Vermont has transitioned from Winter to Spring since I last wrote, and with it, I feel the end accelerating towards me. I am on track, continuing to garner compliments on my thesis progress from both of my advisors and to make time for fun activities on a daily basis, and yet I find myself teetering more frequently than I would like.
Events have passed by in a blur, and I hope to capture the most meaningful snippets in this post. Below are two photos from “Winter” – the first, from my final visit to Craftsbury over Spring Break (I think that brings my total Craftsbury days to five –not bad considering the distance from Middlebury); the second, from the April Fools’ Day snowstorm that dumped eight inches of wet powder on Westport.
Two days later, I was out on my road bike for the first time, and now that it has reached 75 degrees two days in a row, it is officially Spring. When I delineate in this manner, it all sounds so easy. But the first week-and-a-half of the second half of my final semester has been anything but straightforward. My thoughts exist in multiple planes and temporalities, seemingly at all times. Between two theses and their upcoming deadlines, woodworking projects, and the temptation of springtime activities, I have enough to crowd my vision – but that is just the present and nearest future. I am also considering my bucket list items and all of my commitments before graduation, the logistics of my post-graduation plans before I leave for Germany, and finally the reality of moving to New York and beginning my job there. It is not stress that I feel, but rather a desire to not let anyone down, especially myself. Every day that is unproductive or strays from the plan that I outline feels like a blow to this goal.
But I am moving forward, even if I allow myself to relish in long lunches on the Atwater patio, spend extra hours in the wood shop, or drink a beer on a weeknight. And I am allowing three facets of my life to spur me onwards. First, my fingers continue to write. The lulls in motivation to do so are there, but every day I am able to write something, and when I sustain focus, the results are impressive, even to me. Second, I have a new pair of running shoes – The Freedom ISO from Saucony (pictured below). They are the best running shoes I have ever owned, and they will be put to the test in races this spring, beginning with two that I have signed up for at the end of April and first weekend of May. With a spring in my step, I am getting fitter and faster. Third, and most notably, Maddie and I have signed a lease for an apartment in New York. We will be on the first floor of a newly renovated building on 58th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, and though the space is significantly smaller than our setup in the Townhouses on campus, it will be the first time we can call a space our own. We are particularly jazzed about the location (both of us can walk to work), the tiny-house concept applied in the design to maximize the utility of the space, and the small patio out back for sitting in the sun or grilling on the weekends. There will be many details to come about the apartment, especially as I begin to build furniture for it, but for now, I am thrilled to know that come September, Maddie and I will be settled into New York life together.
I fear this winter will not again reach the heights of this past week. The warm temperatures and rain forecasted for the next few days won’t make it difficult to spend time getting to better know my thesis carol, and while I’m there, I can draw inspiration from my recent adventures to Mad River Glen and Craftsbury – cumulatively, my best week of skiing in the past two years.
Blue skies and deep snow made for excellent photo opportunities. Above: riding the single chair at Mad River Glen, February 14. Below: the barn in Murphy’s Field at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, February 17. This one is perhaps my favorite I’ve been able to share on the blog thus far.
How is one supposed to feel when commencing his or her final semester of college?
Today was truly my last first day as a Middlebury student, although I certainly didn’t spend it doing typical first-day-of-classes types of things. No bookstore visits or dropping off “add cards” to the registrar. Instead, I battled the snow day crowds at Mad River Glen and found the best powder turns and tree skiing of the season. The East has been getting hammered with snow recently, and this storm was the icing on the cake. 14-18″ of fresh, fluffy white stuff at the best ski mountain anywhere. I was fortunate to have a few friends join me, and we quickly concluded that it was the best first-day-of-classes ever.
The reason I was skiing and not inside listening to a professor? I have only three courses this semester, two of which are theses, and the third being a woodworking class that meets on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I take independent work seriously – (see the athletic nutrition guide that Maddie and I made during Junior year) – but I trust myself enough at this point to know that I won’t procrastinate away my time. As I set aside wide open blocks of time each week, I know that if I can use these hours productively, I can afford myself timely adventures. Taking advantage of the best skiing conditions of the year was an adventure of which I wholeheartedly approved. So will be midweek overnights in Westport, hikes in the ‘Dacks, a few more powder days (hopefully!), and random excursions with close friends.
Now as I ponder the magnitude of launching a semester that I have anticipated so eagerly and for so long, I realize my biggest challenge and priority will be to carve out space. I’ve given myself time and trusted myself to use it productively, and to do so, I’ll need to do my best to find spaces that encourage creativity, eliminate distractions, and allow for sustained focus. These spaces are physical – establishing a thesis carol is high on my to-do list – and temporal – creating routines that give me the best chance to think clearly and operate efficiently. Keeping a daily “theses grind” journal of morning check-ins will be a way for me to stay on track, and dedicating my “20% time” to this blog will also give me purpose and opportunities for reflection. And if I stay on it, that will mean a comprehensive critical thesis, wild and poignant poems, more time in the wood shop, and the freedom to take adventures.
I remember a reoccurring internal struggle when I was keeping my gap-year blog over whether, after completing a noteworthy travel expedition, I should pen my thoughts as soon as possible so as not to forget any of the details, or let the experiences and memories simmer for a few days to allow for a more distanced, thoughtful reflection. Both types of writing inevitably produced successful and unsuccessful posts, so I remain undecided on which side to take.
Today, after returning from Norway fewer than twenty-four hours ago, I feel that same debate pulsing in my fingertips – both urging them to write onwards and pulling them back from the keyboard. But the decision to write, in this case, is in part made for me already. In the next two days, I will travel from New York to Pawling to Williamstown to Middlebury, I will sort out my life when I return to school, I will catch up on emails ignored while abroad, I will (most likely) ski if Sunday evening’s Nor’easter brings snow to the Green Mountains, and I will commence my final semester at Middlebury – the fifteen weeks between now and graduation that I have prefigured as the ultimate culminating experience of my college experience. The unique (and now imminent) nature of this time excites me in a way that prohibits me from allowing this Norway blogpost to linger.
Of course, I’m contradicting myself. I want to share all of my recent travels, to unload my thoughts and photographs, and to happily share my reflection with any who ask, “So how was Norway?!” And yet, I’ve spent these first paragraphs writing about a topic that has little relevance to that ski trail I discovered, that cup of coffee I sipped, that piece of fish I tasted. Perhaps it was my subconscious attempt to allow space for reflection, even if it was only half-an-hour instead of half-a-week. But now, I really must begin.
I’d never traveled to Europe in the winter, or for such a short trip. This made the trip feel very different than anything I’d previously done, but having Maddie traveling with me made the whole thing comforting and exciting. The compressed timeframe allowed us to push through jet lag, plan specific adventures each day, and not feel bad about missing out on some of the more typical touristy sights and activities.
Cross-country skiing was the priority, and we departed content and thrilled about the three mornings of skiing that we completed. It was an inspiring feeling to be dressed in full ski attire waiting for a tram in the middle of the city and not get looked at as if we had three heads. Everyone skis, and we were especially inspired by number of young kids and elder folks we saw out on the trails. They were well prepared for the cold and eager to be skiing. We found that most people were friendly, engaging, and excellent at English, but they were not at all sympathetic when we got cold. And it was quite cold. The forests surrounding the city received an inch or so of snow to refresh the trails each night, and we were often skiing through a mix of flakes and sun.
We based ourselves out of Frognerseteren on the first and third days that we skied – a train stop at the end of the metro line overlooking the city and the Oslofjord. There we found numerous trails, frozen lakes, and a handful of ski huts interspersed throughout the Nordmarka forest. We got first tracks (occasionally), got lost a few times, got passed by old women, and got to know some unique, fun terrain.
Our best day of skiing came in the middle of the trip, when we navigated an A-to-B route from Fossum to Sorkedalen west of the city. We passed through a multitude of different landscapes: dense forests, frozen lakes, open farmland, forested hillsides, mountain streams. It was both a test of navigation abilities and endurance, but we made it to our destination proud of and exhausted by our efforts.
I realized two things about traveling during the trip: first, taking photographs in cold weather is hard, and second, mustering up the energy to sightsee when it’s cold outside and we’d already skied for a good part of the day is also hard. But the city exploring that we did do was exceptional. We listened to our bodies as best we could, and in the instances that we did get out and about around Oslo, we found coffee shops at every street corner, many unique secondhand stores, and Scandinavian design shops. What impressed us the most was the city’s cleanliness and punctuality – though waiting for busses and trams in the cold was never pleasant, at least we knew that the public transport system operated on schedule, without fail.
We stayed in the hipster neighborhood of Grunerlokka with Roy, who hosted us in his apartment. (Side note, although I haven’t used Airbnb often, every experience I’ve had with it has been positive and so much more fulfilling than staying in a hotel). Roy was happy to answer questions about Norway, give his opinions on American politics, and share his space with us. We found the kitchen was a great place to experience authentic Norwegian cuisine. Though we ate out very little, we found great fun in picking up an interesting piece of fish from the local fish market and cooking it ourselves. I even tried a cod roe dish that looked like a mixture between liver and tongue. It was fantastic fried up with onions and mushrooms.
The gastronomic highlight was the coffee. Oslo’s coffee culture is perhaps the city’s most striking feature. We couldn’t walk a block without finding a coffee shop, and even the chains served drinks that were much better than your average Starbucks. Decaf was non-existent. We tried to make a point of visiting the most authentic, single location shops, and at these we were served some of the best cups of coffee that I’ve ever tasted. I particularly enjoyed Henrix Ibsen, Supreme Roastworks, Fuglen, and Java, but the best shop by far was Tim Wendelboe. This tiny but elegant shop had two seats, roasting machinery right in the middle of the room, and a menu of six different single-origin coffee beans, which would be ground and hand-brewed right in front of you. The caffeine kept us going, but the quality of the coffee was what kept us coming back for more.
A few inches of snow in the city greeted us on our final morning. Walking the city streets reminded me of my final days in Germany during my gap year, when I was forced to ask myself: when will I be back to Europe? This trip was much, much shorter, but the excitement I felt was the same. And it’s nice to know that I won’t have to wait four+ years before I again make the trip across the pond. But more on that later.
I think there’s a lot we can learn from a country like Norway, especially at this hyper-political time. America does not have a relatively small, relatively homogeneous population, and Norway isn’t void of issues, either. But it was nice to see a place that seems to run smoothly, where the kids are all happy and bundled up in their full down winter outfits, where there is cleanliness, punctuality, and quietude, where people are cheerful even in the cold, dark winter months. We left with all smiles, knowing that we’d discovered a place that aligns with so many of our passions, interests, and opinions. Perhaps we’ll return down the road and travel even further north, skiing under the northern lights or running in the midnight sun.
Tomorrow, Maddie and I will depart for a week in Norway. It is now officially our February Break, and we will soon be five time zones away. This is by far the biggest trip we’ve taken together. I’ve had my fair share of adventures during my college years, but this is my first time returning to Europe since my gap year. All of my travels have been memorable, trips I would gladly take again – Florida, Colorado, and Cape Breton Island to name a few – but there is something irreplaceable about navigating a European city, deciphering a foreign language, and experiencing a place where everything is new and exciting.
Though we probably won’t see the Northern Lights, explore the furthest reaching fjords, or backcountry ski in the remote and rugged Norwegian mountain ranges, we look forward to cold days of outdoor adventures and cozy nights with good food and world-class coffee. As we discovered when looking into a Norway trip, the country is known for two of our favorite things: cross country skiing and coffee. Perhaps no where else in the world is there such an accessible location that offers such an ideal combination of urban and rural. We’ll be in Oslo most or all of the trip (our flight is direct from NYC), and from the city center, we’ll easily be able to take a train or bus up into the hills, where there are miles upon miles of cross country skiing trails. It’s Norway’s national sport, and subsequently, all of the trails are free to access and maintained regularly. There is even night skiing if we’re feeling up for it. Daylight is scarce this time of year, so we’ll have plenty of time in the mornings and evenings to visit cafes and food destinations.
I’m still coming to terms with the idea of taking a “quick trip to Europe.” The last time I was there was for five months, and the only other time was for four weeks. This will feel very different, but it is equally exciting. Hopefully we have smooth travels, an easy adjustment to the time-change, and a week of unforgettable days. No matter what, it will be an adventure, and I look forward to posting a recap upon our return.
Last week entailed hiking, trail running, and only one day of skiing – not exactly an ideal array of winter outdoor activities. We did have a significant ice storm, which resulted in my first ever Middlebury College snow-day (not school-wide, just my professor’s executive decision), but otherwise, the week was beginning to drive a stake through the heart of what I originally thought was going to be an above-average winter. December was great, but January just hasn’t been cutting it.
That is, until now. I celebrated my 22nd birthday on Friday, and the best gift that I received was a drop in the temperature. With it, the mountains and the Mad River Valley have received much needed snow-dumps. We’re still waiting on Middlebury to catch up, but we’re back to strapping on skis when we head into the hills.
Two venues that were in the most dire need of snow were Ole’s and Mad River Glen. Both are in the Mad River Valley – an area with which I quickly fell in love, especially because Maddie went to high school there and knew all of the best spots to take me. Ole’s is a small cross-country skiing center in Warren, and unlike many of the other venues where I ski, Ole’s predominantly features open fields instead of wooded trails. Both are nice, but the change of pace is always appreciated. Maddie and I skied there on Sunday, and it was special for two reasons: first, it was our first visit of the winter, and second, it was my first time attempting classic skiing. I’m grateful for Maddie’s patience and wax knowledge, and I found it to be a unique and exhilarating challenge. I hope for more “extra blue” days and chances to improve as fast as I can!
Today (Monday), I bolted from class at 12:30 and was strapping up my boots an hour later for an afternoon of alpine skiing at Mad River Glen. This infamous skiers-only destination has no frills – only an old school ski lodge and the most interesting, gnarly terrain in the East. Because they don’t make snow, good days at MRG are often few and far between, but when they’re good, they’re impossible to beat. Today was one of those days. The weekend snow they received provided a solid base, and the six inches of powder from the night before rendered ideal conditions. I can’t remember the last time I skied until the lifts closed, but there was no reason to quit today.
With two trail runs, a day of nordic skiing, and a pow day at MRG, my first days of my 22nd year leave me feeling optimistic. The snow and cold bode well for February. J-Term has flown by; we’re in our final week, and soon I will be on vacation. I am hopeful that this cold stretch stays for as long as possible, because with all of the independent work that I’ll be doing this spring semester, I’ll have the flexibility to ski on a pow day at a moment’s notice. Still, it will not be J-Term, and I will miss it. J-Term is hands down the best opportunity to get off campus, take on new adventures, spend time with a wide variety of friends, attend events, and take a step back from the rigor and stress of normal semesters to appreciate all that Middlebury has to offer. Oh, and I’ve always had a birthday to celebrate during the month. Looking back on my four J-Terms, I can say without a doubt that this year I’ve taken advantage of it all more than any of the previous. Each served a unique purpose for me – sometimes for academic, sometimes for athletic, and sometimes for personal reasons. I would like to think that this final J-Term has been the optimal combination of all three.
I want to carry these vibes with me into my final semester. I’ll compare it to my summers at Camp Dudley; when I’ve returned from the Dudley bubble to the realities of life beyond summer camp, I’ve always tried to keep the Dudley spirit alive in me for as long as possible. Now, I hope to do the same with J-Term – a month where I’ve found it easiest to say “yes” to as much as possible. All of these “yeses” have made my recent experiences fun and fulfilling, and more importantly, they’ve been on my own terms.
For now, I will close out the final few days of class, do some serious thinking about my goals for my 22nd year, and pack my gear for my upcoming trip with Maddie – to Oslo, Norway! Much more on that to come soon – I couldn’t be more stoked for the adventure.
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.
Finals week usually offers only endless hours in the library, but this morning I made my first visit of the winter to Sugarbush for some fresh tracks. Six inches of power up top and the thrill of un-skied glades off of Paradise. This winter is already topping last year, but I’m happy that my skiing adventures are just beginning. Mt. Van Hoevenberg twice this past weekend for Nordic, Sugarbush today, and a planned Craftsbury trip for Wednesdsay.