This is independence

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There’s a freedom that comes when you step into nature, disconnecting from technology, norms, and routines. When you leave it all behind, you’re free to explore. 

Maine Huts and Trails is a system of four eco-lodges set in the Maine woods on over 80 miles of trails.  HM Payson is a proud supporter of Maine Huts and Trails, and of the adventures this organization helps to create.

As much as I love my job and my life in Portland, there are times where I need a mental escape from it all.  I was in need of exactly that escape as Christine and I packed up the Subaru with cross country skis, plenty of layers, sleeping bags, and a pair of slippers each.  

The two hour drive to Carrabassett Valley always flies by, and my anticipation grows in proportion to the growing snowbanks that line the road.  As we pull into the parking lot at the Carrabassett Valley airport, I tip my mug back and finish the last gulp of hot coffee.  Excitement courses through my veins—is that the caffeine I’m feeling or just my anticipation to get on snow?  Likely some combination of the two.

Scrunch my toes, shove my foot, wince a little. Lace Tie. Zip. Buckle.  These boots aren’t the easiest to get on, I think, as I watch Christine effortlessly slip into her ski boots.  But they’ve survived eleven years of use (abuse), all the while giving my feet a superpower—the ability to glide effortlessly across the hard packed snow— so I still love them despite their difficulties.  

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Upon opening the door of the car, I’m hit by a swirling gust of wind and snow—the stiff wind is funneled straight down the airport runway causing a wind-tunnel.   We both grab our gear and quickly throw our packs and skis on with nary a word spoken.  A brief huddled over shuffle across the two-hundred yards of wind tunnel is rewarded with a tranquil stillness in the trees on the other side.

“Whew!  That was something else!” I say as we regroup.  Two other skiers head past as we shed layers now that we’re out of the gale—the only other people we’ll see on the trail all day.  Now properly dressed for the ski ahead, we strike out on the Maine Huts Trail that trends gently uphill over a series of rolling climbs and descents.  

I’ve chosen skate skis for this weekend’s trip, a decision I’ll come to regret later, but in this moment the now retired racing skis shoot across the groomed trail like rockets.  Step, gliiiiide, step, gliiiiide.  It feels as if I’m cheating the laws of friction, and a goofy smile is plastered on my face.  It is this freedom that brings me north every chance I get.  

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After a road crossing and subsequent crossing of an iced over Poplar Stream, the trail kicks up, and we begin the climb up to Poplar Hut.  First hats are removed, then jackets unzipped as our bodies heat up despite the 10º F temperatures.  Literally steaming in the cold dry air, we make our way upwards, with the land sloping off to our left towards Poplar Stream below.  

Several more turns and all of a sudden I can see a warm yellow glow through the trees up ahead. The pace picks up, and minutes later we ski up to Poplar Falls Hut.  In reality, the word hut, at least in the American lexicon, doesn’t do it justice.  It is a beautiful lodge, with three outbuildings (bunkhouses), a fully staffed kitchen, and five star (at least by backcountry standards!) service.  We remove our skis, brush off the snow, and head inside.

The wood-stove is cranking, and we settle down next to it with a bowl of chili, our icy feet already warming up in the slippers we carried up.  This was a day well spent, an adventure, a mental reset.  It was exactly what I needed.

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Christine Reighley