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Hello from Maine Local Living School, keyword MAINE!! We’ve just completed our 250 (well, 247) mile journey on foot from Kroka basecamp in Marlow, New Hampshire, to Maine Local Living School in Temple. A whole lot has happened since the last time we checked in way back at Crawford Notch, so let’s go all the way back…

Near Highland Lodge. Photo cred: Russell and his film camera

After a much-needed layover at Highland Lodge spent resting, doing academic work, and preparing for leg two of our winter expedition, we set out along a scenic railroad that wound through the incredibly gorgeous Crawford Notch.

Although it had been raining for pretty much all of the layover, the rain serendipitously stopped just as we began our travel. Spirits were high as we cruised down the tracks, marveling at the views. We were all super thankful for such easy traveling – leg one had been full of lots of very challenging bushwhacking, and there had been times when it took us several hours to go a single mile. The railroad was the opposite of this! Although snow was pretty inconsistent on the tracks (they only get used in the summer, but the rain had done a lot of melting), we managed to get a fair bit of skiing in, and after 14 miles of hybrid walking/skiing we had reached our destination for the night: Highwater Farm, a small organic farm run by friends of Kroka in the town of Bartlett, NH. This was something new for us: we were back on trail, yet still camping in civilization. In fact, we didn’t even set up the tent that night – instead, we slept in their greenhouse! 

Russell, admiring the view in Crawford Notch

In the morning, we set back out along the railroad tracks for a few miles, and then transitioned to a highway that brought us 11 miles north into the town of Jackson. Although we get plenty of honks and have a fair number of conversations with curious passers-by wherever we go, the people of Jackson were for some reason unusually excited to see us trudging along. One man offered to drive us wherever we were trying to get to, and another couple in a van drove by us twice in 10 minutes, videoing both times! All this attention and near-continuous honking was a bit uncomfortable for some of us, but we definitely felt very supported and cheered-on. 

That night, we continued our trend of traveling yet staying in civilization, when we slept in a room at the Jackson Community Church. Again, it felt strange to be sleeping inside, but it was very nice to have a full kitchen to cook in, and we felt incredibly welcomed by the church. Our time in Jackson also afforded us a chance to meet Greg, a man involved with the Jackson Community Center, across the street from the church. He had heard that we were coming through, and, interested to hear our story, invited us to the community center. Little did we know that he had platters of cookies and buckets of ice cream waiting for us. These rare treats were devoured, and when we returned to the church for dinner no one was very interested in the pea soup that was on the menu that night! Our food resupply for the next week had been dropped off at the church, and in the morning we packed everything up and set out towards the Wild River Wilderness, ready to finally get away from civilization for a bit!

Arnett, during a beautiful evening ski into Highwater Farm

We traveled for several miles along roads, getting further and further away from downtown Jackson and eventually met up with our first groomed ski trails of the whole expedition! Sadly, we only spent two miles on them before we turned off onto the Wild Cat Trail. Here we made camp, ready to venture into the Wild River Wilderness the next day. 

We set out on the Boggy Brook trail, thinking we could travel through the chunk of wilderness (10 miles – our daily average) in just one day. Little did we know the challenges and surprises to come! 

Academics outside the winter tent

To begin, our skis felt a little too slippery, as we struggled atop inches of icy crust, ascending into a mountain saddle. We were forced to side-step the steep, technical terrain to avoid sliding backwards. This technique is quite slow and exhausting, which held us back tremendously. On top of that, harsh winds whipped and lashed at us all day, occasionally knocking one of us over with a forceful gust! Each time someone fell victim to the wind, we were delayed several minutes longer before they were back up with skis detangled and packs on backs. As the sun began to say her farewell, we had made it just 3 miles along the trail. We had no choice but to set camp on a steep northern slope.

It’s challenging to describe how intense and crazy the wind had become by the time we started on camp setup. Constant winds of 40mph swept gear off the ground, hats off heads, and even the tent from stakes pounded into the ground. The tall spruce all around us swayed wildly from the bottom of their trunks. Standing against one, my body was pulled with the tree.  Eventually we were forced to abandon the tent staking system and simply weighted down the mudflap of the tent with heavy food bags and sections of logs! We were hardly able to communicate with each other, a vital aspect of camp set up, as the howling wind became more deafening through the night. At 9:00 PM, five hours after arriving to our camp, we finally had a tent set. Dinner, however, had just begun cooking because the outside conditions didn’t permit an effective firescreen- our usual cooking system. We had to wait for the stove to be set before cooking, which in the slew of difficult events, took a very long time. Inside the tent, slightly more protected from the wind, we napped until 11pm and then woke for a severely needed and much-deserved bowl of mac and cheese, before finally getting into our sleeping bags at midnight. 

Max & Una: The sign says it all!

The following days were beautiful. One highlight was a glorious sunny morning spent traversing a cluster of frozen ponds and bogs, the surrounding mountains rising high in the distance. However, they were also our most painfully slow days of travel. The Wild River Wilderness is full of tributaries that flow into the Wild River, and the terrain of the land is steep and rocky, which causes these “brooks” to seem more like class 5 rapids! Every mile or so, there was yet another roaring stream. We managed to rock hop across a few times, but mostly, there were no easy crossings. This meant that packs came off, axes were taken out of packs, trees were felled and limbed, and logs were laid across the water.

Lily and Ben H begin a bridge

During this section we averaged just 3 miles a day (1 mile every 2-3 hours). It felt like each crossing was getting larger and more difficult, all leading up to our final challenge – crossing the WILD RIVER! And yes – it was wild. The wilderness put our bridge building knowledge and patience to the test with this one. The first crossing we attempted involved some wobbly rock hopping above deep, fast currents while carrying long, heavy, awkward logs that we wedged between rocks to create stability. Hours of hard work and our bridge was finally ready to be tested. Our dear instructor Rebecca stepped onto it, and CRACK! One of the logs had snapped and sent her straight into the pool of water below! We pulled her out and decided that this was not the bomb dig (the best) spot for crossing. As Rebecca changed into dry clothes, Aria and Sam went upstream to scout for an easier approach.

Another crossing was found, but whether it was actually easier or not remains a controversial matter. This route was an extensive rock hopping journey that required the removal of all socks, the rolling of pants to mid-thigh, an acceptance of getting water in your boots, and an excellent attitude! The sun had gone to bed by the time all 14 of us had crossed, and the end of the wilderness was still miles away, so we set camp right after what has been dubbed “Aria’s crossing”. Many jokes have been made suggesting that this program really ought to have been billed as a bridge building semester! The next day we took a much needed live-over. Laundry was done, conglomerate was eaten, and baths were had in the river. The following day, we finally made it out of the wilderness, and skied into Maine, camping almost directly on the state border!

“Aria’s Crossing”

Blog Bonus #1: Tiny Jobs

We all have Big Jobs (navigators, food managers, etc), but on the winter trail there are many important smaller holes to be filled. Additionally, there are lots of even tinier, silly and possibly unnecessary tasks needing to be done. Many people have either been carefully selected, proven worthy, or have self-selected a very specific and individualized role, aka a tiny job. And for some reason Ben H has a ton of them?

Addie – Bag of Bags/Stuffsack of Stuffsacks Manager

Ben H – Flavor Doctor/Spice Manager, Pad Layer, Magic Manager, Master Hot Chocolate Maker

Ben S – Advice Giver

Una – Philippé Caretaker (wondering who Phillipe is? See blog bonus #2…)

Russell – Spoon Blank Creator/Hander-Outer

Aria – Hydration encourager, PMA manager

Thomas – Stove feeding addict (pyromaniac)

In the morning, we packed up with the intention of going two miles to a road where our food resupply would be waiting for us. From there, we’d road walk, ski several more miles and camp outside of Gilead, Maine. However, when we got to the road where we expected to find our resupply, we were surprised to find it unplowed! This meant that the people dropping off the resupply (which would be done by car) hadn’t been able to get in to us, and we’d have to keep skiing for an indeterminate amount of time to wherever the road became plowed. Just as we were regrouping and getting ready to keep skiing, we heard a yell from Ben. “IT’S CHRIS KNAPP!!” We all whirled our heads round to see our beloved instructor from leg one cruising towards us on skis. Chris is also the one whose home we now find ourselves at for the next three weeks, as he founded and runs Maine Local Living School. After some brief story sharing, he told us that our resupply was in his car, only a mile or so further from us. We were in great spirits and only a short while later we had skied to the resupply, packed it up, and got back on our way, traveling on a road that would connect with a snowmobile trail network. Midway through our road walk, we passed by a driveway in which a small group of folks were sitting around a little fireplace talking and snacking. Their faces lit up when they saw us and they excitedly called us over. Somehow, they had gotten word that we were coming down the road towards them, and were waiting for us with cake, cookies, and drinks. They were super eager to hear all about our journey and their treats were very much appreciated.

Although it was hard to tear ourselves away from the plentiful snacks, we soon got onto the snowmobile trails and made camp near a very creepy abandoned army training camp. Some of the group members were pretty freaked out by it, but during a rest day some of us had a lot of fun exploring the building shells, which were covered in paintball splatters and seemed to have been used to practice fighting. After the day of rest, we hopped onto some railroad tracks that we planned to follow for 10 miles that day. However, Ben H was feeling extremely sick and after just two miles he felt that he could not go on anymore. So, we were forced to make camp down a hill directly next to the railroad tracks. This put us in a tough spot – we wanted to reach our layover at Mahoosuc Guide Service in Newry the next day, but we were 18 miles away, which would be impossible to do in a single day with heavy packs and a sick group member. After some deliberation, we made a decision: The van carrying all of our food for leg three, which would be driven by Nick (the instructor joining us for leg three), would be passing by us the next day. This meant that if Ben was still feeling sick in the morning, he’d be able to get in the van, and we’d be able to put our packs in the van and walk the 18 miles much more quickly. Camp setup went smoothly and soon we were in sleeping bags just beginning to drift off for the night. But not more than 20 minutes after getting in bed, we were all jolted awake by an INCREDIBLY loud rumbling and crashing directly outside our tent. In my half-asleep stupor, I thought a car must have veered off the road right into camp or something! But after a few seconds, we realized that it was a train, and that we had somehow set up our tent a LOT closer to the tracks than we had meant to! A few people ran outside to watch the train rumble past, which took a few minutes, before we all settled down once more, excited for the morning.

The day dawned, and Ben was feeling well enough to walk the distance to Mahoosuc Guide Service with us! The navigators told us it would be 20 miles: daunting but definitely possible. We stashed our packs on the side of the road to be recovered by the Kroka van as it drove past that afternoon (although we kept a couple packs with water, first aid supplies, and snacks in them) and got to walking down the train tracks. It felt absolutely glorious to do some real distance walking without 60 pounds on our backs. We spent all day walking, singing and chatting to pass the time. As night fell, we took a break to check our maps and determined that we were almost 18 miles in. Our PMA was beginning to diminish after walking for nearly 12 hours, and people were definitely not super excited about doing two more miles. But just as we started walking again, Nick came walking up to us! We were initially confused – why was he walking miles from Mahoosuc? But then he gestured to a group of buildings just up the road. This was our destination – the navigators had lied to us and pretended that we’d need to go another two miles, letting us finish our day an hour earlier than the rest of the group thought we would! Waiting for us in the lodge where we’d be staying were burritos (courtesy of Miriam’s mom), showers, letters from home, and more. We went to bed early, eager for the next few days of rest and learning about Mahoosuc.

Meeting the dogs at Mahoosuc

Mahoosuc Guide Service runs outdoor expeditions year round, focused in the northeastern region of North America. Kevin Slater and Polly Mahoney founded their service based in North Newry, Maine, and guide every trip Mahoosuc runs. One of their main offerings is their dedication to dogsledding. They are currently raising 20 sled dogs, who we were able to spend some time with. On our second night there, Kevin and Polly joined us for dinner and showed a slideshow of photos from their travels with people from various First Nations – dog sledding with Inuit people in far northern Nunavut was particularly inspiring for our group, as we are also learning to live in the winter wilderness. They have built a really beautiful place that we were really lucky to live in, even if briefly. Kevin spent seven years building a traditional timber frame lodge/guesthouse that normally hosts the people who sign up for their trips. 

Group solo food packout

On the morning of our third and final day at Mahoosuc, Nick and Rebecca called a meeting. Leg 3, they told us, would be “heavily defined by independent travel in small groups.” We’d set out all together, spend one night with the instructors, and then have six days of independent travel in groups of four that would bring us all the way to Maine Local Living School, all without seeing the instructors once (if all went well)! Jaws dropped. We had a LOT of questions for the instructors – what if someone got injured? What would our route be? What tent would we sleep in and would we have a stove? Slowly, all our questions were answered, and we were finally told our groups.

We all split off into different rooms, decided on the tenets of our group, and chose names:

M.T.A.C (Maine Teens Accepting Challenge) – Miriam, Thomas, Aria, and Cole (the name is ironic)

Phillipè’s Bearers – Una, Addie, Arnett, and Lily

and the…
Lovaboiz – Ben H, Ben S, Max, and Russell

We did all of our preparation in our groups: Food pack-out, creating our group’s route (each group varied), choosing division of group gear, and more. We also did a lot of planning for contingencies: Each group was trained in using a satellite phone, which we would carry, and we had lots of conversations about what to do in all sorts of different scenarios – angry strangers, protocol for injuries of various severity, and more. Furthermore, we had two checkpoints at intervals throughout the duration of the week: We’d have to make it to a certain point at a certain time where we’d leave a note in a conspicuously placed red dry bag. The note was to say our group name, time of arrival to the checkpoint, and a confirmation that all was well. If all was not well, we’d hang around the checkpoint and call the instructors, who would be camped nearby.

The day went by quickly, and by evening we were still far from prepared! Luckily (or unluckily, as you’ll soon see), there was a big snowstorm forecast for the next day that would dump more than two feet of snow. This was much less than ideal – If we all traveled together in that snowstorm and got our clothes wet, we’d be forced to set out on our solos with wet gear: a recipe for disaster. So, we decided to extend our layover by a day in order to wait out the snow, and set out in clear weather.

The storm did indeed come the next day, and it was every bit as big as the forecast! We spent the day shoveling and doing some more preparation/contingency training that was much appreciated. Finally, the next morning, we set out along some snowmobile trails, and we were in for a surprise.

About to embark on leg three from Mahoosuc Guide Service!

This past winter was extremely light in terms of snowfall, and during the times when we did have a few feet of snow, it was all extremely well packed and icy. This snow was the opposite – super dry, and completely uncondensed. And so, we did our first real trail breaking in the final week of winter expedition. It was incredibly slow and exhausting. We would all travel in a long line, and the person at the front would break trail for about 50 seconds until they completely exhausted themselves and stepped off to the side to join the back of the line. In this way, although travel is extremely slow, only one person has to really be working at a time, and the others can recover from their trail breaking as they slowly move back up to the front of the line.

We only managed to travel a couple miles that day instead of the 7 or 8 we planned, so in the morning we decided that it just made the most sense to stay in a group and break trail together until we got to the road we were trying to get to. From that road, we would finally set out in our small groups.

Blog Bonus #2: Phillipè’s Journey

One bright, sunny morning in late February, Chris spotted a pink, plastic flamingo in the snowbank on the highway curbside. Una (hence their tiny job) was excited to come across the garden decoration, and became extremely committed to carrying “Phillipe” all the way to Maine Local Living school (still 150+ miles away at this point). Since then, we have journeyed with Philipe through the tears and laughter of the winter trail. He taught us so much, including how overcoming adversity and challenge IS possible- a tropical bird can make it through a northeastern winter, even if he lost a few legs on the way. He now resides in the classroom at Maine Local Living, and we are all hoping he makes it safely back to Kroka with us in May.

Here are a few glimpses into Phillipe’s Journey:


The next week was one of the most adventure-filled of the whole program, in which MTAC and Philippe’s Bearers banded together into a larger group called the Gingersnaps, and much more. Here are a couple stories…

A Rainy Night In Carthage

It was a drizzly afternoon on the 4th gloomy day in a row, and the Gingersnaps walked into the small town of Carthage. Spirits lowered as the sky grew darker, and they were unenthusiastic about setting up camp in the rain. Miriam was ready to test our luck! She knocked on a door in hope of receiving shelter… and was shot down. Fortunately, she was directed towards the town office. With wet socks and rumbling stomachs, we decided there was no harm in checking with the folks of the Carthage town office. There, we met our new friend Jan Hutchinson, the secretary of the fire department. He called Larry Blodgett, the assistant chief of the fire department, and arranged for us to spend the night at the fire station. We were thrilled to sleep under a roof, knowing that the rain would be continuing all night, and we were prepared to sacrifice our hot dinner since the possibility of making a fire seemed highly unlikely. Down the streets of Carthage we walked, and soon we arrived at the station. Larry welcomed us in and gave us a tour of the place. We were expecting to sleep on the cold concrete floor downstairs, jammed between fire trucks, but to our surprise and happiness he brought us up to a dry, heated space upstairs! Best of all, there was an electric stove tucked away in the corner of the room, just waiting to cook our rababu! That evening we laid out all our wet things and cooked up dinner. Just when things couldn’t get better, Jan walked in with a cake and cookies for us! The next morning we rose early and left on our way, filled with gratitude and connection from this amazing gift.

A Miserable Morning on Which the Lovaboiz Do Not Eat Breakfast

It was 6:30 in the morning, and Brad was late. Brad was the name of the man whose door we had knocked on the previous night with a request to fill our water bottles. We’d also done some subtle asking of “Do you know anywhere nearby where we might be able to set up our tent and cook some dinner?” (Which really means, “can we sleep in your backyard?”). Brad, now perhaps in his 70’s, is a former backpacker, and he took kindly to us, offering his barn as a place where we could spend the night. It should be mentioned that this was no ordinary barn – Brad’s life’s work has been restoring the barn and attached farmhouse from a crumbling abandoned building, into an absolutely beautiful home. We were incredibly grateful for this offer, and just as we were graciously agreeing to sleep in the barn, (veiling our huge relief at not needing to sleep in the pouring rain) his wife pulled into the driveway where we were standing. Brad explained the situation to her, and she happily promised us a big breakfast in the morning of sausages, eggs, and toast – absolute delicacies. This was a total dream, and once more we gratefully accepted the offer.

Dreams being what they are, we were on the road by 7am without said absolute delicacies in our stomachs. We still aren’t really sure why he switched up on us – had the breakfast offer been a joke? Had he truly forgotten his offer? So many questions. We had been dreaming not only of breakfast, but also refilling our water bottles that morning, so we’d drunk all of our water the night before. We had no food in our stomachs and no water in our and 8 miles (we thought) to go in order to reach our first checkpoint and it was gray and drizzling and everything was awful and terrible and sad. We decided that we’d be fine without breakfast till noonish when we expected to reach the checkpoint – it was 7:00, and we felt pretty confident about our ability to just power through the 8 miles of road walking. And so we set out…

Spirits and energy were low from the get-go, although we did find an unopened bottle of pomegranate juice tossed in a snowbank that gave us a bit of a pick-me-up. There’s not much to say about that day, other than that it was a slog. We were traveling up and over a mountain (steep), and of the few houses we passed, almost every single one had very foreboding No Trespassing signs, making us feel pretty uncomfortable with the thought of knocking on a door and asking for water. Around 11:00, we realized that we’d made an error when counting our mileage, and actually needed to go nearly 12 miles instead of the 8 we’d planned. Nothing to do except keep walking! Half of the Lovaboiz were begging to hitchhike, and tensions were high. We ate lots of chocolate and trail mix, finally got our bottles filled by a very kind elderly woman around noon (which relieved a LOT of tension), and at 2:30 we triumphantly arrived at the checkpoint. Breakfast time it was! We made oatmeal with a generous amount of sugar and sat around for three hours before continuing on…

The End of the Winter Expedition

On our final night before arriving at Maine Local Living School, the Lovaboiz were skiing along a remote snowmobile trail, looking for a good place to make camp, when suddenly the Gingersnaps came running down the trail towards them! The groups hadn’t seen each other in a few days, and we joyfully reunited, deciding that it would be really nice to spend our final night in the wilderness together, and to all travel together the next day, arriving at Maine Local Living all in one big happy group. The evening was lovely – the rain that had been going for pretty much all of leg three had finally stopped that morning, the Lovaboiz made mac and cheese with two pounds each of butter and cheese, and we were all so grateful to be together. The next day was even more lovely! We woke, had a relaxed camp takedown interspersed with singing and guitar playing (we brought a tiny travel guitar on leg three), and set off for a big ascent that turned out to be incredibly easy. We were on wide open, well packed snowmobile trails, and a roaring wind felt like it was pushing us uphill! At the top of the ascent, we were treated with a view that stretched out all the way through the White Mountains and Presidentials, and we were able to see our whole entire route laid out behind us. It was enormously powerful – we had traveled literally from beyond the horizon, and here we were together with nothing but a few miles of downhill between us and our goal! We finished our winter expedition with some incredible wide open downhill that really made us admire how much we’ve improved on skis, and a tiny bit of road brought us to MAINE LOCAL LIVING SCHOOL!! Although the day was full of emotions for many of us, and sadness that our winter expedition was over, we felt  home.

It is spring now, after all – the snow is melting, and we can’t keep skiing forever! We are all so excited for the next 4 weeks here at this beautiful place, and can’t wait to learn all the lessons that it has to offer. 

Until next time…

Your scribes,

Russell and Aria