When you live in northern
Wisconsin, there's not much to do but enjoy the outdoors. Having grown up
in the north woods on the shores of Lake Michigan, I've done just about every
outdoor sport or recreational activity imaginable - hiking, backpacking, rock
climbing, camping, jogging, biking, horseback riding, swimming, sailing, flat water
canoeing, whitewater canoeing, whitewater kayaking, sea kayaking, water skiing,
rowing, sculling, volleyball, tennis, wildlife watching, star-gazing,
and just running headlong down the nearest thickly forested hill.
Most summers were spent at a log cabin on an island in a lake in the middle of the Nicolet National Forest in Northern Wisconsin. It was there I learned to swim and hike and canoe, to identify different trees and birds, and to be quiet with myself in nature. A small swamp off of a little inlet there is my favorite refuge - my umphalos mundi - center of the universe - the place where I feel most myself. That is where the ducks nest and the frogs chorus and the beavers lurk and the eagles watch. Next door in Barn Pond is the way to the "Cathedral of Pines" and the heron rookery.
In Wisconsin, of course, it's the winter sports that really warm your heart - ice skating (out on Lake Michigan), hockey, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, winter camping... not to mention shoveling snow and making snowmen! I didn't learn serious winter sport though until I joined up with the MIT Outing Club, took their "Winter School" course, and learned to use crampons and an ice axe. February was also a great time to learn to roll a kayak in the MIT swimming pool, thanks to MITOC programs. It was as part of the MIT AI Lab team that I took up ice hockey for a season (midnight practices with them were always a bit surreal), joining them for the AI Lab "winter olympics." This is a seriously fun bunch of people.
Travel of any sort is always welcome too, and I've probably done more than my fair share. Summer choir tours have brought me to England, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, France and Belgium; Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Hawaii. My own travels have brought me to Israel, Germany, Austria, Norway, Mexico, Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia, and the Canadian Northwest Territories. Somewhat closer to home I have been privileged to hike the Grand Canyon, view Niagara Falls, sail among the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, canoe the Minnesota Boundary Waters, sea kayak off the coast of Maine, ski the Colorado Rockies, and camp in a number of wonderful national parks from Maine to Seattle.
with my husband involved a grueling 19-hour, 24-mile "Presi-Traverse"
over 9 peaks of the
in New Hampshire.
This was followed by 4th of July Fireworks by canoe on the Charles River in Boston.
We saw comet Hiakutake from the top of a New Hampshire mountain on a moonless midnight in February before blizzard conditions forced us back down below tree line.
I've also "competed" (recreationally) on occasion - in the 100th Boston Marathon, the Top Notch Triathlon (in NH: biking, swimming, running), the Riverside Sprints (in Boston: sculling), the CRASH-B Sprints (in Boston: World Indoor Rowing Championships), the Run of the Charles 19-Mile Canoe Marathon (I actually won my division of that one a couple of times), and various horse shows in Wisconsin.
I've always loved dogs and horses and other animals. I read every horse and dog book in the local library where I grew up. My sister and I used to bike 10 miles over to a friend's house and muck out the cow barn in exchange for the privilege of brushing the horses. After much begging and pleading, we convinced Mom to let us get a German Shepherd puppy, and later a Quarter Horse. Since then my Mom was gotten 6 more German Shepherds over the years all on her own, and couldn't imagine living without them. I have my heart set on acquiring a Golden Retriever some day when the children are just a little older.
Some of the most adventurous things I've done have been to go solo canoe-camping in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota followed by a month-long whitewater canoeing trip on the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories of Canada, hiking all over the canyoned desert wilderness along the Dead Sea in Israel (exploring caves, looking for scrolls), and climbing the Grand Canyon 7 months pregnant. Sometimes the line between "adventurous" and "foolish" is pretty thin...
My idea of "night-life" is to sit on the back porch or the boat dock (or in a canoe) and watch the stars come out one by one, listening to the loons sing across the water and counting the shooting stars.
Cross-country skiing or canoeing by moonlight can be pretty nice too.
Horses - I've always loved dogs and horses and other animals. I read every horse and dog book in the local library. My sister and I used to bike 10 miles over to a friend's house and muck out the cow barn in exchange for the privilege of brushing the horses. Our Auntie Elise raises German Shepherds and Race Horses in NY, and I'm sure she did much to encourage our interest. After much begging and pleading, we convinced Mom to let us get a German Shepherd puppy, and then a Quarter Horse. We bought our horse from Nate Samuelson at a local stable (where I had broken my arm the previous year in a trail-riding accident) for $300, and boarded him at a farm down the road for a dollar a day (my sister and I earned the money by mowing lawns and by babysitting for $0.75/hr). We had riding lessons, rode bare back and hunt seat, taught him to jump, and just generally had a great time riding over the many miles of old logging roads and wildlife sanctuary trails along the Peshtigo River every day after school. We also participated in 4-H and competed in local horse shows, at the county fair, and finally at the State 4-H Horse Show in Green Bay. Of course, caring for and supporting a horse just guarantees that you have NO time to even think of getting in trouble. In college I actually joined the Equestrian Team at Princeton (as had my sister at Mt. Holyoke), but gave up on this 10 hr/wk time commitment when I signed up for my first computer programming class.
Swimming - I learned to swim pretty early living on the water, and at the age of 8 became the youngest person in my family ever to have swum around our Island. Being able to swim around the Island - a distance of about 5/8ths of a mile - was our condition for being able to ride in a boat without wearing a life jacket, and birch bark badges were given out and the accomplishment officially recorded in a log book upon first successful completion. Swimming around the Island is still a daily recreational venture when we gather there in the summertime. In high school I actually took courses in swimming (including water ballet, diving and racing) and in life-guarding. My father used to do scuba-diving, and I've done some snorkeling on occasion, but mostly I just like to swim around in the Lake for fun.
Sailing - When I was very young we used to go out sailing on Lake Michigan quite a bit. My grandfather Don DeWitt had a large sailboat named the "Westerly," and my parents kept a smaller sailboat called the "Early Bird" out behind our house. My parents actually sailed on the "Yankee" with Irving and Exy Johnson one year for the filming of a National Geographic Special called "Yankee Sails Across Europe." But our family sailing days ended when I was about 9 when my father died and the boat was sold. We still got to sail at the Lake on occasion in the old Dingy (the "Bathtub" as we called it) or in my uncle's small sunfish. My husband Geoffrey did a lot of sailing growing up in Stonington CT next to Mystic Seaport where he worked several summers in the Planetarium. He also worked for a Yacht Charter firm in Antigua for a few years, setting up their computer system and flying search-and-rescue missions. Our honeymoon included a few wonderful days of sailing with my Uncle Paul Olson among the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior.
Canoeing and Kayaking - My Father taught me to paddle a canoe at a young age, and it is my favorite mode of transportation in the summertime at the Lake. I've also done a fair bit of whitewater rafting with my adopted Dad (mostly during my teens and twenties). Dad has his own Mad River Canoe for whitewater or flatwater, and a folding "folboat" (which is paddled like a kayak, but not closed). I got more serious about my paddling technique at the age of 30 when Carl deMarcken of the MIT Outing Club introduced me to some instructional videos by Bill Mason called "The Path of the Paddle," which I watched enthralled, paddle in hand to practice all the strokes. Carl also taught me some racing technique, encouraged me to enter the Run of the Charles 19-mile Canoe Marathon organized by the Charles River Watershed Association (which I did in 1993 and for the next 5 years, even winning my division a couple of times - along with Gideon Stein of MITOC in the 1998 Mixed Recreational OC-2 19 mi, in 3 hrs, 18 min, as the "Alexander Fan Club"), taught me to roll a kayak and introduced me to whitewater kayaking with the MITOC group ("Grace Under Pressure" is another very helpful instructional video for learning to roll a kayak), and then lent me his 35 lb kevlar Wenonah Jensen for a solo canoe trip in the Minnesota Boundary Waters where he grew up. I was absolutely enthralled by the BWCA, and vowed to return every year for the rest of my life. This was followed by a whitewater canoeing training run on the Dead River in Maine, and the opportunity to go along on a month-long whitewater canoe trip on the Nahanni River (Bill Mason's favorite) in the Northwest Territories of Canada in Aug / Sept of 1993.
This was the trip of a lifetime for me and would take a full book to describe. I will give it a brief paragraph. Carl had been planning the trip for a year with some MITOC friends, and a last minute cancellation allowed me to join. I took a Red Cross "First Responders" Wilderness First Aid course and dehydrated food for two months in preparation (in addition to the whitewater and paddling training). From Watson Lake we were flown in by "Nahanni Adventures(?)" to Moose Ponds below Mt. Wilson on a float plane, with the canoes strapped over the floats. The meandering stream, at first narrow enough to hop across, seemed to double in width each day, being joined by small tributaries, and quickly turned into a challenging series of "rock gardens," many of which required lining the loaded boats down as we waded in wetsuits to hoist them over boulders. The current was fast as spectacular mountain ranges slipped steadily past, many offering opportunity for exploration on foot. One glacial "Cirque of the Unclimbables" was a favorite of rock climbers, but we had it to ourselves this late in August. We were privileged to see bears, moose and mountain goats (among others), and the Northern Lights made a show for us every night. The "tufa mounds" were another wonder along the way which we explored with the guidance of a helpful forest ranger. The spectacular Victoria Falls (our only portage, higher than Niagara) was followed by a week of steep, narrow canyons and gorges - each small tributary carving its own side canyon through the rock, leaving some spectacular stone formations. Some of these we stopped to explore on foot. Below the canyons we enjoyed a couple of hot spring spots, and then the river widened out to join the great Liard on its way to the MacKenzie, passing the small town of Nahanni Butte and eventually affording road access from Blackstone Landing. There we were picked up and driven to Fort Simpson for our return flight. On the entire trip, aside from the Ranger, we saw only one other person - a lost hiker who we picked up and transported back down to his canoe below the Cirque. We'd had no mishaps, minimal insects, and only one day of rain.
Following that I bought my own Mohawk Jensen design trekking canoe and did many other paddling trips - to the Boundary Waters, to Algonquin Park in Ontario, and to various other rivers and lakes in Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine. Most of the time, though, I did my canoeing on the Charles River or on the Concord/Sudbury/Assabet near Boston. The furthest I ever paddled in a sitting (not counting the quick-currented Nahanni) was probably 50 miles on the Charles from up above Wellesley down to MIT. I did the whitewater kayaking for a few years with MITOC, got a secure roll (even a hand roll under good conditions), and learned enough to be fairly comfortable with class-3 water, even once successfully running the class-4 "Dragon's Tooth" on the Deerfield. Kayaking was great whitewater training for the Nahanni, since most dynamics are the same, while the kayak is more forgiving of blunders. I learned to roll a C-1 and did some experimenting with slolom courses in a C-2. I tried my hand a few times at sea kayaking - once doing a trip off the Maine Coast for a few days which was quite lovely. I've also had some scrapes. On one occasion I got stuck in a hole, rolled 20 times or so, lost my kayak paddle, and had to be rescued (thanks Gideon). All in all I think I prefer the canoe. In Pennsylvania I have only gone out a handful of times so far on the Susquehanna and once on Rose Valley Lake, but hope to do much more in the future.
Rowing - My adopted Dad did some rowing in college and law school, participating in the very first Head of the Charles Regatta, and has been an avid indoor rower ever since. My sister Dawn took up rowing as a Marshal Scholar at Trinity College Cambridge in England, and met her husband Alan there (her rowing coach). She absolutely loved it all around, and even won an oar at May Bumps. So a couple of years later I joined up with the Carnegie Lake Rowing Association in Princeton and learned sweep oar, stroking the CLRA novice boat for a season. When I moved to Cambridge MA I quickly took up sculling out of the Harvard Weld boat house - my best escape when Akkadian studies were getting me down. After I met my husband Geoffrey, himself an avid rower and former U.S. National Rowing Team Coxswain, I had the opportunity to advance considerably in sculling technique by rowing with him in a double from Cambridge Boat Club where he was the men's captain (they used to call us the "love boat" on the river), and even got to the level of competing (respectably - 200 meters in under 8 minutes) in the CRASH-B Sprints (World Indoor Rowing Championships, of which Geoffrey is one of the organizers), and in the Riverside Sprints (less respectably), until pregnancy made rowing a bit awkward for me. My husband Geoffrey has his own single, and has volunteered to help with coaching the Lycoming Crew. I have occasionally had the pleasure of getting out on the water with them - filling in for an odd number of rowers. This summer we hooked up with a local community group rowing out of the Bucknell/Susquehanna boat house at Shomokin Dam - this group is a lot of fun and well coached. I expect to continue rowing with them until we can get a similar group set up here in Williamsport!
Skating - Growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan gave ample incentive and opportunity for learning to skate. During the long winter months we used to go out skating pretty much every day after school, sometimes shoveling maze-like paths through the snow and making up elaborate games including some variations of "freeze tag" which involved leap-frogging over someone in order to "unfreeze" them. Other times we would grab hold of a dog's collar when a snowmobile would drive by and have a race - jumping over snow-drifts and skating flat out on the wind-swept clear parts. Then we would have contests for the most spectacular wipe-outs. On very windy days we would open up our jackets with our backs to the wind and "sail" by wind power over the ice. Once we got swept so far down the lake that we found we couldn't get back against the wind and had to be rescued by snowmobilers. Rink skating just can't compare... After moving to Boston I got involved with the MIT AI Lab Olympics and took up Hockey - practicing with the AI Lab Team on Tuesdays at midnight (the team name was "dead meat"). This was great fun, and gave skating a whole new meaning, though I never got particularly good at actually hitting the puck. Rollerblading is always a great option in summer if you have a bike path nearby. Doing it with a baby in a jogging stroller also gives one a rather more convenient braking system.
Skiing - My Mom tells me that I was already skiing in Vermont at the age of 2, being carried onto the chairlift on her lap. My Father had chosen to do his Medical Residency in Vermont so that he could be involved in skiing, and he was on the ski patrol there. My Father also used to like to go skiing on a tow rope behind a snowmobile on the local golf course, much to my Mom's dismay. Later, we used to go every year for a week of spring skiing at Vail Colorado, where we had ski school lessons and learned to love powder and moguls. We also learned all sorts of neat tricks like skiing under a partner's legs, "whirligig" turns, jumps, 360s, and "walkovers." I even competed in a NASTAR Slolom Race once. The ski club was probably the largest student organization in our highschool, and I've also had great fun teaching novices from countries lacking in snow (Australia, Israel, Mexico). Skiing Tuckerman's Ravine for my 32nd (?) birthday was a total blast, but the snow there hardly bears comparison to the bowls in the Rockies. I'm as comfortable on skis as walking, and can get down pretty much anything with confidence, but don't particularly enjoy the crowded, icy slopes of the East unless I'm with a good group of friends.
I was introduced to cross-country skiing by my adopted Dad, and have come to love it much more than alpine skiing - more peaceful, better exercise, less crowded, MUCH less expensive... There is nothing I enjoy more than to lose myself on a lonely snow-covered trail through the woods, stretching on mile after mile into wilderness, uphill and down, exploring. My favorite trail back home in WI is probably the one at Cedar River MI; near Boston it was the Lincoln Woods or the Middlesex Fells (especially by moonlight), unless you drive up to the Greely Pond trail or the Wilderness trail in NH (off the Kankamangus Highway).
In VT there is the Trapp Family Lodge and Craftsbury, where Geoffrey and I once did a 10-mile "Oarsmen's Classic" cc-ski race in which I was able to keep about a 7-min/mi pace. When I was 8 and 1/2 months pregnant with our first son, I was out cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks 15 miles a day or so out of the ADK Loj. He suffered only one serious belly-flop in the soft powder. Is it really just coincidence that his initials are "ADK"? Skiing with a toddler in your back pack presents new challenges, but he's been very good natured about it to date. Some day I would like to learn to Telemark and do a multi-day trek in the mountains using the "hut" system.
We learned to waterski at the Lake, thanks to some generous cousins with a powerboat. We had the opportunity only rarely, but I got comfortable enough to do the basic things - jump the wake, give hand signals, ski on one foot, and drop a ski to slalom. I am told that my father liked to do tricks like holding the tow rope in his teeth or between his legs.
Jogging - I had never been much of a runner growing up, but in 1987 or so I was recruited (because of my cross-country skiing) by my company to represent them in the NYC Manufacturers Hanover Corporate Challenge Run through Central Park. So I trained with friends around the Princeton High School track in the evenings, and with work colleagues at lunch hour that summer, going from the South Street Seaport across the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn and back. My goal then was just to be able to run the complete 5-k distance without having to stop and walk. I didn't get serious about running though until I met my (future) husband and discovered that he was a marathon runner. So that summer, head-over-heels in love, I took up running and then asked Geoffrey to help me train for the Boston Marathon (as a tension release while I was studying for my General Exams for the Doctoral Program), which he did. It was the only way I could think of to be able to spend time with him regularly and get to know him. So, although I have always been a night owl, that fall and winter I dragged myself out of bed every day before 6:00am so I could go running around the Charles River with Geoffrey and college friend Alex Flather-Morgan and others. After successfully passing my exams in November, I took off to Seattle for a month to play "Nanny" to my new nephew Morgan at my sister Dawn's house, and ran many long slow miles on the bike paths along Lake Washington. Back in Boston then I did some cross-training - lots of cross-country skiing (it was a great year for snow that winter), running stadiums, and training for and competing in the CRASH-B Sprints (200 meters on a rowing machine). Geoffrey, Alex and I also did a hilly "Stu's 30-K" together as a training race, finishing up in a blizzard. Intermittent speed work gradually got me up to a comfortable 8-minute/mile pace. I got in the best shape of my life. My goal had been to work up to a fast enough pace so that I could complete the 26.2 mile marathon in 4 hours, and all the training did indeed pay off. That April 15th, 1996, we ran the 100th Boston Marathon together in just over my 4 hour goal, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was a beautiful day, and the whole town came out to cheer some 40,000 runners through the course. Soon wedding plans were under way. Since then I haven't been getting up for any more 6:00 am training runs. After the birth of our first son Alexander I did go back to training for the next marathon with Geoffrey and Alex, but the extra weight I was carrying led to a foot injury during one of our half-marathon training runs which prevented me from competing in the actual race. Geoffrey and Alex ran it together, and I joined them with Alexander in the jogging stroller for the 4 or 5 miles up heartbreak hill. Another child later I haven't really gotten back into it yet, though we did participate as a family (two children in strollers) in Lycoming's Habitat for Humanity 5-k Fun Run. I do hope to retrain and run many more in the future!
Top Notch Triathlon - In August of 1996, shortly after our honeymoon, Geoffrey and I did the "Race to the Face" Top Notch Triathlon (mountain biking, swimming and "running" up Cannon Mountain) at Franconia Notch in New Hampshire, together with Princeton friends David Cist and Alex Flather-Morgan. Gideon Stein of MITOC competed seriously, but the four of us mostly treated it as a fun social outing: a challenging ride on rented mountain bikes through muddy back-woods trails, a briskly refreshing swim to clean off the mud, and a leisurely stroll to the peak. It began in downtown Franconia, with some 350 racers and relay teams riding mountain bikes from main street up the highway to a 6-1/2 mile off-road trail uphill through woods, creeks and mud to the shore of Echo Lake at the base of Cannon Mountain. It was only my second time on a mountain bike. We had trained for this a couple days in advance with a brief jaunt on trails through the woods at Walden Pond. A half mile swim in a bracingly cold spring-fed lake followed - quite refreshing ( and cleansing) after the grueling muddy bike trail. From there we climbed up the 3,000 foot vertical, 2-1/2 mile face of Cannon Mountain to the peak. At the top the Cannon Tramway waited to take us down, but we all decided to bounce back down the mountain on foot instead. Then we enjoyed the ample refreshments at base camp and frolicked a bit at a local lake before heading back to Boston. The total trek had been 10 miles, ascending some 4,300 vertical feet - great fun!
Hiking - Growing up we did a lot of hiking on the rolling wooded trails near the cabin. It wasn't until I went to college and joined the Princeton Outdoor Action Club that I got my first taste of hiking in the mountains in 1981 - my first big backpacking trip being to the NY Catskills. I learned some rock climbing techniques (top-roping mostly) with a Bible-study group in Princeton. My time at Seminary in Vancouver British Columbia offered many more opportunities for rugged hiking in the mountains - my favorite trips being to Garibaldi National Park where we did the "Black Tusk" and a number of other peaks - snow-covered even in August. The "Lions" were also quite a challenge. I've also enjoyed some rugged hiking in Austria, Israel, and the Grand Canyon. When I moved to Boston I was introduced to the White Mountains of New Hampshire (which were, as far as I'm concerned, the best part of Boston). Although not as spectacular as those in Colorado or British Columbia, they have their own charm and I enjoyed them a great deal - particularly in Winter. This is where I learned to hike with snowshoes, crampons and ice axe - again thanks to the excellent programs, instruction and equipment of the MIT Outing Club, including "Winter School." Our midnight jaunt up Mt. Cardigan on a moonless night in February 1996 to see comet Hiakutake is a very special memory for me. Aside from our June 1995 "Presi-Traverse," (a 24 mile trek across 9 peaks, including Mt. Washington, in NH's Presidential Range), my favorite and most frequent hike in NH was to Lafayette - up the Falling Waters Trail and down the Bridle Path after a good long ridge walk above tree line and a welcome break at the Greenleaf Hut. So far in PA we have discovered the charms of Ricketts Glenn and the "Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania," both of which have rugged, rocky trails flanked by impressive waterfalls all along the way.
Biking - Growing up we did a lot of family biking trips on the back roads near our house in rural north-eastern Wisconsin. The bike was also our major mode of transport through high school for any place we wanted to go in the summer - usually at least a 10-mi round trip. In Boston we discovered the wonderful world of rails-to-trails, and, after having Alexander would go out on the trail pretty much everyday (just a couple blocks from our house) - first walking with the stroller or baby bjorn carrier, then roller-blading with the jogging stroller, and finally biking with the carrier on back. Now we have a "trail-a-bike" so Alexander can help peddle. There are some great rails-to-trails bike paths in the Williamsport area, including one running through the "Grand Canyon of PA" along Pine Creek which I can't wait to try out.