What I Did This Summer: Jacon Mayer, PERA

A faculty member climbs on a mountain and holds a Wellesley flag.
Photo provided by Denali Climbing Team, "Thighs Don’t Lie"
September 12, 2019

After the last spring semester exam has been graded and most students have left campus for summer internships, jobs, and travel opportunities, what do Wellesley staff and faculty do? Today we conclude our five-part series that looks at staff and faculty members’ summer breaks as they explore, create, collaborate, conduct research, and travel.

Here, Jacon Mayer, recreation coordinator, PE faculty (climbing), and climbing wall manager, takes us up the highest mountain in North America and to the Aegean Sea.

Q: What were the highlights of your summer?

Jacon Mayer: I went climbing in the Alaska Range for three weeks, to attempt a route on Denali called the Cassin Ridge. I’ve been trying to climb it for eight years, and this was my fifth trip. We got up, but not in the fine style I had imagined we might. The conditions on the ridge were rough: With several feet of fresh snow, breaking trail was brutal. We ran out of food at about 18,000 feet, and I lost about 10 pounds.

After that it was a quick turnaround: I had rented a sailboat in Greece with seven friends. A vacation from my vacation! Like Odysseus, we sailed around the Cyclades, during what turned out to be one of the windiest weeks of the summer. Fortunately, my crew didn’t know enough about sailing to be properly petrified. For the sailors out there, we rented a Pogo 12.5 m, sailed 286 nautical miles in seven days, and hit 17.5 knots! Afterward, one friend and I spent a couple of weeks making our way overland/sea from Athens to Madrid.

Q: What does a typical day look like for you during the summer?

Mayer: There is no typical! That’s what I love about summer, and the academic schedule in general. Last summer, I climbed rock in Rocky Mountain National Park; Squamish and the Bugaboos in B.C., Canada; Index, near Seattle; and the Wind River Range in Wyoming. This year it was alpinism and sailing. Next year is wide open.

Q: What is one thing you want students to know about your work?

Mayer: Do I have to pick just one thing? There are so many things I would like students to know about climbing and the great outdoors. That the perspective you gain changes how you see the world, and a new calculus of what’s important emerges. That you form incredibly deep bonds with your partners and the people you meet in the mountains. That Type II fun (which is not fun now, fun later) far surpasses hedonistic, Type I fun—both in joy and ultimate fulfillment.

Q: What’s the most interesting aspect of your summer that you plan to take with you into the next academic year?

Mayer: I think it’s good for me to be reminded how my students feel when they make their first timid moves up the climbing wall, or how intimidated they can be by a hike in the White Mountains. Doing the same things, I don’t experience the fear, the trepidation, or the flush of success that they feel—but I did feel those things on the Cassin Ridge, and I think it’s enormously valuable to remember just how emotional and intense those feelings can be. Pushing my own limits allows me to sympathize with my students, and hopefully I can pay it forward and help them feel the same sense of pride and accomplishment.