My first reaction upon arriving to the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge on the morning of October 4th was assuredly expletive filled and incoherent, but it probably boiled down to “It’s about time.” Of course, I can only guess as to this, seeing as the contents of my brain from 6AM-1PM that morning were best represented as a Jackson Pollack painting. My second, and much more delayed, reaction to this arrival was a strange sort of hunger. I hadn’t died, I hadn’t broken a bone, I hadn’t even gotten a blister. It’s inappropriate and probably a little demeaning to the 13 people who did not finish, but I couldn’t help but thinking, “what’s next?” Which I suppose is one of the numerous possible reactions one could have to hiking for 25 hours straight through the night to get from point A to point B.
The 50 is a time honored Dartmouth tradition that I have written about before. Groups of four sign up for a lottery, and 8 teams are selected to hike (32 total hikers). This fall, I decided to do the famed death march that starts at Robinson Hall, summits 6 mountains, and arrives 53.6 miles later at the Dartmouth owned Moosilauke Ravine Lodge (known simply as ‘the Lodge’). Seeing as this was right around the time of the fall equinox (based on the number of werewolf sightings during the night), the hike contained a 12 hour segment in the dark. There were many highlights from this period. When we started our ascent up Mt. Smarts, you better believe we had Eminem going at full volume feeling like we were about to storm the walls of Helm’s Deep. And on the way down Mt. Cube, we blasted the first book of Harry Potter on audiobook as if we were about to storm the walls of my mom’s mini van. And there was that moment when we thought that we might literally have found Hell when we reached the road at 3:30 in the morning and it was so pitch black that when we turned our headlamps off we couldn’t see our hands. There was only the unrelenting pain in our feet and knees. At 8AM, one of my friends hiking on my team said that he was relieved. I asked why. He said it was because he thought he was finally going crazy, and that meant his brain was doing something to cope with the pain, which was evidently a good sign. I couldn’t really work out what he was saying. I was too busy swimming in a sea of jelly beans.
3/4 of the group on a training hike
There are a lot of canned answers you get about things at Dartmouth. “How was your freshman trip?” Great! “How was your FSP” Wonderful! “How was sophomore summer?” Sunny! In reality, these things are all very complex and warrant long and reflective answers, but you have about 47 seconds standing in line before it is your turn to order, and you wont be able to rehearse what you are going to ask for in your head if you are seriously reflecting on your experiences. There isn’t really a canned response for hiking the 50 (only 32 people set out to do it twice a year), but if there were it would probably go like: “How was the 50” Terrible! I don’t know why people do it! I personally have never been more stumped by small talk than I am by that question. Am I allowed to say, “It sucked, I guess, but it was also great. I want to do it again?” The question mark indicates an upward inflection rather than an actual question (other people rarely have the answers to questions you ask yourself). It’s hard to process an experience when you are progressively losing your mind as it gets more interesting. The sucky parts definitely sucked. Miles 42-44 felt like I was walking in circles, and I could have sworn the forest was mocking me with its colors. There was a distinct point when I almost got in a fist fight with Mount Moosilauke over the sheer audacity of its final uphill. But I never for a second doubted that I would finish, and that gave me pause. How much further could we have gone? There are two things about the 50 that are so indescribably great that I can’t imagine that I only got to experience them in those 25 hours and 47 minutes of my entire life.
Getting supported by my friends for a meaningless task, merely because I had set out to do that meaningless task:
Every 10 miles, I was shepherded to comfy seats with hot drinks and food while eager pre-med students took my boots off and anxiously searched for blisters. Maybe its just me enjoying luxury, but it is just awesome to feel the full support and enthusiasm for upwards of 60 people who want you to finish. I think Dartmouth has a special capacity for generating these sort of people/this type of experience.
Accomplishing something immensely dumb and dangerous with a team of my closest friends
Doing the 50 is a weird and circuitous way of expressing camaraderie and friendship in the form of “how the hell are we going to get up that mountain?” We all were in the same place when the gradients got steep, when the moon set, when the fog descended; we went through the same hell together. Conversely, we were there together when the sun rose and we remembered how beautiful the New England colors were (I wish I were exaggerating when I say I remembered that the forest had color at all). We were there at every support station (which is the psychological equivalent of a particularly fun holiday, maybe Halloween). We were there when we passed people at the top of Mount Moosilauke and they asked us where we were coming from and we said defiantly “Hanover.” And then they looked as us weird because we smelled bad and were empirically insane and they probably didn’t believe us. These two things are so wonderful, and the sense of accomplishment is so strong, that I want to do the 50 again. Except not literally – the 50 at this point is a metaphor for fun suffering (keep up). So I guess all that’s left is the question, “What’s next?”