Sunday Morning~ Flagstaff Lake
September 17, 2017
This feels like the old college days when we had to write our papers out longhand then sit and type them. Both took equal amounts of time. I remember what a breakthrough erasable typing paper was. It shaved hours off the all-nighters keeping the roommate awake with the clacking of the manual typewriter. There is no cell reception or internet here so I’m disconnected for five whole days. I’ll type and post this when I get back.
I’m sitting in the reading room of a hut on the Maine Huts and Trails route, situated on a huge lake in the Maine woods. It is heaven. Not being brave (or depressed) enough to venture out on a canoe trip on my own, I decided on Monday to spend five days hiking in the Maine woods, something that while it evoked a little anxiety was certainly doable solo. I set out on Thursday, determined to do something I’d never done before with my pocket of free time. I’d been wanting to hike or ski between the four huts of the relatively new Maine Huts and Trails route since I’d first heard of them about ten years ago. I hadn’t gotten to it, so this was the perfect opportunity: five free days, an established route, marked trails, and accommodation and meals at the end of the day. No need to carry food. It’s perfect.
The hut system here is brilliant, established as a non-profit to create some sustainable way of supporting the local communities as the logging industry becomes less vibrant. It is ecotourism and they have done a fantastic job. It was designed for cross country skiing, but open most of the year for backpacking and canoeing. I think they close in April for mud season. There are currently four huts with hiking and canoeing trails connecting them and there are plans to expand the system to include another four huts. When finished, the trail will extend 180 miles from Bethel, Maine to Moosehead Lake. I’ll be doing 45 miles which includes the eight I have to walk out to get a ride back to my car. The huts provide clean and comfortable bunks and excellent breakfast and supper served family style. Then they lay out food for you to pack your own bag lunch. It’s fabulous. They are solar and wood heated, have composting toilets, warm showers, a comfortable reading room and library, pleasant and accommodating staff, and free coffee and tea always available. “Glamping” as one guest last night put it. Yesterday I hiked twelve miles through the woods and along the lake. The leaves are changing and the sun was shining and I am completely content.
At dinner last night, I learned that if you see a moose on the trail, you should just stand still. They’ll walk away. I brought this up at dinner because yesterday I saw lots of fresh tracks on the trail. I never saw another hiker and the trail was not well-worn so figured the moose probably had their run of the place. There are signs all over the highways warning about moose. I know it’s more dangerous to hit a moose with the car than to hit a tree with the car (for the people in the car anyway), but never really knew what to do if you stumble on one while on foot. When I saw these enormous fresh tracks in the mud I looked around, expecting Bullwinkle to be standing right next to me but I only saw toads and a few spruce grouse, which, did make me jump when they took off. I walked the next few miles a little spooked, wondering if doing this alone was such a good idea. I mean, why didn’t they put this in the instructions? Carry in, carry out, yes. No noise after 9:30 in the huts, yes. Dinner served at six, yes. Only brown paper towels in the baskets, yes. Trail shoes to be left outside, yes. But no, “If you see a moose on the trail, just be still, they’ll walk away.” No. Nothing like that. I thought about all this as I walked along, startling at everything that hopped or flew, thinking, well, it can’t be that big of a danger then because it’s not like out west where they are always telling you what to do if you run into a grizzly bear. I’m not going to be attacked by a moose…unless I get between her and her baby. Is it calving season? No, I don’t think so. Are baby moose called calves? I’m certainly not going to crash into a moose like I might in a car…though I might have a heart attack if I see one…and then what? My thoughts turned to a woman (about my age?) who died recently when she got off the Appalachian Trail and got lost. I assured myself the people in the hut would come looking for me if I’m not there by five…though, come to think of it, I never really confirmed that that’s what they’d do….Anyway, I never saw a moose, but saw plenty more tracks. I don’t think I’d do this hike during hunting season, though. I got a little nostalgic for the scouts accompanying us in Malawi with a gun. They do make me feel safe. But, as one of the hut workers said, “the only way to conquer your fears is to face them”, so here I am.
Friday night I was the only guest at the Poplar Springs Hut but last night there were twenty-five of us here. Five families with two kids each, that makes twenty, then there was a young couple (camp directors having what seems to be a busman’s holiday), a mother/daughter pair, and me. It’s so fun to meet people doing this. By the time we part ways in the morning we’re all hugging goodbye though we’ve known each other for a total of three hours.
The trail is very muddy in spots and there is a lot of tall wet grass. I definitely brought the wrong footwear. I left my hiking boots in Malawi and thought I could do this in running shoes. I certainly can, but didn’t expect the trail to be so wet. Walking twelve miles in wet shoes gave me blisters. I did the last two miles in flip flops. I thought it would be much colder. I’m ready for fall temps and it’s like summer! I’m carrying way more than I need, but of course if I didn’t, there’d be snow. I didn’t need such a heavy sleeping bag either. I have been waking with hot flashes, drenched in sweat. I haven’t had any alcohol on this hike, though they do sell beer and wine at the huts, I haven’t had any. Now I find I have been blaming red wine for something that’s obviously not it’s fault. Poor, innocent red wine.
Ok, breakfast is served and I need to hit the trail. Another twelve miles today then eight tomorrow out to catch the ride from the guy who has made a business transporting hikers and skiers back to their car. I love how this supports the local economy. I’ll be back.
Love to all,