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Camaraderie and ‘I Don’t Believe We Did This’ Moments Still Accumulate

Not So Much has Changed for the Class of '83

Chuck, Taizoon, Mark, and Wayne Collette.

"We road a Sno-cat to the summit of Snaefellsnes, the glacier-covered mountain made famous by Jules Verne as the starting point for his 'Journey to the Center of the Earth.' We saw no such entrance, but there a was a "bar"--a metal cooler with beers for about $10 each--worth every penny!"

Not So Much has Changed for the Class of '83

Perry Rotella '85 and Mark, atop Hrútfjallstindar, a glacier-covered mountain.

"As you can see, we were provided with helmets, crampons, ropes, and ice axes.  It was Flag Day, June 14, so we carried a US flag with us for the photo op at the summit."

Not So Much has Changed for the Class of '83

Wayne Collette, Chuck, Taizoon, and Mark astride Iceland horses on the western shore of Eyjafjorder, north of Akureyri, Iceland's 2nd largest city.

Not So Much has Changed for the Class of '83

Mark, Chuck, and Taizoon standing in front of Svartifoss (Black Falls), in Skaftafell National Forest. 

Not So Much has Changed for the Class of '83

Sunset looking due north on June 20, taken from Tungudalur Campground in Isafjorder, a town in the Westfjords, the most isolated part of Iceland.

 

The class of 1983 has a long and storied tradition of getting together every year. “If it ever gets to be a conversation sitting on the deck talking about our medical conditions, then we’re done,” joked Mark Coogan, host of 37 annual Phi Phi reunions at his summer cabin in Becket, Mass. Luckily, that hasn’t happened so far. Along the way, there have been many more exotic adventures; recent years have seen backpacking trips in Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. The impetus for their latest expedition was a decision by Mark and friend Wayne Collette (not a Phi Phi brother) to travel by car all the way around Iceland, about 1,200 miles.

“I mentioned it to my Phi Phi brothers and, just like I planned it, a few of them signed up,” Mark explained. Joining Mark and Wayne were Taizoon Doctor and Chuck Reback, both ’83, as well as Perry Rotella ’85 (close enough).

“We spent two weeks in Iceland, starting and ending in the capital, Reykjavik,” he continued. “We traveled in a large SUV with our camping gear and camped out in tents half the time, while other nights we stayed in hostels and guest houses.”

“Iceland is a spectacular country, and very different from any place we know back home in the states,” he said. “In fact, Iceland itself changed dramatically as we drove, from desolate volcanic lava fields spewing hot poisonous gases to glacier-capped mountains, to fields of grass perfect for grazing sheep and horses. Also waterfalls—we must have seen at least a dozen, including Dettifoss, the largest by volume in Europe.”

Mark said the group had several adventures during their time there, describing how he and Perry climbed a glacier as part of a guided team one day.

“Knowing we would be climbing on Flag Day, June 14th, we brought a small US flag with us for a photo op at the summit,” he said. “Our Icelandic guides joked that the mountain was already part of Iceland.”

“We also went snorkeling in icy cold water at Thingvellir, where the first Icelandic parliament met over 1,000 years ago,” Mark continued. “The North American and European continental plates are separating right there. In the fissure between them, the water is almost perfectly clear and 38°F. You can see a hundred feet or more down into the underwater canyons. That was the first time any of us had donned dry suits in order to go snorkeling in water that would freeze us to death in a few minutes, so it was a fun thing to do on a sunny 70° day.”

“Another adventure, but this time without any effort or risk, was a drive to the top of Snaefellsnes glacier riding on a Sno-cat. In every direction, the views were stupendous. Then we noticed the metal cooler labeled, 'BAR', set in the snow at the summit. We felt like we were on top of the world, drinking beer and Brennivin, the Icelandic national liquor (grain alcohol flavored with caraway).”

Next up is this year's gathering at the cabin in Becket, scheduled for mid-August this year.

“Our Freshman year ended in the spring of 1980, and I invited a few of my classmates (we had not all joined Phi Phi yet) up for a weekend at my parent’s summer cabin in Western Massachusetts,” Mark explained. “Starting with that first gathering in 1980, we’ve gotten together every year since then at the cabin.”

Though time has passed, not much has changed. “We’ve done some really stupid things—like chopping down an 80 foot birch tree with an axe at 2 a.m.  You might think I’m recalling the ‘good old days’, except that happened only last year,” Mark said, laughing.

“Of course, we’re older and more pain is required for gain,” he continued. “And we’re probably a little more careful about personal safety, but as far as camaraderie and the ‘Hah, I don’t believe we did this!’ stories, none of that has changed.”