For the past week, high school and gap year students have been immersed in two separate, but equally incredible adventures. Gap year students bike-packed northwest from Kroka all the way to Danby, Vermont, while the high schoolers paddled the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers. All students returned to Basecamp on Friday, full of stories to share with the greater Kroka community.
GAP YEAR BLOG
Gap Year students set off from Kroka on Friday the 11th, bikes packed and spirits high. Ahead of us lay approximately 140 kilometers of winding singletrack, rail trails, river crossings, and steep mountain roads. We quickly learned that pounding up hills was much more difficult when loaded with extra weight; but together, we were able to push each other up each climb, anticipating the moment when we could fly downhill.
Our first two days of expedition carried us west, along rough snowmobile trails and over the many forested hills surrounding Marlow. We learned that there are over 100,000 miles of stone walls scattered throughout New England, remnants of the time when sheep pastures dominated the landscape. Passing them felt as if we were biking through time. Our first night was spent at a Boy Scout camp, our second in the floodplains of the Connecticut river. Day three involved a circuitous route through cornfields, stinging nettle, and private property. We zig-zagged along the river, bushwhacking and collecting battle wounds from the saw grass that lined the bank. Finally, we were able to find our crossing point, where Lynne was waiting for us with a canoe and a much-appreciated resupply. We swam across the river, and canoe-ferried our bikes from New Hampshire to Vermont. The remainder of the day was spent winding up beautiful (but steep!) country roads lined with tunnels of sugar maples, old farmhouses, and fields of late-summer wildflowers.
As we passed through a variety of terrain, we learned the dendrology and geology of the changing landscape. Laura taught us how to identify various trees, as well as the structure, function, and composition of forest communities. Certain trees began to mark our journey; the sweeping cottonwoods and silver maples dominated the floodplains, while old growth sugar maples and red oaks populated the Pinnacle in Vermont. Jackie taught us how to recognize metamorphic, sedimentary, and igneous rocks by observation and knowledge of Vermont and New Hampshire’s geologic history.
Our fourth day of expedition brought a heavy blow; one of our group members, Will, fractured his collarbone. On the way down, from the Pinnacle in Putney, VT, Will hit a rain culvert while navigating a technical section of the trail. Despite the pain he must’ve been in, he didn’t complain and stayed positive through it all. He was brought to the hospital by a Kroka staff member, and has now returned home to heal. The group dynamic isn’t the same without Will’s upbeat attitude, crazy stories and contagious energy. He’s quickly become a friend to all. We miss him, and hope he recovers quickly.
One member short, we continued our journey northwest. Camping at Old Kroka in Newfane, we were grateful for the kindness of Johanna and the other residents of the farm. They supplied us not only with a place to camp, but with fresh veggies from the garden and music under the stars. We also met Solomon the sheep, and a cuddly black cat named Wednesday.
After the following day’s ride, we were treated to a climbing session with Rachel in East Jamaica, VT. We camped on the banks of the West River, using river rocks to build our stove.
At this point in the week, setting up camp was routine, a way of making a home wherever we happened to be. Each of us played an important role to ensure our community could thrive while on the road. These “Big Jobs” will carry through for the rest of the semester.
Emmett N is our energy manager, responsible for starting and tending every fire.
Lael and Kiely are food managers, for expedition and base camp respectively. They plan and pack every delicious meal. Some favorites have been cheesy grits, chocolate chip pancakes, and rababu.
Aislyn and Sam are our gear managers. They pack, keep track of, and take care of our many pieces of gear and equipment.
Luke is our navigator, who played an important role in guiding the group along our winding and sometimes unmarked route through New Hampshire and Vermont, using only a map and compass.
Emmett M-F is the kitchen manager, responsible for setting up and overseeing the kitchen area.
Harry is the logistics manager, who coordinates where we stay, handles group money, and keeps us organized and on time.
Sadie is the water manager, scribe, and repairs manager. She collects water for the group during expedition, repairs broken gear, and writes this blog.
As we approached the Green Mountains, each day of biking was filled with challenging terrain, icy swims, and reflections around the fire. We celebrated Jackie’s 30th birthday on September 17th, waking her up with a card, brownies, and a lovely bouquet picked by Laura. Her biggest birthday present was our longest day of biking—over 30 kilometers, mostly uphill! One particular hill led us to the top of the Green Mountains, and involved steadily climbing for nearly an hour straight.
“Today was insane, and I was not expecting anything like it…there was this one uphill that kept going and going. I could not even believe how far this hill went. I pushed myself and got further up the hill than I thought possible…I have definitely come out of bike-packing a stronger person.”
Our final campsite was near Mt. Tabor, high in the Green Mountains. We drank water from a spring-fed brook, and shared couscous with veggies and flatbread fried over the open fire. The following morning we were rewarded with a long, sweeping downhill to our final destination—Danby, VT, a historical mining town tucked in the mountains. Lillian met us there for an adventure into Morris Cave. We wriggled through tunnels of marble, through pinches so small that our shoulders barely fit. The tunnel eventually opened into a wide cavern, and we found a narrow, ethereally blue lake that seemed to fade into nothingness in the shallow light of our headlamps. Kiely and Luke braved the cold (and possible bat poop) to go for an underground swim!
It was a sleepy van ride back to Marlow, where we reunited with the greater Kroka community for burrito night and a skit performance. Over the course of eight days, we learned so much about ourselves and the land around us. We emerged as stronger people, a community bonded by shared adversity and incredible memories.
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HIGH SCHOOL BLOG
The High School group’s expedition began with a day of paddling on the wide Connecticut River, the border between New Hampshire and Vermont. The first night, we camped at Burnap’s Island. We spent a layover day there and advanced our paddling skills. We woke to layers of steam wafting over the calm water and made good breakfasts over open fires; there’s no way we would rather spend our mornings. On the water, we learned how to self-rescue our canoes, and developed the skills required to navigate class II and III rapids.
In our Humans and Nature classes with Misha, we dove deep into hydrological cycle and human impacts on and relationships with water. Our studies included dams and how they change ecosystems, fertilizers and their detrimental effect on topsoil, and sewage treatment plants and their impacts on waterways. We grasped a new understanding of our small and large-scale environmental impacts, all while seeing and experiencing them every day.
As our recently formed community adjusted into a new environment, we continued to learn how to live with the land. We each were given important responsibilities, our Big Jobs, on which the entire group depends on for a successful life together.
Ben is our energy manager, responsible for all things fire related and assuring that our headlamps are charged.
Sonai and Teo are our food managers. They are responsible for planning and packing all of our meals.
Isabelle and Elena are our gear managers. They pack and coordinate all the essential gear our group needs for expeditions and day trips.
Anna is our navigator. She is responsible for keeping us on track with just a map and compass.
Elias is our kitchen manager. He is responsible for assembling and disassembling our kitchen, and helped build the spunhungen.
Cate is our logistics manager. She is our group coordinator, finding and organizing campsites, handling money, and keeping us in line.
Finn is our medic. He not only takes good care of us when we get hurt, but manages the joys and challenges of pooping in the backcountry.
Jackson is our scribe/van manager. He is responsible for writing the blog, keeping track of academic gear, and keeping the van and trailer safe and clean.
As we paddled downstream, we noticed more and more changes in the environment around us. The tips of the trees were beginning to blaze with color, and the air was starting to taste more crisp. Autumn fell over us more and more each day. Four days in we were met with a solo challenge. Our instructors, Ruby and Misha, departed from the group early in the morning; we were left to wake up on time, cook breakfast, pack out camp, and paddle to the takeout by 9:00am. Our training paid off as our group worked together to get to get on the river right on time. We were rewarded with a beautiful morning to paddle, traveling through an abyss of fog. Visible only were treetops and the silhouettes of the packed canoes in front of us, all lit up by the golden sun as it peaked over the horizon.
Ode to the Connecticut River
Ode to the Connecticut River
She percolates but does not quiver
We have seen silver maple, white ash and basswood
And paddled more than we thought we ever would
We munched and snacked on corn
And oh! Our bowels are so forlorn
On a river with such a painful history
We have created a unique and powerful synergy
The following few days were spent at a camp by Dunbar Creek in western Massachusetts. Bathing in the crystal clear water and exploring the thick New England woods, our connection to the forest grew stronger and we felt like a part of the wilderness.
We took day trips: paddling sections of the Deerfield River and catching eddies, running and ferrying across rapids, swimming in the whitewater. This all built up to our biggest paddling challenge yet, Zoar Gap. The rapid’s cascading waters roared as we scouted from above. When the the time came to run it, we were ready. Running down, Zoar Gap’s powerful water thrashed our canoes over its holes and through its waves. With our prior knowledge, we were able to truly communicate with the water. The understanding of how to read and react to whitewater gave us the foundation of an incredible relationship with rivers.
Day by day, we pushed ourselves out of our comfort zones. We jumped off bridges, paddled, surfed, and swam rapids, and lived without the comforts of bathrooms and a roof over our heads. We had the opportunity to grow into more confident and competent versions of ourselves, and pushed ourselves in an expeditionary lifestyle. After seven nights in the wilderness, we returned to the Kroka Basecamp with fresh perspectives. We are exchanging adventure stories with the gap year students and grounding ourselves once again with life on the farm.