Where Oh Where to begin?
As some of you may already know, I have spent the past year and a half living and working off-grid in the mountains of Western Maine for Maine Huts and Trails , a nonprofit backcountry hut and trail system, whose goal is to preserve and conserve this region of Maine through earth-conscious sustainability and people-powered outdoor recreation.
My time with the huts was primarily spent working within one of their four backcountry eco-lodges, accessible only by hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. My commute to work was unlike your normal rush hour drive along highways and backroads just to clock in on time, but a calming and grounding 1-3+ mile journey through Maine’s scenic backcountry. Once on duty, I would stay at the hut for up to 10 days at a time, taking 5 days off following the end of my shift. We worked in pairs and teams, switching members within the rotation of our schedules to allow equal breaks to all. This job was challenging, because once at the hut you are almost always on, always available and always “working”. With that being said, so much of our job was fun, between socializing with our guests to getting creative in the kitchen and cooking all day. This job had its tough spots but was equally as rewarding, our quests always lit up with excitement as dinner came out and during times of socialization.
While spending hours at a time merely getting to and from work, I was able to find a deeper and more personal connection to not only myself but the space and environment around me. When talking with people about what it is that I do, or how I get to and from work, I am usually confronted with wide eyes and gaped mouths. There is no easy way in or out, there is no convenience to this job, you just throw on your winter layers, clip into your skis or bike pedals, and hit the trail with a full backpack of clean clothes and personal items. A 30+ pound bag becomes light as a feather, and your 3-mile uphill climb becomes a casual walk as your leg muscles grow and your pace quickens.
Even my commute between trailheads and surrounding areas along US Routes 27, 201 and even the infamous Long Falls Dam Road, had me questioning why I would ever leave this area of woodland magic for concrete landscapes and escalated highrises. These winding tree-lined roads dart around mountain ranges like the Bigelow Preserve and Mount Abram, and along waterways like the legendary Kennebec River, Dead River, and Flagstaff Lake. Each corner leaves you with a gripping view of snow capped mountains or potential summer swimming holes.
Half of my time while on the job was spent hosting and cooking from scratch meals for our overnight guests, using as many locally sourced provisions as possible. We worked in a commercial kitchen, bringing together meals for up to 45+ guests a night, each meal including 5+ dishes at a time; I have never eaten better in my life. We baked bread and desserts daily, roasted vegetables and slow-cooked meats every afternoon, and gave energetic dinner speeches and energy tours of our ecosystems every night.
The second half of my time was spent creating new friendships and lifelong bonds with fellow hut crew members. Every day felt like what I can only imagine summer camp to feel like: work, play, friends, food, sleep, repeat. Nights bore hours of laughter from our cozy bunks and the occasional pig pile of futon shenanigans. Late-night adventures into the dimly tree-lined woods and hours spent gazing upon the unpolluted night sky were often followed by a call out of the day’s “High, low and Hope for tomorrow”. Free time in between daily chores was spent running between the lake for quick swims, finding sunny spots on the back porch to read, sipping coffee at the vista and chasing sunsets. Warm afternoons were spent hiking up to the top of the Bigelows and biking between the narrow gauge bike trail system and the Sugarloaf outdoor center. Winter months were spent cross country skiing through the evergreens and putting out fresh tracks on newly groomed trails, snowshoeing out to the beaver pond and braving the frigid and windy ski-out onto Flagstaff Lake.
Life is much slower, simpler, and peaceful out here; adapting has felt nothing but natural. I finally feel like I am in the right place. There is no movie theater, 24/7 fast food joint, strip mall or extravagant shopping center, and I (we) like it that way. You have a handful of homey restaurant options, two gas stations, one coffee and lunch cafe, a small but mighty supermarket, a hardware store, a couple of farms, a pharmacy, a few places to rest your head if traveling and an art studio or two. There isn’t much need for anything else here, because like myself, those who call this area of Maine home crave greater things that are beyond us, like the mountains and rivers, and focus our free time and energy into enjoying these bits of fortune.
Life has been non stop, a whirlwind of fun and unexpected adventures. Thinking back on this past year, I feel confident saying that it was one of the best that I have ever had, if not the best year that I have ever had.