Gearing Down on the Maine Hut Trails

Flagstaff Lake backpacking

Two weeks, no touring bikes. My metabolism, inspired by three months of biking, rages on like a hungry teenager. It’s as if my stomach frequently yells, “Hey, we’re starving down here!” I’m striking a balance between eating everything in sight and knowing that I’ll turn into Dakota the Puffy Balloon Kid if I do, which means sometimes I have to put my adolescent stomach in detention and let it grumble at me.

Not that we’ve been sitting around eating bon bons and drinking chai all day. Quite the contrary. Since we unclipped our cycling shoes on October 6th, I’ve had a grand total of two days lounging. As my friend Eric said recently, “Good God! Will the two of you just sit down and watch some television?”

No way. Instead, the day after finishing our bike tour found us gearing up for a four-day backpacking trip in Maine. Chelsea’s fabulous mother planned the expedition for us and her parents flew out to celebrate the bike tour’s end the best way I know: tromping through the woods beneath eye-popping fall foliage.

Perfect fall colors on the MHT amid the poplars.

Perfect fall colors on the MHT amid the poplars.

The huts are three hours north of Portland in a tiny town called Carrabassett Valley. Sugarloaf, a ski resort, sits high above the valley. The Appalachian Trail cuts through during its final legs less than five miles away. And over the last six years, a 35 year dream of a local finally happened. It’s called the Maine Hut Trails (MHT) and you need to check it out if you’re ever in this area!

In total, it’s a network of 12 planned huts, 4 currently built and operating, that will connect 180 miles of gorgeous trails. Planned as a cross-country ski destination, it also is great for backpacking and exploring fall colors, which is what brought us there. Picture gleaming log lodges about 10 miles apart with big windows looking out at trees, lakes or over a valley. Throw in three meals a day cooked for us (they easily accommodate special diets too) and the experience was one I highly recommend. All day outside in the trees plus a warm meal at the end of the day is our version of kicking back on a beach.

Our favorite hut during the hike, Stratton Brook. Huge windows overlooking the valley and a nice seating area by the fire.

Our favorite hut during the hike, Stratton Brook. Huge windows overlooking the valley and a nice seating area by the fire.

Fallen leaves in a poplar grove during the hike.

Fallen leaves in a poplar grove during the hike.

I perform some of my clearest thinking when I’m in the woods. (I suspect I’m not alone in that.) Just me and one foot in front of the other. Striding through fall leaves with a pack on my back felt steady and good, even as my feet and shoulder muscles discussed the fact that bike touring didn’t prep them for this activity. And without needing to worry about logistics and where we were going to stay that night, I could reflect on our bike trip. No cell phone, no computer, just nature on full power for four days of unplugged tromping about.

I am letting the full experience of touring marinate before writing a reflections post (if I do one at all). While I’m relaxed post-tour and enjoyed our time in Maine, an unsettled feeling occasionally pops into my consciousness now that we’re without bikes. Time for a new project or goal to engage my compass. I’ve felt this before after achieving significant milestones in my life and I think we all run into it at junctures in our personal journey. (It’s that moment when you submit a big report or watch empty Dixie cups kick around in the wind after a race.) I suspect it would mean I’m not challenging myself enough if I didn’t have moments like this, so I’m just going with it.

An evening canoe on Flagstaff Lake, the first hut we stayed in.

An evening canoe on Flagstaff Lake, the first hut we stayed in.

It’s not a let down or disappointment to be transitioning off the bikes, which we shipped home in a zero-fanfare moment. (I didn’t even tear up, though Chelsea curbed the urge to run back and hug her bike.) It’s just a different phase to which I need to adjust. The hard part will be not bringing it up in every conversation for awhile. Maybe I’ll wear my cycling shorts and jersey a couple days a week and pretend we’re still touring.

Engaging my body while my mind whirs away always works for me. So while I mulled over various ideas the last few weeks, we backpacked on the MHT, hiked granite outcroppings on the coast of Maine near Acadia, and soaked up the final gasps of New England’s leaf show. If nothing else, it was a splendid ramp down for the gnawing beast that is my metabolism as we transition into the winter and not biking every day. From here, feeding my insatiable desire to learn, grow and be challenged will take the place of cycling for awhile. Even if I already miss my bike, I’m looking forward to it.

Headed to Boston today! Ciao for now.

Dakota

A break on the trail.

A break on the trail.

Chelsea near the end of the MHT trail.

Chelsea near the end of the MHT trail.

The Narrow Gauge Rail Trail finish line near where we parked the car. Note for mountain bikers: there are NICE gravity trails in the area built by MTBers for MTBers. Worth a visit!

The Narrow Gauge Rail Trail finish line near where we parked the car. Note for mountain bikers: there are NICE gravity trails in the area built by MTBers for MTBers. Worth a visit!

This young lad was the host of the final MHT hut. His name ?Dakota James...Just. Like. Mine. Whaaaaat are the chances?!

This young lad was the host of the final MHT hut. His name? Dakota James…Just. Like. Mine. Whaaaaat are the chances?!

Dozens of planks spanned creeks during our hike.

Dozens of planks spanned creeks during our hike.

 

C and parents on the MHT.

C and parents on the MHT.

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