Last week, I visited Maine Huts & Trails in the beautiful Carrabassett Valley in Western Maine. I left the place smiling, stoked with a couple of new possibilities for exciting future projects, and a pair of really sore legs from too much fun riding.
I learned about Maine Huts & Trails this summer at a bike festival in Kingdom Trails. As people from across New England and Quebec Province flooded the small town of Burke, I found myself to be the only Afghan, which is kind of crazy, but also not, because the situation was really just an archetype of the real world: outdoor sports are almost exclusively a Western thing (which makes my work all the more exciting because there are so many untapped opportunities). So there I stood, looking at the microcosm of a world insanely abundant with resources, and at the same time, carrying in the folder under my arm tales of people from back home riding without a helmet. My goal: to connect the two worlds. I walked into the vendor area, trafficked by big-name bike manufacturing, nutrition, apparel, and gear companies. To each, I pitched and distributed my black & white pamphlets. Maine Huts & Trails got the idea, and gracefully invited me to visit them, a true hidden gem in the North East region.
Central Maine is where I first came to the U.S. as a 16-year-old exchange student. Small, densely wooded hills surrounding rusty industrial towns with a disappearing population and economy was pinned in my memory. So to think that there was a network of some of the best trails in New England was just too good to be true. So I was really impatient to check it out. Good memories flooded as I drove through the same small towns, and recognized the ice-cream shop my host parents and I occasionally went to, the tennis court I had played tennis for the first time in my life, and the auditorium where I had watched my first ever co-ed choir concert--the angelic voices sending tears to my eyes. Maine is where it had all began; modest, and hospitable people, especially my host parents, welcoming a young Afghan in a freezing January. Maine gave me perspective; of what I had missed my whole life growing up in a conflict region, and what I could achieve and become. Was this a homecoming?
The more North I went, the dense forests started to transform into wide-open meadows, and hills to big, even rocky, mountains. I was discovering a beautiful part of Maine that I had no idea existed. I started to see why there would be a vast network of mountain bike trails snaking through river valleys, forests, near waterfalls, and up rocky hills.
Maine Huts & Trails is implementing a simple idea: build huts along these beautiful places, and connect them with hiking, biking, and skiing trails that are open year-round. The non-profit's mission is to create a community dedicated to preserving the beautiful wilderness, and at the same time open it up for recreational and educational use. Each hut is built next to a few attractions like waterfalls, swimming holes, and nearby vistas.
When I saw Grand Falls Hut, where I stayed the first night, I immediately thought “why they call this a hut?”, because it looks like lodge from the outside. Unlike 'traditional' huts which are often shacks, Maine Huts are equipped with solar panels that make them completely off-the-grid, a cozy living area, library, kitchen, composting toilets, and bunk beds, all of which loudly scream “home!” And the food is otherworldly. Served every dinner and breakfast, everything on the table is from local farms, which reflects the organization's commitment to growing local economy. There are so many awesome things about the huts that it will take another blog to explain, but I will let you check it out for yourselves!
As the week advanced, I got closer to Carrabassett Valley, where the trails transform from wild to smooth, fun, and playful. It's the stuff most bike parks have these days, but more technical as the region is very rocky. The trails here are different, and they expose the unique taste of a small group of passionate trail builders. Some trails zigzag next to the Carrabassett River, which is blessed with so many swimming holes (I mean one after the other), and the rest runs through the mountains near Sugarloaf Ski Mountain. Using Poplar Hut as a base camp, I spent a day having a blast on these trails with Jamie Walter, a super-talented self-taught photographer. I also spent a day volunteering with the trail crew fixing some washed out parts of a trail. It was a wonderful learning opportunity as there is so much knowledge and hard work that goes into trail-building, that as riders we often fail to appreciate. It was humbling to watch the crew putting in many hours for a few feet of trail, doing everything with a passion to provide, so we can all enjoy.
The end of my visit was concurrent with the annual Sugarloaf Mountain Bike Festival, now in its second year. There were group rides, skills clinics, kids race, outdoor concerts, and a hilarious sausage championship race where after every short lap, contestants had to eat a sausage. The winner ate 9. Matt, my new friend, came second with 8 sausages. I made things worse for him by asking to go on a ride with me after he had almost puked.
The coolest part of the festival was connecting with Kate Boehmer, and the rest of the Maine Huts & Trails crew. They are a passionate bunch who have turned an idea into a thriving organization, turning the Carrabassett region into an upcoming hot destination for all things adventure. Thank you Maine Huts & Trails for the amazing hospitality, friendship, and giving me the chance to explore, learn, and unlock future possibilities. I look forward to working on some exciting projects together in the future! Until next time.
Finally, an everyday feeling I experienced during the trip. On my hut to hut adventures, I would get very impatient in the last 2 miles, not because I was tired or anything, but simply because I was so curious about the next hut; where would it be, how would it look like, who works there, who else is staying tonight… The huts have attractive characters. So do the trails. And the people who work there. If you love spending time outside; hiking, biking, skiing, paddling, walking, or just relaxing in a hut, Maine Huts & Trails is definitely worth your visit.