April 5, 2018
This is the first post in the six-part series, I Can't Get No Satisfaction.
It was a busy January and early February. Starting new jobs, kids activities, family visiting, church, and homeschool community commitments - every weekend there was something.
Back in January as the weekends were starting to fill up in our shared Google calendar, an empty weekend in February remained. And so I filled it up right then with "Damien & Renee Ski Trip", blocking out the days with a dream.
We don't have the funds for a fancy trip and as the winter weeks rolled by, we didn't even have the energy to plan anything.
My brother and his kids came to visit the first weekend of February. (Some of you have stayed in our apartment. Image nine of us filling all the nooks and crannies, and floor sleeping space!)
The following weekend there were work and church obligations. "Damien & Renee Ski Trip" stood guard over the next weekend. And when by some miracle nothing else had come up, no last-minute best friend's birthday parties to which we would have to drive kids, we realized that if we could find a place to stay we could actually get away for the weekend.
I guess I should back up the story and tell you that last winter our friends, the Kallin family, who live in Maine, rented a cabin for the winter season in Stratton (also in Maine).
We joined them one weekend in March at that cabin for two fun and full days of backcountry skiing and snowshoeing. One of the best memories of winter 2017.
They decided to rent the cabin again this year and we had already been in conversation with them about when we might come down this season as a family, and I vaguely recalled that this particular February weekend, that I had saved as Damien & Renee Ski Trip, their cabin might be available.
We sent an email and heard back an affirmative - come! The Kallins were going to see friends in New Hampshire that weekend. The cabin would be empty and available.
Stratton Maine is a 4 hour (with gas & potty breaks) drive from Montreal. Completely doable for a short weekend trip. The week was so packed with activities and work there was no time to pack before Friday night. Not to mention, Damien and the kids don't get home from Friday co-op, driving through Montreal traffic after a full day, until 7 pm.
We'd have to leave Saturday morning and come back on Sunday night but we could do it.
We invited the kids. Like us, our kids love getting out of the city and being in the mountains. And whenever an opportunity arises to be in nature we want as many Tougas' as possible to have that experience.
But they don't have the right gear for cross-country skiing, namely cross-country skis, and boots! Backcountry downhill skiing where you skin up and ski down - yep, they can do that. Lift area skiing/boarding where you ride up and ski down - yep, all set. But not the gentle slope terrain of cross-country skiing.
I've had cross-country skis for a few seasons now. I started with these skis before switching to my current alpine touring gear for downhill skiing. Damien just bought cross-country skis and boots this winter, which has opened up a whole new world of ski possibilities, for him individually and him and I together, skiing within the city and backcountry trips in gentler terrain.
Damien and I have the most diversified ski gear, the kids don't. They were out of luck with this trip. But they also had individual projects and homeschool co-op assignments and one them especially loves to sleep in on Saturday mornings (afternoons).
This is the way it is as our kids grow. We will have adventures our kids won't. It's good and healthy for all of us. But I still felt a little bad they couldn't get out of the city.
We arrived at the cabin right around noon, after picking up a few groceries for the weekend, at the only grocery store in the village. While drinking tea I looked at the Maine Huts & Trails map and planned our afternoon ski. We'd hit the trail at the parking area closest to the cabin, a ten-minute drive away. We'd ski out and back to Stratton Brook Hut, before coming back home for supper and an evening of chill.
This was our first experience with Maine Huts & Trails, 80 miles of multi-use, people-powered trail in the Bigelow Mountain range, with four luxury backcountry lodges offering accommodations, meals, and luggage shuttle service (for an extra fee) for adventurers who want the outdoors with creature comforts.
At approximately $125 USD per night, per person, it's a little out of our adventure budget. After backpacking for so many years, and investing in our own gear, our budget expectations for accommodations are pretty low (namely free) for backcountry travel.
However, that price includes all three meals, in addition to your bunk in the communal bunkroom. For a single person or adventurous couple, it's not an unreasonable amount to pay. (Members and children get discounted rates.)
For years we have evaluated everything by "how much does it cost for 5 people to do this?" We are entering the "how much does it cost for 2?" stage and it's amazing how much more affordable things are when you're only buying for two!
The lodges are beautiful, the food looks fabulous and you even get a hot shower. It's a good deal considering all you get. A good deal that's still outside our budget. We'd rather have more adventures of the rustic kind than fewer adventures with more luxury. If more adventure and more luxury was a financial option, I'd take it in a heartbeat!
Dining room, Stratton Brook Hut
This trip was hardly rustic when we were able to return to our friends' seasonal cabin rental for the night. It was adventure and luxury, and because of our friends' generosity, it was also free.
Saturday night was very relaxed, we watched a yoga/meditation documentary together and then enjoyed the companionable silence of reading our respective books and online articles. It snowed during the night and Sunday morning we set out for another ski day, both relaxed and eager to be outside, in the woods, in the mountains.
We got on the Maine Huts & Trails system again from a different trailhead this time, skiing into Poplar Hut. (Hut is really a misnomer, these are well-appointed backcountry lodges.)
After eating our bagged lunch in the beautiful dining room and me taking a short nap on the bench that wraps around the perimeter of the room, we set off back to the trail, and back home. Reaching the car mid-afternoon, crossing the border less than an hour later, and stopping for supper in Bromont, we arrived back home in Montreal at 8 pm. Just in time to cozy up in the living room with the kids and watch primetime coverage of the Olympic games.
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