Call them photos, captures, a portfolio, a galley, or a year’s worth of adventures and memories, I am proud of the images that I have featured on this site. Full disclosure, not every single image was my own; as I have noted on the sidebar throughout, I utilized Unsplash.com – an opensource library of photos by some of the most talented and generous photographers out there – to supplement my own photography when I lacked the perfect image for a post or idea. As the project progressed, however, I did find myself relying less on external images and instead utilizing my improving photography skills more.
I wrote extensively on photography and the approach I tried to bring to my practice of it in my July post titled “Photography, As It Sits With Me Now”, so I feel no shame in sparing words in this post. I kept a gallery of my best photos going throughout the blog, titling the page “Captures.” I encourage everyone to visit / revisit that page, but for viewing simplicity (and a little guilty pleasure), I have compiled my favorite images in this post.
Like other elements of this project, I do not intent to stop practicing photography just because I am bringing this blog to a close. In fact, I am inspired to continue (and maybe even upgrade my equipment). But for now, these photos are my best work. Thirteen selected favorites from thirteen months of working on this project. They can stand alone or they can represent the stories, memories, and ideas that I have tried to capture on this site. Or both. With each selection, I have provided a brief synopsis of where I was and what I was doing when I took the photo. I enjoyed the process of remembering these locations and moments, and I am pleased to share them.
Though I took this picture a few months before the idea for this site was conceived, I believe that it was the kernel of success that I needed to push my desire to practice photography from passive to active. The image is one of spontaneity. I arrived in Neil’s Harbor, one of the most northerly towns on Cape Breton Island, after exploring the island’s west side and its famed Skyline Trail, the crown jewel of the Highlands National Park. Caught off guard by the thirty degree temperature difference between the warm St. Lawrence Bay and the chilly Atlantic Coast, I nearly missed the dingy pulling out into the foggy harbor and out of sight. I appreciate the mystery in this image – a quality that I have tried to capture in my photos ever since.
Traveling to Norway in winter, Maddie and I found ourselves caught somewhere in between magical bliss and bitter-cold reality. It was our first big trip together, and with cold temperatures and a fresh dusting of snow every night, Nordic skiing was our priority, and photography was not. But, standing on a frozen lake somewhere in the hills north of Oslo, I did manage to capture this image, which I find appealing in its simplicity.
Ah, Craftsbury. Home to the best Nordic skiing in Vermont, and probably the Northeast. With newfound freedom in my class schedule during the Spring Semester of my senior year, I was able to make the trek to the Northeast Kingdom far more often than in previous years. After a fresh snow dump and my first foray on the Craftsbury Commons trail, I spent an hour puttering around the main trails and captured this barn image – so prototypically Vermont and perfect in every way.
My second barn photo came a few weeks later as I drove from Middlebury to Westport for what felt like the hundredth time. That number is not all that inaccurate. Counting summers, my back-and-forth between the Vermont and New York sides of Lake Champlain during my time at college easily reached triple digits, if I count each there-and-back as two drives. Everything about the drive and distance was ideal – not too short, not too long, never any traffic, and views the entire way. Plus, it connected two of my favorite places in the world. This barn was always the prettiest thing I passed on the Vermont side, so I finally took the time to stop.
Speaking of favorite places, during a quiet springtime weekend I chose to do something a little different and spent a night camping out at North Point on Camp Dudley’s property. I have always slept in my hammock when I camp, and this time was no different, but with temps reaching a low in the thirties and a direct view of the sunrise over Lake Champlain and Vermont’s Green Mountains, I found myself stirring at 4:15 AM. I stoked up the previous night’s fire, set out to make some coffee, and played around with camera settings to dial in an ideal exposure for capturing the sunrise. This image frames the entire experience; spring buds, the sun directly over Camel’s Hump, a boat drifting down the lake, reflections off the water, and an ethereal glow.
One of the greatest graduation gifts I received came as a complete surprise, when Hank Barrett asked me to be the fourth for a day of thirty-six holes at Shinnecock Hills and the National Golf Links of America, two of the country’s finest (and toughest to get on) golf courses. I have never had a better day of golf in my life, and never felt so lucky, especially when I closed out our final match of the day with a par-par-par-birdie stretch on the fifteenth through eighteenth holes at National. This is an image of National’s iconic windmill, and I love the late-afternoon lighting and the arrangement of highlights and shadows it created.
This image does not stand in for one particular moment for all of the memories I have from this location. Sunsets with my Dudley pals, games of CanJam and corn hole, rest stops on early morning training runs, walks up the hill from my grandparents’ house between dinner and dessert. I took it when I was relaxing in Westport, in limbo between graduation and launching for Germany. The school house might be the most iconic structure in my life, and I am glad I could finally capture it in its full glory.
My crazy, awe-inspiring West Coast road trip with five of my high school buddies was the best way for us to celebrate graduating college and spend time together before we all started up jobs in various cities on the East Coast. Though my photos will never compare to the memories of that trip, I do particularly like this one from the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. We had risen before dawn in attempt to beat the crowds and heat in Yosemite Valley, and it paid off in unparalleled views and one of the best ten miles on trail of my life.
This is a more somber image, taken of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany. My month in Germany featured stark contrasts, inner disparities, and a roller-coaster of emotions. Perhaps I am drawn to this photo out of all of those I took during the trip because of the profound balance depicted. On the surface, everything is aligned and appealing. And yet the experience of walking through the memorial is anything but calming. Walking between the rectangular concrete columns, the looming, maze-like construction of the site quickly reveals itself. It is claustrophobic and disorienting. In some ways, I felt the same during my month leading the exchange trip. On the surface, I was leading a group of awesome kids from the best camp in the country, I had just graduated, and I have a job lined up in New York upon my return. But internally, I felt the pressure of responsibility and the anxiety of transition, and those emotions made it harder for me to relax and enjoy myself.
New York, New York. I arrived to the city exhausted and full of questions, and it took me a few weeks to settle in. I am still settling in, and I do not know if I will ever be completely comfortable here. And yet, I have found solace in my daily routines and my opportunities to step outside of those routines, if only for a detour through Central Park. The calm in this photo masks the hectic nature of the city, but in seeking spaces that remind me that nature is still out there, I have found beauty and incredible juxtapositions. I love that the lady in the red dress made an appearance in the image (fitting Matrix reference).
Pawling has served as weekend escape, and I am so grateful that I can get out of the city, be with Maddie and her family, and maintain some of my favorite outdoorsy activities that are just not possible in Manhattan. This is another photo that captures mystery; the gate is both open and chained closed, and the grass (and trees) are certainly greener on the other side of the fence (stone wall). But ultimately, it is inviting, and that is the way I feel about New York: being in this new place is an invitation to try new things and expand my parameters for how I define “adventure.”
I kicked off September and autumn with a trip home to Williamstown with Maddie to celebrate birthdays, be with family, and find more adventures. No moment from the weekend was more striking than when the sun rose over Lake George at the start of Maddie’s triathlon. With the air temperature thirty degrees cooler than the water, the fog rising off the lake was mystical. I felt lucky to be present for that moment, and I always feel lucky that mountains and lakes have been such an integral part of my life.
The foliage has been more muted this autumn, and that is okay. There is still plenty of beauty in less vibrant tones. I love the layering of greens and browns in this image, and I was thrilled to capture it when the priority of this particular morning was running a trail race, and not going out on an adventure to take photos. There is nuance in this image, which makes it a fitting one on which to end. Who would have known that my year long quest to capture moments worth savoring would end with an image of an unnamed bog somewhere in northwestern Connecticut, but I like it that way. Beautiful yet unassuming, bright yet mysterious, an ending and a beginning.
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.
In June, I presented my mom and aunt with a “comprehensive” list of personal recommendations for sipping and eating your way around Burlington, VT. It took me two minutes to write (no Google searching necessary) and I did it on an index card.
That right there pretty much sums up my expertise on living in cities. I knew Burlington pretty well by the end of my summer 2016 living there, and to date, it was the largest city I had ever spent any considerable amount of time (just larger than Bad Homburg, Germany where I lived for half of 2012, if you count the immediate surrounding towns).
I am approaching seven full weeks in New York, not a far cry from the ten weeks I spent in Burlington, but the depth to my local knowledge is not only shallow, it is practically non-existent. So with that disclaimer out of the way, I present my NYC Recommendations.
(Disclaimer number two: I am drawn towards efficiency, value, the outdoors, and good coffee. My recommendations may or may not reflect those tendencies. I have also been living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, so I would be the last person to ask about trendy locations in Brooklyn, for example, or anything along those lines.)
Brunch is outrageously popular in New York, but with a busy schedule and a tendency to spend my weekends outdoors, I have yet to partake in the brunch scene. A good bakery is more up my alley if I want something special for my morning. Orwasher’s is traditional, and they do it right. Hearty breads including a quinoa spelt bread that I love, great bagels, and donuts that they fill for you by hand with any sweet concoction imaginable.
Fast-casual dining is definitely a movement right now, and right up my alley is Dig Inn. They feature a simple but flexible build-your-own bowl menu with a variety of grains, veggies, protein, and fun add-ons to choose from. Any combination is good in my book because they keep it healthy and fresh. Locations throughout the city make it a great stop for any occasion.
For a trendy downtown restaurant on the Upper East Side, Quality Eats is hard to beat. Maddie, her parents, and I went there for her birthday dinner, and I was impressed by their creative, carnivore-focused menu and outstanding atmosphere.
No NYC dining list would be complete without dessert, and no dessert is better than Levain’s. They serve up the best cookies in the world. That is a fact, not an opinion. Tucked in a tiny basement off a side-street on the Upper West Side, Levain’s always brings a crowd. Try one of each, but if you have to pick, I recommend the double chocolate and the walnut chocolate chip.
I am not exactly “branching” out with this recommendation, but having tried Birch at multiple locations, I do not see any reason to look past what is one of the ubiquitous establishments in New York’s third-wave coffee scene. The woodworking craftsmanship on display, earthy vibes, and coffee any way you like it make it a standout. They really seem to care about the product from start to finish, and that is why it is a go to for me when I want to treat myself to a really good coffee.
Irving Farm was the first coffee shop I discovered when I started visiting New York to spend time with Maddie’s family, way before I knew I would be working here. Now, I have the option of walking past it every day on my way to work, and it is always tempting to stop. The coffee is great, and I have always enjoyed passing their roastery on Route 22 in Millerton, NY when driving between Pawling and Williamstown. But even cooler is the fact that they have huge spaces, perfect to sit and read or work on a laptop. They also have a hub in Grand Central if you are just passing through.
LIC Beer Project
A hidden gem that will probably explode in popularity in the beer world within the next couple years, the brewery produces fantastic hoppy libations and features some of the coolest can art I have ever seen. They have the industrial charm going on, and they are a quick trip across the east river from Midtown if you want to drink from the source or attend a weekend can release.
Five Boroughs Brewing
I have yet to try any of the Five Boroughs offerings, but a Dudley guy named Kevin O’Donnell is one of the co-founders of the recently-opened brewery in Brooklyn. It is a hike to get down to the tap room from the Upper East Side, so I am keeping my eyes out for drafts and cans in Manhattan.
Central Park’s Great Hill
In the northwest corner of the park, a bit removed from the crowds that flock to the Bridal Path and Reservoir Track, the Great Hill is my favorite place to run. The steep elevation, views of the city, wooded dirt trails, and a serene grassy oval atop the hill where I tend to see dogs chasing after tennis balls make the skyscrapers and crowded blocks seem a little further away. It is ideal for sunrises, too.
Randal’s Island is off the beaten track for most New Yorkers, but from my apartment, the pedestrian bridge on 103rd Street that crosses the East River is easy to access. The island is packed with playing fields and views of the Manhattan skyline, and running there is a breath of fresh air from the crowds that flock to Central Park.
Long Island City
I have barely explore Long Island City, but something about it feels right. It is not stuffy or pretentious like parts of Manhattan, and I appreciate how truly outstanding establishments like the LIC Beer Project can reside right next to warehouses that service broken-down food trucks. I look forward to going back, if only to try as many possible items on the John Brown Smokehouse’s menu as possible, because all of it is barbecue done right.
The High Line and Chelsea Market
For many people, walking the High Line and going to Chelsea Market are chart toppers when it comes to a New York bucket list of fun things to do. And though I am trying not to act too touristy, now that I have lived here for a number of weeks, I still find these activities to be fun and exciting. It is a bit like walking down Church Street in Burlington – I have done it a hundred times, but it never really gets old. Plus, these activities are in fact active, and shopping in Chelsea is a good way to find unique, quality items and foods.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today is Memorial Day, May 29, 2017. I sit in rainy Westport, NY having just completed a puzzle. And senior week. And graduation weekend. And college.
The events that transpired over the past week are a blur, but the feeling that lingers is one of deep gratitude mixed with well-warrented exhaustion. Senior week proceeded like a whirlwind – a temporary unorganized lifestyle coupled with the need to organize my life for the move-out. Though I will skim over some of the details, my favorite moments included Tuesday’s epic trip to Kingdom Trails in East Burke, VT for the best mountain biking on the East Coast and Wednesday’s outdoor concert featuring some of Middlebury’s best student bands. The mountain biking was so good that we are hoping to go back in June, so I hope to do a better job documenting the trip then.
On Friday, family and friends gathered at the Storey Farm in Westport for a small celebration and a large feast. I was particularly thrilled to see those who came from further distances: Miranda (who is now a rising Junior at Bowdoin!) and my grandparents who came up from Florida. We dined on grilled chicken, a multitude of vegetable dishes, an incredible carrot cake, and plenty of Alchemist 16-ounce cans. It was also the first time that Maddie’s parents and my parents were all in the same room together, and everyone enjoyed bonding with old friends and new ones. As I have written in other blog posts, I feel incredibly lucky to have a space within an hour’s drive from campus that is so special to me, and having the graduation party there epitomized this experience.
Saturday was a special day in a different way. I woke early to prepare myself for the Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony. I am still trying to figure out if I am more honored by the nomination itself or the fact that I got to share the stage with so many insanely smart and talented people. Hearing each of the nominee’s future plans was the best part of the ceremony.
My dad and I went for a run and we took things easy in the afternoon, watching some FA Cup soccer and packing up a few final items. We then attended the English Department reception, and I was thrilled to learn that I had received one of the departmental awards. I never doubted choosing English as my major, and now the pride I have felt for my classes and independent work tastes even sweeter.
The last installment of my penultimate day was the party for the senior soccer players, held at the Woodchuck Cider House. Between the eleven of us, our families, and our friends, we had an outstanding “one last night.” And fittingly, the skies over Lake Champlain granted us the most dramatic sunset of the year.
It is tradition at Middlebury for the seniors to stay up all night before graduation. The townhouse quad where I lived turned into a late-night block party, and I went inside only to fix up a midnight coffee for a few friends. But eventually, my “early-to-bed, early-to-rise” habits caught up with me, and I had to retire at 2:30 in the morning. Two hours later, Maddie woke me for a sunrise run, and we jogged up to the highest point on campus to look out over the Green Mountains one last time. As is also tradition, the bakeries in town open early to serve free breakfast to the seniors, so we jogged down to Otter Creek Bakery for an egg sandwich and a few of the tastiest croissants of my life. Sleep deprivation had nothing to do with it.
A few hours later, I was dressed in my cap and gown, ready to graduate. We could not have received better weather, and though the three-hour commencement ceremony dragged at times, everything in it felt right. And nothing was better than the final gift we received as Middlebury Students. Grace Potter, recipient of an honorary degree from the college this year and fellow Vermonter, broke out her guitar and sang her heart out in the final minutes of the ceremony. The song made some cry, some smile, and all of us pause in a moment of gratitude and unity.
The entire week, but especially the graduation weekend and commencement ceremony, was a gift. A chance to be in a place I call home without the pressure of classes or finals hanging over me. An opportunity to explore new Vermont adventures and repeat old favorites one last time. A time to be with those who are closest to me, and to show them how lucky I have been to attend Middlebury. I will remember it all.
Before I close this post, and this chapter of my life, I will remind myself of two thoughts. First, I am not really leaving Middlebury, but rather I am beginning the next phase of my learning and growing. I look forward to new challenges knowing that I am equipped with all that my college experience has taught me. Second, there is a Mary Oliver poem that Professor Brayton gave to me and my peers on the final day of my favorite class at Middlebury. I carry it with my to this day. The message was appropriate then and still fits now.
THE SUMMER DAY
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?