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2021 Legends of the Rio Grande Semester Blog #4

Though we have been gone for only 12 days, those days may as well be months, years. Each moment is an infinite expansion of possibility on bikepacking expedition. I would love for you to see what I saw, hear what I heard and feel what I felt. For now, words…

Departing Kroka on September 29th for the 200km bikepacking expedition

Willow on the downhill single track

Early on the morning of September 29th, we woke, did morning chores and finished packing up the bikes. We rode on trails and roads and over wicked steep hills with Liz, Tricia and Misha. We sailed down meadows of tall grass and woven through with plumes of blooming violet asters that looked as chaotic and lovely breaking waves, lapping at our pedals. By 5 pm we arrived at our first campsite: Hillside Springs Farm. We met Frank and Kim, the farmers, along with their 3 huge draft horses, Clyde, Molly and Ben, and Cricket the cat. We spent the following day picking onions, weeding leeks, clearing brush off a fencing, and learning to drive and tend those great animals.

Frank teaching Zef how to drive Molly and Clyde

Diego navigating challenging terrain

On Friday, October 1st, we bid farewell to Frank and Kim and got on our way. We swam across the Connecticut River. The banks looked almost tropical, a tangle of twisted green. As Patrick and I swam through the cold, dark river, blue sky overhead, I imagined we were in the Amazon.

Jasmine swimming across the Connecticut River

We pedaled our way to Green Mountain Orchards, where we spent the afternoon sorting and munching on apple drops. As Ruby and Samuel came to greet us, Tricia, Misha and Liz hugged us farewell. That night, we gathered round the flickering fire, eating woodchuck and enjoying each other’s company.

 

Sorting apple drops at Green Mountain Orchards

The next morning we rose to do yoga atop the hill, around a great stone sculpture.

Aeron’s drawing of the stone sculpture at Green Mountain Orchards

Saturday, we tackled a very technical riding trail, traversing up Putney Mountain with concentrated, gasping breaths. I could actively feel my brain going numb, my body slowing down. We entered grove of ancient oaks, the sun deciding to peek through the trees to kiss the dark green with a golden hue. We ate lunch, stretched our legs, and breathed in clean mountain air, borrowing strength from the wind, the water and the earth, to continue our trek down to Trollhaugen Farm.

Finn cruising down some single track

On our way, we met Bob, a neighbor (otherwise known as the White Rover), who gave us directions through the forest. As dusk fell a figure emerged from the shadows, face streaked black and carrying a bow. His name was Josh. He invited us up to his dwelling to refill our water bottles. After meeting Bob and Josh, we sped through the night, stars ablaze, with newfound purpose against a parisian blue evening sky.

Patrick navigating challenging terrain

We spent that night and the following day at Trollhaugen Farm (Kroka’s former home) doing service projects with Johanna. On the 3rd of October, my 18th birthday, I wrote in my journal: “I’m under the tarp with my family. My Kroka family. Eating rabbit stew, chicken and potatoes, peach sauce and ice cream with whipped cream topping. I’m so glad I was born to be here tonight.”

Ave’s ode to a birthday dinner at Trollhaugen Farm

I looked up from my crossed-legged position on the muddy barn floor and saw the team moving around me: Patrick leaning over the maps, a little furrow in his brow; Sara fiddling with a bike chain; Zynn smiling his little crooked smile and Finn jumping about in the light rainfall; Willow and James discussing how many bars we will consume today. I sat admiring this new family, the people I love.

James and Aeron working on watersheds and navigation

We exchanged Ruby and Samuel once more for Misha and Tricia as we started our final leg of the expedition. We rode, biking through the rain and cold. We froze, but with the gradual uphills and single tracks, we got warm enough to shed our layers. We rode through mud and rain, over Townsend Dam to Bee Well Farmstand. We arrived at Jamaica State Park where we learned in the cold, damp forest just how hot the slow-growing mountain spruce burns. We dried our socks by the fire, settled in and continued to read Gateway to the Moon. With tales of dispelled Jewish families escaping the Inquisition and settling in the southwest,  and a boy dreaming of the stars, the darkness helds us.

Ave’s illustration from Gateway to the Moon, by Mary Morris

No single track awaited us the next day as we rode higher and higher, gaining elevation. The cool air welcomed us. We pedaled up rivers of golden foliage. The leaves sang as they fell in hues of fire. We worked, hungry and sweating, up to the headwaters of the West River to the ridge of the Green Mountains that separates the Connecticut and Hudson watersheds. The West River starts as just a spring running from deep within the earth. The water is sweet, calcium rich, fed and filtered by the sedimentary limestone atop the ridge, composed of ancient coral skeletons.

Cecily biking up the dam

We hobbled, troll-like, into the back of a devils-den, a cave in the rock.  The dark engulfed us, and as we peaked our heads from the mouth of the cave, we are all, in some small ways, reborn.

The rebirth of Zynn, Aeron and Ave

Misha tells us how when the limestone goes through the metamorphic process of extreme heat and pressure it becomes marble. He says in the eyes of time, all human existence would amount to a three millimeter layer of the smooth white stone. “And we think we’re all that,” he laughs traversing up the hill.

 

We wove through a construction zone and up and short trail to a meadow, where we left our bikes. We set up camp in the mossy spruce and fir forest. We all scooted across a log leaning over the stream to have class with Tricia and learn more about the trees. That night we slept under the stars at Ten Kilns Brook.

Willow’s illustration for her Book of Wisdom

Crossing Ten Kilns Brook

The next day, we rode down the sloping forests of the Green Mountains at “cosmic speeds”. I wore socks on my hands to cut the autumn chill. We glided down into a Vermont valley along Otter Creek and stopped at a gas station to pass around ice cream, before heading across the valley to climb the Taconic Mountain range. Stopping at a marble mine, we observed huge blocks of white stone, cut from the earth. They are waiting to be worth something. We pushed and rode our bikes up eroded trails, our tires bumping along. We visited fall cliff cave, which we did not enter and cote cave which we did. We sat in meditative silence, becoming part of the cave walls, the stalagmites rooted to the ceiling, the entrance carpeted in moss. We climbed up out of the cave, reclaimed by the light.

Sarah negotiating the trail

We spent that night at Someday Farm, and the next morning helped Scout and Josh, the farmers, weeded grapes and organized greenhouses. We tasted raspberries and sunshine as we all worked together. Scout cried, smiling, and hugged us and saying, “You give me hope, you Kroka kids.”

From there, we wove down winding roads and bathed in an emerald quarry. We rode up a mountain trail and back down, where we ate lunch: sandwiches with arugula, accompanied by clear water and stories. We slept under the stars once more, and they fell from the sky to land as dust over or slumbering forms.

And now we are home, ready for our next adventure.

Your scribe,

Avelea

Zef’s map of the expedition route and watersheds