One in Two Thousand: Charlie Harrison ‘18.5

I first met Charlie while I was getting settled into the suite we shared freshman year, beginning an unlikely friendship replete with deep conversations, clever nicknames and no paucity of laughs. I sat down with Charlie to chat about his adventure getting to the College, his past journeys and his passion for philosophy.

I’ll ask you my most important question first. What does it mean for you to be a “binger jerry chinchilla?”

Oh man. You know, I’ve been trying to figure out what I mean by that. So that’s the name of my Instagram account. I think it’s a mixture of trying to be on the fringe, trying to obscure my identity a bit and add a little humor. But people tend to find out I’m a binger jerry chinchilla … and I don’t know how I feel about it.

Behind the scenes. Jason Liu/Photo Editor
Behind the scenes. Jason Liu/Photo Editor

And yet, you’re the one running around calling everyone a goon.

I mean, that’s only if I know them super well. If they’re a living, breathing thing. A little down to earth, you know?

Am I a goon?

Perhaps. We’ve spent some time in the hallway throughout freshman year. We had some good convos.

That’s a good segue into our freshman year and how I was first introduced to you. You had an interesting means for arriving at the College. Can you explain?

I almost forgot that! How was that from your perspective?

My perspective was that I was in the suite and your family is moving your stuff into your room and you are noticeably absent. I see your father, we shake hands, have a lovely conversation and he tells me, “Oh, yeah, you’ll see Charlie soon; he’s just going to be really dirty and sweaty.” I presumed you were coming from the gym or something. Then he tells me no, you were hiking to the College from home and were probably in North Adams by that point. We’ll see him soon. Then, I returned a couple hours later and there you were. A beautiful friendship formed from there.

See, my dad left out the detail that I had not had any contact with them for about four or five days so they had just hoped that I would show up on the right day for orientation. But no … I just decided that I would walk to school. I don’t live super far away; like I said, I live in Lyme, N.H. and it’s only 170 miles [away] more or less as the crow flies. The Appalachian Trail [A.T.] actually goes pretty close to my house and it also goes pretty close to here. So I just kinda walked out the door, hopped on the A.T. and it took about a week and I got here. I had plenty of sores on the body when I got here. I was definitely not super ready for my WOOLF [Williams Outdoor Orientation for Living as First-years] trip.

Now, given the length of the trail, it should have taken you 10 days, so for you to get here in time …

I had to speed things up a little bit. Yeah, I was being really, really lazy about getting out that front door. So once it came down to seven days until school, I was like, “Well, I really got to get this thing going.” I thought I would have no problem doing 25, maybe 27 miles a day. And I did one day of that and I woke up and felt like a truck ran over me.

Before getting here, you were up to some interesting activities on your gap year.

Yeah, I filled my gap year with a lot of ski racing …. Pretty typical for me. Then I also got this chance to go do ecology in Mozambique on this [small]mountain where there is a crazy mixture of biomes and different forest strata and a lot of cool species and critters …. oh, and a lot of cool rock climbing. I spent about three weeks in that location with about a week or so [spent getting there] because, like I said, it was an inselberg mountain in Mozambique. It was pretty hard to get out there but, once we did, it was a pretty cool time. We discovered a new species of snake and did a lot for the etymological records in Africa involving ants and other cool things like that. There is a lot of ongoing work down there stemming from the project.

So the project involved pairing up experienced climbers with field researchers.

Yeah exactly. The scientists we worked with, two of them were from Africa and one was Brazilian who lived in California, and I don’t think any of them had done anything even close to rock climbing before, so we had to set up a rope system that would allow them to get up there safely. And some of the looks of terror they had on their faces were definitely justified, but they quickly figured out that it was totally safe and fun and really beautiful.

What have been your biggest adventures at the College? How did you become Adventure Charlie?

Oh, don’t go there. Don’t bring it back. [Laughs.] Goodness. I’m having trouble thinking of the biggest adventure I experienced …. Probably something that was an adventure [in retrospect] was the philosophy major and the adventures in that world. [The major] really revolutionized my life, I think, delving into that topic in the spring of my freshman year and realizing that the classroom environment was for me and also that there were just so many people who dealt with some of the most general questions of consciousness. And I am still on that adventure.

Philosophy was pretty challenging for you at first. How has it been having such a big interest in a topic in which you do not feel as naturally skilled?

It’s been hard to justify to myself. I’ve struggled to pass classes here before and I’ve had bad relationships with professors with these issues like my writing and whatnot. It’s really just being in the classroom that keeps me going in those fields of inquiry and academia. It’s those small, intimate discussions that I really seek. And I’ve also learned to really love reading some of the most turgid literature out there, which is stuff like continental philosophy. It’s this big puzzle that we are trying to figure out.

How did you start skiing?

I probably strapped on the skis first when I was 3 and then started racing when I was around 8. Then I did development programs for a few years, but then once I was in middle school … I was like, this skiing thing is really hard to figure out with school as well. You have to travel for all of these races, you have endless amounts of equipment you need to deal with on a regular basis and school just didn’t really jive with that …. And then I discovered ski academies and I found this one ski academy – Burke Mountain Academy – that a couple of family friends recommended to me. I went there and I instantly fell in love with it. It’s out in the hillsides and the training hill was within walking distance of the campus and they basically manipulated their academic program to maximize ski opportunities. I don’t really know how I graduated high school legally, but I did it. We didn’t have grades there so I totally am not sure how I got into Williams.

What is it like being back on the mountain?

I am literally the oldest person on the team. [Laughs.] It’s quite funny …. it’s a pretty big thrill. If nothing else, it’s a big thrill to be out and be working out and getting out in the wild, pushing the boundaries. I broke my wrist the summer before college and I didn’t do the most fantastic job ever of trying to heal it. Things felt pretty good in there but they weren’t exactly better, and I sort of just neglected the whole thing for my entire freshman year so I could ski and experience college without a cast on my arm. By the time spring rolled around, I went to see orthopedists and they basically told me I had a pretty bad situation in there that would probably need surgery. Once I finally found [the right] doctor a couple months later, I had the surgery right away and I was expected to have a 12 to 15 week recovery that turned into more like a 30 to 40 week recovery and another surgery. It was a crazy year to be at Williams, to have a cast on the entire time and not really be able to do any physical activities. I think I saw the best and worst of my Williams career that year, but it was so great to finally get [the cast] off and feel like I could use my wrist again and engage in all of the ridiculous things I like to fill my day doing.

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Music: “Enthusiast” by Tours
From the Free Music Archive

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