A few months ago, the editor of the Middlebury College Alumni Magazine, knowing that I authored this blog as an avid trail runner, asked if I could write a short column on the pleasures of trail running. Never one to shirk on my responsibilities as a member of the faculty (unless, of course, I just don’t’ feel like doing it), I suggested that I write a slightly longer article, involving a run near the campus, in the style of my blog, and he agreed that this would be good. So….I took a previous Middlebury Trailrunner posting, and modified in so that it featured more of the campus features. One of the great pleasures of a career in higher education, is observing, and laughing at (and with) the quirks of this particularly curious career, which I love, especially since I have always felt sincerely honored to have had this career opportunity at a school like Middlebury College, in a town as special as Middlebury Vermont. So, in typical Middlebury Trailrunner style, I poked fun at things I saw along the way, especially those which alums might find amusing, and maybe even part of their experience.
My friends in other corners of the college are probably used to the demands of their editors. Scientific writing, (and blog authoring as well) is as a rule, very lightly edited, if at all. As a result, I don’t know of any of my previous career publications being changed in any way between peer review modifications, and publication. When my article appeared in the recent issue of our alumni magazine, I was a little bit surprised to see that a lot of my fun asides, poking fun of the college in what I thought was a good-natured way had been edited out of the article. That said, the presentation in the final article is beautiful, and I can live with the editor’s judgement as to the audience for this article. But, I thought it would be fun to include a link to the published article, and then show the article that I originally submitted, and let my readers decide which version is more fun.
The well-presented, but alas, homogenized version of my short article can be found in the recent issue of the Alumni Magazine.
My original version of the article is as follows. I think it is more fun!
Dear First-Year Students:
As a member of the Middlebury College faculty, I would like to welcome you to campus. Most Middlebury students know of me as a chemistry professor; in fact, a fair number of you will be taking General Chemistry from me this year Fortunately, professors are allowed to have other interests, and one of my preferred avocations is distance running, and am particularly fond of running long distances on our local trails, in the village of Middlebury, as well as the nearby mountains. I have been sharing my trail adventures on a blog called “The Middlebury Trailrunner” for 9 years, and the subject of many of my postings has been the beloved “TAM”, the Trail Around Middlebury, an 18-mile loop which can be run in small segments, or in its entirety for the more ambitious. I thought I would welcome you to campus by sharing a short section at the periphery of the campus. Think if this as Trailrunning 101!
This run starts out the back door of the athletic complex – yup – that great place where you can work out on all the cool exercise contraptions your tuition dollars can buy (or our generous alums can buy for you – and a sincere THANKS). My advice is to save the ellipticals and treadmills for the cold of deep winter, and enjoy the out of doors for now. Head out the back door, and run just to the right of the high tech artificial turf Kohn Field, to the left of the Squash Center, and veer into the woods on the left – there are usually a few soccer goals stashed here, so the trail entry should be easy to find. When I started teaching at Middlebury 32 years ago, this was just a big empty field. How on earth did I find my way to the trail? The first, and tamest part of this TAM segment is on the trail which runs around the outskirts of our very own golf course. The golf course trail is pretty easy, with no major impediments to its many runners and walkers. In fact, it is the course used by our national-caliber cross country running team at their home races, and was lit for nighttime cross-country skiing in the 1980s.
After about a mile, you pass the first noteworthy sight on this run. You can’t help but notice it, as it smells…like rotting food scraps…which is what it is. At the most odiferous point on the run, off to your left stands the mountain of compost, largely the result of your leftover Procter food. No wonder our dining hall staff is always reminding you not to waste food, going so far as to eliminate dining trays so you can’t load up too easily! Not long after this, a short, steep climb rises above you, and as you near the top, you will notice a lone gravestone off to your right, near the 11th tee. A hint for those of you taking Gen Chem from me; I love to add fun Middlebury trivia questions at the end of my tests for extra credit, and every few years, I ask if anyone knows what the person interred there died from, a fact which is indicated on the gravestone. In a rather macabre turn of events, the poor gentleman commemorated there, William Douglas, survived both the French and Indian War and Revolutionary War, only to die when a tree fell on him soon after he returned to Middlebury. I am sure that the trees were really big back then as well!
Continue across the ridgeline onto the new section of trail which enables runners to stay pretty well out of the range of some of the errant tee shots from golfers setting out on the back nine, before emerging into the open, passing by a large white house on your left called Hadley House, rumored to be the scene of some wild trustee parties. This is also a great place to enjoy spectacular views of Vermont’s Green Mountains, to the east. This view will never get old. Trust me. On your right, you will also see Youngman Field, the football stadium, taking a moment to be impressed by the massive panther statue on a rock behind the stadium. Apparently some of our most generous alums went panther statue crazy 15-20 years ago, and now the campus is adorned with the outcomes of their generosity. The stadium panther is rather dramatic, but another sculpture of a panther eviscerating a deer was strategically hidden in the gardens of the President’s house. A short run along the old golf course entrance road brings you to Route 30, where you need to cross to continue the run. If you are out of gas at this point, it is a short downhill trot to the athletic facilities for a nice two mile run. However, if you cross the road, there is some more challenging trail running to be found. At the far side of Rt. 30 you will find the entrance to the segment of the TAM known as the “Class of 97 Trail”, honoring a deceased member of that class who passed away in a tragic car accident prior to his graduation.
The narrow, rooty, and usually muddy descent from the ridgeline will challenge you to watch your footwork, but two summers ago, there was an additional hazard; a large, and overprotective mama owl was attacking passing runners, in my case drawing blood! Such are the pleasures of true trail running. After less than a mile in the woods, the trail emerges into an open field, where a left turn will lead to a long loop through the farm fields which make up some of the great views to the west of the campus. If you were running this section, a little more than a year ago, you would have noticed that the field was occupied by a cluster of small, prefab homes, known as “the mods.” They were installed almost 20 years ago, to serve as temporary housing, but we have a tendency to get attached to our temporary buildings. I am telling you this, so that when you come back for your 10th, or perhaps 25th reunion, and notice that the “temporary” home of the Computer Science Department, currently under construction behind Allen, is still there, you won’t be surprised. The trail winds along the periphery of the farm fields, heading west, until it crosses College St. and follows a short dirt road to the serene quiet of the college organic garden, one of my favorite places on campus.
By now, if you are starting to feel a little tired, you are in the home stretch! Take the dirt road back through the fields towards campus, enjoying the views of “Hadley/Lang/Milliken/Ross/Laforce”, dorms which were known as “The New Dorms” for about 30 years (and used to be covered with what sure looked like oversized bathroom tiles, rather than the current, far more attractive stonework), and the hulking shape of Bicentennial Hall, which was christened “The Death Star” by students at its opening 19 years ago. The solar panels also seen here are a relatively new addition to the fields, and on sunny days, they look quite lovely, reflecting the blue sky.
Near the Bicentennial Hall driveway, cross back over College Street, and catch the sidewalk which climbs back up onto the main campus, through the wooded environs of the Ridgeline Woods dorms, originally built to allow our social houses to move away from the village to a location where their natural boisterousness would not rouse the wrath of nearby residents. Follow this sidewalk to the top of the hill, and cut through the graveyard before finishing the run back at the athletic center. The last cool sight to point out, if you have the time to look, is the gravestone of an Egyptian mummy buried in the otherwise Christian cemetery. Henry Sheldon, the original proprietor of the downtown Sheldon Museum, purchased the mummy of a very young Egyptian prince, but realized that it was not in good enough condition to put on display, and instead had it buried, with a very curious gravestone, after many years in storage.
Crossing over Rt. 30 one last time – you come face to face with the original front entrance to the athletic complex, which you can only enter through if you sprout wings, due to their current configuration. This run, about 5 miles long, and mixing great scenery with Middlebury college history and trivia is a great way to first experience the pleasures of trail running. Feel free to check out my blog if you want to explore the local mountains and forest more extensively, and I hope you enjoy the next four years here!
The Middlebury Trailrunner