The Alaskan Tundra Jumpstarts New Adventures

Posted by: Jen Pontrelli on 9/12/17 7:59 AM

Editor’s note: Alum Dave’s NOLS course jumpstarted a new life of activity and adventure—at age 49. Read what led to his transformation and get some ideas for bringing more action to your life. Adapted from the summer 2017 issue of The Leader.

Dave and Nancy Dulong on a Yukon NOLS alumni trip

Dave and Nancy on a NOLS alumni trip. Photo courtesy of Dave Dulong.

“Our first day on that tundra I took a few steps and thought: I cannot do this for two weeks.”

When Dave Dulong took his first steps on the Alaskan tundra for his Brooks Range Backpacking course in 2005, he wasn’t quite aware of the impact those steps would have on his life. In fact, his uneasy footing didn’t inspire any positive thoughts at all.

“Our first day on that tundra I took a few steps and thought: I cannot do this for two weeks.”

At age 49, Dave was on his first NOLS course and in the midst of an important shift in his life. As a hard-charging software distributor, he had formerly been a heavy smoker and led a minimally active lifestyle. When he started dating his partner Nancy, a NOLS alumna and avid hiker, Dave began to take an interest in the outdoors and eventually signed up for the 14-day Brooks Range course with her.

“It was life changing,” Dave said. “I was always the last guy up the hill. But I’d finally get there, huffing and puffing, and it was a huge awakening.”

After pushing his body to the limit for 14 days, Dave knew it was time for change. Upon returning to his New Hampshire home he connected with Team in Training, a leukemia and lymphoma fundraising and race training organization he learned about from his coursemates, and set his sights on running his first marathon just after his 50th birthday.

Now in his early 60s, Dave is in the best physical shape of his life. He has run 15 marathons, including the prestigious Boston Marathon, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Dave Dulong runs qualifying time for Boston marathon

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon, Photo courtesy of Dave Dulong.

Having learned in the Brooks Range that they are compatible in the frontcountry and backcountry, Dave and Nancy eventually married. Ever partners in life and adventure, they continue to explore mountains all over the world on NOLS alumni trips.

In May 2016, they trekked up to Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. The notoriously precarious route was a new mental and physical challenge for Dave, who has a fear of heights. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Dave continued to face down this fear in summer 2017 when he attempted to summit Gannett Peak, Wyoming’s highest mountain, on his ninth NOLS Alumni expedition.

“Look, you make decisions at the time with the information that you have. I have no regrets, but I sure am glad I’m at where I’m at.”

In true NOLS style, as he reflects on his late-in-life evolution into a mountain-climbing super athlete, Dave has no misgivings about his former lifestyle, but appreciates all that he has learned along the way.

“Look, you make decisions at the time with the information that you have. I have no regrets, but I sure am glad I’m at where I’m at.”

See Dave's course in Alaska, Brooks Range Backpacking - Prime.

Jen Pontrelli is the sales manager for NOLS Custom Education.