By Damian Hackett '21
The last week of August finds many students savoring their last few days of freedom before returning to school, but for the STA/NCS Cross Country team, the end of August means one thing in particular: preseason camp. The annual pilgrimage to Camp Abnaki in North Hero, Vermont has become a cornerstone of the season; it is the first time the team is brought together before the season, and for many, it is their first-ever experience on the team.
The first day begins early, as does most of camp. 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. Even before leaving the parking garage, however, the team faced its first challenge. One of the buses had broken down on its way to the Close, and a replacement would not arrive for more than three hours. Undeterred, seniors and freshmen took the first bus while sophomores and juniors followed a few hours later. All made it safely to Vermont by mid-evening, and after dinner all made their way to their respective villages and cabins, home for the next week.
Just after 6 o’clock, morning practice begins silently, with an inaugural warm up around the misty fields and waterfront. Many are groggy after what is most likely the earliest wake-up in months for some, however this feeling quickly fades in the crisp Vermont morning. Following practice, an excellent breakfast, and a rigorous 10-point cabin inspection, runners have significant free time until the afternoon practice, something that defines the camp experience. Archery, volleyball, tetherball, ping pong, and *light* basketball are just some of the recreational options, as are cards or simply relaxing outside.
By midweek and approaching the halfway point of camp, the team takes its customary trip into Burlington, home of Ben & Jerry's and the largest city in Vermont. 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 some of the team has a hard morning workout, while the remainder makes the trip to the Mt. Mansfield Toll Road for what is known as “the mountain.” 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. After the grueling ascent, the top of the mountain offers a stunning view of Vermont and New York, as well as an opportunity for an equally stunning number of Instagram posts.
Then on Saturday, with the end of camp fast approaching, the Wigwam dance takes place. “Wigwam” as it is called, is no longer held in the Wigwam but instead takes place in the dining hall, and is an hour-long event which gives teammates an opportunity to simultaneously decompress from the week’s demands while also getting in an extra workout for the day. The following 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 including tug-of-war, dodgeball, and song naming, as well as two new events: volleyball and kickball.
Held on the last night of camp, the campfire is a time where the entire team gathers to enjoy a bonfire and roast s’mores, while brave individuals/groups sing songs or even put on full-blown theatrical productions! 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, which coaches stress is not a race, the cabins are emptied and the buses (both of them!) are 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 everyone else who made camp this year a success.