Exploring the Upper Valley’s “Temple to Ice Cream”
One writer bikes to IC4U and encounters moments of reflection along the way.
Picture this. You are me, having taken on a story for The Mirror last week before burning out every fuse in the human body during the course of Green Key weekend. You are stressed — nay, frazzled — yet still barely able to stay awake during your econ class because you pledged to drink much less caffeine after taking pre-workout at 2 a.m. two nights ago and experiencing a hopefully-not-concerning heart polyrhythm. These are the feelings that wear down your body and mind as you remember that your article (due the day before) still needs to be written. It is Monday in the most catastrophic sense — bloated and weary, uncomfortably stuffed with responsibilities, classes and urgent room cleanups that might be better described as disaster relief. It’s a purgatorial Monday, which I imagine strikes a chord with many of you, since I don’t recall being alone at the Friday concert.
Fortunately, the story I had taken was fun — I was to explore Ice Cream Fore-U, apparently a temple to ice cream, with raving zealots to prove it. It took no convincing for me to (continue) putting off my homework and dedicate my Monday afternoon to exploring the Upper Valley’s mecca of ice cream — almost exactly replicating what a dictionary might define as shameless indulgence. Being a freshman, I don’t have a car, but I realized I didn’t need one when I glanced at the increasingly dusty road bike sitting under my bed. This helped rationalize the trip somewhat: I was working out, not procrastinating!
What I wish I had more fully grasped before coming to Dartmouth was the real force of nature that is the quarter system. As many a Dartmouth student can attest, there really is no time for a break during the term without the worry of falling behind academically or socially consuming you. Every week feels like a separate whirlwind, and Hanover feels like some cutting-edge experiment in time dilation: Minutes are seconds, and weeks worth of rapidfire happenings are crammed into days. Every week is a new lifetime, and Fridays become transfiguration. Unwinding is difficult when you’re flying through three full-semester courses at warp speed, and a drink — or eight — helps take the edge off for many. The apt metaphor for a Dartmouth term would not be a pressure cooker, but a rocket progressively disassembling as it makes its way up through the stratosphere before falling back into the ocean for a relaunch.
I had never believed there was a way out of this cycle. Then I biked and got ice cream.
Biking has always been a freeing experience for me. I wrote my Common App essay about it, the gist being that self-propelling confers to me a feeling of agency and personal destiny. This was exactly what filled me with joy as I coasted through the picturesque southern part of Hanover to the equally picturesque Home Depot parking lot, where my ice cream awaited. With everything moving ten thousand miles a minute, Dartmouth terms have the potential to rob us of this humanly necessary feeling of control. Things just happen to you, not by you, in the raging thrall of a merciless schedule.
This is absolutely not to suggest that I don’t enjoy my time here — I’ve loved it, but no one can ride a roller coaster for 10 weeks. Biking for me is a return to agency, personal empowerment and a simplification of the mind. When all you can do is breathe hard and pedal, everything else fades away. This is not an original take: Plenty of quality research has shown that exercise improves mood. But I think that it’s easy for Dartmouth students to get caught in the jaws of the system without realizing how essential a break can be.
Eventually I arrived at IC4U, at this point equally happy and hungry. I was immediately reminded of how much of a bubble the College really is as I saw a few commonplace things I’d probably never seen during an ordinary day as a Dartmouth student — a stroller, a toddler, a grandma. I had seemingly forgotten that life exists outside of the campus, and was struck with sonder — the conflicted realization that everyone else has equally complex and unique lives.
Dartmouth gives the impression of everyone knowing everyone, so it was also bewildering to see a large group of people who I’d never encountered in a basement or “term recap” Instagram post. The line was brutal — even for someone accustomed to Hop rush hour — but this all built anticipation for the ice cream itself, which was described by my linemates as being “absolutely worth it.” The menu board is dizzying, with probably 50 unique flavors of ice cream posted along with a comprehensive toppings list. The effect is spellbinding: For a moment, the mix of Home Depot and driving range noises in the background fades out, and all that remains is ice cream.
While waiting for 35 minutes in the line, my phone died (mid-crossword) and I was stranded in the discomfort of understimulation. Especially during my time at Dartmouth, I’ve become like a toddler with an iPad — so used to constant tasks to complete or people to talk to that a moment of silence becomes alien. In these moments I’d normally begin to stress, thinking about my summer job paperwork or looming assignments, but in the IC4U line I actively resisted those urges. I basked in the sun, surrounded by strangers, and did my best to remain present. By the time my sea salt caramel truffle ice cream arrived, fantastic as it was, it could only compliment my already bolstered mood.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the positive effect the trip had on me. Doing fun things makes you happier, as pretty much everyone has figured out. What I learned was that a random, solo ice cream trip can be fun in a different way than the typical Friday night steam-blowing. IC4U was excellent, and so is good, innocent fun.