A rugged warm up: It’s one heck of a trek to the AFC

Last weekend, my cousin visited Vassar as a prospie. After the tour, my aunt gushed about the “convenient location” of the buildings and how the campus isn’t “hilly.”

To which I responded, “Did they show you the gym?”

Her forehead crinkled. “No, actually they didn’t.”

Of course not. They didn’t want to expose the fact that every route to the AFC features an elaborate trek either through the buggy Vassar woodlands or up a concrete mountain, which leaves you sweaty, crampy and thirsty before you even swipe your VCard at the front desk. Side note about that swipe: Why are they so keen on recording my every workout session, both in the lobby and again in the weight room? If I decide not to risk my life in the Vassar woodlands for a week, will they send me an email: “Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day…”?

But I digress. As far as I know, three types of people go to the gym:

Injured people. They go there to rehab, well, injuries.

Nature-fearing people who prefer air conditioning, exercise bikes and those equipment-sanitizing spray bottles to sweltering heat, actual bikes and mosquitos.

People who wish to avoid shattered elbows, fractured tushies and/or death by jogging on black ice during the winter months. (People who don’t know that they should be these people eventually wind up in the first category, hobbling through the glass doors of the AFC with a plaster cast.)

And as far as I know, there are three routes to the gym, all of which effectively defeat the purpose of going to the gym for all three of the aforementioned groups. Allow me to lament each one individually.

Past Kenyon, by the Wimpfheimer Nursery School, up a cliff flanked by the woods and a golf course and across a gravelly parking lot: this path starts out nice enough. There’s a colorful playground and a scenic woodsy area. And then you’re confronted with Mount Raymond. Hope you’re not headed to the gym in a leg boot, which is a very real possibility, considering that the gym houses physical therapy. As if the shin, thigh and calf spasms associated with ascending the mountain aren’t enough, you’re constantly on the defense against rabid squirrel attacks from the woodlands on your right, stray golf balls from the course on your left and cars straight ahead of you that sporadically come barreling down the mountain. When you finally stumble to the top, you’re terribly exhausted but also terribly proud as you glimpse the inviting brick of the AFC. The promised land! And that’s when a golf ball travelling 80mph leaves a bluish, brownish, bloody dent in the side of your head. You can rehab your legs. It’s harder to rehab your skull.

Past New England and Sanders, and up another concrete mountain, this one flanked by a babbling brook, towering trees and lush grass: this sounds downright picturesque. Indeed it is. But I don’t care. If I wanted to hike for exercise, I’d toss down my gym bag, veer right and skip gleefully onto the trail through the Vassar wilderness Laura Ingalls Wilder-style (cue video of Laura, Mary and Carrie flailing around in stifling dresses on lush greenery). But I don’t want to. Pollen makes my eyes look like I just rubbed onions in them. People who go to the gym in the warmer months have explicitly decided not to exercise with allergens. And yet to walk to the AFC is to bathe in them.

Through the Swift passageway, across a bridge, up 32 steps or a mini mountain (pick your poison), through the lawns of the TAs and up more steps: I believe that the absurdity of this route speaks for itself. There’s a bridge over a small river, and you are momentarily one with the trees and the leaves and the dirt and the tics. Then there are steps. Four flights of them. Hope you don’t have sports-related shin splints or stress fractures. If you survive the boondocks, you’re literally in the backyards of the poor saps who live in the TAs right behind the gym (privacy rights much?). And then there’s seven more steps.

Note: These scenarios all assume that you’re braving the trek to the AFC in the temperate months. Wintertime brushes with any of these paths will inevitably leave you stomach-sliding backwards down the icy concrete.

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