagement with real life and a knowledge of the possibility of forgetting that memory or having it change over the years. Foer distinguishes between these two types of people, or styles, Both phases were learning experiences for me, and now I think, like anything else, that there needs to be balance and mindfulness in my commitment to photography.
One quote from Foer stands out to me about quality photography: “Clearly some photographs can have tremendous value: those that have the ability to draw us into the experience. These I believe are usually taken by photographers who manage to use the camera to heighten their own presence in the situation. On the other hand, a cell phone photo of someone crossing the stage is a meaningful symbol of the graduate’s achievement and the photographer’s pride and support, but it cannot capture the experience of the day, and more, it detracts from the experience of the day… The more our cameras can do, the less possible being present becomes.”
I believe it is essential for me, and all of us, to continue to ask ourselves why we do what we do. It is easier than ever to snap an iPhone picture, to remove ourselves from the present moment by checking Instagram, or to recuse ourselves from the emotional commitment necessary to achieve “living memories.” But I also see value in mindful photography – not necessarily good photography, but a step above a mindless cell phone snap. My photography has certainly improved due to this blog, and I have enjoyed attempting to heighten my own presence in the various situations and adventures about which I have written through the images I choose to share.
Here is the link to my Captures page,
where I have archived my favorite photos dating over the past year.
Endnote: I also learned a lot about photography at Abbensen from my co-leader Luke, who is an aspiring photojournalist and has a wonderful knack to be in the right place at the right time, camera ready. I watched him make photography so much fun, not only for himself but the people involved. He inspires me to keep exploring the art, adventure, and human connections wrapped up in the practice. He also gets photo credits for the cover image of this post. To Luke, thank you.
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.
Coming to Germany for my third time has felt decidedly different than the previous two trips. Of course, this seems obvious – I am doing a variety of things, meeting new people, and holding a different role than before. But even though I have embarked on a unique month, the simple fact that I am back in Germany has prompted and triggered old feelings and memories. Though I am in Hannover and at Camp Abbensen, in the first week of living with a host-family, I found myself thinking much more about my gap year travels than my first German Exchange trip.
So, though I was thrilled to join the other Abbensen leaders on a week of fun activities and late nights, I also found myself craving self-directed moments each day. I see two reasons for this desire: first, that I associate Germany primarily with the solo traveling that I did during my gap year, and second, that I feel so close to full adulthood, with my first real job beginning in August, and therefore want to be making my own choices.
As we proceeded through the first week, I found equal joy joining in on group activities as I did ducking out for an hour or two to wander the city, navigate on my own, and sit alone for a few moments with a cup of coffee. It is not that one way of filling my days is right and the other is wrong, it is simply that I require some form of balance right now. This self-understanding comes from four-plus years of maturing since my last time here, and I believe that it is something I have earned, not simply grown into. I get to enjoy it in the form of early morning runs through fields of windmills and long conversations with German leaders who seem genuinely interested and impressed with my life’s path over the past few years.
Now, camp is beginning, and I am thrilled to let myself be as much of a kid as possible. Knowing myself, I will still find moments to write, reflect, and find balance throughout the two weeks at Abbensen.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.