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.
I am back stateside, and my one-month whirlwind adventure in Germany is over. Ever since I returned from the German Exchange in 2009, I had dreamed of leading this trip. In the months before we departed from Camp Dudley, I had already constructed a vision of what the trip would be – built on memories from my past two stays in Germany and my expectations of what the third time around would entail.
Now the trip sits in concrete details, blurred only by the occasional foggy memories due to a lack of sleep. I have not written much about the last week of Intercamp or the round trip around Germany, so I will focus mostly on those sections of the trip. They were the weeks that flew by the fastest and packed in the most fun.
The one-hundred or so campers and leaders at Intercamp 2017 really became a community following our return from the hikes. With just a week to go, we were determined to form strong friendships and make every game better than the last. As the days progressed, I was struck by the sheer effort and selflessness of the German leaders who poured everything they had into the planning and execution of each day. With such a minute support staff compared to Dudley’s operation, everything fell on the leaders to make the camp go smoothly. That dynamic created a tight-knit community among the leaders – everyone had to have each other’s back or else it would not work.
I enjoyed increasing my responsibilities as time went along – taking on barbecuing jobs and leading wacky interest groups and even running the final game of the camp. In that game, based on the classic Saratoga Morning from Dudley, campers were assigned to roles as either a horse or a jockey, and they competed in races. There were, of course, odds on each horse and betting opportunities for the campers who were not racing.
Saying goodbye to the Intercamp community was challenging because it felt like it came too soon, but we quickly turned our thoughts to the excitement of the round trip. The week was stressful, especially for the leaders, because we were tasked with taking forty-seven kids from four different nations around Berlin, Dresden, and Munich. Every step of each day took coordination, which left little time for relaxation. Through determination and plenty of problem solving, the round trip ended up a success. We played beach volleyball in Berlin, ate Indian food in Dresden, toured the Dachau concentration camp, and spent an afternoon wandering freely in Munich – not to mention all of the guided tours and typical sightseeing activities in each city.
I rarely experienced the free-spirited feeling of exploring new cities that I had come to love during my gap year, but the few moments I had for myself were all the more refreshing and rewarding. I went on one sightseeing run in each city, found the best cup of coffee ever at The Barn in Berlin, snagged a few hyperlocal craft beers as a gift for my dad, and spent quality time with the other leaders on the trip. We spent the final day of the trip with only the Dudley / Kiniya crew, and traveling with fourteen instead of sixty-four was fun and much more relaxing.
Throughout the entire month, I was impressed by the maturity and general awesomeness of my Dudley group. I knew they would be great, but they blew me away. I felt really good knowing that I could help reward such a great group of kids with a month unlike any they have ever experienced.
On Sunday, we woke up early and began the last leg of traveling – from Hannover to Paris to Montreal and finally back to Dudley. As we neared the Montreal airport, knowing that the stress and responsibility of the trip was basically over, my body started shutting down. I heard a quote once along the lines of: “The best compliment your body can give you is to get sick the moment you finish a task into which you have poured every ounce of yourself.” I kept that in mind as I arrived back at Camp, weak and exhausted but beyond happy about how the month had gone.
That evening, I mustered up the energy to play in Dudley’s Sunday night brass quartet alongside my brother Sam. The moon and stars were out in full splendor, and I felt so lucky for everything Dudley had given me. Hopefully, my efforts in Germany could serve as a small way of giving back.
Coming to Germany for my third time has felt decidedly different than the previous two trips. Of course, this seems obvious – I am doing a variety of things, meeting new people, and holding a different role than before. But even though I have embarked on a unique month, the simple fact that I am back in Germany has prompted and triggered old feelings and memories. Though I am in Hannover and at Camp Abbensen, in the first week of living with a host-family, I found myself thinking much more about my gap year travels than my first German Exchange trip.
So, though I was thrilled to join the other Abbensen leaders on a week of fun activities and late nights, I also found myself craving self-directed moments each day. I see two reasons for this desire: first, that I associate Germany primarily with the solo traveling that I did during my gap year, and second, that I feel so close to full adulthood, with my first real job beginning in August, and therefore want to be making my own choices.
As we proceeded through the first week, I found equal joy joining in on group activities as I did ducking out for an hour or two to wander the city, navigate on my own, and sit alone for a few moments with a cup of coffee. It is not that one way of filling my days is right and the other is wrong, it is simply that I require some form of balance right now. This self-understanding comes from four-plus years of maturing since my last time here, and I believe that it is something I have earned, not simply grown into. I get to enjoy it in the form of early morning runs through fields of windmills and long conversations with German leaders who seem genuinely interested and impressed with my life’s path over the past few years.
Now, camp is beginning, and I am thrilled to let myself be as much of a kid as possible. Knowing myself, I will still find moments to write, reflect, and find balance throughout the two weeks at Abbensen.
The End of Graduation Celebration and the Beginning of the German Exchange
(This blog post was composed somewhere over the Atlantic en route to Paris during the first leg of my travels, and published upon arriving in Hanover, Germany)
A couple months ago, I wrote “Germany, Round III” detailing my initial plans to lead Camp Dudley’s German Exchange Trip during the month of July. Well, July 1st has come and passed, and with it my group launched our trip “across the pond.”
I spent much of the past week reacclimatizing myself to the Adirondacks after my whirlwind of a road trip out west. The implications of my preparations during this time included not only the need to be ready to lead eight boys to Germany but also the need to enable myself to make a smooth and rapid transition to New York City and my job at Landmark upon my return.
Moreover, it was the last week that Maddie and I got to spend together in “graduation celebration” mode and it was our lengthiest stay in Westport of the summer. We loved being around my extended family, seeing Dudley kick off its 133rd summer, and squeezing in as many adventures as we could. Highlights included visiting the Keene Valley Farmers’ Market and then mountain biking at The Flume Trails in Wilmington, completing furniture and art projects for our apartment, “teaming up” as Maddie finished 5th in the Tupper Lake Olympic Distance Triathlon, eating straight out of the garden every day, and capping things off with an awesome trail run and mini-golf evening in Lake Placid.
It felt strange saying goodbye to each other, knowing that the following four weeks will be the longest we have ever spent apart, but also recognizing that with each passing day, the post-college life that we have imagined together draws nearer. We will certainly make many sacrifices in moving to New York, but we will gain incredible opportunities and our first true chance to be adults, together.
All of that is ahead of me, and it is something I look forward to with eager anticipation. But for the next month, my number-one priority is to my campers, all of whom will be seeing Germany and attending Camp Abbensen for the first time. I remember vividly the mixture of elation and nerves that I felt flying to Germany with Camp Dudley eight years ago. It was my first time abroad, and the experience would and still continues to have ripple effects in my life. I found role models and close friends on that trip, both within my Dudley group and among the Germans I met. For me, the trip was a perfect mixture of intensity, leisure, and exposure to new people and places, and I was also challenged to be open to outcomes in a way that Dudley’s structure does not always allow.
I want to instill that magical feeling in my campers. It might happen when the meet a new friend during their homestays, when they participate in the longstanding tradition of a midnight extravaganza at Camp Abbensen, or when they are inspired by the history or grandeur of one of the cities we will visit. And I want to be able to rekindle those same feelings of astonishment that I felt during my first exchange trip and again when I lived in Germany during my gap year. I would certainly bet on making plenty more of those memories – the type that will stick with me forever.
Big, Bold, and Beautiful: The Boys Take the West Coast
I have safely returned from a whirlwind road trip on the West Coast. Though traveling finally got the best of me during my return flight home, each day during the trip presented innumerable sights to see, new adventures to take on, and well-deserved opportunities for the six of us to enjoy this unique, fleeting moment in life as we transition from college to the real world.
We all took different paths to get to where we are today, and that was epitomized by the various locations that the six of us came from and departed to. Nathan had been in Peru two days before launching the trip, Hank was on his way to Hawaii afterwards, and Alex was meeting his family in Vancouver. I am off to Germany in a week. We will all settle into different cities – Boston, New York, Washington D.C. – to begin jobs over the course of the summer. But for one week, we were all together on a grand adventure.
In total, I saw two iconic American cities, explored three national parks, grilled out and slept in my hammock three times at various campsites, and covered nearly 900 miles. I will describe the highlights in chronological order, and between the six of us, we did well documenting the trip.
Vegas was the most superfluous stop of the trip, even though it was the first for me. I knew that whether I loved it or hated it, the twelve hours I spent there would have little impact on overall experience. I would describe it as a pleasant surprise – everything from flying in over the desert, settling into a gorgeous six-person suite in our hotel, and even making a few dollars at the casinos. I can also see how it is such a trap. But the most defining feature of Vegas was the heat. It was 111 degrees when I landed, and even though West Coast heat had been described to me as more bearable because of lower humidity, the high temps hit me like a wall the moment I left the airport. I was happy to be out and about during the night when things were cooler, and happy to leave for California the next morning.
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
Electing to camp for three of the nights during our travels through California’s National Parks was the best decision of the trip, and two items made my experience truly outstanding: my hammock for rest and relaxation, and my Aeropress set-up for freshly brewed coffee each morning. Though the rest of the crew slept well in an enormous tent, I was happy to create space for myself – be it elevated between two trees or during the early hours of the morning before everyone else woke. Our campsite in Sequoia was on a river that rushed loudly from all of the snow runoff, and the clean water made fantastic coffee.
Exploring Sequoia and Kings Canyon consisted of a series of short hikes connected by an epic “scenic route” drive on Generals Highway. We rose to over 7000 feet on precarious switchbacks, barely wide enough for our large Ford Expedition, to access the Moro Rock trail, and then hiked it to gain 360 degree views of the park. Perched above the valley where we camped, the sequoia tree forest where we hiked, and with snowcapped mountains in the distance, I was amazed that it was all real. That feeling of disbelieve at the scale, scope, and variety of California never left.
No feature of the park filled me with more awe than the giant sequoia trees. We walked through the Giant Forest and saw the General Sherman Tree – the biggest tree in the world. As I learned, it is not the tallest or the largest in circumference, but the volume of its trunk and branches beats out all other competitors. I was most impressed by the immense variety among the giants: some had massive root systems, some sat in dense groves, some had large burn scars, and some had hollows wide enough to walk through.
The scale of everything in these parks, and in California in general, remained larger than life from start to finish. Even driving around, we passed through so many different climates and landscapes: deserts reminiscent of South America, hills like Scotland, rolling fields like Kansas on one side of the road and rows of orange trees like Florida on the other. The largest solar and wind farms I have ever seen. Mountains that will remain snowcapped all summer long. Each new landscape spelled out a new chapter of our adventure.
Yosemite National Park
Some of the best moments of the trip came around the campfire, grilling up a well-deserved dinner. I attribute my willingness to attempt to cook just about anything over an open fire to my many years at Dudley, where I had regular opportunities to grill out for campers. Plus, any food cooked out in the woods just tastes better.
We grilled three consecutive nights, and each time the feast grew larger and more delicious. I got the group hooked on sweet potatoes that we cooked by wrapping them in tin foil and nestling them among the embers, but the highlight for me was chicken smothered in a local California hot sauce.
Yosemite required the earliest wake-up of the trip, but beating the crowds and the heat was well worth the effort of rising before the sun. It was especially important because of the hike we had planned: Upper Yosemite Falls, one of the most iconic and strenuous ascents in the valley. The image of the falls above does not do justice to the scale and sheerness of the rock formations and waterfall. Our hike began at the valley floor, traversed switchbacks, descended close enough to the falls to feel its mist, and then rose again through a narrow crevasse between steep cliffs on either side. In an hour-and-a-half, we were a top the falls. We watched the rushing snowmelt drop 2,500 feet to the valley floor and witnessed the morning sun casting shadows and highlighting the rock formations around us.
Alex, Hank, Nathan, and I decided to push further to Yosemite Point, which was a mile and about 300 vertical feet above the falls. Again, we found the trek to be worth the effort. From the high point, we had sweeping vistas of all of the park’s iconic landmarks – especially Half Dome, North Dome, and Sentinel Dome – and we could also glimpse Yosemite Falls and the rainbow that emerged from the mist.
The descent turned into more of a run than a hike, as we sped around hairpin turns and cruised past tired-looking hikers on their way up. As the day continued to heat up, we were thrilled to have knocked out such a challenging and spectacular hike in the morning and that we would be returning to the lake by our campsite in the afternoon.
After a wild and exhilarating series of adventures in California’s National Parks, San Francisco came as a welcome final destination. We took the scenic route into the city by circling the bay and crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge, but not before we stopped to explore the Marin Headlands and glimpse the town of Sausalito, which climbs the hills surrounding the bay just like some of the most iconic villages on the Mediterranean.
San Fransisco became just as much an exercise in culinary exploration as it was an opportunity for sightseeing. In fact, the two went hand in hand. Half the crew had to leave the night of or the morning following our arrival, so Alex, Nathan, and I decided to spend our full day in the city walking and consuming as wide a range of gastronomic offerings as we could find. Our list included Pork Buns from a street food stand, Sand Dabs and Sole at Soto Marre, a cannoli, coffee at Sightglass and Reveille, oysters, and a few divine craft beers at Cellarmaker. In doing so, we covered a large number of miles and did our best to burn off all of the outstanding food we were eating.
I was inspired by the San Francisco coffee scene, and though it was expensive to have baristas hand-brew a single origin cup of coffee right in front of me, I appreciated the quality and craft that went into each coffee shop and each cup they served. On the other side of the coin, I also loved a feel for the local crowd at The Tempest, perhaps my favorite dive bar ever.
Of all our stops, San Francisco did not quite fit into my “big, bold, beautiful” mantra as neatly as the other locations, but we found plenty of beauty nonetheless. The trip left me breathless in more ways than one: I was equally astounded by all that I saw and exhausted by all that we packed into our days.
I left San Francisco with no regrets about committing to such a wild adventure and plenty of newly instilled desire to continue to travel. I would love to get back to the West Coast and do it completely on my own terms, but for now, I will have to “settle” with a month in Germany.
I am not quite ready to wave goodbye to this month-long graduation celebration that I have crafted for myself, and I still have almost a week to enjoy in Westport. But when the time comes, I will be more mindful of my fortunes, and I will have all of these memories preserved to savor again later.
What is certainly the most abnormal week I have planned in my grand Summer 2017 transition from Middlebury to New York has the potential to be the most eye-opening. I am joining five of my high school classmates, all of whom graduated from different colleges just a few weeks ago, on an epic week-long West Coast road trip. They are flying into the desert and exploring the Grand Canyon, Bryce National Park, and Zion National Park before meeting me in Las Vegas on Saturday evening. Though I wish I could be involved for the entire trip, I am glad that I elected the California section over the Utah and Arizona section, due to extreme desert heat this time of year. Granted, it will be 110 degrees or higher for my arrival in Las Vegas, but we will quickly return to more normal climates as we traverse west and north into the Sierra Nevadas of California. I am thrilled to see Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite National Parks, and I am also eagerly awaiting the chance to explore two of America’s iconic cities – Vegas and San Fran – with some of my best friends. It is my first time in any of these places and my first time exploring the West Coast. The only thing that I can predict is that the trip will be unpredictable. We will pack ourselves into the rented minivan for our drives and our six-man tent for most of the nights, but I am sure we will return with stories and a wide range of experiences worth remembering.
This past weekend, Maddie and I traversed across New England and found ourselves in Maine to visit my sister at Bowdoin College and to stay with my longtime family friends, the Appleyards. The weekend marked our one-quarter mark of the Spring semester, so it felt right to break up the predictable/unpredictable patterns of life in Middlebury with a big trip. We were lucky that our schedules allowed an adventure of this distance, and we were even luckier to have such wonderful people to greet us at our destination.
The ocean breezes of the Maine coastline were particularly biting and difficult to escape, despite our best efforts to bundle up. We picked up Miranda at Bowdoin on Friday evening and the three of us joined Ruth and Jonathan Appleyard at their beautiful Woolwich home for dinner. Rekindling old friendships and in Maddie’s case making new ones was easy sitting around the wood stove; we’re all on our individual adventures, but seeing how they overlap is a joyful process of discovery, memory, and self-reflection. I think this is a process that occurs any time I return to a space that feels like home, and I want to thank the Appleyards for welcoming us into such a space. (And for letting us take their dog for a chilly but beautiful sunrise run!) I was born in Maine, and though my memories of my time living there are probably recreations of stories told to me about my two and three-year-old self, I still feel rooted in the landscapes and geography.
I was reminded throughout our stay of the last time I visited the Appleyard’s home on my way to Cape Breton in May of 2016. Then, my eagerness to explore a new corner of the world was tempered by the exhaustion I felt coming off the most grueling semester of my time at Middlebury. I was traveling alone, too, and though I have practiced and loved solo traveling since my gap year, there is something special about sharing a journey with my best friend my your side. That was the case this time around, and Maddie and I had a fantastic weekend.
Highlights included visiting Portland for some winter farmers’ markets, warming drinks at Bard Coffee, and a brief stop at the Bissell Brothers, one of Maine’s finest breweries. We also explored Freeport and the L.L.Bean flagship store, further inspiring me to make this spring and the month of June as outdoors-oriented as possible.
The crowning moment of the trip, however, was watching Maddie cross the finish line in PR time at the very cold and windy Hampton Beach half marathon. She is launching a blog with her best friend and training partner about racing, training, and cooking, and it’s nice to start the 2017 racing season off with a PR!
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.