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The Mountain Day Chronicles

October 17, 2012

So it’s been a while, right?

(RIGHT)

The truth is I write blog posts all the time! In my head, in my phone, on post it notes, in my Gmail drafts. (The gmail ones are the best. They’re basically half finished stories about the weird things I did as a kid or while in college. They rarely make sense or have an ending.)

While reading one of these endingless (which is not the same as endless) stories, I suddenly got all weepy and nostalgic for my tiny New England college campus. Today they are celebrating Mountain Day, which is awesome, traditional, and traditionally awesome.

There are few things my college likes better than fall holidays. We love them so much that we even made up some of our own, managing to involve ice cream or some kind of specialty cake containing ice cream in most of them. Mountain Day is the best one. (Founder’s Day is a close second, because you get to eat a cake shaped like a hat, but it also involves getting up early.)

Mountain Day is celebrated annually, decided at random, and is kept a secret until the very last second. It’s a day that is deemed Too Perfect to do anything but Fun Things. It’s field day for college students, but with less organized sporty activities and more ice cream. The idea is that everyone is supposed to hike to the top of nearby Mt. Holyoke, where they will be handed ice cream by the President of the College. If you’re too drunk not in the mood to hike, you can also take a bus to the top. This seems simple enough, but naturally, I usually found a way to complicate it.

The philosophy behind predicting Mountain Day is fairly straightforward. It’s based on the same logic used to predict snowdays: if you do all of your work, go to bed early and generally act like a Responsible Student, tomorrow will be Mountain Day. If you drink half a box of Franzia and fall asleep on a futon at UMass, tomorrow will not be Mountain Day (and you will probably miss your 8:35am Chaucer seminar).

From the first day of classes, we scoured the weather reports and the calendar, like meteorologists looking for huricanadoquakes. (This is a thing I just made up.) We were looking for the perfect storm of un-perfect-storm-like weather: sunshine, mid 70s to low 80s, and maybe a nice breeze on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday (the elusive Mountain Day assisted three-day weekend was rare).  Some narrowed the window, insisting Mountain Day had to fall before the first day of hunting season on October 1. Those in this camp held fast to the urban legend that crazy western Massachusetts hunters can occasionally mistake college girls for deer.

Sophomore year, my roommate and I decided to skip the bus and actually hike to the top of the mountain. I’d never done any real hiking, and I liked the way it sounded. We brought water bottles and trail mix and wore hats and sunscreen, because hiking is serious business.  She’d heard about a historic detour we could take, and since asking me if I’d like to take a historic detour is on par with asking me if I like puppies and pure joy, I insisted we go.

The Horse Caves are these big rocks on the Holyoke Range that jut out, creating a giant overhang. They’re where Daniel Shays of Shays’ Rebellion fame hid out with his horses. From the Horse Caves, we figured we could hike up to the top of Mt. Holyoke, which is where we would collect our promised ice cream. But when we finally reached the top, something was wrong. There was nothing there. No summit house, no people, and most importantly, no ice cream.

“Do you think the ghosthorses got here first?” I asked, looking around.

By the time we realized we’d hiked up the wrong mountain, it was getting dark. We finally wound up stumbling onto the main road and flagging down a bus carrying students who’d been nature-savvy enough to climb the right mountain. On the way back to our dorm, we bought three pints of ice cream and ate them in our natural habitat, in front of the TV.

The next year, I was determined to try again. But then I learned that there is one thing in this world that can ruin Mountain Day, and that thing is traffic court. The previous year, I’d been pulled over and charged with passing a school bus. Not only did this not actually happen, but it was also my first time getting pulled over and I was so rattled and the Massachusetts cop was so angry that all I could do was cry and not be able to find my registration in a timely manner. When I related all of this to my parents, they insisted I fight the ticket. (“You can do that?” I asked, wide-eyed and slightly terrified. Authority figures!) My parents and I practiced and prepped all summer, staging mock trials in my kitchen and screaming lines from “A Few Good Men” at each other. And then, when I was scheduled to appear in court on a Tuesday in late September, I knew what was coming.

I went to sleep early the night before my court date, and the chapel bells rang early the next morning. It was official: instead of missing a day of classes, I would be missing Mountain Day. Deciding it was a good luck charm, and that it would be worth it if I won, I got up, put on my Most Professional Undergrad Outfit and went to meet my dad, who had driven up to act as my lawyer for the day. The angry Massachusetts cop was there, scowling. He told his story, I told mine, and the judge ruled in his favor. I cried so hard you’d have thought they were sending me to jail. Then I started ranting like a lunatic and dad had to drag me out of the courtroom so they didn’t actually try to send me to jail.

I drove back to campus, got a burrito and sat on the front lawn of my dorm, yelling at underclasswomen.

“Climb the mountain!” I yelled, like the sage old 20-year-old I was. “Celebrate your youth! Cherish it!”

I told my tale of woe to anyone who would listen, embellishing until it got wildly out of control. By dinner, I was practically telling people I’d spent my Mountain Day in jail after a wrongful imprisonment. The first-years on my floor offered to make “Free Ally” t-shirts, which I appreciated. A friend came up to me in the dining hall: “Dude, I heard you got tazed?” People bought me ice cream while I re-enacted the trial.

“GUILTY!” I bellowed, in my best Judge voice. (No one said this.) But, celebrate your youth, guys.

The next year, I finally made it to the top of the correct mountain. Taking no chances, we took my roommate’s car. We honked the whole way up, and, for the sake of consistency, ate way too much ice cream.

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