(Host) All this winter seven teenagers and their teacher have been sleeping under the stars in a canvas tent. By day they’ve been traveling on skis, following the Catamount Trail northward, along Vermont’s rocky backbone. They’re part of a six-month journey sponsored by Kroka Expeditions, a southern Vermont outdoor education organization.
As VPR’s Susan Keese reports, the kind of education they’re getting is unique.
(Keese) In a rough cabin in the high country near the Bolton Mountain resort, these travelers have just spent the night. They’re here on a three-day resupply stop. Their clothes are dirty, their faces tan, they’re eyes sharp and keen. They’re talking about the last 10-day stretch of their semester long journey.
"Fun, interesting I would call it high adventure. It was hillier, and awesome, incredible views of Vermont. It was just incredible."
(Keese) The group set out in February near the Massachusetts border. The weather was sub-zero then. In many ways the spotty, often sticky snows of March are more challenging.
"It’s so wet, too. All your stuff gets soaked if you’re not careful."
(Keese) The climb up Mount Abraham was so icy they had to take their skis off. Coming down was a different story.
(Bloch) "We started to ski down the north side of Mount Abraham…"
(Keese) Eighteen-year old Saul Bloch of Dummerston is the oldest of the students. He’s also the designated navigator.
(Bloch) "…and because the snow was so deep you know, we were skiing through the tops of the trees that generally – if there was no – snow you would walk under. And we kind of like pushed our way through the brush and it took us an hour to make a kilometer."
(Keese) The students are from Vermont, California, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. They came together in January at the Kroka Camp in Newfane. Misha Golfman, a Russian-born outdoor educator, is the trip’s leader. He co- founded Kroka in 1996, and named it after a dog they once had.
Sitting by the woodstove in an earthen shelter before the trip got underway, Golfman talked about the school.
(Golfman) "Kroka is a wilderness adventure school dedicated to help people find their place in the world, and helps children grow into capable, responsible human beings. It’s a school that uses the opportunity to be outside to discover inner strengths."
(Keese) This trip fulfills a longtime dream of Golfmans: an entire school semester spent learning from what he considers the real world.
(Golfman) "They’re going on the expedition and they have 22 possessions with them. So they have to learn to live with 22 items and not with 122 and that’s a school."
(Jane Larsen) "Some of it is, it’s so freeing to not have to worry about all the things. You’re not thinking about, ‘Oh, I’ve lost my CD’ or whatever. It’s more of an experience with, like, the people and the journey."
(Keese) Fifteen-year-old Jane Larsen from Monkton was looking for an alternative to public high school.
(Larsen) "I like being outside. I like doing things with my hands and this whole thing is an experience to sort of find out more who I am and to keep searching for what I want to be and what I want to do."
(Keese) The students spent the month of January preparing for the trek. With visiting teachers they studied compass reading, first aid, weather patterns and winter camping skills. They ordered their food supplies: grains, butter, cheese, chocolate. They also made a tent, with help from a New Hampshire tent maker.
The tent uses the students’ skis as poles and their ski poles as pegs. It’s heated by a lightweight stove the trekkers pull on a small sled. Fifteen-year old Emily Turner is from Starksboro.
(Turner) "And we ski for usually about twelve kilometers, thirteen kilometers. We’ve done twenty kilometers in a day and we can always make twelve."
(Keese) After a long day on the trail, they gather fir boughs to make a fragrant carpet inside the tent. They work up firewood, cook their supper, write in their journals. Often they sing as they work.
Every ten days there’s a layover to take on new supplies. The students spend that time catching up on academics. Each student is putting together a text book on what he or she has learned.
(Turner) "So my main lesson book has pages about the expedition, our expedition gear, our menu, it has weather observations, first aid."
(Keese) Emily Turner’s page on skiing is her favorite.
(Turner) "There’s one main difference between skiing and flying. In skiing, your wings are attached to your feet. Although it is technically an earthbound activity it provides the same sense of wild freedom. Your skis slip and the wind blows through your hair, lifting you with each powerful push."
(Keese) The group will reach the Canadian border sometime in early April. There they’ll spend a month building a canoe that will carry them back down south on the Connecticut River.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese.