If there’s one thing that’s fun to do in your spare time, it’s things that you’re already good at. During the winter, that thing for me is skiing. I have skied almost since I could stand, and if there is a hobby I could be said to be competent at, it’s downhill skiing. Although I don’t hunt for small cliffs to ski off anymore, or throw backflips in the terrain park while trying to keep my sagging pants from falling down like my teenage students, I’m still pretty good at skiing. It’s comfortable. I can show up at a hill and know what to expect. I can get myself down most any white-colored incline. I can rest fairly assured that I won’t do anything that will cause lasting embarrassment, such as losing control of my skis and taking out a giant inflatable can of Red Bull near the base lodge, or forgetting to dismount the chairlift and needing to be coaxed down by the liftee, or crashing and losing my hat and mittens in front of an entire women’s ski team.
Of course, all of those scenarios are back in play now that I have taken up snowboarding. Last season I fell more times in a single day than I did in decades of skiing. Most of those falls happened within speaking distance of the base lodge (some in the lunch line). But none were serious, and learning to snowboard made the mountain big again. It wasn’t comfortable — but it was exciting.
Citing evidence of low levels of employer satisfaction, a new study by the non-profit Lincoln Organization indicates that our nation’s public schools are failing to adequately prepare graduates for jobs that don’t exist yet. “We are not equipping our students to compete in an increasingly changing global workplace,” says Steven Joyce, lead researcher on the study. “The jobs of tomorrow are going to require skills we haven’t even thought of, and it’s the job of our schools to teach those skills.”
Experts cite the advance of technology as evidence of how quickly the job market is changing. “When I was in high school, computers didn’t even exist,” says software CEO Jane Davis. “Nothing could have prepared me for the new fields I would dominate using the problem solving skills I picked up in public school classes like math and English.”
Saying that he’s tired of the direction our country has taken during the last decade, conservative voter Eric Collins of Charleston, South Carolina expressed his desire for things to go back to the way they were when Donald Trump was a constant presence on our televisions. Citing the six seasons during which “The Apprentice” ran on NBC as “a time when things were good for a lot of Americans,” Collins believes this election is about recapturing a time when America was a great nation in which to watch Donald Trump on television.
“I remember the good old days when you could just flip on the TV whenever you wanted and see Donald Trump berate and insult people, say crazy s–t, and bully everyone into getting his way,” says Collins. “I want my kids to be able to enjoy the same benefits of being entertained by The Donald that I had.” Collins believes that the country has been going downhill ever since 2010, when ‘The Apprentice’ was cancelled, although he believes that Trump’s recent presence on popular media during the campaign is a sign that things are on the right track again.
“He’s kicking people out of his rallies who don’t agree with him, he’s saying he’s going to torture people, he’s feuding with every media outlet — even with Fox News! He’s making it up as he goes along, and he’s still winning. It’s such great TV! You almost want him to end a debate by turning to Ben Carson and saying, ‘You’re fired!‘”
Last Tuesday morning, as the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean, a flurry of jets descended into Manchester International Airport. The planes carried Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and most of the other candidates for president of the United States. Up front, where first class would be, the planes also carried the candidates’ entourages: opinion makers, deal cutters, spin doctors, strategists, and confidants. In the rear, in economy class, rode the journalists, bloggers, and television reporters who cover them. The American political establishment has two halves: those who govern, and those who want to. The former was in Washington, D.C., winding down the seventh year of Barack Obama’s presidency. The latter, who roundly debate Mr. Obama’s legacy, had flown through the night from Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, where polls had just closed, to New Hampshire, where in seven days the state’s 1.3 million residents would pull voting levers.
It’s a feeling of panic. Your heart races, your palms moisten, your eyes race down the page. Everything, all of it, looks like hieroglyphics. Frantically you search for something — anything — that you recognize. Something you can start with. You frantically flip to the second page, then the third, your eyes racing down the page, heart pounding in your ears. By the time you scan helplessly to bottom of the last page, there is nothing you know how to do. Suddenly hits you — you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.
Surely others are panicking too? But a quick glance around you reveals that even those dullards are weaving their way crisply through the opening problems. Suddenly you feel completely, utterly stupid, and totally alone. Your eyes dart to the door. You want to leap up and run — but you can’t. They’d stare. They’d talk. Are they staring right now? Can they tell that you have no idea? Your heart races faster . . . You’ve got to find something you know how to do . . . You can’t pass in a blank test . . . Control your fear . . . But it’s too late . . .
Suddenly you’re wide awake. You’re sitting straight up in bed, heart racing, forehead dripping sweat. It’s 3 am and you’re a fully grown adult and you’ve just had a nightmare that has, strangely enough, become more frequent since you left school. As you try to catch your breath, two words come to your lips in a whisper.
“Math class . . .”
I’m 34 years old and haven’t opened a math book since before “Google” was a verb and I still get nightmares about being back in math class.
Not long after we began dating, my girlfriend found a photo of me with my ex.
“Who’s that?” she asked.
I’m sure that for normal, mature folks — you know, people who’ve actually had at least a couple of serious relationships by the time they’re 31 — this is still a tough question, but one you get used to answering. You learn how to be honest about your past without dwelling on it. You learn how to talk about someone you once cared a lot about, without sounding like you still care too much. You learn how to avoid saying things like, “Oh, her? Well, you were asking me why I bought this gun . . . ” In other words, you get used to answering this.
It’s a great moment at the start of a very bad movie: two buddies are at the top of a steep mogul trail in Aspen, Colorado, waiting for their turn to show what they can do. If they make it to the bottom in one piece, they have a chance to become ski instructors at Aspen and make lots of money. Everything about this is absurd, of course. Like I said, it’s not a great movie. But then one of the buddies, Dexter, looks over at the other, T.J. Dexter is clearly intimidated by the great skiers around them: “These guys are good, T.J.” After all, these two guys have probably never skied a trail this steep before. They’re wearing jeans. Their home ski area? Mt. Brighton, Michigan — “200 feet of landfill.” Here at Aspen, they’re out of their league in just about every possible way.
But they do have one ace up their sleeve. Just as it’s their turn to go, the other buddy, T.J. — the more confident of the two — lowers his goggles. “Yeah,” he says, “but they’re not from Detroit.” Game on. They jump over the edge. Guess who’s ripping down the moguls, passing everyone, and throwing double helicopters like an early 90s Johnny Moseley? Guess who makes the Aspen Ski School? The guys from Detroit.
That’s what my fiancee and I have been telling each other this December. Usually during the week after Christmas we retreat to the warm temperatures of Asheville, North Carolina to hike the Great Smoky Mountains. This year we don’t need to: Christmas temperatures in the 50s here in the North Country of New Hampshire felt more like the Smokies than the White Mountains. So far, the winter of 2015-2016 has been the warmest and the least snowy I can remember. Normally I ski a lot during my birth month, but this December I’ve skied just once. Although most of the resorts are managing to stay open, the trails at Wildcat, Waterville Valley, and Cannon are mostly grass.
In lieu of skiing, I’ve taken advantage of the warmer temperatures and lack of snow to continue hiking the White Mountains. What follows is a list of the best off-season hikes I’ve been doing in the northern White Mountains.
Sugarloaf Mountain, located in Dickerson, Maryland, about thirty miles north of Washington, D.C., is not much of a mountain. At only 1,282 feet above sea level, it’s more of a hill — a small hill. But set amid the rolling farmland of northern Montgomery County, it doesn’t look small. In fact, Sugarloaf’s summit is so prominent — and so close to Washington, D.C. — that Franklin Roosevelt considered making Sugarloaf his presidential retreat (before deciding on the nearby Camp David). It was from Sugarloaf that Union troops first spotted the Confederate Army crossing the Potomac River in 1862. I first began to notice Sugarloaf in 2009, on one of my frequent trips to the nearby Dickerson whitewater slalom course. I’d driven past this hill since my first trip to Dickerson years before, but it wasn’t until my fifth year of living in Washington, D.C. that I began to notice it. That fall, as I drove an hour north out of the city and across the flatlands, Sugarloaf — really the closest mountain you hit when driving out of D.C. in any direction, looked taller and taller — and all of a suddenly, I wanted very badly to be on top.
This was a real change for me. I spent most of my life looking down — into river gorges — not up. I wanted to go to the places on the map where the river left the roads and plunged into a canyon so deep that it was like a secret world. These were gorges you had to bushwhack for thirty minutes just to get down to the river — or else you had to own a kayak, in which case you could see the gorge in its entirety. I can’t say if I started kayaking because I wanted to explore these places, or if I wanted to explore these places because I started kayaking. I only know that, when I was 14 years old and had just started boating, every time we drove over the 60-foot bridge on Route 44 bridge near my house in Barkhamsted, Connecticut, I’d look downstream and see two cliffs towering 100 feet over the river and I knew that something about it didn’t look right. It looked more dramatic than the usual rolling hills of western Connecticut. Something had happened to the Earth there, some kind of violence. And I wanted to go down inside and see exactly what it was.