Student Reflections

Connection to the Earth Like Never Before

By Fredrique Guevara-Prip of Yonkers, NY on the 2019 Penobscot Expedition

When I arrived at Kroka I was met with a warm welcome and an instant feeling that I belonged. I noticed the connection everyone had to the earth beneath their feet, both in the literal and spiritual sense. Be it encouraging newcomers to walk barefoot through the Village or just the peaceful, grounded energy everyone seemed to inhabit, anyone can sense the joyful, safe, and freeing community Kroka exhibits.

We started preparing for expedition immediately: carving our spoons, packing personal and group belongings, our boats, paddles, food, and more. We paddled the Ashuelot River for a day—just a glimpse of what was to come. Then we waved goodbye to Kroka Village and drove from New Hampshire to Maine. We met with the people of the Penobscot Nation, and with their guidance left the US landmass with nothing but a few small canoes and our belongings.

Paddling the length of the Penobscot River, we visited the lands of their people, learning about flintknapping, wood carving, and the history rooted deep inside these precious islands. I can speak for all of us when I say that this experience connected us to the earth and its history like never before. I am extremely grateful to our hosts, whose generosity, hospitality, expansive knowledge and their willingness to share it was nothing short of inspiring.

The water became saltier, wider, and more tidal. This was the most exciting and wonderful part of our trip. The wildlife we saw as we neared the open ocean brought us pure bliss and gave us the strength to keep paddling even when the current was strong and the tide was against us. From sea otters to eagles, porpoises to woodpeckers, we saw it all! The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. The sunsets, full moons, dewy mornings and foggy evenings made each day more special than the last.

[The students] were in charge of how our trip went: how many miles we paddled a day, where we camped for the night, when and what we ate. The freedom that our counselors gave us and the trust that they put in us made the trip that much better. It isn’t just about being able to enjoy and connect with nature, Kroka takes it a step further.

As a city kid I’ve never been in touch with nature as much as I’d have liked to. Kroka gave me the opportunity not only to do that but to grow as a person. It gave me the opportunity to have big responsibilities, to work with others, and to not only survive but thrive in nature—all while having fun at the same time! Imagine us island-hopping off of the coast of Maine with nothing but what we could fit in our canoe. Bartering for lobster, making cornbread, chopping firewood and paddling to the next island, hoping for a little wind to come our way so we could set sail, lean back, and breathe in the salty ocean air…

In a matter of three weeks, the people I met made an impact on me for the rest of my life. It is almost half a year later (and several states apart) and we still stay in touch! The laughter, riddles, and joy we shared got us through some of the toughest parts of our trip: cold and rainy days, clouds of mosquitoes, portages, and long days of paddling. We held evening meetings where we would touch base with one another. It was healing and it brought us closer together, knowing that we created a space where we were comfortable sharing our thoughts and feelings. Nearing the end of our trip, I couldn’t believe that it had gone by so fast, I didn’t want it to end! I’m grateful to Kroka every day for the opportunity and I look forward to returning!

Excerpt from a Student Trip Journal

By Anna Bellows of Cambridge, MA on the 2019 Coulonge River Expedition

The memory that sticks out most for me was towards the end of the trip at one of our last campsites. We spent a whole day surrounding one class 4 rapid. We had set up camp the night before and woke up to an amazing morning on the river. That day our group felt the most bonded that we ever had. We paddled and swam around this big and powerful river that we had followed for the past weeks. In those hours we were so removed from the rest of the world, but at the same time more connected then we had ever been.

The trip let us have the opportunity to become as removed as possible from our everyday lives, and by doing so made us more connected to the few people and creatures that we were with. It was an amazing experience that will always be with me.

Today was an amazing day. We traveled almost 3x the amount of an average day. In the morning, we woke up to the sound of a big rapid/waterfall after a long and restful layover day. We got up and broke down tents. As soon as that was done we started loading gear into boats as the cooks made breakfast. Our new goal is to have the boats completely packed before breakfast and we did it in around 1 hour and 20 minutes. We sat down to a warm breakfast of cheesy grits, much to the dismay of the group, and talked about the proposed 23km day ahead of us. We packed the wanigan and tarp in the boats last and then set off, 2 hours and 20 minutes after waking up.

Our time on the water started with a lift-over for the canoes and a bumpy run for the kayaks, ending in a swim. This was followed by yet another lift-over and a more successful run in the kayak. After these two rapids the river turned into a swift moving, but twisting and meandering stream. We made our 23km goal by lunch, but all decided that we should keep moving only 3-5km more to a better campsite.

We continued down the winding river but at 28km, we still had enough energy to continue just a little further to an even better campsite. At this point we were also thinking about the next day’s 28km and wanted to chip away at that. We paddled on in high spirits until we reached the next campsite, but at the discovery of poison ivy, we again decided to move on yet again.

At lunch we had discussed the following day’s campsite when we laid all the maps out. It was at the 132km mark and was apparently one of the nicest sites on the river. Having already paddled 32km, we all unanimously decided to go to the campsite at the 132km mark, making an already long day into a 50km day!

At around 8km left until camp, a foreboding wind and bank of clouds rolled in that made us paddle just a bit faster. At 2km until camp the storm caught us and a heavy torrent of rain began to fall, quickly drenching us all. A short while later we made it to camp in mostly high spirits, just a little soggy. After a quick camp set-up and dinner of noodles under the tarp, we went to bed for a long sleep feeling accomplished, having finally reached camp after by far our longest day yet, 10 hours and 50km!

How I Want to Live

By Ruth Scherschel of Houston, TX on the 2018 Penobscot Expedition

Socks? Check. Shorts? Check. Sun hat? Check. Existential crisis that’s been building for months? Check.

I crammed camp clothes into a stuff sack, trying desperately to contain the anxiety running through me. I had signed up to go on an expedition along the Maine coast with a group of strangers and no outside contact for three weeks. While I felt a thrill of excitement for the adventure I was about to start, it was other thoughts and feelings lurking underneath the surface I worried about. For the past year, almost every adult I knew had been asking me the same questions: “Where do you want to go to college?” “What do you want to study?” “What job do you want to have?” It felt like everyone was asking “Who are you?” and it terrified me that I didn’t know the answer. My ingenious solution had been to push those feelings down and tell myself I would “deal with them later.” That worked. For a little while.

Camp soon began, and I quickly became used to the routine of slathering on thick sunscreen and loading gear onto the 7-person canoes every morning. The steady rhythm of paddling 10 miles a day had become my new normal, and I laughed and cracked jokes with the people who had become like family. We traveled down the Penobscot River and out into the salty ocean where we camped on different islands every night, reveling in the joys of living simply and with purpose. Occasionally a destination would be farther than anticipated, the current would fight against our boats, or the water supply would run low, and in these rougher moments, my mind would stray and start to unpack my worries for the future before quickly shoving them down again.

Two weeks in, there was a day full of these moments. The sunlight that once made the ocean gleam like a pile of aquamarine gems now seemed harsh and unforgiving. The rays burrowed into my skin, sweat from the exertion of paddling soaked my shirt, and it seemed as if this journey had no end. The thought of going back home and having to face questions about my future made my stomach clench, and my grasp tightened around the oar as if paddling harder could carry me away from my problems. My mind frantically jumped from question to question about my future as I paddled harder, harder, my arms throbbing, my thoughts racing until—

A whale bigger than my boat breached through the deep, blue water.

All thinking stopped.

When it resumed, the world suddenly felt like a much bigger place, and I was but a speck floating on one of its vast oceans.

The sheer size of this creature overwhelmed me with a sense of awe that remained throughout the rest of the day, and I slowly realized I had been worrying about the wrong things. True, I still didn’t know exactly who I was or what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew how I wanted to live it. I wanted to live and work with joy, with a sense of belonging, and adventure. Over the next year, this want would develop into trust in myself and the realization that if I stayed with my values and went with my gut, I would end up exactly where I needed to be. It was okay to be unsure about life. Expanding and exploring new interests to find your place in the world is what life is all about—it was exactly what I wanted to do.

As night fell, I climbed to the top of our temporary island home and stared out at the vast seascape. The sky and ocean were joined by a single band of orange light, and I was swept up in the beauty of the world, and the thought of what was to come.