Cross-country skiing can be peaceful and solitary—it can also take the form of a challenging group adventure you’ll remember forever
My 1991 Christmas card featured a photo of me bundled in a winter coat and hat with Mount Katahdin in the background, snow blowing horizontally from the summit in a fierce gust. So ferocious was the wind that the snow appeared to be whooshing 100 yards or more off the peak.
The photo was taken during a two-night cross-country ski trip in February of that year that took five friends and me into the heart of Baxter State Park. With snow and winter sports on the horizon this time of year, that trip serves as a reminder that cross-country skiing isn’t just about peace and solitude; it can be an adventure.
For the Baxter State Park escapade, the six of us (me, Jeff, Rick, John, Eliza and Thora) arrived in two cars and parked in a small lot off the Golden Road logging road. It was unseasonably warm that day, but we didn’t have to wait long for the bitter cold to arrive.
We skied through some woods and up the Park Tote Road to a campground, where we had reserved a bunkhouse. We had been assured that there would be a nice pile of seasoned firewood that would feed the woodstove and keep our bunkhouse toasty. But when we arrived, there was only a small pile of wood, soaked wet from the snow that had melted during the day’s warm temperatures.
Thankfully, one of us (not me) had brought a folding camping saw with a 6- or 8-inch blade. Off we went into the woods to scavenge for and cut firewood.
That night, the temperatures dropped fast and the winds whipped, making for a drafty cabin. We tried to keep the cold out by stuffing toilet paper in the cracks in the walls. For dinner, we had a not-so-tasty freeze-dried meal that came out of a packet. Freeze-dried food sounds great when you’re packing to keep your load light, but not so much when it’s on a plate in front of you.
For entertainment, we played a game of “Murder,” with the “murderer” somehow being chosen by secret lot. If the murderer winked at you without anybody else noticing, you had to keel over “dead.” The game took on an interesting undertone—think Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”—given that we were in the middle of the wilds with nobody around.
Between the cold and the hardness of the bunk, I didn’t sleep much that night. When we awoke the following morning, the trickle of a stream outside the bunkhouse was covered with ice. We needed water, however, and again we were in luck because somebody had brought a small hatchet. He chopped through the ice, scooped the water in a container and treated it with water purification pills.
That day, we skied to Daicey Pond, a beautiful place any time of year. The temperature was near if not below zero, and the brutal wind at my back basically blew me across the frozen lake, requiring little exertion on my part. But skiing back across the lake meant skiing into the wind, demanding double the effort to move forward.
The photo of me with Katahdin in the background was taken on Daicey Pond, but unfortunately I can’t find it. It’s probably deep in some cardboard box above my garage.
I am not the best of Nordic skiers. I pretty much stumbled and bumbled my way during the Baxter outing while Thora (she being from Iceland) sped ahead gracefully like an Olympian. But through the years I’ve had fun giving it a go at various golf courses in the Portland area and along challenging (and long) trails in Jackson, New Hampshire, and in Vermont.
I’m more of a downhill skier these days. But every now and then I’ll dig out my cross-country skis and boots and drive to my local golf course and ski for an hour or two. And when I’m out there by myself far from people, traffic and thoughts about work, I feel at peace. It’s at those times when it’s easy to imagine being on the moon—or at least at Baxter State Park.
Clarke Canfield is a longtime journalist, writer and editor who likes to be active. He is the communications director at Southern Maine Community College.