Active Outdoors: Planning ahead pays off in late summer
Barring a hurricane, late August and early September are typically a wonderful time for a New England getaway focused on the outdoors. Weekends can still be pretty busy in many tourist areas, but summer vacations are over for many schools, so lots of families are back home and into that routine. The days are usually warm, often sunny, but the hazy, hot and humid weather of summer is departing. You don’t have foliage-season madness to contend with. Even insects cooperate – blackflies are long gone, other biting flies and mosquitoes are still around, but in lesser numbers than they were in June and early July. In all, it’s as good as summer gets.
Like many folks who knew the world and traveled extensively before the world wide web and mobile devices came along, I probably do more advanced planning than absolutely necessary. Lots of people these days wait for a weather report and make last-minute decisions about where to go and what to do. But I’ve seen too many cases where people waited a little too long and couldn’t do what they wanted.
I prefer to work at least a few weeks ahead, decide where I want to go and what I want to do, and make plans for that. I’ll usually build in a Plan “B” in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. Plan “C,” used only in the worst cases, is to cancel and stay home.
For a couple of years now, since we skied into the Stratton Brook Hut in the winter, I’ve wanted to visit the other three huts in the Maine Huts and Trails system (mainehuts.org). In the winter you can ski or snowshoe between the four huts. In the summer, you can hike or mountain bike. But two of the huts, Flagstaff and Grand Falls, are on water (Flagstaff Lake and the Dead River, respectively), and it’s possible, with a little organization, to use a kayak to travel to both. So my sweetheart, Marilyn (who prefers kayaking to hiking with a pack), and I have planned (there’s that word again), to use our kayaks to reach both huts. We’ll be staying two nights at Flagstaff so we can explore the lake one day, and one night at Grand Falls.
This isn’t an absolutely seamless plan; you can’t kayak directly between huts. There’s a big dam in the way and a long portage at the outlet of Flagstaff Lake, and the Grand Falls Hut is near, well, Grand Falls, so you can’t paddle all the way to it. The first day, we’ll paddle about two or three miles to reach Flagstaff hut.
The second day, we’ll paddle as much as we feel like on Flagstaff Lake (there’s an all-day group outing that I will likely join). On the third day, we’ll paddle back to the launch on the lake, use our car to shuttle the boats and gear, then paddle down the Dead River to as close to Grand Falls as we can. From there, we’ll walk the trail from around Grand Falls to reach the hut. The last morning, we’ll re-trace our route against the gentle currents on the Dead River, load the boats on the car and be on our merry way.
Of course, we have a backup plan. If it’s too windy for kayaking or there’s too much lightning to paddle safely, we’ll simply put our overnight gear in a backpack and hike to the two huts. It’s always good to have a plan “B.”
The nice thing about staying at a hut is you don’t need much gear. They provide all meals; all you need is a light sleeping bag for the bunk, a pillow case, your clothing and basic toiletries. It’s much lighter than tent camping.
We fully expect to have a wonderful time in perfect comfort in the backwoods of Maine. What a plan! Anyone care to join us? I just checked website and there’s still space available. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
After leaving the Grand Falls, we’re staying in the Maine woods for two more nights, this time at the AMC’s Gorman Chairback Lodge and Cabins (outdoors.org/lodging/lodges/gorman) southwest of Moosehead Lake, smack in the middle of the famed 100-mile wilderness along the Appalachian Trail. We’ve skied to this amazing place several times in the winter, but we’ve never seen it in summer or fall.
I’m looking forward to paddling on Long Pond (maine.gov/IFW/fishing/lakesurvey_maps/piscataquis/long_pond_t7r9.pdf). It’s several miles long with a good population of loons, and it’s almost pure wilderness. As I recall, there are only one or two other buildings on the entire lake.
There’s also some amazing hiking nearby, and I’m hoping to visit Gulf Hagas (outdoors.org/recreation/tripplanner/ideas/gulf-hagas.cfm), also known as the “Grand Canyon Of Maine.” But the trail is described as “strenuous” and a lot will depend on the weather. There are plenty of easier hiking trails in the neighborhood. We’ve skied many of them in winter; I wonder what they look like in summer?
As I write this, the next two weeks are pretty full at Gorman Chairback, but starting Aug. 19 (why, I have no idea…) there are openings almost every night through September. Seriously, if you’ve never visited this area, there’s no better time of year to go.
The huts experience
Both the Maine Huts and Trails and the AMC Maine Lodges are ways to get a full-on wilderness experience without having to “rough it” in any way. You are surrounded by miles and miles of nothing. Yes, you see other people at the huts, but they tend to be like-minded outdoorsy folks and a lot of fun. And for the price of having some other people around you get great food prepared for you, clean indoor plumbing, showers, comfortable bunks, screens to keep out insects. You don’t need to carry and set up a tent and sleeping pads; if it rains, you have a roof over your head and a place to get warm and dry. It’s a nice middle ground to explore, especially if you aren’t really sure about the whole “great outdoors.”
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)