My sweetheart, Marilyn, and I concocted a plan to head to the Moosehead Lake region of Maine in hopes of finding winter. We were absolutely fed up with the "winter that wasn’t."
Well, I’m here to tell you that our plan worked absolutely spectacularly, So spectacularly, as a matter of fact, that some of the folks we stayed with were begging us to stick around for the rest of the season. Believe me, if we could, we’d be happy to.
The night we arrived, a storm that once again missed all of southern and most of central New England managed to drop a foot or more of snow on the area around Greenville. Everyone assumed Marilyn and I were the good luck charm that caused the snow to fall. We did nothing to disabuse them of this notion.
We began our adventure on Sunday, arriving late morning at West Branch Pond Camps (westbranchpondcamps.com), where we were greeted by owner Eric Sterling, who transported our gear via snowmobile to a lovely cabin on the lakeshore.
He’d already started the woodstove for us, and the cabin was toasty warm, with a kettle of water warming in case we wanted a hot drink before heading out. He’d already been out grooming the portion of his 15-kilometer trail system he thought we’d like best, and we wasted no time heading out on our first cross-country ski adventure of the winter.
The temperature was in the low 20s, the wind brisk and refreshing, the snow was deep and soft, the sky that vivid blue that happens only in winter. Conditions simply couldn’t have been more perfect.
Our itinerary for the next three days called for skiing 6 to 8 miles each day, so I wanted a nice little warm-up -- 6 or 7 miles or so with a good climb or two, just enough to get the muscles tuned and the blood flowing.
With three challenging days ahead, Marilyn’s idea of a "nice little warm-up" for this first day was focused more on the "little." So we chose a four-mile loop close to camp with a few modest hills and some spectacular views of West Branch Pond and nearby White Cap Mountain. Not what I had hoped for, but still a fun little ski jaunt. I call this compromise; Marilyn refers to it as me trying to kill her. Still, she’s a good sport about it and always admits she’s had a good time.
Not in any hurry, we glided along on in the sunshine, savoring the pure joy of soft snow under deep blue skies. The only noise we could hear was the wind in the trees. The day couldn’t have been nicer. For most of our jaunt, ours were the only tracks on the newly groomed trail. On the final leg of our ski, we met the other seven people staying the night -- they’d just arrived and were as anxious to hit the trail as we were.
We got to know them a bit over dinner that night (baby back ribs with dirty rice and broccoli) and breakfast (homemade doughnuts, oatmeal, pancakes and sausage) the next morning. Nice folks, typical of the Active Outdoors people you meet at these wilderness camps in the Maine woods.
A building layer of clouds made the sunrise next morning magnificent, and we were off for a longer ski into Little Lyford Pond. Winter, at last!
Lovely Little Lyford
OK, I’ll admit it. I took a wrong turn at an unsigned intersection on our somewhat circuitous ski to Little Lyford (there are more direct and easier routes) and made our trek quite a bit longer and tougher than the 7.4 miles we had planned. My bad. I had a map, but I should have had a compass in my pocket, not in my pack on this sunless day. Still, I enjoyed our little side-jaunt, and Marilyn’s alive, feisty as ever, and still speaking to me, so it’s all good.
The extra skiing just made our somewhat later-than-planned arrival at the AMC’s Little Lyford Pond Camp (www.outdoors.org) all the more welcome. A cup of hot tea in our extremely cozy cabin, a sauna followed by a warm shower, and a dinner of curried chicken stir fry (again in the company of very nice folks) set the world right again. Did I mention that the camp at Little Lyford is very comfortable?
Gorgeous Gorman Chairback
We lingered long over breakfast the next morning, enjoying good company and the spectacle of a slowly clearing sky. A dusting of fresh snow overnight made the 6.5-mile ski from Little Lyford to Gorman Chairback Camp seem almost magical. Again, there was no hurry as we savored the solitude and quiet. In fact, we never saw another person on the trails all day.
Gorman Chairback is an amazing oasis in the wilderness. They offer your choice of bunkhouse accommodations, rustic cabins (which we prefer) with no plumbing (indoor toilets, sauna and showers are in the spectacular new lodge building where you eat and socialize). This year, they’ve added five brand-new multi-bedroom cabins with toilets and showers. The roast beef dinner that night was sumptuous.
Another bluebird day arrived next morning for our ski out. We set a leisurely pace and stopped for lunch, but the 8.4 miles passed too quickly.
In total, we probably skied about 30 miles over our four days on cross-country skis, all on gorgeous trails we shared with very, very few other people. If the winter never shows up nearer home, at least we’ll have these wonderful memories to tide us over until next December.
Now we’re back in "civilization" at the slopeside hotel at Sugarloaf Resort (www.sugarloaf.com).
Oh, and it’s snowing . . . and they’ve finally got enough snow to open their glades. Life is good when you finally find winter.
Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.