The Alaskan Tundra Jumpstarts New Adventures

By Jen Pontrelli

Sep 12, 2017

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

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.

“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 - Adult.

Written By

Jen Pontrelli

Jen Pontrelli is the sales manager for NOLS Custom Education.

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NOLS Grad Nominated for 2015 Adventurer of the Year Award

“Now what do you think each one of those people who voted for you needs to learn?" “And what do you think you need to learn?"

These are two questions Kit DesLauriers was asked by her NOLS instructor when selected by her coursemates to lead a small group through a three-day backpacking journey in Alaska. Over 20 years later DesLauriers says, “Of course both of those questions were largely rhetorical but they remain relevant to this day.”

DesLauriers, a NOLS Semester in Alaska ’91 graduate, who currently resides in Jackson, Wyoming, is one of the most well-known ski mountaineers around the world and a nominee for the 2015 Adventures of the Year Award. This award is presented by National Geographic and selected by readers. It recognizes people who have helped make our year in adventure that much better. Through exploration, adventure sports, conservation, and humanitarianism DesLauriers has shown her dedication to her passion in life.

You can vote for DesLauriers every day until Jan. 31.


Andy Bardon photo

From early childhood, DesLauriers remembers having had a passion for the outdoors, whether it was hiking in the desert or canoeing down a river with her family. By the age of 19, DesLauriers was ready to take her adventure abroad and traveled to France to study at the University of Marseilles. Once October break came about, she took advantage of her location and traveled to Switzerland to backpack through the Alps.

“I realized that with some formal training to supplement my desire to see the world, I, too, could go to these far off places,” she said she realized while reading through some books at a local’s cabin. Little did she know, NOLS was going to give her this opportunity.

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