Keep on Trekking: Reflections of a DOC Fifty Hiker
One hiker of the Fifty wrestles with the bittersweetness of reaching the midpoint of his Dartmouth career after embarking on the 53-mile hike.
Courtesy of Connor Allen
About a month ago, my teammates and I finished the Dartmouth Outing Club Fifty. Some quick context: A bunch of people sign up in groups of four for the lottery-based chance to hike 53 miles in one go, with plenty of emotional and physical support along the way from disparate reaches of Dartmouth’s wonderful, wacky and brightly-attired outdoor community. As soon as my team and I were selected as some of the fortunate few to torture ourselves for a day and a half back in late June, I knew I was going to want to write about the experience. Plenty have done it, and I’ve grown to love the formal outlet for reflection that a good published article provides.
As the Fifty is already well-trodden ground in The Dartmouth, I’ll spare you the cliche descriptions of blisters, cramps, frustration, views and perseverance. I doubt there is anything particularly compelling about my disgusting, post-hike trench feet that couldn’t be captured by the inclusion of a photo in this article, but I’m sure such an image fails to pass censorship guidelines or typical editorial prudence. Thus, I’ll detail the state of my heels and toes for my audience via an unofficial description from a bystander: “The grossest I’ve ever seen.” The point being, it goes without saying that this hike was hard, long and — against all odds — fun. It was difficult in the moment, but now rewarding to look back upon. All of this I expected. What I did not expect to be so difficult was the writing of this very article: How do I describe what that hazy, 33-hour block of my life meant to me?
So far, the reflecting-upon-that-crazy-hike process has been slow, unproductive and riddled with setbacks. It’s not out of a lack of things to say: The Fifty was my favorite memory at college so far. I could devote a whole long-winded article to the weird, alternate world of references and inside jokes into which my team and I descended into throughout the journey. Or, maybe a ranking of all the odd characters we encountered on the Appalachian Trail, where top of the list would be the couple who had completed the AT and made fun of our pathetic little hike. I could write pages about our eclectic music selection — Daft Punk at dusk, Olivia Rodrigo at dawn. I could reminisce over the nerves, euphoria of the finish line, supportive Dartmouth community or crappy weather. I could detail the particularly amusing moment when I decided to take Advil to ward off an impending headache. After mentioning it at a support station — which each consisted of flair-dressed volunteers, water, food, music and moleskin — practically every single supporter was asking me about my headache and Advil consumption.
Still, out of the mess of potential stories, I think I’ve got the winner. The lesson that mattered the most to me in my tangle of blurred memories: The Fifty represented the peak of my latent sophomore summer dread — the acute awareness that this moment will pass. I think it would be fair to lump this realization in with the mid-college crisis as a whole: How can I enjoy and live in the moment when everything is moving at lightning speed?
During week four, in the days leading up to the hike, there were already plenty of nervous whispers around Foco. “This is our seventh of 13 terms. Saturday marks the exact midpoint of our time at Dartmouth — good lord.” These anxious realizations put me into a spiral of my own — it does not feel like that long ago when everything was new, exciting and unknown. Now, time has only accelerated. Each passing term is a smaller percentage of the time at the College we’ve come to know. Each day will inevitably feel quicker and quicker, occupying a proportionally smaller space in our lifetime. By some similar calculus — especially considering the relationship-thwarting oddities of the D-Plan — we’ve probably already exceeded the amount of time we will spend with our college friends, as a whole, for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t get better than this — both in the true, happy sense and in the ominous sense.
Of course, this awareness was bound to be considered as we entered the 3 to 4 a.m. stretch of our journey. Murky, foggy and pitch-dark, with my ankles covered in thick mud and scrapes, we enjoyed some silence as we traveled down Smarts Mountain — aside from the swirling, mysterious synths of Tame Impala’s “Currents.” In that instant, I found it hard to wrap my head around how great this moment was: I was with three of my closest friends listening to great music, chugging along on a ludicrous hike and awaiting the rest of our peers — from study abroad friends to freshman year friends to class friends to family members — ready to greet us at the finish line.
Yet, it was bittersweet. Soon, it would be dawn. Olivia Rodrigo would take over. Then it would be back to reality, completing homework and going to Econ class — which I really do enjoy — but the study of financial intermediaries is a different type of enjoyment than marching through the rain, fueled by stomach-corroding caffeine gummies and Walmart maple bacon jerky. Eventually, the summer would end. Regular Dartmouth life would return to its course, winding to a halt in just as little time as it took me to get from Orientation to writing this very article.
Despite this crippling recognition of time passing, I’m okay. I wouldn’t want to do the Fifty forever. Even if it was physically pleasant, and I didn’t have a pressing need to catch up on three days of lost sleep, I think I would still want the Fifty to end. Good things only count because they end. My time at Dartmouth is just the same — I’m going to be just fine with Dartmouth ending too. Otherwise, I wouldn’t realize how special these years of my life really are.
Nonetheless, I will certainly miss living in a house with all of my friends, enjoying the perfect weather (not perfect by generally accepted standards, but by my own: I love thunderstorms) and swimming nearly every day. When else in my life will all of my friends be located within a one mile radius? No — this is not a doomsday or a “this is my peak, and it all goes downhill from here” type of reflection. I’m excited for the rest of my life — please, do not get me wrong. But, nothing will be as much “fun” as sophomore summer, in that young, carefree, altogether “college” sense of the term. It is a shame that time has to pass, but — then again — that’s kind of life’s whole deal.
Eventually, my team and I finished the hike with a caffeine-powered sprint across the green. I passed out when the adrenaline wore off an hour later and slept for the next 17 hours. The next day — just as I anticipated — I did some homework, watched some tennis and drank some coffee. I did some Career Office Website scouring. I attended Econ class. Real life had returned.
I emerged from the woods at my metaphorical (and literal) midpoint. I’m now in the back half of my college years, which feels surreal to write, and I can safely say that I’ve changed since freshman year. I don’t want to leave this moment or this impeccable summer, but I didn’t want to change back then, either. I suppose all there is to do is to keep on trekking. And, in two years’ time, I’m excited to see what I’ll write. Let’s hope everything is still trending upwards. If I’m out of ideas, maybe I’ll just hike 100 miles.