How crunchy are they? Their collective crunch can be heard for miles, coming in handy as a safety whistle in the daring, life-threatening situations of the great outdoors. In the spirit of (but mostly to spite) the “15 Hottest Freshmen” feature that the Harvard Crimson continues to release annually, the Record thought it about time to highlight some of the newest additions to our community who rank among the “Crunchiest First-Years.”
What makes me the crunchiest first-year at Williams? Well, I’m not usually one to toot my own horn, but it’s not arrogance if you actually are better than everyone else. I’ll let you be the judge. Some people brag about having hiked the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail from end-to-end, Georgia to Maine or vice versa. I, however, decided to up the ante and hike from the South Pole to the North Pole. It took over two years and damn near killed me, but encouragement from my family like “Carl, for the love of God please come home already” and “How the hell did you even get to Antarctica without us knowing?” kept me strong. I once punched a bear square in the face. He wasn’t even doing anything wrong, I just wanted to show the other bears I was living with at the time that I wasn’t gonna be taking any of their bear shenanigans. That bear was my friend, too. I wasn’t raised by wolves, but I adopted several wolf cubs junior year of high school and trained them to take care of my mom once I left for college. Some of their base instincts like marking their territory, howling, attacking the mailman, etc., remain, but my mom claims that in my absence they make passable chamomile tea. Earlier this summer I was leading a Boy Scout troupe on a backpacking trip when one of the boys had acute kidney failure. Using nothing but a plastic fork, tree branch and an Emergen-C packet, I successfully performed dialysis on the poor lad until the Life-Star helicopter arrived.
This past summer, I did a NOLS [National Outdoor Leadership School] trip. I hiked 128 miles and went a month without showering, went crazy a couple of times from lack of food, had a funeral for a dead mouse we found on the trail and camped on the snow. (Note: I do not recommend this – it’s cold. Like, really cold.).Despite all of the badass moments on this trip, like trying to jump over a river and, instead, falling and landing in a pile of moose poop, unable to move because of the weight of my pack, my most badass moment in the wild was on WOOLF [Williams Outdoor Orientation for Life as First-Years], when my fabulous canoeing companion Ben and I became the first canoeing pair in the history of WOOLF canoeing, I’ll repeat that, IN THE HISTORY OF WOOLF CANOEING, to capsize with all of our gear in the canoe. But don’t worry, the food survived. We still had to eat it all for the sake of “L.N.T.” [Leave No Trace] (and we did. Boom).
Loving the outdoors has been my A1 since day one. I knew I was objectively as crunchy as granola when I introduced [L.L.] Bean boots to my suburban public high school in good old Ohio. This was compounded by the meticulous “L.N.T.” rule I follow every day, not merely on WOOLF. I have three go-to wilderness skills that I use as frequently as possible: having an approximate knowledge of how to tie bowline knots, making see-saws out of logs and of course the all-essential foraging. I can forage blackberries, raspberries, blueberries (really all types of berries), apple breakfast bars, “Knock You Nakeds” and chicken parmesan with the ease of a squirrel gathering acorns for the winter. The ability to scale trees as nimbly as a brown bear is one I pride myself in as a part of my overall crunchiness. Besides the rigorous mental challenge of where to move next so as to avoid spiders and daddy long-legs, I enjoy planking in trees and sometimes napping in that position, much to the surprise of people walking below. In my future years at the College, I hope to see fellow crunchy students around as I forage and just want to remind everyone that watermelons are not only delicious trail snacks, but also great protective head gear.
Stalking wild blueberries isn’t so much a skill as it is a lifestyle. A calling, if you will. I’d made blueberry pies before when I was camping, but this one- this one was going to leave them all behind. At first I thought I was hallucinating when I noticed that blueberry patch, nestled in the Alaskan tundra. They were the bluest, the juiciest, the most delicious looking blueberries I’d ever seen. But how to capture them? I skillfully army-crawled through the bushes, and they remained unperturbed. Until, of course, I pounced and successfully wrangled them all into a Nalgene. That night, we feasted like savages. Those blueberries never stood a chance.
Coming from Alaska, a state known for its complete lack of wilderness, I was taken quite off guard to see that I had been nominated as one of the crunchiest first-years at the College. I’ve grown up knowing that I was blessed to live in such a metropolitan area. With a shopping mall just 6 hours away by sled dog, I didn’t think life could get much more urban. Imagine my surprise when I found out that escaping packs of wolves and running with bears on my favorites training routes were not typical summer activities. Xtra tuffs, flannel and Carhartts are the dress of choice for many of my grizzly friends, but some of the others just can’t bear the cold, so they turn tail and hibernate for the long winter. When I’m not playing with my pet polar bear or cleaning the penguin pen, I spend my time eating reindeer sausage and making ice cream out of whale blubber from the last harvest. To get away from all the city bustle, I like to chill in my igloo and eat granola. It’s a pretty cool life.
I was just a small child when I ate my first Nature Valley bar, the crunch echoing off the surrounding mountains. Ever since that day I have risked life and limb on countless occasions for no reason other than “because it’s there.” Scaling dangerous rockfalls in Joshua Tree and backcountry skiing only scratch the surface of my outdoor experience. I’ve gotten up close and personal with giant moray eels in shipwrecks and started fires with wet sticks and magnesium. I’ve jumped out of a plane. Why? Because it was almost lunchtime, and they didn’t have any GORP [Good Old Raisins and Peanuts] on board. My expertise includes navigation, packing too few layers to conserve weight and streaking the miserable and less-crunchy hikers in the dead of night. I gather firewood without tools; my hands are my axes, breaking apart fallen trees with a satisfying “crunch” reminiscent of my wilderness baptism.
I am crunchy. Crunchier than half a bag of GORP pounded down minutes before the conclusion of WOOLF. Crunchier than the undercooked pasta eaten by a starving WOOLFie forced to hold a fickle fuel canister together with his bare hands. My outdoor escapades began when I was but a wee lad, but did not reach their culmination until WOOLF. One day my group hiked to Money Brook Falls, infamous site of an early American money-laundering ring still rumored to house their ghosts – and their worthless treasure. With dreams of glory and ghouls, two friends and I embarked on a quest to ascend the falls. We fearless three crunchy amigo-musketeers traversed the rocky streambed, scaled towering cliffs a little higher than average height, and even clung desperately to thin trees as our feet dangled mere inches from the ground. After surmounting three separate stages of the falls and with many more to go, cries of “Lunchtime!” reached our ears. In a flash, we were off down the mountain. Taking a circuitous route to ensure maximum inefficiency, we met up with another member of our WOOLF group and charged like fierce, unbalanced Vikings down the steep slope to the safety of our streamside camp. We had gone where no WOOLF group had gone before and still made it back in time for lunch. I am Williams, and I am crunchy.
At school, I walk the halls like any other first-year, but in the woods, I am king. Ever since I was very young, I have adored the wilderness. I started in elementary school, helping my dad build campfires, and by the end of eighth grade I had built a full wilderness survival kit and written a research paper on the subject. Some of us didn’t need to rent any equipment from WOC [Williams Outdoor Club]. And on WOOLF, I alone out of all the first-years came prepared with my trusty hatchet. I may or may not have really scared everyone by owning a hatchet, but at least nobody complained about the awesome fire we built as a result. Besides, with no hatchet, how would I have fought back a bear attack if one descended upon our camp? Anyway, I am Connor Swan, and I believe I might just be one of this year’s “Crunchiest First-Years.” If you need to contact me, head to the woods and look for smoke – I’ll happily share my campfire with you!
All photos by Christian Ruhl, Photo Editor.