It's All Downstream from Here

by Luke Katler | 11/1/12 11:00pm

The uninformed and uninitiated on campus probably think of members of the Ledyard Canoe Club as scruffy, sparsely showered masterminds responsible for time-tested Dartmouth staples like the Ledyard Challenge and the War Canoe. But digging deeper, there is more to these adventurous kayak enthusiasts: They invented two of the College's most intimate and unique traditions, Sophomores from the Source and Trip to the Sea.

When I asked assorted underclassmen what they thought of when they heard "Trip to the Sea," I received varied responses. One giddily exclaimed that it involved Ledyard members dressing like pirates and floating on a raft down the Connecticut River, pretending it was "the sea." Another one shrugged and said it was obvious the upperclassmen throw a party at the "C" building. Whatever that is.

Not only is there no buccaneering involved, but there is definitely no "C" building on campus unless that's going to become the new nickname for renovated Collis.

In actuality, taken together, Sophomores from the Source and Trip to the Sea present the opportunity for anyone, regardless of affiliation with Ledyard, to canoe the entire length of the Connecticut River during sophomore summer and senior spring, respectively.

Sophomores from the Source brings 15 or so sophomores to the Fourth Connecticut Lake, which is the source of the Connecticut River, and takes place over a long weekend over sophomore summer to allot enough time for them to paddle back to campus. But in practice, the trip doesn't actually start right at the source due to time constraints, according to Ledyard president Milo Johnson '13.

"These days, Sophomores from the Source is more like Sophomores from a Little Ways Upstream,'" he said.

Rohan Chaudhary '12, who participated in both Sophomores from the Source and Trip to the Sea last spring, said that sophomores formerly rowed 210 miles upstream until they reached Dartmouth. His Sophomores from the Source trip, however, traveled only about 20 miles, spending most of that time with the group's boats strapped together, floating with the current.

For Trip to the Sea, which takes place during senior spring, seniors can apply to participate in a seven-day journey down the 210 miles of the Connecticut River from Ledyard to Long Island Sound. The trip culminates with a party hosted by Bill Webster '65 in his house in Old Saybrook, Conn. The daring seniors camp outside, jump from rope swings and get serious alumni facetime.

Chaudhary said that although the trip seems very physically taxing, it is not all that intense.

"You might be a little sore after your first 40-mile days, but after that it's really not that hard to just sit and canoe all day," he said.

Chaudhary said that his group stopped at different places along the riverbank to spend time with alumni, who sponsor barbecues throughout the trip in addition to the final party.

Emily Niehaus '12, who attended the same trip as Chaudhary in the spring, said that the group received a lot of snacks and encouragement from alumni who flagged the boats down on the side of the river.

"We arrived there and the alums were like, Go take a shower grab a shower beer while you're at it,'" Chaudhary said. "There is no harm in getting shower beer funded by alums."

Although Johnson hasn't yet embarked upon Trip to the Sea, he said he expects it to be legendary.

"It's just a fun time to get away from school and be out there with nothing else to worry about, except for going from point A to point B," Johnson said.

All three students emphasized that both trips are the perfect time to meet new members of one's class. That seems like a fair assessment but on my own whitewater kayaking expedition during First-Year Trips, I flipped after about 30 seconds.

"One of the best ways to bond with another individual is to canoe with them for a day," Chaudhary said. "It's a chance to really be reflective about your time at Dartmouth."

Niehaus also said that the trip is especially conducive to getting to know people because you typically canoe with someone different every day.

"It's sort of a grand gesture," Johnson said. "Some people see it as a big last hurrah, and other people see it as this metaphorical paddling away from Dartmouth."

At the very least, drinking some shower beers with alumni sounds pretty sweet.