After weeks of preparation, planning, dreaming, and hoping for snow, we are finally ready to begin our big adventure! Backpacks are packed, skis are waxed, spirits are high, and students are filled with excitement as we set out on trail.
We began our expedition with a short three-and-a-half kilometer ski on the Catamount trail. There were quite a few falls, and many of us found ourselves floundering in the snow like upturned turtles as we struggled to learn the art of getting up with a heavy backpack strapped to our backs. Then again, some of us zipped along down the path as graceful as gazelles! Dusk was setting in as we finally reached our camp, it was soon dark as we our first lesson on how to create a cozy, functioning home in the midst of the wilderness. As we settled in for the evening, we were filled with the spirit of freedom and excitement for the days to come. What a surprise it was when we awoke in the morning to wind and rain whipping at the tent walls – and ruining our precious snow! Thus began our first layover, where we stayed in one location to work on academics, bath ourselves with bandanas and hot water, and to do some stretching exercises with Anna, an amazing instructor who has joined us for this first leg of our journey.
But we can’t afford to wait for perfect conditions to travel, so the next day we set out on trail yet again despite the now ice-crusted snow! Many of us struggled with navigating the downhills and became a bit frustrated when we fell again and again, and grew exhausted from getting up with packs oh so many times. But overall it was a rewarding day, and while our muscles ached by the time we reached camp we were grateful to finally be on expedition.
What does a typical day on trail look like, you might ask? A typical day starts with being woken up by Misha and Jo singing us a song, and a frantic, bleary eyed scramble to clear the tent of sleeping bags and pads. On occasion, one of us needs a little extra motivation in getting up and will get dragged out into the cold – sleeping bag and all! Or better yet, we all have to run out in our underwear and roll around in the snow, which you may imagine is much more effective than any cup of coffee! After a quick wash, we head back inside where we share our journal entries and weather observations from the previous day, and discuss the book we have been reading: A Stranger in the Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher. Next comes breakfast, which we eat with wooden spoons we have carved for ourselves. Breakfast can be anything from rice pudding to “banana milk” (watery seven grain with dried fruit), or on a liveover, we might be lucky enough to have pancakes. After eating we “camel up” by drinking lots of hot water so we don’t have to stop and drink too many times on trail, and we pack up all our personal gear.
Then the tent comes down. This is a big ordeal, as it involves everything from the hot woodstove and chimney to the skis and poles that hold up the tent and fly, to rolling up the tent itself before the moisture on it freezes into a solid block of ice. Lastly, we deconstruct the fir and spruce bough floor by piling it at the base of trees to make wildlife habitats for small critters.
“Thank you fir tree
For the bows you give to me,
So beautiful, so old;
You keep me from getting cold.
Your roots they do run deep’
Your branches they do weep,
On them I will sleep;
So thank you, fir tree.”
- Sylvan and James
Then it is time to clip in our skis and set out on trail! Every day’s terran is different. Some days we glide quickly along wide, smooth snowmobile trails, with the drawback of scuttling to the side as the occasional snowmobile gang zooms by. Other times we tumble down what appear to be sheer cliffs (though to some they are fun terrane parks full of exciting jumps). And possibly our favorite: gliding along smooth, level paths under snow-powdered trees as fluffy white flakes drift down from above. We don’t stop to eat lunch: instead, we each carry a bag at our hip full of goodies such as dried fruit, beef jerky, and chocolate, which for temptation’s sake doesn’t come out of our pack until we are halfway through our day. This we eat on the go, and it gives us that extra boost of energy and motivation when we need it most.
Our days are long and strenuous, and it is always our goal to reach camp before dark. So no matter how exhausted we may be, there is always a push to reach the finish line so to speak – and what a wonderful thing it is to finally reach out destination!
“As we come through the trees
Onto the frost covered pond,
You can feel the icy winter breeze
As the trees bellow like a magic wand.
With snow falling through the afternoon light,
Food is cooking to the group’s delight.”
- Theo and Aria
But wait, there is still yet work to be done! Snow needs stamped to make a stable living platform, and trees need cut and hauled to a makeshift log yard to be sawed and split for firewood. Tree boughs are collected by hand (we always make it a point to thank each tree for its precious gift), and are laid out as a carpet. The woodstove gets assembled and lit, dinner is started, and water collected from underneath the snow and ice. Much preparation is made as we scuttle like ants, distributing gear and setting up camp.
After everything is set up, we settle into the warm tent for the evening, do some journaling and reading together out loud, and have a yummy supper. We always hold hands and sing before each meal, and make it a point to appreciate all the hard work that went into the food we eat. Later we drink spruce tea, hot cocoa, or chaga (a drink made from a specific mushroom) while reading some more. We rap up our day with evening sharing, dish washing, and the brushing of teeth. And possibly the most challenging part of the day: finding a spot to sleep amidst the explosion of sleeping bags and pads that takes up the entire tent! Sleeping sardine-style does have the advantage of keeping us toasty warm, though. Lastly, Misha or Jo will sing us a lovely lullaby as we drift off to sleep after a hard yet rewarding day of living in the wilderness.
So there you have it – a small peek into a typical day of our first leg of expedition here with the Kroka Winter Semester. Our days are growing longer in kilometers as we grow stronger and more efficient. Our first day, we started out from recreational highway 71 and skied 3.5 kilometers to our camp along the Catamount Trail. Two days later, we traveled from that camp to Summerset Reservoir – a 10.5 kilometer day. In comparison, we now often travel 14, 15, and even up to 17 kilometer days. From the start of our expedition to our Farm and Wilderness layover, we have journeyed a total of 124 kilometers by ski. How is that for a big accomplishment! We look forward to the many more lengths of distance to come.
As we look back on the first leg of our expedition, we are surprised at what we find ourselves capable of. The physical distance in itself is one thing, however we have also grown in many other ways, such as self-discipline and working together as a smoothly functioning team. It feels like we have already been on trail for a long time, and we are beginning to realize that this is more than just a weekend camping trip: this is our new life now. And what a life it is! We are filled with excitement and determination as we begin this next leg of our journey, and are ready for whatever new adventures and lessons it has in store!