The final week at Kroka before heading to the Southwest was fast paced and full of preparations for the journey we’d all been anticipating for months. Within our Big Jobs we chipped away at what seemed to be an insurmountable to-do list (it hung in the Community Room about 7 feet long). Weeks’ worth of food was planned and packed, gear was repaired, tested, and organized, and the Navigators spread dozens of maps across the floor as they planned our route. There was a collective feeling of stressed excitement, and many late nights tying up loose ends (and canoes). On October 30th we woke up to find that a couple inches of fresh snow had dusted the Kroka campus. After a special pancake breakfast at the Farmhouse, we finally pulled out onto Route 123 with two vans and two trailers – one loaded with bikes and the other with canoes. We were off!
Day 1: Kroka Basecamp to Blue Heron Farm, NY – 350 miles
Our first two nights were spent at Blue Heron Farm, an organic farm in Lodi, NY. We slept in the hay barn, sinking into natural cushions while the wind howled outside. Halloween was spent doing service work, chopping wood and readying garden beds for winter. Eric and Birgit, the farm owners, brought us pumpkins to carve in the evening under a full yellow moon. We spent one last night together before the two semester groups diverged.
GAP YEAR BLOG
Day 3: Blue Heron Farm, NY to Oronoco Campsite, VA – 609 miles
Gap year students led by Ruby and Tricia headed down to Virginia on November 1st, passing through the states of PA, MD, and WV as the landscape steadily changed. We camped in the Appalachian Mountains after hours of podcasts (we love The Moth!), games, and naps on each other’s shoulders.
Day 4: Oronoco Campground, VA to Birmingham, AL – 475 miles
After a morning swim in a mountain stream (followed by a solid hour of ice block hands), we packed up camp and took a beautiful detour onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, winding up and along mountain ridges, through ivy-covered tunnels, and past views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. We then took interstate 81 through TN and GA to Birmingham, AL where we were joined by Kroka staff, Lillian, and were hosted by her mom Jennifer at Beloved Church, a progressive organization that makes an effort to welcome people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, ages and walks of life.
Day 5: Birmingham, AL to Sherburne Wildlife Management area, LA
We began the following day with a social justice workshop led by Jennifer, learning the painful racial history of Birmingham, as well as the interconnectedness of social and environmental activism. Around lunchtime we were on our way again, continuing south through Mississippi and camping at Sherburne Wildlife Management area in Louisiana. Along the way we stopped at Old River Control Structure, the massive dam owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It regulates the Mississippi River, attempting to prevent it from diverting onto its natural course, which would flood major cities such as Baton Rouge and New Orleans. After learning about the structure reading The Control of Nature by John McPhee in our hydrology unit with Misha, seeing it in person truly connected us with what we had studied.
Day 6: Sherburne Wildlife Management area, LA to Del Rio, TX – 690 miles
Starting early, we continued to drive west through Louisiana, watching the landscape shift before our eyes. Green trees emerged from expansive marshland that stretched towards a hazy horizon, where we could see oil rigs spewing in the distance. Today brought a detour – we decided to stop by New Orleans and explore the eclectic city. We experienced vibrantly colored houses, unique architecture and street art everywhere. The Mississippi River was populated with enormous barges, a watery highway (swimming not advisable!). We met Tricia’s friend Adam for a tour of the French Quarter and treated ourselves to yummy beignets and coffee, covering ourselves with powdered sugar in the process!
With hundreds of miles still to go, we said goodbye to New Orleans and buckled up for our longest day yet, reaching our campsite in Del Rio, TX around 4am. Roosters were already crowing in the distance as we laid our sleeping pads on desert dirt. It was official: We’d made it to cactus country.
Day 7: Del Rio, TX to Contrabando Campground – about 200 miles
Most of our final hours on the road were spent watching a beautiful new landscape flash past – towering desert mountains, canyons and plateaus studded with an array of unfamiliar cacti and scrubby bushes. We visited rock art in Pecos, TX created by Indigenous people about 4000 years ago, that no archeologist has been able to fully interpret. We reached Contrabando Campground in Big Bend National Park, butts sore and spirits ready for our adventure on the river.
ROAD TRIP STATS:
- Miles traveled: 3,080
- States traveled through: 11
- Hours in the van: 62
- Podcasts listened to: ?!?!?
High School blog coming soon…!