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FALL 2022 LEGENDS OF THE SOUTHWEST BLOG #4

Day One
Marlow, NH to Westmoreland, NH
36KM
Today was the first day of our New England bike packing expedition. After a hurried morning of final packing and preparations, we took some photos and hit the road.  It was overcast but warm and we made good time to our lunch stop. Once we had finished our cream-cheese bagels, the biking really picked up. We traversed technical single track, flowy single track, double track and just about everything in between. Eventually we joined up with a proper trail network and had a blast flying through a rolling field, some of us even got some air!

First day smiles

We biked the last stretch of the day on a rail trail and then some road. It was quite late when we pulled in to Hillside Springs Farm. We guzzled water, exchanged high fives and hugs, and set up our sleeping gear in the hay barn that the farmers, Frank and Kim, had graciously offered. We were all exhausted and slept like logs! The day was very challenging and raised some questions in people’s heads about how hard this expedition would be. Despite those worries, the day was rewarding and satisfying.

Yaara finds yet another machine to ride, this time on the side of the trail

Day Two
Hillside Springs Farm, Westmoreland, NH
Layover Day
Tricia and Jackie let us sleep in (thanks!), and when we awoke we packed up our impromptu camp in the hay barn and moved all our gear up the hill to our actual camp. Setting up in the morning felt strange! After the work was finished, we went down to the farm and got a tour from Frank and Kim. We saw their mushroom logs where they were growing both Shitake and Oyster mushrooms, their extensive gardens, and their greenhouses. We moved into service projects after the tour. Some of us weeded around their large compost pile, some helped to put plastic on one of the greenhouses and the rest harvested the final few green beans as well as pulled dead plants from one of the gardens.

Hannah in the beans

There was a general feeling of lethargy; many of us were tired from the prior days’ exertions. Even still, it felt good to work. We regrouped and got a horse tilling demonstration. That’s right: horses! One of the amazing pieces of this farm is that they are entirely horse powered.

Prema driving the horses

They have four horses, and not only do they work in the gardens, they are also utilized in haying. This dedication to not burning fossil fuels despite the extra work and money required is admirable. We ate lunch and then made some delicious cider! The afternoon was devoted to academic work and making certain that all our bikes were in good working order.

Chloe changing a tire en route

Day Three
Westmoreland, NH to Putney, VT
10 KM
We awoke very early today, long before the sun touched the horizon. We packed, ate, bid adieu to Kim and Frank, and set off. The morning was cold, crisp, and misty. We flew by corn fields and grazing cows before reaching the Connecticut River. Not at a bridge, however. We crossed through a field and hiked with our bikes down to the water. Jaimini, Hannah, and Jackie swam across to where a canoe had been left for us. They paddled back over and started loading our bikes and backpacks into the boat.

Each time that the boat went across, a few people swam along with it. The water was cold, refreshing, and wonderful. Once at the other side, we sat and sunbathed for a while until everyone had crossed and then we moved up to a local bike shop. While some mechanical issues were being sorted out, we ate trail mix and then biked a little way further to the Putney Community Garden where we ate lunch and had a class on the parts of a bicycle.

Yaara and Prema crossing the Connecticut River

The last few kilometers to our campsite at Green Mountain Orchard were entirely uphill! When we reached the top, we were greeted with the rolling fields of apple trees and blueberries that make up the orchard. Our campsite was on the banks of a small pond, and we were given the challenge of setting up camp without the aid of instructors: no time limit, highest standards. We took quite some time but did a good job. It was highly enjoyable to work together as a team and organize ourselves. We had more academic time before bed.

Prema, Hannah, Yaara and Tricia making dinner

Day Four
Putney, VT
Layover Day
Today was fascinating. We did chores for an hour in the morning to make sure that our camp was all set in terms of organization, firewood and the like. Liz arrived around 9:00 am and we walked up through the orchards and blueberry patches to where we would be having class. As we crested the hill, we saw before us a large stone structure with a hole in the center sizable enough for four figures to sit comfortably. It was both a beautiful and unexpected sight! Class entailed more reading from Braiding Sweetgrass and then a walk to the organic and nonorganic sides of the orchard.

Hannah and Jaimini…

We noticed that the amount and variety of plants and insects was greater on the organic side. We were split into groups in the afternoon and were given the chance to ride with unloaded bikes on a local trail system. Riding without extra weight was truly a treat, and the trails were beautiful! In the evening Ezra arrived with a truck and we filled it with apples for the winter. We also said goodbye to Tricia and Angelina for a few days and welcomed Ezra into our expedition.

Liam and Anna harvesting Chicken of the Woods

Day Five
Green Mountain Orchard, VT to Trollhaugen Farm, VT
Normal morning routine today. Our biking started off with a steep climb up to the top of Windmill Ridge. The views from the climb were fantastic and really reminded me why I love New England so much! We travelled along the ridge for a few hours and eventually broke out of the trees to find yet another fantastic view of the mountains. We ate lunch and after a bit more ridge riding (loooooots of ridge biking today!), we reached the descent, and oh man what a descent it was! Two miles of fast, beautiful single track trail laced with switchbacks and the occasional jump.

Along the way Liam spotted a tree with more Chicken of the Woods mushroom than any of of had ever seen!                                        

Liam and Anna harvesting more Chicken of the Woods

We loaded up and continued on our way. Sadly, the trail could not go forever and eventually we met up with the road once more and followed it down into the center of Newfane, where we got some ice cream to fuel the final climb up to Trollhaugen Farm. As we pulled in, we found that, to all of our surprise, Zach was back from his doctor’s visit. We yelled a lot, laughed a lot, and hugged a lot! Once our reunion was over, camp set up began. We ate mac and cheese for dinner which was truly divine! (Note about Trollhaugen: Before Kroka bought its campus in Marlow, it was based at Trollhaugen. It was an interesting and somewhat confusing exercise to look around us and try to picture Kroka being there.)

Yaara, Naima, Hannah and hijinks on the trail

Day Six
Trollhaugen Farm, VT to Jamaica State Park, VT
The morning was very cold and our hands were freezing as we packed the tents. We had a tree class with Ezra after breakfast in which we discussed what the forests of North America would have looked like pre-colonization. We studied several different trees around our campsite. We biked for a few kilometers before coming to a slight dilemma: the trail was gone! We ended up bushwhacking our way down through the shrubs and trees, carrying our heavy, loaded bikes!

We finally hooked up with a proper gravel road and followed it over the Townshend Dam. We descended a set of stone steps and found ourselves in the floodplain by the river. After a while longer we passed Wardsboro Brook and our campsite from the canoeing expedition. We continued to follow the West River and arrived at Jamaica State Park at sundown. This led to us setting up camp in full darkness!

Aidan intent on biking up the dam

Day Seven
Jamaica State Park, VT
Layover Day
Once we had eaten breakfast and set up our camp in a better location, we hiked through the woods a short distance to the spot where we would be rock climbing. While Jackie and Ezra went to set up the ropes for the climb, we had time for journaling, academics and chatting. Those few hours to unwind and reflect on our journey so far was much appreciated. Once everyone reached the top, we had a class on the hydrologic cycle before hiking down to camp. In the evening we worked on our skit and went to bed feeling content and jovial.

Academics on expedition

Day Eight
Jamaica State Park, VT to Londonderry, VT
Today began with a little challenge from our instructors. They told us of a waterfall a few kilometers from camp and said that we could go and swim there with one caveat: we needed to break camp and ride to the location entirely by ourselves by an appointed time. Jackie and Ezra left us with that and we organized into groups to take down camp and pack our bikes. We worked quickly and efficiently and ended up being 30 minutes early to the trailhead of the falls! It was an amazing feeling to accomplish something difficult and new as a group with no outside instructions. The waterfall, (Hamilton Falls) was an incredible 104 foot cascade of clear, freezing water. We swam at the top of the falls and the water was so cold that you could not move or breathe when you got in.

Jaimini takes the plunge

Water that cold has a special effect on people. It wakes you up to the grandeur of life and makes you grateful for every single piece of it. It lends a new appreciation for warmth which we so often take for granted. It was an amazing experience all around. We hiked down to the bikes and after not more than 10 minutes of riding we encountered something rather unexpected: the trail switch backed up a dam!

The climb was unique and the view from the top of Ball Mountain dam were spectacular. Rolling hills blanketed in color, the river stretching away and towering cliffs on either side where the mountain had been dynamited to build the structure. Awe inspiring. We ate lunch near the dam on the upstream side and then hopped on some single track. There were a couple mechanical issues but the amazing riding made up for it! After some miles on tight, winding trails we followed a rail trail alongside the river. We rode briefly on roads through Londonderry until we arrived at our campsite for the night: Lynne and Misha’s (the co-founders of Kroka) house. They were not home at the time so we set camp, shared some jokes, and fell into our  sleeping bags tired and satisfied.

Semester crashes Lynne and Misha’s home in Vermont

Day Nine
Londonderry, VT to Ten Kiln Brook Campsite, VT
It was hard to get going this morning, owing to the cold. We met Lynne and Misha and talked to them about founding Kroka. Before hitting the road we worked on a few projects that they needed to get done.

Working at Lynne and Misha’s

The biking was quite something today. We climbed two miles up a steep dirt road before taking a short break. Then we climbed two more miles! The view from the top of the mountain was well worth the work. We could see, through a break in the trees,  a hundred miles or more. On the left side were the Green Mountains, on the right the Taconics. Between the two ranges was a large flat valley speckled with the gleam of towns, the Berkshires in the distance, straight ahead. Truly stunning.  We trekked along the ridge until we came across a pond, ringed in rock and spruce. We took a chilly dip and ate lunch before beginning our descent. It was a neat trail. Mountain on one side, a quintessentially New England stream on the other! We reached camp and once again set up without the aid of instructors.

Day Ten
Ten Kiln Brook, VT to Someday Farm, VT
We started our day with one of the longest, most beautiful downhills of our entire trip. 12 kilometers of CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) built road, flying through red, orange and gold, switch backing down into the valley. It was an amazing way to start an amazing day. However, what goes down must go up and soon we began climbing Dorset  Mountain.

Jack, Zach and Yaara at a swim hole

After a long, challenging climb up loose, boulder-strewn gravel, we reached a long, challenging descent made up of loose, boulder-strewn gravel! There were also several streams running across the trail and over one of these streams there was an amazing natural rock bridge.

The last push was on blessedly smooth roads and pulling in to Someday Farm came with a feeling of accomplishment. The day had been challenging both physically and mentally and we were rewarded with an amazing welcome by Scout Proft, the visionary and owner of Someday Farm. As we set up camp, Scout brought us a heaping crate of fresh produce, fruit, and eggs! Tonight we began working on some new spoons because…ahem… “Someone” forgot them. That someone was me. Sorry everyone! We collapsed into our sleeping bags excited for the day to come.

Day Eleven
Someday Farm, VT to Granville, NY
In the morning we received a tour of the farm from Scout. The amount of food being produced by so few people was  truly astounding. We started to clean out one of the greenhouses to prepare it for winter. It felt good to be a part of this amazing project of providing local food and well raised meat for a large number of people.

Hannah, Liam and Yaara helping to clear the greenhouse

This kind of work is enriching and inspiring. Leaving Someday Farm, we biked through rolling country with some beautiful houses. The ride was laid back until the very end where we had to climb a massive hill for several kilometers! We reached our destination of Merck Forest and Farmland Center in the early afternoon and were once again given the challenge of pitching camp without instructors. We finished up any outstanding academic work and caught up on journal entries in the afternoon and evening before going to bed under a brilliantly bright moon. The day was very relaxed in comparison to some others. There was a widespread feeling of finality. The next day would be our last in the saddle for some time, a bittersweet thought.

Anna crushing the trails

Day Twelve
Merck Forest, VT to Granville, NY
It was Naima’s 18th birthday today, and we belted out a chorus of “Happy Birthday” into the cold, crisp, morning air. We packed camp for the last time on this trip and set off. The riding was wonderful. Most of the day was spent cruising along a rail trail coated in vibrant color with farmland all around us. There was a sense of excitement in the air at the prospect of finishing this adventure, an adventure which had started two states ago. At long last, we reached the Slate Valley Museum and the end of expedition.

Hannah and Zach rehearsing a geology play

After much whooping and high fives we were given the chance to explore the museum. Seeing the history of the rock we had just passed over was fascinating and a great way to tie together both our travels and our study of geology. Tricia arrived to pick us up and we loaded our life of the past two weeks into the trailer, ourselves in the van, and set off for Kroka campus with joy in our hearts.

Zach and Liam

Needless to say, this expedition was incredible. The riding, the views, the challenges followed by successes, the people and farmers we met along the way; all of these came together into a truly remarkable journey. We became better bikers, we grew as community, we saw things that most people never have the privilege of witnessing.

We biked through three states and countless towns on every type of surface imaginable. Therein lies the beauty of Kroka, I would say. It is an opportunity to see the world in new and amazing ways. This new perspective leads to personal growth, community growth and a desire and passion for experiencing all of the beauty and wonder that this world has to offer.

Your scribe,
Owen