|Joel last winter|
And, wouldn't you know, I didn't bring a camera, so the rest of this post is going to be without pictures. Ooops.
I had previously walked part of this trail with Joel a few years ago on a geocaching adventure in the fall. Seeing it again in the dead of winter was very different. The old railroad grade had to be built up at least twenty feet in places where it crossed the lowlands and cedar swamps and there was a wonderful stone bridge crossing the river. Since the demise of train traffic, the tree canopy has nearly grown over the trail in places almost obliterating the sky. The dark cedars were hanging heavy with snow. The slightest breeze would cause them to sway and the snow would sift through their branches with a hissing sound.
Though we didn't see any deer, they left their tracks behind. Their trails went straight up the side of the steep embankments plowing through deep snow to get to the flat grade only to plunge down the other side. I always wonder how wildlife survives in the winter. At least they have water available since there were open areas in the river.
Though the trail has an isolated feel to it, we definitely weren't alone. Snowmobiles were out in force. Since the trail winds around a little we had to be careful not to get hit because the riders didn't always see us immediately. We could certainly hear them coming so we had time to step off the trail and let them pass.
We were both pleasantly surprised at how courteous and friendly the snowmobilers were; every one of them waved and smiled at us as we trudged along. I lost count after the first fifty or so. Most of the snowmobiles would be in groups of five or more and the noise is deafening as they roar past. Then as suddenly as they came up on us they were gone and the only reminder was the tracks in the snow and the lingering smell of exhaust.
I really enjoyed looking at all the people on the trail, most of them have beautiful snowmobile apparel which is of course, necessary when you're hurtling along at high speed into frigid air. A pair of riders went by us wearing neon colored helmets that looked like something out of the movie 'Mad Max'; one helmet had two fuzzy raccoon tails hanging off the sides and the other had a six-inch tall Mohawk dyed pink.
Cross-country skiing is a labor intensive sport, and I was sweating profusely. By the second mile, off came my scarf and soon my jacket was unzipped, too. My biggest problem was a lack of vision, for every time we had to pull over to let the snowmobiles go by, my glasses would steam up. As soon as we got going again they would defrost, but for fifty feet or so, I was skiing by feel.
We weren't familiar with the territory, so we had no idea how far to go on the trail. Every time we'd come up a slight hill or start to round a curve we wanted to see what was on the other side. Eventually we reached the small town of Casco. By then it was 3:45PM and almost 3 miles, so we decided to turn around and head back for the car. Carl joked that we didn't want to get caught in the dark, which was true since we'd be even less visible to the snowmobile traffic, but at least we didn't have to worry about getting lost.
The trip back was easier, the breeze was at our backs, the grade was now slightly downhill and we really started to pick up some speed as the temperatures started to drop and the snow became more slippery. I got cocky and started to ski faster and faster only to lose complete control and flop over on my left side in a slow motion crash. It didn't hurt (much) and lying there on the trail looking up at the sky was a welcome break until we heard more snowmobiles coming. Yikes. Carl helped haul me back up on my feet just before they rounded the bend.
I was lucky I didn't go off the trail completely and find myself flying down the embankment. That would have been a trip to remember. (And no, I'm not going to take up downhill skiing. Ever. I have to learn how to snowplow, or is it French Fry or Pizza? I can never remember.)
I don't know why, but whenever I make a trip somewhere it always seems to take forever to get to my destination and about half the time to get back, and today was no exception. On the way up the trail we came across an old abandoned manure spreader in the woods. Even though it was a manure spreader, the rusty antique looked picturesque in the setting of cedars. We also went by some very short concrete silos and a barn foundation close to the tracks. I imagined the former owners wouldn't even recognize the old farmstead, the trees had almost completely engulfed the ruins. When we passed these landmarks on our way back to the car, I was amazed we had traveled that far already.
As darkness neared, the snowmobile traffic thinned out. The only sound was the zip, zip, zip of our skis and the crunching of our poles. I was getting pretty tired and was timing my breathing with my strides. Left foot forward, kick, glide, inhale, glide, right foot forward, kick, glide, exhale. I imagine I resembled an old steam engine from years gone by puffing up the trail.
At 4:40PM we were back to our car. It was a relief to take off our soggy jackets and gloves, stow the skis and poles in the trunk and plop our tired behinds in the car seats. My hair was dripping with sweat but we had the heater running right away to ward off a chill.
Another thing that never fails to amaze me is how much we take traveling by car for granted. On the way home some of the side roads were badly drifted and the car was dragging bottom. Carl had to keep the car moving or we'd get stuck.
"Wow, this is something, isn't it? We're too far from home to run and get a tractor to pull us out," he said.
"We do have our skis, if worse comes to worst," I said. "So, let's see, it took us a little over two hours to ski six miles. How far are we from home right now?"
"Around fifty miles."
Thankfully, the road conditions got better and we settled back in the car seats and enjoyed the ride the rest of the way home.