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2023 Arctic to Atlantic Winter Semester Blog #8

When the rain ravishes the roads
The river rushes and runs
With swollen, swift waters
Big waters. 

On the Penobscot in high water

She continues to carry the stories of thousands
So many stories saved from the past
And so many more
In like the rain

We had a layover on Sugar Island and it was our first sunny day on the river. We woke up and went on a beautiful run around the island. The trees were just starting to leaf out and the undergrowth was coming up. It was definitely one of the best runs we’ve gone on. Everyone was awake and it was warm and sunny. 

Later in the day we went on a plant walk. We did a lot with trout lilies, which grow large everywhere on the island. They have these beautiful yellow flowers that many of us had never noticed before. Cole also found a lot of critters as he ran around lifting up rocks. He waited very patiently to show us the yellow spotted salamander he’d found. It was exciting to see one on a sunny day. -Bria

Chris, of the Penobscot Nation, who spent a few very special days with the students on the Penobscot River

Lilah and Bria during a spring ecology class

On our last day before the river got salty, we were supposed to paddle to Bangor, but the river was still too full, so it wasn’t safe to paddle through largeish rapids with concrete and rebar that we could be swept into.

Sizing up the rapids in high water and making the difficult decision to not run this

Because of this, we paddled 6 miles around Orson Island then took out near Old Town and drove to our next campsite. We got about an hour to go explore Old Town as a group. It was relatively chaotic, as it was our first trip into a more urban setting. Ian’s metaphor for it was that we were like 7 dogs set loose in a city tied together by their leashes: Whoever is in front pulls the rest of the group that way and there’s no owner holding their leashes.

And instead stumbling across an amazing music jam

We awoke to some of the ways in which semester culture and society culture are very different. For example, half-eaten cinnamon buns that are on the ground are not actually something you should eat, and after you fart (which should be done quietly and privately), you should say “excuse me”. Since then, we’ve spent more time in society, and I have slowly started to get more used to all the social norms that we haven’t thought about for the past four months. -Bria

[No Title] by Cole and Ian (Inspired by the Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

Water water over stone
Flowing down to our ocean home
The boats in the water in early morn
First hints of the ocean warm

Bria journaling in the evening

Extending her salty reach up the river
As we sit on our seats of spruce we start to shiver
Drifting down her salty reach
We learn of mud not just beach

The days started early on to ride out toward the ocean on the outgoing tide

First day on the ocean’s spray
She chooses to let us stay upon our way
The next day she made us stay
In the town of Searsport for another day

Sail’s up and cata-canoe underway

Mike and Marsha extend a helping hand
They give us cake and a spot on their land
We hoist our sails, what a blast!
Before we know it, we’re in Belfast

Cole on the mast of the Bowdin

We meet up with Will
And with some time to kill
We spend a day upon the town
We saw some boats, had ice cream floats, 

And never saw a frown
And now we’re bound
For that dreaded island round
We didn’t know it at the time
But at Warren Island we’ll be confined

Portaging the cata-canoe

The Tides of The Wind by Laura, Matias and Ely (Also inspired by the Rime of the Ancient Mariner)

We gaze across the wind tossed waves
All ripping with frothing teeth
To some sea-borne goal we had hoped to save
But again were bound to land and leaf

The voyager sets it’s mighty sail
Rippling red and rope
With the catamaran tied in tail
For a safe crossing, we hope

The smooth brown heads bobbed along
Gliding quickly beside the hull
The sails seemed drawn to our chaotic sway
Following quietly in the morning’s lull

We fly across the wind-tossed waves
They buffeted us from underneath
We were thankful for the speed to us it gave
Until the waves tossed us like a leaf

Touring the Bowdin in Castine

At Castine we docked with great care
All crusty with salt covered skin
And who should we meet but the sailmaster there
Will, who toured us around the Bowdoin

The water narrowed as we reached the mouth
Of the Bagaduce, breathing tidal breaths
We rode on wind and waves from the south
Saying goodbye as we leave behind the ocean depths

Into the Bagaduce

The river carried us towards the cattails long in strands
Watching salt water come to an end
Pulling us towards the banks of false lands
Anticipation held in each beaten path behind

The river slowed around the cattail stalks
Their limbs bristling straight and harsh
And the banks of clay our boats would lock
As we entered the realm of the marsh

Well the willows grew and the osprey flew
The muck seemed fathoms deep
But we shoved our way through, that poor wide canoe
The paint on the hull wouldn’t keep

Where the little canoes slid, the voyager stuck
Held fast like the jam-bucket lid
But then Cole heaved, and we were freed
Helped along by the mussel kid

“Mussels” with one of his critters

Then out we slithered with grit and grime
And lifted the boats away
The labyrinth passed, we knew it was time
To swim out to sea, as they say

Ely journaling along the coast

Then came the heaviest burden of them all
A strip of land ne’er but a mile long
Up the sun-baked roads we hauled
The Rowdy, canoes, and ourselves along

Like a red turtle’s back, that voyager rose
On eight shoulders over dusty hills
The ninth all laden with bags and clothes
Spurred by carrots, cubes, and will

We gazed across the wind-tossed waves
All ripping with frothing teeth
To some sea-borne goal we had hoped to save
But again were bound to land and leaf. 

Bikepacking – by guest author and participant Owen Knapp

Once we had taken off the ocean, we traveled to a house just outside of Damariscotta where we shuffled gear and took time to rest and prepare for the final hurrah of our adventure: bikepacking home to Kroka.

Thank you Stacie Crocetti and family for hosting the transition from boats to bikes!

After a rainy and trying night, we set off bright and early, fog hanging low over the fields, our bikes packed with gear and roughly 250 miles of open road and trail before us. The trip was somewhat of a daunting proposition. We would have to navigate countless back roads, cities, and traffic all while averaging 35 or so miles per day.

Also, we were on mountain bikes, not quite the proper tool for road riding. Despite this, the first day was wonderful. It was sunny and warm, with a light breeze coming off the nearby Atlantic.

Ian, master navigator, prepping the route

We witnessed the run of the Alewives, a fish that migrates inland in the spring months to lay eggs before travelling back down to the coast. We were given a tour of a historic jail by two lovely members of the local historical society who saw that we had stopped on the lawn for lunch!

Okay, I think you get the idea. The day was exciting, interesting and rich with one of a kind experiences. The next few days followed in kind. It is challenging to write about bikepacking in an engaging manner as most of it is, well, biking! Instead of giving you the blow-by-blow, I will lay out some of the more interesting tidbits from the next few days of travel.

Matias doing what he loves best

We camped one night at a site owned by a local mountain biking organization who generously bought us copious amounts of pizza and ginger ale! This experience, as with many more in the days to come, was an incredible showing of kindness from total strangers who truly went the extra mile for us.

Someone needs a Bath, ME

We travelled down the coast, passing through a few smaller towns, until we reached the metropolis to trump all others, the largest city in the world! Okay, it was Portland, and there are approximately 70,000 people, but it felt like a few million! Ely, who attended school in Portland for a time, was very helpful in navigating through the twisting streets!

Owen and the rest of Semester in a strikingly urban setting

The next day was supposed to be time to relax, stay in the same camp and recoup some energy for the days to come, but we still biked 30 miles! We rode back into Portland in small groups, navigating our way using the provided maps. We attended a theater workshop put on for free by a wonderful woman, Holly.

Theater class

She worked with us on the skit we will be presenting at graduation, and suffice to say, she was a lifesaver! We ate bagels in town and spent the afternoon at the library, working on academics. For many, the day was overwhelming and made people think about the reintegration back into society writ large.

So many new faces, new places, busy streets. These things which were once commonplace have become foreign to us, and experiencing them all at once was intense. Oh, and it rained. Alot. Also we had to ride back to camp, in the rain. But we had hotdogs, so all was well!

We crossed into New Hampshire shortly after this and stayed at the home of the amazing Profesor Bell, who teaches at UNH and has been the mentor to a handful of Kroka staff members who went to UNH. He, too, is an avid bikepacker and had a garage filled with scent of chain grease and metal.

We got to see a project that he and his students have been working on: a tricycle that can carry four people, one “driver” and three passengers. The engineering and creativity was impressive. We also got to spend some time that evening and the next morning with Tricia, a trip leader and coordinator who works here at Kroka!

Biking Manchester

We left Durham, home of UNH, and continued on, the landscape looking more and more like Kroka basecamp as we went. We arrived in Manchester on a hot, sunny day, tired from the day’s ride. Nathan and Hanah met us and led us to the house of Nathan’s sister and her family.

They graciously allowed us to take over their back yard for that day and the next, as we were taking another rest day before the final push to Kroka. And they cooked for us. Oh man, did they ever cook for us! Four full meals were expertly prepared, each one elaborate and delicious. Shrimp, marinated chicken, pancakes, tacos, salads, sauces; we were thoroughly spoiled and enjoyed every second of it.

Thank you! We spent our rest day swimming, writing, cliff jumping and putting more work into our performance.

The second to last day of the expedition went by in what seemed like a blur. The hills, which had been mercifully sparing of thus far, came out in force, and I feel like I spent much of my day in my lower gears! We stopped for snacks on a rail trail near a stream and Jackie and Rebecca explained the plan for the final day: We would travel on our own as a group, covering the last 50 miles or so to basecamp.

Bria and the tent

We would see instructors in a few places during the day but would otherwise be self directed. They left us to find camp for the night. Where we pitched out tents was buggy but pretty nonetheless, and we spent some time reflecting on our experiences so far, what we would miss and what we had learned.

Jackie returns with the treats

Rising just after sunrise on the last day of expedition, we quickly and efficiently broke camp before riding a few miles to the nearby town of Hillsborough, where we left the majority of our gear with Rebecca and Jackie so that we could run light and fast. Breakfast was had by a glassy pool in a river, geese wandering about with their young in tow. It was a calming and pleasant way to start off the day.

Cole ferrying the bikes across Ashuelot Pond

Following backroads is beautiful but not always practical, as we discovered a few hours into our ride. A bridge was out on a key road, and for a time we worried we might have to make a 25 mile detour just to get back on course. However, we spoke to a woman who gave us water and an alternate, much smaller road that would take us around the bride in under half an hour! Locals truly are the best GPS. The day consisted of many hills, both up and down, though I remember mostly the ups!

Matias also ferrying

We reached Ashuelot Pond by noon to find the van there with…canoes? Yeah, canoes. The route involved loading our bikes into two boats and ferrying them across the lake while some people swam alongside.

Laura and Lilah swimming alongside the canoes

It was an enjoyable change of pace. The last few miles back to Kroka were momentous, though I don’t really feel that I can speak to them in good conscience. Emotions were running high and, while I can’t speak for anyone else, I certainly felt the weight of the moment, a great journey drawing to a close.

Upon their return to Kroka, Lilah is crowned by Jackie

We topped the final hill and saw, laid out before us, the green carpet of basecamp, dotted with buildings and people. We were welcomed back by the staff with a ceremony and took some time to unwind, not only from the day’s efforts, but from the efforts of the last four months of wilderness living.

Alex welcoming Bria back

The remainder of our time here will bring many new ideas and much time to think back on our experience, but suffice to say, expedition ending is a terribly bittersweet thing.

Owen and Laura in acknowledgement of the moment

On Saturday June 3, 2023 this fabulous group of Arctic to Atlantic semester students graduated, sharing and celebrating their extraordinary journey of the past 4 1/2 months.

The extraordinary Graduation cake from Laura’s family

Reliving the semester during the Graduation slideshow

Ruby and Nick gift Semester a final song during their Graduation ceremony