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Hello from Waitsfield, Vermont, where our expedition story continues! As we arrived at our first layover, at Farm and Wilderness, it became clear to us just how much of an impact sixteen days of expedition can have on us. We went crazy over fresh fruits and vegetables, and celebrated our new and improved sleeping arrangements: a wooden loft floor versus chilly, bough-covered snow. When we first stared at ourselves in the mirror, it was difficult to recognize the people looking back at us. Was it that we had grown and changed, or was it simply the fact that we were coated in a layer of grime? In any case, we greatly appreciated the luxury of taking a shower, and felt the clean water wash away what we no longer needed to carry with us. Much of our stay was spent doing academics. 

We finished up the essays we’d written on the topic of A Stranger in the Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher, and presented them to the rest of our group. We had a leg one exam, created maps of Vermont, and collected the letters we had written as well as enjoyed reading the ones we’d received. Our time there sped quickly by as we busied ourselves in our work, and soon it was time to bid farewell to Misha and Anna, and say hello to Jackie who would be joining us as one of our wonderful instructors on leg two.

Sylvan, Evan, Henry and Jackie reach the top of our 5-kilometer uphill from Farm and Wilderness

And thus began the second part of our journey! Backpacks were packed, skis were clipped back on, and soon we were gliding along the trail – as if we had never left at all.

Lissa flying along on trail!

Our days are long and we continue to cover great distances (127.5 kilometers in total!), sometimes gliding along wide, smooth snowmobile trails, other times navigating the dips and turns of single track ski trails. There are many enormous uphills we must conquer that seem to mock us with their steep and icy faces that glare down upon us. Often, we go huffing and puffing up and up and up, for hours on and and little to no breaks until we’ve reached the top. Our resilience and determination are greatly tested and at times it seems as if there will be no end to our struggle. But no matter the size or challenge of the hill, at one point or another we find ourselves at the top, and can thank our legs and our wills for not giving way, for holding fast when we need them the most.

James keeps control on the packed snowmobile trail

Evan navigates across Chittenden Reservoir

In the end though, we finally reach camp. We have been working on setting up camp in a more speedy time, which can be difficult when we are exhausted and somewhat loopy at the end of the day. One time, we were tasked with setting up camp without any instructors, organizing ourselves and figuring things out on our own. We began as usual, spreading out across the beaver meadow  in which we were to make camp, busying ourselves in various tasks. Not long after we’d begun, as we congregated in the woodyard to saw and split some of us broke into song. We sang tunes ranging from Jack Johnson to Jason Mraz, and the more we sang the more our energy grew and our spirits lifted. We laughed and joked, chatted and sawed away, and goofed around a bit, connecting with one another through our conversations. As it turned out, this was not the most efficient camp setup on record, but the memories will last us a lifetime, and we will forever look back upon them with fondness. We promise to be more on-task next time! 

Will, in his element, preparing camp

Big Jobs are taken quite seriously.

One thing that cannot go unspoken is that our group has been missing the presence of two of its members, Katie and Aria, who are no longer continuing with us. It has been sad to say goodbye and to see them go, and at times the tent feels a bit empty without them. We miss Katie’s endless enthusiasm, and Aria’s kind and grounding spirit. However, I know that I and the rest of the group look back on their time with us with gladness and smiles at the countless joyful moments we’ve shared with them, and we speak warmly of them often. So from the bottom of our hearts: Thank you, Katie and Aria, for everything you have brought us – we would not be where we are without you.

One of the highlights of this leg has been our fire solos. Each of us set out into the woods equipped with a ball of dough and some chocolate chips for bannocks (a food we frequently enjoy), a container of matches, some birch bark, and a foam pad to sit upon. Each alone in our own little nook within the trees, we made a raft out of rotten wood, and lit a fire using birch bark, twigs, and sticks. Sitting in solitude by the merry crackle of this blaze, we cooked the chocolate and dough in our own way: perhaps in batches on a stick with the chips blended into the dough, or maybe flattened with the chips stuck inside to melt at the end. We took our time, processing our thoughts, munching on our bannocks, and soaking in this precious moment we had been given. After about two hours (according to our calculations of the sun’s place in the sky) we put out our fires, buried the coals and ashes in the snow, and headed back to camp, our minds and spirits refreshed and invigorated by this experience. 

Sylvan, invigorated by a precipitous downhill

As the days go on and we continue our routine of travel, we are beginning to notice signs that spring is waiting just around the corner. We see buds on trees hear the spring call of the chickadee, and have to ski around bare patches of earth. We had a few days of sunshine that caused mixed feelings among us, because while the warmth makes skiing more and more difficult, it is also an exciting thing to welcome the new season with open arms. Along with this change has come a shift in our instructors. We bid a fond and final farewell to Jackie who has been with us in person or in spirit ever since base camp, and said a happy hello to Dave, who will be continuing with us through our third leg.

Rose treks along the Monroe Skyline ridge, from Mt Abe to Mt Ellen

One of the things we have been thinking about recently is living fully into the present moment, whether it be while we ski, read (the book we studied this leg is The Bear by Andrew Krivak), or even as we plunge into the refreshingly frigid water of a reservoir. On expedition, it is quite easy to fall into a pattern of wishing for and thinking of things that are unavailable to us (friends and family, specific foods, etc.). However, as the days slip by we are beginning to realize this adventure does have an end to it, even if it does feel far off. So we try our best to cherish each moment we encounter, leaning into the things we do have and being grateful for them. There are ever so many things to be grateful for on trail.

Theo works on his essay for The Bear

“Oh, Titanium Stove,

Although your weight I often loathe

Whenever I tip and fall down,

I know without you I’d surely frown.

For in those cold and windy nights

I’d long for your embers burning bright,

the hot food we cook upon your back,

 And the heat that thaws our anoraks.

Even if my friends don’t show envy

I’m proud to manage energy.”

 – Sylvan

 

“Oh, Great Tree,

I know you grow

so that the crow

could build its nest;

and there it could rest.

Your wisdom withstands the test

of time.

Enduring every crime

we commit

your branches still emit

pure oxygen, 

so we can laugh 

and cry. 

But still we pry

at the edges of the forest,

cutting down your home,

leaving you alone;

still regal

on your throne.
Ever present

ever watching 

ever waiting.”

– Evan

One significant moment that filled us with awe and gratitude for this journey we are on happened to be on the last day of Leg Two, when we ascended the peak of Mt. Abraham. After hours of trudging up the Long Trail on foot with our skis strapped into our packs and snagging the low-hanging branches of trees overhead, we finally reached the top, an elevation of 4,006 feet. Words simply cannot fully describe the epic beauty that sprawled in front of our eyes as we stood on what felt like the top of the world, with a view of the White Mountains, the Adirondacks, and Lake Champlain. It was a wonder to look upon the land we had traveled, and the land we have yet to explore. As this leg draws to a close, we find ourselves leaning ever more into this adventure we are privileged enough to experience, and are continuously discovering the limitless wealth of gifts this lifestyle has to offer. We are ever so lucky to be here.

From the summit of Mount Abe, with the kilometers we’ve traveled stretching off into the background!

At the crest of Lincoln Gap, spirits high

“I went out to find mind;

a lost deep knowingness,

one not found among humankind.

One found in the trees more or less;

in the dirt, sky, and rain,

on a quiet pond

or in a puddle on a lane.

It’s more of a bond

one found in time,

most are quick to lose interest

so they only find a mime.

So patience I invest

until one day

I’ll find what’s at bay.”

– Teo

Lael drops a knee as we dropped off the mountain to Waitsfield

Teo speeds past – on to Craftsbury we go!