Women’s rugby team hikes 25 miles for spring training

Norwich senior Briana Buckles shares her personal experience hiking part of the Appalachian Trail with the women’s rugby team over this year’s spring break.

I always thought I would spend my spring break senior year on a beach in a sunny place, which would be fantastic right now in the midst of endless Vermont snow, but instead I had a wonderfully miserable time with some of the greatest people I know.

With a national competition just around the corner, my teammates and I embarked on a unique spring training trip that left the rugby balls, cleats, and mouth guards at home.

Jessica Campion (left) and Felicity Porto (right) step off on day one of a team hike on the Appalachian Trail. (Jessica Zaweski Photo)

Jessica Campion (left) and Felicity Porto (right) step off on day one of a team hike on the Appalachian Trail. (Jessica Zaweski Photo)

“We decided we needed to do something that’s kind of a culminating event of all the workouts we’ve been doing all spring,” said senior Emily Baugus, a 21-year-old construction and engineering management major from Kingsville, Texas and captain of the women’s rugby team.

Almost 50 miles of hiking on the Appalachian Trail in northern Pennsylvania was far from my desired beach bumming vacation in the sun, but my teammates and I reluctantly consented and began to embrace the idea.

“Last year we had an awesome rugby experience in Kingston, Mass., and it cost thousands of dollars,” said Baugus. “Come to find out, we didn’t have any money to do something like the Kingston trip (this year).”

Hiking meant we didn’t have to spend money on big team dinners, hotels, or traveling expenses to go far enough south to actually practice on green grass, and it still gave us a chance to come together as a team physically and emotionally.

“I think the coolest part was coming together as a team,” said Sophie Mundell, a 20-year-old sophomore psychology major from Eagle River, Alaska. “There was a lot of bonding that happened on the trip and even though it sucked, it sucked together. It was an experience that wasn’t the best, but we embraced it and became closer through how much it sucked.”

After stepping off on the first day, we trickled into smaller groups based on friendships and different hiking paces which left me with freshman Samantha Thorton, and seniors Jessica Zaweski and Rachael Williams.

These first six miles brought a favorite moment for Zaweski, a 21-year-old criminal justice major from Mattituck, N.Y. “Rose Bernheim yelled down to us from ahead ‘all right guys just follow the white marks on the rocks and the trees, it’s an easy trail don’t worry about it’.” Zaweski recalled.

“Not more than two seconds after that, Thornton comes up to a place where she keeps on walking straight through these twigs that make a giant X,” Zaweski said. “I yelled to her, ‘Thornton where are you going?’ and she said ‘following the trail’. So I told her to take a look to her right and there’s the trail of white marks on the trees. From then on, she got the nickname Sacagawea” (the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark on their famous expedition.)

With Sacagawea in the lead, our hiking party was destined for success.

“At first I was a little worried because we were going to be hiking with a freshman and I thought we weren’t going to have anything in common,” said Zaweski. “We ended up bonding and getting pretty close so it was definitely a good thing to have her with us.”

Our fairly decent pace on that first day was slowed by numerous stops attempting to catch our breath after so much laughter.

“I was worried that the girls weren’t going to be excited about it, but when things were actually kind of miserable the girls laughed about it and we had a good time and we bonded over it,” Baugus said. “We were embracing the suck together.”

To say it sucked is an understatement regarding some portions of the three day trip. The frigid cold weather made the greatest contribution to the overall “suck.”

“The first night, half the people were in the shelter and half of us were outside and we learned very quickly that the ones outside were idiots because it was so cold and the wind was crazy,” said Amber Carini a 20-year-old sophomore physics major from Knoxville, Tenn.  “I was personally in a hammock so the wind was coming from every direction.”

I was thankful when Carini woke up at 4 a.m. and built a campfire because I was wide awake, freezing cold, and happy to have some company in my misery.

From left to right: Amber Carini, Hannah Bell, Jessica Zaweski, and Emily Baugus enjoy some time around the campfire at the end of day one. (Baylee Annis Photo)

From left to right: Amber Carini, Hannah Bell, Jessica Zaweski, and Emily Baugus enjoy some time around the campfire at the end of day one. (Baylee Annis Photo)

As more and more people gathered around the fire, “everyone had their own little recollection of ‘wait a minute I didn’t sleep at all last night either, I would sleep for 30 minutes, then I would wake up, then I would move around and I was freezing and I thought everyone else was asleep’,” Baugus said.

We all laughed, realizing that everyone was awake the whole night yet nobody said anything. Baugus’ favorite comment from the whole trip was Rose Bernheim in that moment saying, “I like how everyone just suffered in silence.”

“Nobody woke anybody else up to complain about it, everybody just thought, ‘this sucks for me, but my team is okay so we can do this’,” said Baugus.

After little-to-no sleep, day two brought even more misery alongside copious amounts of laughter. Keeping my original hiking group intact with a few new additions, we began to tackle the challenges of our 13-mile day.

“It was really disappointing how many rocks there were and it definitely made the trip a lot harder than we ever thought it would be,” said Carini.

You couldn’t enjoy the beautiful Pennsylvania scenery because if you looked up you would probably trip over a rock under your feet, so we trudged on at a pace hindered by uneven footing.

As the rear group, we approached the last few miles of the day’s hike just as the sun was going down. Luckily, Baugus and Carini put on some headlamps and came to find us so we could make it to the shelter safely.

Having learned from our cold mistakes the night before “we fit 27 of our rugby team members into a lean-to that was supposed to fit six to eight people,” Mundell said. “We got really close that night.”

“It was quite uncomfortable, but we were warm,” Carini said. “It was better than the night before which was horrible.”

Our goal for day three had been to reach the next shelter, 17 miles away. With shelters in the plan, nobody brought the proper equipment to sleep outside in the cold open air.

“Clearly it’s not ideal that we are going to hike 17 miles in that amount of daylight,” Carini explained. “We saw the effects of when we tried one thing and then we decided to make changes and adjustments, it was a logical choice to cut the trip short.”

Our captains decided we would hike back four miles to the nearest road and trim our trip a day short, rounding it out at about 25 miles total.

“It was awesome to see that we had people taking care of us that weren’t careless or just thinking about themselves or their plans,” Carini said.

“Our goal was not to go hike 50 miles. Our goal was to go do something as a team, so when we cut it short it wasn’t the end of the world,” said Baugus. “It’s not like we were failures; we accomplished what we came to accomplish and it’s just not safe for the girls to try and finish 17 miles at night.”

As we reached the road on day three, knowing that civilization was just around the corner, we had an immense amount of appreciation for the decision our captains made and for the parents that came to pick us up.

“The Amodeo’s are angels sent from heaven. We called them at night when the captains decided to cut the trip short and they had no problem coming a day early and picking up the drivers,” Zaweski said.

We stopped at a Chinese buffet and had a feast of all feasts, on our way to their house in New Jersey.

“They had shampoo waiting for us when we got there. They let us all shower and in the morning we woke up to a feast of a breakfast,” Zaweski said. “Their hospitality was absolutely amazing.”

A warm night’s sleep, two feasts, and three Disney movies later, we were ready to make the six-hour drive back to campus.

“Whenever we travel as a rugby team, we always do something called the Chinese Fire Drill,” said Zaweski. “It’s when you approach a red light, you put your cars in park and everyone gets out of the car and runs around all of the cars in our caravan and gets back in the car before the light turns green.”

After safely returning to campus with numerous Chinese Fire drills complete, we gathered at The Rustic for one final family feast to round out our trip full of fantastic memories.

“I’ve done some cool things that I will never forget, but I don’t get to say I did them with my rugby team,” said Baugus. “I went and hiked the Appalachian Trail with 30 other girls. Not too many people get to say that and we will never forget that experience that we shared with each other.”

As we approach our first level of national competition in April, we have a solid appreciation for how the Appalachian Trail made us a better rugby team.

“I think it will better our chances because when we were out there we worked well together as a team and as a family,” Zaweski said. “We just looked out for each other and that made us closer and gave us a better bond, which I think will help us out better on the field because now we are looking out for each other more.”

Now that we’ve returned safely to campus, it’s back to daily practices with rugby balls in hand. We are busy focusing on the Sweet 16 Rugby Nationals soon to come on April 13th.

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