By Ryan Clapp
Drive two hours straight north on I-93, and you’ll arrive at Tufts University’s least-known satellite campus. Nestled in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, its few acres are just minutes away from a whole host of outdoor activities. It’s a lodge, or rather, the Loj.
Run and maintained by the Tufts Mountain Club (TMC), the Loj is a place for students to unplug and unwind. It allows them to step outside the pressure-cooker environment and social scene of Tufts for a weekend. The Loj is not a wood-paneled frat house in which to guzzle alcohol away from watchful RAs. It’s not some extreme base camp that shuns students who can’t play steel string guitar while skydiving into a kayak. It’s a big cozy cabin with a rotating cast and an adventure for almost everyone. Some students go on short day-hikes. Some go on badass overnight backpacking trips. Some students never leave the Loj at all, but curl up with a good book or a deck of cards in one of the big comfy chairs next to the fire.
Here are some of the concerns I’ve heard about making the trip: It’s hard to get off campus. How do I even get there? I don’t know anybody. I’ve never really hiked or been super outdoorsy before. Yeah, it is hard to get off campus sometimes, and the idea of going someplace you’ve never been with people you’ve never met can be intimidating.
Consider this scenario for a first visit to the Loj: you weren’t sure if you wanted to go up, but you convinced a friend, and the two of you looked on the TMC website to find out which students were caretaking that weekend. You sent them an email asking if there was any way you could find a ride up, since you don’t have a car (answer: of course!). Two hours later, you pull into North Woodstock, NH in the TMC van, and then suddenly you’re inside the Loj. Everyone turns and shouts a greeting to your group, and you look around to get your bearings. A few people are reading by the fire in overstuffed chairs, while another group is playing cards at a long wooden table. In the corner, someone’s jangling on an old out-of-tune piano, and you can smell cookies baking in the kitchen.
The sophomore caretaker asks you to sign in, and as a non-member, you pay $25 for two nights, which offers you all you can eat. When he finds out it’s your first time at the Loj, he pulls out a giant map of the area. There are 48 4,000-foot peaks in the White Mountains, along with innumerable smaller ones. There are a dozen great day hikes within a half hour’s drive, and the caretaker offers to drop you off in the TMC van if you need. There’s a famous rock-climbing mecca in nearby Rumney, NH, and the Pemigewasset River is great for watercraft. If it’s winter, you could borrow one of the dozens of pairs of cross-country skis at the Loj and head out the front door, or drive 10 minutes to Loon Mountain for some downhill fun.
One of the day hikes sounds awesome, and it turns out there’s a group of three students doing it tomorrow! They invite you to join forces, and you wind up talking on the porch for hours before climbing into bed. You’re worn out all the next day, and you can’t believe how much you packed in: beautiful views, a long hike, and great conversation. Before dinner, you all sneak off to take a swim in the lake, and when you come back, there’s a mound of steaming pasta on the table. A little while later, one of the caretakers starts a bonfire outside, and you sit around in the glow sharing stories. A couple students are drinking autumn ale from a microbrewery in town, and you take a long, crisp swig. You’ve totally lost track of time, and it feels great. When the fire dies down, you all drift off to bed.
You wake up early on Sunday; somehow, it’s way easier to get up with so much natural sunlight streaming in. After a big pancake breakfast, everyone leaves by 9:30 a.m., and you’re back to Tufts by noon.
This story actually happens every weekend, all year long. That first email or phone call is the hardest part. Don’t worry about experience or equipment; Tufts Mountain Club constantly offers guided trips and has enough gear to put REI out of business. Don’t worry about how many people you know; nothing bonds like adventure and a campfire.