Friday, May 27, 2011

NHVSP 2011 Update 14

Dear readers, I went a bit overboard. I hope this extremely long update will be of some interest to the outside eye. It turned into a logbook, which we semester students will have great use of when all these days have blended together into one indistinguishable blob in our memories.   You should feel no pressure to read all of it if you don’t want to.

First I will give you some nice statistics of the Spring Expedition, courtesy of Tim:

Total distance covered: 323,5 km
Average travel day: 17 km
Total distance walked: 109,5 km
Total distance portaged: 36,5 km
Days with no portages: 9 (5 of them liveovers)
Distance paddled on the Clyde River: 9 km
Distance paddled on the Nulhegan River: 17 km
Distance paddled on the Connecticut River: 251 km
Distance lined on the Cold River: 10 km
And now, I present:
The Spring Expedition!

Day 1 – Sunday April 24th – Tire Pooper Camp
The day started with the most epic breakfast of the semester, cooked and served by Jayson Benoit of Northwoods Stewardship Center. Thank you, Jayson! After unbelievable amounts of pancakes, warm maple syrup, yogurt, applesauce and exotic fruits were resting in our stomachs, we left the center behind and set off with amazingly little fuss. We got in our canoes after a small break where I tried to teach everyone the Norwegian game Skraava and found them too impatient for it, and then we let Jon, the Canoe Manager, and Nimrod, his canoe partner for the day, have the honor of paddling the beautiful green Oh Geez for the first time. Though it felt somewhat strange to leave this home behind, possibly never to see it again, it was exciting to be on the move again. The water in the Clyde was high, but the river was slow and winding. Sometimes we couldn’t know what was the bank and what was river, and we would get lost in the alder bushes and dead end canals. But Kevin and Joey led the way, and we even had Jayson with us for the first part of this day. In the afternoon we arrived at a good camp spot, and got to test out our new river chores. Rosa is most remembered for her chore this day, as she made the best bathroom of our expedition, out of a pile of old car tires and decorated with a God’s Eye, though the privacy was a bit lacking when we started walking past it to get up to the field above camp. The sun was still up, and all our work was done, so it was a perfect time for games and rolling down hills. There were still patches of snow around, but running barefoot in the fields gave us the feeling of spring anyway.

Day 2 – Monday April 25th – Wintergreen Camp
Our camp turned out to be next to a beaver path and we had placed our paddles in the middle of it, but luckily Kevin and Joey slept right nearby, so our paddles were still there to use the next morning, even though the beavers had been on a short nightly visit. We continued canoeing up the Clyde in sunshine, though the current got stronger and stronger as the day wore on. Finally we closed in on Island Pond where Tim found a snowmobile STOP-sign in the river that he kept as his paddle for a while. We paddled along the shore around the frozen pond to a camping place where we took out to carry over to Spectacle Pond. Here many of us got the first experience of carrying a canoe solo, with two paddles tied to the yolk and seats in the canoe to put the weight on our shoulders. It’s pretty heavy and gets quite painful after a while, but it works amazingly well, and as we like to say: “We’re the Vermont Semester – Hardcore”. Spectacle Pond was an arctic adventure for Tobias and Jake, first-class icebreakers, and then we got all our gear on land again, in a beautiful pine forest. We ate lunch there before we carried the canoes on a path through the woods to the headwaters of the Nulhegan, then walked back to all our gear and set up camp in the pine forest instead of continuing on. Some rainstorms caught up with us, but we managed to get started with making our bow drill sets, a new art for some of us. This was also our first meeting with the plant wintergreen, a great forest snack.

Day 3 – Tuesday April 26th – Lost & Found Camp
We started the day with taking down camp and portaging it to where we had left the canoes. Then we set out on the Nulhegan. It was a misty morning, the river small and surrounded by swamps and woods, fallen over trees everywhere, birds that would sit still ‘till we came close to them. I think we seldom had such a feeling of wilderness as this morning, paddling quite far apart from each other, listening and looking. We were lucky with the high water here, as we didn’t have to get out of the canoes and drag them over all the beaver dams.  We could just slip straight over, unlike previous semesters. But then we arrived at tunnels passing under the road and railroad, and some of them posed a bigger challenge, filled with water as they were. One gave just an exciting taste of a tiny rapid, while the next one, which we were planning to line the canoes through, tipped a canoe over and made us portage the rest over the road. That’s when it’s good that you already packed your stuff waterproof. Several side branches joined the Nulhegan as the day wore on, and got bigger and windier. Soon it was just a marathon of s-turns, where we could compete about who could make the tightest turns without being thrown off course by an eddy, or find the short cuts through the elder bushes that made up the banks without getting stuck. In the afternoon we set up camp in a swampy forest that we soon found out they had camped in last year too.  Lu found a knife and toothbrush belonging to Scott Georgaklis of the 2010 NH-Vermont Semester. The toothbrush was used by us later when we were in great need, but Jake has now sharpened the knife and it is ready to be sent back to its owner. The rain hit hard this evening and continued all night together with a thunderstorm, but we were nice and dry under the tarps.

Day 4 – Wednesday April 27th – Deaf Camp
Early in the morning we had a lining lesson and prepared our boats for the rapids of the Nulhegan, but we had only paddled for a few minutes before we realized that the river was too high to canoe. The rain had poured down all night and had finally melted the last of this long winter’s snow. Our canoes that we had left on dry land as we went to bed were in the water by morning, and during breakfast the river rose a lot more. We paddled our way towards the road, through a flooded forest and along a flooded road ditch. As the road ascended a hill, the ditch dried out and we started portaging. First all our gear 4 km along the road, and then back again for the canoes. Summer had suddenly hit us this day, and before we ate lunch we took time for a dip and wash in a nearby stream (without getting cold!). Then we portaged everything another km, this time on a narrow homemade trail/bushwhacking, through the forest down to the river. Here we set up camp right by the rushing river, which overpowered all other sound.

Day 5 – Thursday April 28th 
The morning came with bad news. The river was still too big here and even several km further down, unpaddleable for us with all our gear, and way too cold to risk any flipping. We were on the opposite side of the river from the road, and portaging without a trail would take us days and days. There was nothing to do but to carry everything back up our bushwhack trail the way we had come, and then continue the portage on the road. We carried the gear 4 km, to a campsite almost just across the river from where we had been, but the canoes we carried an additional 2 km, so as to make our work less the next day. We left the canoes in a nice old woman’s front yard and had walked about halfway back to camp when a huge truck drove up to us and an angry man asked us to remove our canoes from his yard. We explained that we had gotten permission and that we just wanted to have them there until we could carry them further. He would have none of it, and interrogated us about what we were doing and where we were camping. We had no choice but to walk back to the canoes and carry them a little further, to a nice guy dog-sitting at his friend’s house who did not mind our canoes in the garden. At this point Kevin and Joey left us, sadly, as we had enjoyed having them around so much. The day ended with last year’s high bush cranberries, picked on the roadside, and an ice cream present from our leaving friends.

Day 6 – Friday April 29th – Woodcock Camp
To break up the portaging, and wait for the rivers to de-flood a little bit, we decided to take a live over day at our camp. It was spent washing our selves and our clothes, sunbathing (on the girls part - this was probably the most relaxing day of the semester so far), and different crafts. Nate cut down a small brown ash tree, and Bridie, Jake, Rosa and Jon freshened up their weaving knowledge making small baskets that we are selling at the graduation auction. Others carved spoons for the same cause, and then we all continued our work on friction fires. Most of us made fire, and Sam and Rosa almost got it with a hand drill too. The afternoon came with some rain, but we just enjoyed the day off. As twilight came we went out on a woodcock hunt, and managed to get really close up to the funny bird even though we were 14 people, half of us in bright orange rain gear.

Day 7 – Saturday April 30th – Frost Camp
We portaged all the gear the 5 km to Bloomfield in the morning, before we walked back for the canoes and carried them the same way. And then, finally, we had reached the Connecticut. We picked up a supply of food left for us at the store in Bloomfield and then put our canoes in the rushing brown flooded river. We seemed to flow by in the fast moving water without any effort. The weather was great and life good. All normal campsites were flooded though, and we just paddled along hunting for anything we could find. We did find a beautiful green halfway flooded field with a dry high spot to hold us through the night. The sky was clear of any clouds and as we went to bed we all abandoned the tarps and slept under the open sky.

Day 8 – Sunday May 1st – Rescue Camp
After the clear cold night we awoke in frozen sleeping bags that quickly melted and left us with wet sleeping bags. But it was another warm sunny day, so we weren’t in trouble. In celebration of May Day, we sang Sam’s May Day Songs, and I translated Til ungdommen – To the Youth, to English. We enjoyed the day paddling along, ate lunch in Guildhall where we met Bill, a nice guy who lent us a spigot to fill our water buckets and then ate lunch with us, and then paddled on further. We camped in another big field, and were then joined by some canoers that had flipped further up in the river and were hunting for their canoe. It was stuck between some flooded trees just by our camp, but Julian, Sam, Jake and Nimrod managed to get it unstuck and tow it back up in an intense rescue mission. Zane and Bridie found our first fiddleheads, but they were unfortunately filled with dirt and grit from the flooding. Jake baked us bacon fat and maple syrup bread in our amazing Dutch oven, so we did not lack food. In the evening Zane got to be the first person to bathe in the Connecticut, and was then followed by Tobias, who couldn’t back out of their bet.

Day 9 – Monday May 2nd – Trash Camp
Today we met the first Connecticut dam, which for us means shorter or longer portages that break up the days of paddling. We portaged Gilman Dam, and started our journey on the far-reaching Moore Reservoir.  It began with a tiny rapid that brought some excitement for all of us, but mostly for Nate and Lu, our teachers, who were in “Oh Geez”, a tiny beauty that is not made for whitewater. At the reservoir we got a strong headwind so we almost got the feeling of paddling the ocean, waves hitting the bow. The paddling went slowly, but we made it halfway over before we decided to camp by an old homestead, now only recognizable by the old stone foundations poking out of the green growth. We were not the first to have camped here, evident by the amount of trash lying around, but we did a nice clean up along with our other chores. Rain clouds were threatening us above from the afternoon on, but they did not release any water yet.

Day 10 – Tuesday May 3rd– Trash Camp
We stayed another day at the same place, but each of us took the day to go off and make a new camp somewhat nearby – our own shelters. We knew that the rain would be coming soon so we took our time building a place where we would be comfortable for the night. Everyone took a break to come back to our common camp for a quick lunch and then we left again, not to see any of the others before the next morning. Our only tools were our knives, but we had our sleeping bags and pads this time, unlike in the winter.

Day 11 – Wednesday May 4th– Mud Camp
We reassembled little by little for pancakes in the morning, Rosa last as she had taken an almost 12 hour nap and was not planning to wake up before someone knocked on her door. Then we spent the morning touring our homes and telling stories before we paddled on. We had two dams to portage today, Moore and Comerford, and the second provided us with an unbelievably steep grassy downhill that none of us could believe deserved to be called a portage trail. Lacking other choices, we camped on an old railroad bed along the river, and got to experience some high-class mud to live on. The rain, which hadn’t really been bad the previous night, got us good now, and it was wet.

Day 12 – Thursday May 5th– Whirlpool of Death Camp
We were just eating our lunch on land, having portaged the McIndoe Falls Dam, when a man came up to us and asked if we were planning to canoe down further on there. Well, we were and said so, and then we where told that in that case he would be reading about us in the newspaper tomorrow. The reason was the crazy whirlpool created by the high water levels, 5 feet deep and quite deadly. We took his warning to heart and proceeded carefully, but could safely get quite close to the mentioned place without being dragged into the death pool. There weren’t exactly any 5 feet walls to see, or a crazy current that would pull us straight in if we rounded the corner, but it was not a place that we wanted to paddle, so we took out and carried around. The river could still be difficult further ahead, considering the high water, so we went on a nice scouting hike through Woodsville. It turned out that this stretch too was unpaddlable, but it was late so we went back to our gear and set up camp.

Day 13 – Friday May 6th– Monster Truck/Helicopter-Peepshow/Eden Camp
We portaged our canoes the 2.5 km through Woodsville before breakfast, and then we went back and carried the rest after a good meal. It was as flat a paddle day as any other, but we had a strong headwind that would not let up. Getting where we wanted was suddenly difficult, and we worked hard and then set camp somewhat before planned. We found a nice shielded cornfield and choose a spot of green grass off to the side of it. We had some nice quiet for a few hours before some motors started roaring on the other side of the river. There was nothing we could do about it, so we continued as normal and just wondered about what this could be.

Day 14 – Saturday May 7th– Monster Truck/Helicopter-Peepshow/Eden …
Groundnuts, Fiddleheads, Ramps, Dandelion Greens
Another liveover. Beautiful weather, but quite early in the morning the motors where already roaring again. We learned from the owner of our field (who kindly contributed 18 eggs to our food stores!) that a Mud Bogging Race was going on just across the river. Not long after that, a helicopter started flying over our camp, doing loops around the area every 20 minutes or so and getting closer to us every time.  There wasn’t much we could do about it, so we continued living our lives even with these sounds of a different world breaking the silence. We spent the day collecting fiddleheads, Japanese knotweed for pie, and going on a forest excursion in the narrow forest between the farmer’s two fields. That turned out to be a great find – one of the richest forests Nate had ever seen, and we went from plant to plant to tree, drawing and learning. Our little haven beside this field was beautiful, rich in all the wild edibles we could have wanted (ground nuts and dandelions and delicious stinging nettles). All in all we had found an extraordinary place for our liveover and the sun kept us warm yet another day.

Day 15 – Sunday May 8th– Crew Camp
We left our now quiet Eden behind, and paddled on to Robie Farm, a farm just by the river with a farm store where we supplied ourselves with raw milk, ice cream and cow heart and tongue. We also met Mathias and Nicole, two great Kroka instructors, and Lisl, who spent the day paddling with us. It was a nice sunny day and we paddled along watching the houses by the river and humming our newly learned song “don’t build your house too close to the shore”. We camped at Dartmouth College’s organic farm, arriving in the afternoon with plenty of time for enjoying the sun and playing games like capture the flag. Passing us on the river were the college’s rowing teams in practice, coming up and down the river, loudly, and we reflected upon how different our own travel on the river is. Our guests left before the evening, but we had very much enjoyed the short time that we got with them.

Day 16 – Monday May 9th– Fish Camp
We set out for Sumner Falls this day, but took some breaks on the way. The first stop was Dartmouth College, where we looked at some huge Elm trees. All Elm trees in America are very short lived, because of the Dutch Elm disease that they cannot avoid, but these have been injected with something that keeps it at bay. We spent some time wandering around the campus, watching different trees, finding basswood leaves(!) and crab apples and eating them, looking at the fresco mural in the reserve reading room and listening to stories from Lu’s time as a student there. It was a nice and fun break, and I will admit that we did enjoy sticking out of the crowd with flowers in our hair, walking relaxedly around and eating from trees in plain sight. We got much amusement from the comment shouted after us as we crossed a street: “Walk faster hippies!” and even more from the talk Nate gave us that evening about how there was no point denying what we are, when we hold hands and sing three times a day and like it. Our next break was at Wilder Dam. We portaged over and were met by a representative from TransCanada, the company that owns most of these dams. It was interesting to learn more about the dams that we have just been passing, and have the opportunity to have all our questions about the topic answered. Then we continued on, finally to Sumner Falls, which we portaged around this time. We set camp right below and across the river from it, and did some fishing and general enjoyment of the sun and warmth.

Day 17 – Tuesday May 10th– Fish Camp
Our long awaited, in some cases slightly feared white-water day had arrived. We took a live over to make the whole day a study into a different kind of paddling. Some of us started the day early by paddling over to a good eddy below the falls before breakfast and breaking out the fishing rods. And we caught fish! Tobias, Jon and Nimrod each caught beautiful bass, Tobias two. We kept one and had a nice little addition to breakfast. Afterwards we headed back over to the eddy and the portage trail and were met by Randy Elliott-Knaggs. He had all we could need by way of whitewater canoes, rafts, helmets, wetsuits and paddles. We got in the water, starting with the basics and playing around in the eddies and different currents below the falls. After working on different maneuvers all day, most of us going in the water at least one time, we got our chance to paddle the entire rapid. Because of the high water levels, mostly all stones and such were deep under water, but that also meant that the eddies behind them were gone and we would have to run the full rapid without pause. I paddled a canoe with Randy, Bridie and Tim were together, Jake and Tobias, and then Sam and Nimrod. Rosa, Serene, Zane, Julian, Jon, Lu and Nate were all paddling one big raft. It was quite exciting I thought, and then even more so as I turned around at the bottom of the rapid and saw a flipped canoe coming down. Randy and I went on a rescue mission and got Nimrod and Sam safely back in their canoe with some help from the raft. They had had quite the trip down the rapid without a boat. After a long day, we paddled back over to camp and just spent more time fishing and enjoying life. And Tobias caught another bass.

Day 18 – Wednesday May 11th– Glass Eden
The first day of our group solo we set off with flags on two off our canoes. We felt quite the pirates floating down the river unnoticed by most people before we would suddenly come out of the bushes along the river, a strange group of people walking through some town, before disappearing into nowhere, as if they had not been there. The sun was with us, and so was the river and we took it easy and got far. We visited a Sculpture Garden called Path of Life, some town along the way on the hunt for Technu against Poison Ivy, a beautiful spring in the steep riverside, and as we approached camp, we explored a long old stone tunnel under a road and made a rope swing out of a vine. Then we arrived at Jarvis Island in good time, making dinner and setting up camp, but with lots of time for being bounced into the water by Zane on the great super bounce branch that we had instead of a rope swing. Evening fell as we enjoyed our bonfire and each other’s company.

Day 19 – Thursday May 12th– Poison Ivy Mosquito Camp
Another beautiful day. We took off quite early. We paddled along leisurely, knowing we weren’t going as far this day. We found a rope swing under a big bridge and Zane and Bridie took their time jumping in the water while others checked out the surroundings.  This was the day of floating naps, and a floating lunch, but still we arrived at camp at one o’clock. A huge field served as our home, where we set up in the corner, just far enough from the edge to not sleep in the poison ivy that surrounded it. We had some time to ourselves, carving, and Nimrod was still fishing. Then some of us slept under the open sky hoping for no rain, while others kept to the tarp.

Day 20 – Friday May 13th– Poison Ivy Mosquito Camp
Lu and Nate arrived in the morning and we made the decision that we wanted a live over more than to return to Kroka one day early. It was our hottest day yet, and we spent it learning and drawing more plants, going on a food hunt for nettles and basswood leaves on the other side of the river, and having gunnel wars – a canoe game in the water that thankfully cooled us off. We also learned to make cordage from basswood bark and made ourselves bracelets and necklaces with sumac beads.

Day 21 – Saturday May 14th– Golf Camp
It was time to leave the Connecticut. We portaged around the Bellows Falls dam, through the town of North Walpole, and just after we had put in again we turned of onto the Cold River. Immediately we jumped out, tethered our canoes, and got ourselves up the steep slope of the bank to the road. It was a short walk to the Walpole Creamery – we had some group money to use on local ice cream. After finally deciding our flavors and eating the wonder, we headed back to the canoes, harvesting some more goodies on the way. As we walked along Jon shouted, “If you have a free hand, come grab some food!” and we picked all the nettles and dryad saddle we had hands for. Then we started up the Cold River, sandals and socks on our feet, all wet the moment after we began. It took some work getting the technique of the lining, but we trudged along in the water, more or less cold. Tobias and Jake pulled up on the wrong side of a deep pool as we were having a snack break, so they had a nice swim to get their food. Others of us got fully wet too, less purposefully as we slipped on rocks or stepped in a sudden deep hole. Seemingly long after we had started, we arrived at camp – a quite mosquito infested field, but before we could get anywhere in camp setup the owner of the field showed up and invited us to instead stay in their garden. We continued a little bit further up the stream to a beautiful little paradise with the finest lawn any Kroka student has ever camped on. Jack and Martha Walsh let us cook in their outdoor fireplace and even provided us with the firewood! As evening settled in, we got a visit from Tom and Anna, old Semester Alumni and staff at Kroka this summer, and Lisl, bringing with them milk and a treat of meat. Our hosts also provided cookies and it was quite the feast, even though the rain was pouring and we had a fence hung full with wet clothes and no way to dry them.

Day 22 – Sunday May 15th– Damp/Dog Camp
All of us awoke in the very early morning from the hardest rain we had ever heard drumming down on our tarps. But we stayed dry, and soon fell asleep again as the rain quieted down some. After breakfast we put on our soaked lining clothes from the day before, said goodbye to our so nice and welcoming hosts Jack & Martha, and continued up the river. We would try to walk in more shallow water as we lined the canoes alongside us in the deeper parts, the river would bend and turn, have small rapids or go deep and still so we would jump in the canoes and paddle for a few meters. We took a break by a rope swing on shore, and as we were already fully soaked from the hips down, it seemed like a good time to just jump in. Bridie, Tobias, Zane, Julian & Jake took their turns on the swing, while Tim just leisurely floated down the current. My canoe, that Jake and I hadn’t tied well enough, was also leisurely floating downstream, so I got in with running speed, throwing myself after it in an exciting rescue. Afterwards we did more and then some more lining, only interrupted by a cold standing lunch and later a small portage past the waterfalls at Four Corners, Alstead. We reached our planned campsite early, and agreed to push on, lured by the promise of no more wet lining the day after if we finished it now. Not long after we reached the bridge in Alstead Center, and pulled our canoes out of the river one last time. Luckily we were allowed to stash them right nearby, at a house belonging to Karen, a friend of Bridie’s father.  We then journeyed on into the unknown with only our gear. We were walking towards Lake Warren, seeing how much of the following day’s portage we could get done that day, and looking for a suitable campsite in any nice people’s yard or field, which we found just as we were tiring out, at the home of a wonderfully kind lady named Linda.

Day 23 – Monday May 16th– Last Camp
A day for heroes. Everything still wet as we awoke. After breakfast we carried all our gear the 5 km that was left to arrive at Lake Warren. The up hills dragged on, but we kept on, and it was pretty amazing to see the lake sign as we arrived on the top. Then we walked the 6.5 km back to Alstead where we had left the canoes, and carried them to our campsite. There we had left our lunch, and got a well-deserved break, before we carried the canoes the last 5 km up to the lake. Then we had just a tiny paddle out to Pine Island where we set up camp, ate dinner, longed to use the rope swing but were too freezing cold and wet already, and then ate Nimrod’s amazing Wintergreen Berry Cake, a very high point of his career as Dessert Manager.

Day 24 – Tuesday May 17th– Big Yurt Camp = Back at Kroka!
We awoke in the cold morning mist, and as we took down our last camp the rain poured down on us. Luckily it didn’t come in the night as Tobias, a voluntary edge-sleeper, was sleeping outside the tarp, having been rolled out of it by the pressure of six people on a slight downhill. Out on the water we sang our goodbye to the spring expedition and paddled the short way to shore. While some people emptied canoes, others kept busy with some last minute fishing, and Nate caught 3 beautiful yellow perches for our dinner. We also got a good look at a turtle in the water.
Then it was time to leave Lake Warren behind, and we grabbed all our gear for this last portage, 2 km left to Kroka. It was barely on the right side of drizzling, and we waited for the sun to greet us as we laid eyes on the green fields of Kroka Expeditions, but we didn’t get such a classic moment. Mathias and Elisa enthusiastically greeted us, and then we turned back around to pick up our canoes. One last march and then we paraded up to the carriage barn with the canoes on our heads – feeling, to put it mildly, quite accomplished, even though we knew there were more work ahead.

Mathilde Vikene
Spring Scribe, NH-Vermont Semester ‘11

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