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Labor Day, Home, Two Birthdays

Labor Day, Home, Two Birthdays

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).

Lake George, September 2017

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.

Pawling, August 2017
The End of Graduation Celebration and the Beginning of the German Exchange

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.

Tupper Lake Triathalon

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.

Westport, June 2017
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.

Spring at the Storey Farm, A Night at North Point

Spring at the Storey Farm, A Night at North Point

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.

Camp Dudley, May 2017
Camp Dudley, May 2017

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.

Camp Dudley, May 2017

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.

Camp Dudley, May 2017

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.

Theses Rough Drafts and a Family Weekend

Theses Rough Drafts and a Family Weekend

I am in the midst of finalizing my theses rough drafts and am finding it ironic that a rough draft has to be finalized at all, considering it is only a rough draft. But of course, the more presentable and polished the rough draft is, the easier it will be to achieve a final draft. And so I write, or I think about writing while I write a blog post. I do so while watching the greens and blues of a vibrant spring day, checking the scores of the Boston sports teams, and dreaming up post-graduation plans.

While the thesis work has consumed the majority of my time (hence, fewer blog posts), the past week or so has not been without highlights:

I built a cutting board and continued to dream up woodworking projects.

I presented my website titled The Stories of Alistair MacLeod at Middlebury’s Spring Symposium. The site pays homage to MacLeod – the focus of my critical thesis – and explores the geographies of his life and his stories. The mapping component of the website combines my interests in literature and cartography, and the cumulative product is a unique foray into digital storytelling that is atypical of an English thesis project.

I got to spend quality family time with my parents, my brother Sam, and my grandparents. We all stayed in Westport for a night – Sam to play in a soccer recruit camp at Middlebury, my grandparents to check up on the house after their two months in Florida, and my dad and I to sit in on preliminary summer staff meetings at Camp Dudley. We enjoyed some time in the new Leadership Barn and heard a detailed explanation about the new high ropes course that Dudley is adding – complete with a 400-foot zip-line and a giant swing that will soar over the lake.

And just this morning, I rode to Vergennes and back with Maddie, enjoying new roads, new views, and a coffee break at Three Squares Cafe.

Maple Street, Vergennes

As I turn back to my writing, I look forward to other events in the near future. I have two upcoming races, plans to mountain bike as soon as the trails open, and some IM Golf sessions that begin this week. And more momentous occasions lie in sight, too. The completion of my theses, the defenses, senior week, graduation parties, ADKs in June, a tentative trip (more details to come!), and the final send-off to Germany. I feel just as much excitement for the little moments as I do the huge celebratory events, and be they big or small, I will continue to write about them – mindful of how lucky I am.

Memory, and an Annual Weekend at Camp Dudley

Memory, and an Annual Weekend at Camp Dudley

I am commencing the sixth week of my final semester at Middlebury, and in four days I will be home for Spring Break. Whereas February Break was all about the big adventure (my trip to Norway), this upcoming week will be about appreciating the little details and enjoying some of the places that I love most.

Enjoying a place that I love was really the storyline of this past weekend, too. For the fourth year in a row, I helped out at Camp Dudley’s JL Weekend – an opportunity for junior leaders (sixteen-year-olds) to get some training and bonding as they prepare for the summer ahead. It has developed into one of my favorite weekends of the year, for even though it is usually snowy on Dudley’s campus, I always leave feeling like I’ve received a full dose of the summertime Dudley spirit. It is usually at this point in the semester, too, that I need it most. March can be dreary, and a refreshing weekend with fellow Dudleyites always helps me finish the first half of the semester on a high note.

A snowy shot of my grandparent’s Storey Farmhouse in Westport

A few items to note about this year’s JL Weekend that made it particularly special. First, I have been taking care of my dog Pepper while my family went to Virginia for the weekend, and having her around always makes things more fun. She had a nice vacation, too, because she got to play with my friend Tom’s puppy named Mango for much of Saturday morning. Second, I had the privilege of touring Dudley’s new Leadership Barn – a multipurpose space that will house many groups in the summertime and off-season, including Dudley’s new gap semester program, and be a hangout spot for Leaders during days off and nights out. It is a beautiful building, and with my newfound appreciation for woodworking and cooking, I was particularly impressed by the kitchen and the detail that went into the building. Lastly, I got to deliver a chapel talk on Sunday morning – a short “words of wisdom” speech to kick off the day. Given that I’m writing a lot about memory, both in my critical thesis and in my reflections for this blog, I decided to apply the framework of collective memory to Camp Dudley. Here is an excerpt meant to inspire the junior leaders to trust in themselves and in the Dudley community.

I feel like I’m at a pretty big transition point in my life. For this reason, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, a lot of reflecting, and a lot of reminiscing. Though I don’t think dwelling on the past is the best way to live life, I’ve become really interested recently in exploring the concept of “memory.”

So let’s talk about it. Memories are kind of funny, aren’t they? It’s crazy that our brains can decide for us, a million times a day, what scraps of information or random experiences get stored away for future recollection. That we can try for hours to memorize facts for a history test, and think that we know them, only to have that critical piece of knowledge slip our minds when it matters. That our memories make up a collection that we call “memory” and that our memory is always evolving and growing. And even more importantly, that our memory plays such a huge role in creating and recreating who we are and how we define ourselves, every single day.

Our group conversation last night was really just an exercise in selecting a memory and channeling a coherent response, and just like that, we had an amazing collection of leaders and leadership characteristics floating around the room. And think about this one: I may have never met your favorite leader, and you may never have met mine, but we can create memories about each other’s memories, and thus learn about each other’s favorite leaders through the process of collective memory.

To put this line of inquiry in other terms, remember as a camper how you probably had a canteen account for purchases at the store, going Sunday golfing, getting those archery pins, etc. right? Well, we all have our metaphorical Dudley canteen accounts, and each of us has been adding memories to that account every time we spend a day on campus, have a conversation with a fellow Dudleyite, or live the other fellow first. What I find inspiring and humbling is that a lot of the ideas and skills and memories that make their way into our accounts are not original. The messages you’ve received over the years from vespers and chapel talks, even from Bill Harper’s Sunday sermons, were all inspired by even older Dudley memories. It’s a cycle of listening, learning, reflecting, and passing on to the next generation of Dudleyites. When we lump all of our individual canteen accounts together, we are constantly building and extending the Dudley community and the Dudley spirit.

So when you’re facing your toughest leadership challenge of the summer, just remember that you not only have all of your Dudley experiences to draw from, but you also have the collective memory of 135 years of Camp Dudley boys and girls, men and women behind you, every hour of every day, without fail. That’s an empowering feeling. Sure, it’s a responsibility to inherit all of these memories from all of these years, but it’s the greatest gift you can receive as a leader. I can’t wait to see all of you put it to use this summer.

I am thankful that I was able to share my thoughts with a group of people who are continuously trying to live the Camp Dudley motto, “the other fellow first,” and that I have been able to mark the JL Weekend on my calendar for the past four years.

I Dream of a Cabin

I Dream of a Cabin

I dream of a cabin in the woods.

Preferably in the Adirondacks, ideally in Keene Valley.

A long driveway that gets muddy in the spring and requires four-wheel-drive in the winter.

Land with enough timber to build the cabin and to do so sustainably.

A front deck with ample room to stack wood below.

An open space that is is rustic, practical, and adaptable.

Large windows for summer and a central wood stove for winder.

Bunk beds, a loft, space for all around the table.

A kitchen and a charcoal grill outside. No microwave.

Handcrafted wood furniture built in a small wood shop erected on the property.

Gravity-fed plumbing, solar energy.

No television, wifi, or cellular service.

Creative bookshelves and good books.

A trail network through the trees, good for running and mountain biking.

A four-season escape.

Dogs that love adventure.

A mountain view all year round.

Adirondack chairs, sunsets, family, friends.

 

Winter Essentials in the ADKs

Winter Essentials in the ADKs

I spent time in the Adirondacks recently, and the hours were filled with spontaneous adventures, homey comforts, and good company. Having my grandparents’ farmhouse just a forty-five minute drive from Middlebury has been one of the greatest blessings of my college experience – one that I feel incredibly lucky to have. Westport is the gateway to the Adirondacks for me, and looking west from Middlebury at snow-covered ridges or glowing sunsets stirs in me the desire simply to go. Go to Westport for an overnight, clean laundry, and a home-cooked meal; go to Camp Dudley for a visit with my cousins or a good conversation with whomever is around; or go to the mountains for old stomping grounds or new discoveries.

For me, the Adirondacks in the summer are synonymous with my quest to become a 46er – to climb all forty-six peaks above 4000 feet. I’m two-thirds through, although most of the remaining mountains are more remote than those I’ve already summited.

But in the winter, the Adirondacks present a different challenge: finding fun and warmth in the sparseness and cold. It is the quiet of the Adirondacks in winter that will always remain with me – a quiet that I often seek out, but one that can also feel so foreign. When I go, I am both reveling in the silence and constantly seeking to fill it.

By now, I have my essentials figured out – my preferences, tricks, and tips. These essentials help me evoke feelings of summer, when the Storey Farm is often a busy, multi-generational community in constant flux. More importantly, they allow me to reflect with the hindsight the cold provides and to anticipate with the promise of the seasons. Compiling this list makes me mindful of what is meaningful to me – distinguishing between what I want and what I need.

ADIRONDACK WINTER ESSENTIALS

  • Eggs fresh from the Storey Farm chickens – I am happy to brave the icy morning air to collect warm eggs from the chicken coop. The “girls” are also happy to eat any and all of our vegetable scraps, which makes the eggs taste even better.
  • Good coffee – Sipping a warm cup of coffee is the perfect way to start a winter weekend day, whether I’m fueling up for an adventure or preparing for a cozy day of reading. I like making my own coffee, but I also highly recommend SubAlpine Coffee in Keene Valley and Dogwood Bakery in Wadhams!
  • Skinny skis and fat skis – Despite occasionally uncooperative snow conditions over the past two winters, nordic and alpine skiing have become two of my favorite activities. I have a good coach in Maddie, which makes these sports even more fun for me. When in the ADKs, visit Mt. Van Hoevenberg for nordic and Whiteface for alpine; both venues played host to the 1980 Winter Olympics!
  • A good pair of trail shoes – There’s always the possibility that Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and skiing becomes impossible or too unpleasant. When this happens, I turn to the trails. Hiking and trail running can be a fantastic winter activity, as the bare trees open expansive views of high peaks. Good shoes or boots, wool socks (DarnTough all the way!), micro-spikes, and trekking poles are all useful tools to have.
  • Evenings by the fireplace – After a cold or wet day of adventuring, or if I’m just in the mood to sit and relax, a fire in the fireplace welcomes warmth into the farmhouse.
  • Cozy slippers – Besides a fire, the coziest thing about winter is slipping into a pair of slippers. I received Haflinger wool slippers for Christmas, and they are everything good slippers should be and so much more.
  • Good company – Sharing with others a place I love makes me happy, and unequivocally, the best way to stay cheery and warm is to be surrounded by friends.
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