Monday, March 21, 2011

NHVSP 2011 Update 7

   Our short layover at Battleground was quickly over and we left civilization, heading into the forest.  Once again we were leaving our teachers Chris and Lu behind. This leg was different; our teachers weren’t going to be part of the daily routine any longer. When weather permitted, they would spend the night outside of the tent.
   As usual, we found ourselves eating melted ice cream in unusually hot weather, so hot that Jake and Tim skied pant-less. After a short while Chris and Lu caught up with us but stayed in the back, trying not to get involved. As we found camp they skied in and built a quick snow and bough shelter for themselves. We ate our trail mush with great cheer, prepared by Jake and Sam – the first Cook’s Challenge contestants. The third leg would test the skills we learned during the first and second legs, from setting up the tent and stove to finding dry firewood to identifying trees and twigs.
   The second day started with steep long uphill and then a long descent.  We met Tim Yandow (Tobias’ father) and skied some more. It was an eventful day known for “gravitational breaks”- falling for no reason while standing. We found ourselves lost many times. We ended up on a wild bushwhack through the private properties of a big farm, and when we finally caught up to Chris and Lu, they'd been waiting for an hour. We made camp under cover of big, angry storm clouds, which unloaded a torrential downpour just after we went inside the tent for more trail mush and sleep. 
   On the third day we awoke to pouring rain. Chris and Lu announced that in their opinion, moving was not necessary, but instead we should stay and live over. However, the option was up to us. We decided to listen to the call of the bush and stay at our campsite. That came in useful as we learned how to make fuzz-sticks and hand-split firewood with knives, two good strategies for starting fires in the rain, and Tim lit his under cover of a root ball. We each lit our own fires successfully. It was a day of learning and saying goodbye to Chris, who would soon leave us.
   The next day started with a clash and a bang as the slightly rotten birch center pole Julian made broke at 4:30 AM, under the weight of two feet of snow. Bridie was trapped under the heavy cotton and snow and yelled at us while bench -pressing the tent: “I can breathe!” which everyone mistook for: “I can’t breathe!” which for some reason made us all laugh. Sam and Lu sprinted like lightning and shoveled snow off the tent while Chris got a new center pole. By the time we finished cleaning up the mess, it was already time to get up. That day was a hard day: we found that yesterday’s rain had made all our packs wet and frozen overnight. All our buckles and straps were frozen and almost impossible to adjust. I skied half a day without using either the hip strap or the sternum strap, which made my pack seem much heavier than it was. The tent also froze and was huge, barely fitting into Jake’s 95 liter pack. The skiing was difficult that day, having to break through 2 feet of powder, and we started a trail-breaking rotation for the first time in the entire expedition. 
Jon, Tim and Sam
carrying the canoe to the potential put in
That day was the notorious Winooski River Crossing day, when semester students traditionally cross the Winooski River with a canoe through the deadly cold water. If a person fell in, the expertise of no teacher could save him. Just before we launched the canoe at a treacherous put-in, since the traditional landing was frozen with thin yet unpaddleable slush, a man named Healey stopped by and asked us not to cross the river, saying he would drive us to our destination if necessary. Although Chris was confident of his and our abilities to safely cross the river, he decided to accept the offer to be polite to the man. Healey drove Chris and half our group to Smilie Elementary School with all the gear, while Lu and those of us to whom it was important not to drive walked seven miles to the bridge and across to Smilie School.
   The next day was the end of the journey with Chris and the start of the journey with Nate. We gave our presentation to the Smilie schoolchildren and invited them to come to visit our tent.  Then we packed up and road-walked the steep Bolton Valley access road. With Tobias navigating, we hiked up the road all the way up to the Nordic Valley Ski Center, sweat dripping all over the place from the long, hard climb. We then skied up to Bryant’s cabin where we stayed the night. We arrived at camp early and we didn’t have to set it up, so we went for a few runs down the steep hills of the cross-country ski center, in the perfect two feet of powder. We slept on the stiff boards of the cabin floor that night, missing the soft, fragrant boughs.
Bolton Trapp Traverse
   The next day, as Jon the navigator announced it, was the notorious Bolton-Trapp Traverse day. For those who are not familiar with Cross-Country ski trails, Bolton Trapp Traverse is an extremely steep, narrow trail down Bolton Mountain, filled to the brim with signs that say things like: “Experts only! Long, steep, narrow, unpatrolled trail, travel at your own risk!” That morning had to start with a breakfast for heroes in order for the day to succeed. Roger, Lu’s friend from Burlington, came in with about $100 worth of food, including bacon, eggs, blueberries and fresh milk, and the highlight was half a gallon of his own homemade maple syrup, which fit in perfectly with our own oatmeal. We then started up the mountain from Bryant’s cabin, and after a long ascent in which I had a very deep conversation with Mathilde about the usefulness of birch bark as wiping material, we started to traverse and descend in short, steep, narrow and winding sections through the powder. We could not but be very grateful for the beautiful conditions we had. After a while we stopped on a ridge where we could see our surroundings, ate some of Nate’s salmon jerky, had a conversation about the existence of catamounts/mountain lions, and started down the real descent, the one that wasn’t only steep and narrow but also long without stopping. We whirled down the mountain through the powder with great joy and pride of our skiing abilities. Eventually the forest around us became an open hardwood forest as we descended down the mountain. Tobias, Tim and Julian found a root covered in snow that served as a very big jump. They all went over it, which was amusing as they all fell and rose with big, snowy smiles. Julian’s jump was especially spectacular as he jumped off unbalanced, limbs flailing with a look of astonishment on his face. After we went down the hill we came to our resupply at Lake Mansfield Trout Club, and loaded the biggest amount of food we’ve ever carried on trail. Most people had two food bags, and Tim’s load had to be confiscated from him as he tried to carry three. After Rosa finished dealing out the last of the dried sourdough biscuits, we skied over to our campsite and had a nice big dinner.
   The next day we skied through the nicely groomed trails of the Trapp Family Lodge Ski Trails – the very same ones from The Sound of Music! After a long, gradual ascent we travelled downhill, at about the fastest pace we’ve travelled before due to the trail quality. We then broke off into the Catamount Trail and decided to bushwhack instead of going on a long loop. We got lost and decided to just continue downhill to the highway we knew existed there. We roadwalked on the highway, getting splatters of slush from passing cars, all the way to a hotel where the catamount trail was to be found. That night we camped in a beautiful hemlock magical Narnia land.
   On day eight, a rainy, misty, springy day, we broke trail uphill through the magical Narnia land while learning what type of trees grow in Narnia. After a long while of breaking trail and getting lost in the front yard of a hotel, we finally hit a groomed snowmobile trail, the kind that likes to go up and down and up and down. The trail brought back many memories of the first leg, where most of the paths we travelled on were of that sort. After a super long downhill we found a present from the gods: a patch of sugar maple trees – with buckets attached! The day was a perfect sugaring day: a cold, below freezing night draws the sap up the tree, and the warm day that follows sends it back down, into the holes drilled by man and into the buckets. Rosa must have chugged at least a full bucket of sap. After the refreshing drink we kept skiing, all the while smelling the strong earthy smell of plants and animals coming alive. We knew spring was on its way. We reached our liveover spot on a beautiful beaver flowage. This time of the year, beaver ponds are not as safe as they were in February, and we needed to use caution while skiing around the pond during to the melting of the ice.
   The next day was our first liveover with Nate. After a breakfast which included yummy sourdough, honey and apple biscuits we drew some more trees and learnt how to make a birch twig carabineer. During our walk in the woods we discovered a porcupine den with a lot of porcupine poop, and the owner itself sunbathing on top of the tree. One delicious lunch later we went into skills test. We showed our ability to tie knots and sharpen a knife to be razor sharp to Lu, and our abilities to navigate, light a match on the first try, and identify softwood and hardwood to Nate. Everyone did very well. Overall, it was a restful day.
Gert Lepine
   On day 10 we went and visited the Vermont legend: the Lepine Sisters. They used to be four, however one sister died recently. They led a hard farming life, raising one of the best Jersey herds in the nation, and working 45 years with not one day of break. They retired about ten years ago and sold the herd at an auction, and now live an active life of kayaking, fishing and exploring. They gave us raw milk from a neighboring farm, cookies and fresh bananas, lots of advice about working and their life stories, which were very interesting. We then skied on; most of the ski was through civilization. We camped on a beaver flowage around which we could see many tracks of Hare, Mink and Fischer amongst others. That was to be our last expedition camp with our teachers Nate and Lu.
   The next day started out with our last skills test to date – the twig and tree identification page. Ten twigs were laid on the snow, and we were to write their names in order on a piece of paper. Next we were all taken to the tree test, where Nate chose trees for us to identify – some obvious some more challenging. After the test came the pinnacle of the third leg: the large group solo, where we all travelled for three days and two nights with Lu and Nate following far behind and camping far away. We left the beaver flowage towards Mt. Elmore and climbed over and around it. Skiing conditions were icy and slippery, and the ski both uphill and downhill was slippery but fun. We saw a fox napping under a tree and managed to get really close to it before it suddenly woke up and trotted away. Eventually we hit a snowshoe/hiking trail full of footmarks, which were all iced in. This made the ski downhill very challenging and bumpy. Just on the bottom of the steep downgrade there was a metal gate, and as Zane rushed down not knowing what’s ahead, he heard Tim screaming: “stop, stop there’s a gate!” As he flew downhill trying to stop with all his might, and saying things that need not be repeated here, he managed to stop barely inches from the gate. He breathed a sigh of relief, carefully stepped over the gate and fell. A few kilometers later we found the Lake Elmore General Store, which sold many local, organic foods. We had group money, which we used to buy ice cream, milk, bread and sausage. That night camp was set up in record time around a fir burl forest.
   The twelfth day was one of the iciest, sunniest days we’ve experienced. Skiing down snowmobile trails was insanely fast and difficult on even the slightest downgrade. We stopped to sunbathe in sunny fields and kept going. On one downhill we took off our skis and let them glide down the trail ownerless. We picked the skis up and skied through forest and field, road walking some and coming very close to the Magic Garden Waldorf School. We bushwhacked downhill through conditions that were not as icy because the warm sun had started to melt the snow. We ended up in “an awesome dude’s driveway” as Tim described it before we met the dude, who did end up being pretty awesome and offering us his sauna. We had to politely decline as time was running at its usual pace. We camped on a beautiful campsite on the bank of a brook going into Wolcott pond. It was our last night as group on the expedition, and we all felt sad, but looking forward to new adventures.
   The last day of our expedition as a group was full of maple sap. Julian, who navigated, decided he did not want to go the way he had drawn. As a result, we arrived at Heartbeet 15 minutes late.  On the plus side, we met many people along the way. It started with a woman who shouted greetings to us from her window and offered help in finding our route, but did not know where to go. We then met another man who had a hot tub next to sugar maples with sap buckets, and finally a man on the slopes next to Heartbeet who owned a sugaring operation called “Ever Fair Sugar Makers” who showed us the right way through his sugar bush and the forest. We arrived at our last layover spot, set up the tent where we will be cooking our meals and settled in the barn where we will be sleeping.
   This layover offers much more interaction with people than our last two did. It is a small Camphill community dedicated for people with special needs. Every day, we interact with the “friends” (the people with special needs) and coworkers who take care of them. We help take care of the farm animals every morning and just finished a service project in their barn. We are busily preparing for the last challenge of the winter expedition: the small group solos, where we will divide in groups of four and travel the distance to Northwoods Stewardship Center.
The Poet’s Yurt
To whom this may reach:
We like you
If you would have it
We will happily shove you deep under the cover of our community.
Don’t worry, suffocation is not likely
Although time to breathe may be short
If you like to work and you are willing
to discuss everything that happens, you will find yourself most at home
We offer:
      1.     Moral support
      2.     Constructive criticism
      3.     Friendly advice
      4.     A point in the right direction
      5.     And pats on the back
You don’t have to join, but I think you should.
          -Zane Reid

Quote of the Trail: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world” Mohandas Ghandi

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