WPSU

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Still Crazy After All These Years

Crazy Outward Bounders, taking in the view on Mt. Marcy.
Often, when a woman guest tours our boat, she surveys the little kitchen and the narrow bunk and the phone-booth-sized shower, and then she makes a wry little face, shakes her head, and says, sotto voce, "I could do this for maybe a day."

Well, her loss.

Our boat seems luxurious to us. And this past weekend, Dragonfly's crew got a reminder why.  A past adventure put it all in perspective.

The prompt for this reflection was a brief but very enjoyable reunion with a college classmate. Scott Canning has a beautiful weekend home in Germantown, NY, where we anchored Saturday. (For photos of our cruise up to Germantown, click HERE)



Ain't this civilized, compared to winter camping?
Last time the crew saw Scott, we were both 19, both enrolled in Dartmouth Outward Bound.  DOB was a one-semester program (now defunct) that involved lots of hiking, lots of hippie-organic meals cooked in the rambling off-campus house where we all lived, and lots of amateur-encounter-group navel contemplation (hey, it was the '70s).

The semester kicked off with a 10-day winter backpacking trip in the White Mountains--an attempt to traverse more than 50 miles of Appalachian Trail between Cannon Mountain and the college campus in Hanover--through three feet of early January snow. We slogged along on wooden snowshoes, carrying backpacks nearly as large as we were, trying (and failing miserably) to orienteer with map and compass. It was relentlessly cold. 100-mph winds nearly blew us off the top of one mountain. A tent collapsed under the weight of snow, almost suffocating those inside. Did I mention it was cold? And so on.

On the ninth day, we were still lost, still off the trail . . . and still about 50 miles from our destination. The group voted to abandon the mountains. We followed a likely slope to the valley floor and set out, on foot, along the rural back roads of New Hampshire.

With snowshoes laced to our towering backpacks, waddling along in our Michelin-Man jackets and enormous white rubber winter mountaineering boots, we were doubtless a curious sight for the few drivers out on the road.

Our leaders told us our slow, shuffling, single-file, blister-inducing progress put them in mind of the famous documentary showing the annual march of Emperor penguins from their nesting grounds across miles of Antarctic ice to open water.  Because of our resentful attitude toward the hardships of our travel, we became "Penguins in Bondage."

As much as I grouse about the memory of this trip, I do think that Penguin slog was valuable.  We were forced to work as a team . . . and we were forced to rely on our own strength and ingenuity to solve a problem.  (OK, we never did master map-and-compass, but we didn't die, either.) How many 19-year-olds these days get placed in situations they can't smart-phone their way out of?

I guess I'm still crazy after all these years.  If our boat shower's not hotel quality, if the bunk's a little lumpy, if the fridge is not full sized, well, those modest privations seem well worth it for the adventures we've had this year.

So, Hail Penguins!   This boat is a palace.  Just don't ask me to navigate it anywhere in the snow.

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