by Damien Hackett '21
The STA/NCS Cross Country team started the season off strong with its annual week-long trip in August to Camp Abnaki in North Hero, Vermont. Amidst the pristine beauty of Lake Champlain, the camp offers an opportunity for runners both new and returning to acclimate to the physical demands of the fall season while also providing runners with some time to relax and enjoy some free time before the start of a busy school year.
The first day begins as does every day of camp: early. The early morning hours of Monday find a jumbled mass of runners assembling in the Cathedral parking garage, some still half-asleep, for a 6 am departure. The buses are soon off and, 12 hours and a few rest stops later, the team arrives in Vermont. Here the first race of the cross country season begins: freshmen and sophomores, juniors and seniors sprint to claim a cabin in their respective areas. By the time the dust has settled, everyone is established in his or her bunk, their bed for the next week.
At 6 o’clock morning practice begins silently, with an inaugural warm up around the dew-laden fields and waterfront. Following practice, an excellent breakfast, and cabin inspection, runners have free time until the afternoon practice, something that defines the camp experience. Archery, volleyball, disc golf, ping pong, and basketball (no pickup games!) are all options, as are cards and simply relaxing outside.
Approaching the halfway point of camp, the team takes its ritual trip into the largest city of the Green Mountain State, Burlington. Although visiting the Ben & Jerry’s factory is no longer possible, runners can still indulge in large amounts of ‘sometimes food’ in the store, as well as experience the other attractions of Church Street, including the Outdoor Gear Exchange and Vermont Flannel. The following day a portion of the team makes the trip to Mt. Mansfield. The run is a formidable 4.5 mile route up the side of a toll road and ski slope, climbing more than 3,000 feet in elevation. The top offers a stunning view of Vermont and New York, as well as an opportunity for an equally stunning number of Instagram posts.
Camp begins to culminate in the Wigwam dance extravaganza, which is held not in the Wigwam but in the dining room, an area filled with low-hanging ceiling lanterns which have an unfortunate tendency to strike over-exuberant people jumping to “Sweet Caroline” in the head. The next day another core tradition of camp takes place: the Zany Olympics. Sorted into color-coded groups, runners compete in a number of physical and intellectual contests such as tug-of-war, dodgeball, knockout basketball, song naming, and even Quidditch.
Held on the last night of camp, campfire is a time where the entire team gathers to enjoy a bonfire and roast s’mores, but also take part in singing, stand-up comedy, and even a magic show. The quality of the performances range from genuinely impressive to somewhat less so, but the spirit of team camaraderie lasts long after the fire has died. After the next morning’s tempo run, the cabins are emptied and the buses loaded up, beginning the long journey back to DC. That night, no doubt happy to be sleeping in their own beds, cross country camp is but a fading memory for the team—until next time.
Thanks to the coaches, Camp Abnaki staff, and runners for another great week in Vermont.