Monday, February 28, 2011

Women's Only Maine Winter Cabin Adventure

Maine Winter Cabin Adventure 2011

Eric and I are happy to report that we just returned from western Maine and had an awesome Maine Winter Cabin Adventure with three wonderful women. We thoroughly enjoyed this dog sledding program so much we fully intend to offer it again in 2012.

Participating in our grand dog sledding adventure were Deb C. (from Virginia), Leah C. (from Connecticut) and Sharon C. (also from Connecticut).

On Friday, February 18, 2011, the ladies arrived in Starks, Maine to begin their four day, three night dog sledding, skijoring, snowshoeing, and all around winter fun Maine Winter Cabin Adventure.

The day got off to a rough start for Eric and I as we picked up some unusual and unseasonable rain and freezing rain overnight between Thursday and Friday. Early Friday morning, Eric and I headed into town to pick up a few supplies including Maine lobsters (that's "lobstahs" to all you Mainers out there) for Friday evening's dinner along with a couple of other supplies. Our biggest mistake was not checking the road before heading out. As we backed the dog truck out onto the road, the dog truck began sliding sideways down the hill and we quickly discovered that the town maintained dirt road our cabin sits on had not yet been cindered by the town (as a side note: typically the town of Starks is VERY good at treating the road). As we took an accounting of our predicament, we finally got the dog truck pointed down the hill instead of sideways. We quickly deduced that we would not be able to get back up the little incline the cabin sits on, and decided our only real option was to proceed the two miles or so down the ice skating rink that was once our road and continue our trek into town. As we slipped and slid, we managed to put the dog truck into the snowbanks on either side of the road several times. Using a combination of of 4WD low and low gears (brakes were non existent on the ice), we slipped, slid and crawled our way down towards the paved road into town. The scariest incident was when we nearly slid the truck into Lemon Stream. Within sight of the paved road, we began up a slight incline only to begin sliding backwards and sideways. As we slid into yet another snow bank, Eric began shoveling (we always carry a shovel in the truck) dirt from the side of the road onto the ice to provide traction. Progress was slow going, however, as much of the dirt was frozen solid. Just when we began to despair ever getting up the hill, one of our kindly neighbors came along with studded snow tires on her jeep and asked if we needed assistance. Eric and our neighbor hopped in to her jeep and quickly drove back to her house to pick up a bucket full of cinders. In these extreme icy conditions, studded snow tires were the difference between having traction and no traction at all. 4WD was pretty much irrelevant. By shoveling cinders in around the wheels of the truck and up the incline, we were able to get the truck up the hill and out on to the pavement.

Upon reaching the pavement, we found all of the roads into town to have been treated. We ran our errands, picked up our lobsters, and to be on the safe side even picked up a set of tire chains for the dog truck. This was a HUGE concession on my part since I have never used tire chains on a 4WD vehicle in my 15 plus years of driving 4WD vehicles. However, they were "cheap insurance" as we ended up not needing them to get back into the cabin as the town had come through and cindered the road.

As the story goes, all's well that ends well. After the town came through and cindered the road it was much easier to navigate even without 4WD, studded snow tires, and tire chains (one participant even arrived in a tiny little Prius). The ladies all arrived safely at our Maine Winter Cabin Adventure around 1 pm and shortly thereafter the sun came out and the skies cleared to a brilliant blue.

After the morning's rain and freezing rain, crystal clear blue skies were a welcome sight

After donning appropriate snow clothes, we all headed outside to do some basic dog sled "driver's education" within sight of the cabin. The goal of this instruction was to get the women's "sled legs" under them while working on very basic dog sled driving skills while driving a small 2-3 dog team. Skills worked on included: setting a snow hook, pulling the snow hook, braking using the drag, braking and holding the team in place using the bar break, getting a feel for the balance of the dog sled, and pedaling the dog sled. We also used this opportunity to introduce each of the sled dogs and demonstrate how to harness them. Each of the women then harnessed at least one sled dog.

Sharon works on harnessing Acadia

Deb works on sled "driver's ed" with a three dog team of Gypsy and Acadia in lead followed by Luke in wheel

Leah works on getting her "sled legs."

Here comes Sharon learning the art of pedaling the dog sled.

As evening and darkness came to western Maine, we fed the sled dogs and retired indoors for some cocktails, appetizers, crab and corn chowder, an excellent Maine lobster dinner, finishing it off with lemon mousse with blueberries.

Saturday morning dawned clear and colder than Friday with temps in the low to mid 20s. (This is actually unseasonably warm for this part of Maine in February but since we had plans to spend the majority of the day outside, slightly warmer temperatures were welcome!)

Breakfast was a warm and tasty baked apple stuffed french toast with yogurt fruit parfaits, juice, and, of course, lots of hot steaming coffee.

Baked Apple Stuffed French Toast

Hot steaming coffee!

Yogurt and Fruit Parfaits

Leah gets a good morning kiss from puppy Sammamish (Sammi)

After breakfast, we set off down the short Cabin Tie trail (the trail which connects our cabin to the network of trails that criss cross the Maine country side). Today's runs were planned on the Cabin Ridge and the Power Line trail. Given the excellent snow conditions, we were able to use this challenging trail as our first day trail. We began with a four dog team and each woman ran the team approximately two miles up to the ridge where Eric was on site to help them turn the team around and head back (steeply) down the Power Line trail.

Big wheel dog, Okemo, harnessed and on the picket line awaiting his turn to be hooked to the dog sled.

Deb all geared up for the first full day of dog sledding

Leah listens intently while I explain the cardinal rule of mushing: Never let go!

Entering the woods

First full day of dog sledding: Deb drives a four dog team up the power line trail. Team is Acadia and Gypsy in lead followed by Luke and Sobo in wheel

Deb seems happy to have reached the top of the intersection of the power line trail and the ridge trail

Leah works on her sled driving skills with Acadia and Gypsy in lead and Luke and Sobo in wheel

What goes up, must come down. Leah comes flying down the steep hill off the power line trail. Acadia seems to fly with all four feet off the ground!

And here comes Sharon looking perfectly in control with a four dog team made up of: Luke and Acadia in lead followed by Gypsy and Sobo in wheel.

Acadia and Luke pulling hard up the power line trail with Sharon driving.

In the flats on the power line trail, the dogs pick up speed!

Sharon makes it to the top. (Not sure what all of the dogs were looking at)

After a morning of dog sledding in the brisk cold and a warm lunch of turkey chili and corn muffins, the ladies and Eric headed out with cross country skis to explore a trail in Starks that was a potential for skijoring and to practice basic cross country skiing skills prior to skijoring with any of our sled pets. Ultimately, Eric and the ladies discovered the trail in Starks did not go the direction we thought it did and thought that an easier trail in Farmington, Maine would provide a better opportunity for skijoring the following afternoon. After returning from their skiing explorations, Eric and the ladies set off for a brisk snow shoe on the cabin trails.

Snowshoeing with Okemo and Sammi

Maine winter scenery

Saturday evening a communal dinner of swiss cheese fondue and green salad was enjoyed followed by a stellar chocolate fondue with assorted fruit dippers. Everyone agreed the chocolate fondue was even better than the cheese fondue!

Sunday morning again dawned bright and clear albeit a bit colder than Saturday morning. After a scrumptious breakfast of blueberry pancakes and brown sugar glazed bacon with cracked black pepper, we headed out for longer dog sledding runs with each of the women.

Today's run was to follow the path of Saturday's run up to the Power Line trail to the Ridge trail but to then include a "haw" (left) turn of the team on to the twisting and turning Ridge trail for an additional mile. For this run, each of the three women would run the sled dog team approximately four miles through varied terrain. Because the sled dogs LOVE to run on twisty, turning, wooded trails, sled driving skills were challenged especially for the two miles along the ridge.

Sharon gets a morning "pedicure" courtesy of retired lead dog, Zoe, and Sobo

Who me? says Sammi

Entering the Ridge trail.

Sharon drives a five dog team of Acadia and Gypsy in lead, Luke in team, and Sobo and Okemo in wheel on the Ridge trail. As the sign says: this trail is curvy and twisty and turny.

Leah driving a five dog team on the Ridge trail: Gypsy and Luke in lead, Okemo in team, followed by Acadia and Sobo in wheel.

Here they come!

Deb driving a five dog team on the Ridge trail. Check out Acadia's face!

Steering the sled: Working on leaning and weighting the sled runners.
After a full morning of dog sledding, we all retired indoors for a warm lunch of hot panini sandwiches, moxie beans, and Maine whoopie pies for dessert.

After lunch, an afternoon of skijoring in Farmington was planned. While Eric skijored with Leah and Deb, Sharon explored the college town of Farmington and did some shopping. I stayed behind to prepare our dinner. While Eric and I both felt that after running over 12 miles in the morning, the dogs would be a bit more "relaxed" for skijoring, that did not prove to be the case. Instead, Eric and I were both delighted to learn that Gypsy, Luke, Sobo, and Acadia were driving hard an excited to skijor the rail trail in Farmington. After skijoring several miles with the sled dogs, all of the women and Eric returned to the cabin tired and ready for some cocktails, appetizers, and a hearty dinner of roast lemon thyme chicken, mashed potatoes, maple glazed parsnips and carrots, and blueberry pie with ice cream.

Leah skijoring with Acadia and Sobo

Deb skijoring with Acadia and Sobo

Monday morning again dawned bright, clear and sunny albeit cold (mid teens). While a yummy breakfast of smoked salmon eggs benedict with hollandaise was enjoyed, plans were made for the rest of the morning. Sharon decided she had some shopping to do in southern Maine and decided to head out after breakfast. Deb's flight back to Virginia was not until late afternoon so she and Leah decided to go out on a combined snowshoe/dog sled trek. Plans were made for a six mile run on the Cabin Ridge trail. First, Leah and Eric headed out to the rendevous point on snow shoes while I remained behind with Deb to harness the sled dogs and hook them to the sled. Once we received the okay from Eric (via radio), Deb and I began putting dogs on the line. The team was a five dog team composed of Acadia and Gypsy in lead, Okemo in team, and Luke and Sobo in wheel. As Deb pulled the snub line and quickly executed a graceful turn from the Tie trail onto the main Ridge trail. Demonstrating excellent balance, Deb crouched down, kept her center of gravity low, and managed to stay up right as the dogs rocketed through the corner between the Tie trail and the Ridge trail. This was a major accomplishment that had tripped everyone up the morning before.

After Deb got underway on her six mile run out the Ridge trail, I headed back to the cabin to relax for a few moments and grab a quick shower. At the six mile marker, Eric and Leah rendevoused with Deb, turned the team around, and Leah brought the dog team the six miles back to the cabin. Upon returning, both Leah and Deb proclaimed this run the best run of the entire weekend!

After the run, a quick lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches prepared Deb and Leah for their trip back to Portland, Maine and their flight/travel home.

Eric and the ladies at Lemon Stream