Welcome to a week of winter inspiration! This post first published February 2010 on our (now-neglected) outdoors blog. This second winter cabin-ing trip was very inspirational for our family.

What a week we've had here in Maine, experiencing an incredible (and disappointing - where is the snow??) amount of rain, a work-visit from my parents and celebrating Laurent's 9th birthday. But before this week hit we started it all off with our winter backpacking trip to Camden Hills State Park.

Damien wrote a brief trip report earlier this week but now it's my turn to share photos of our beautiful weekend and a few thoughts.

Trip Specs

Our destination for this trip was the log cabin ski shelter at the aforementioned Camden Hills State Park here in Maine. The shelter is not advertised you just have to know about it and reserve in advance for overnight stays.

We stumbled on this cabin almost three years ago and since finding this treasure we are always on the look out for other great places to stay like this. Reserving the shelter is incredibly affordable at $3.10 per person per night.

The shelter is situated 2 miles from the main parking lot on a multi-use trail which is fairly flat and easy to hike. From the cabin you can access several of the park's trails, most of which lead to or connect with trails that reach the beautiful views atop Mt. Megunticook. The cabin serves as a great home base for a weekend of easy, beautiful and not-too-remote wilderness exploring.

I could continue to give a synopsis of Camden Hills State Park and its trails but I'd rather talk about our overall experience (the photos will tell the hiking stories), the things we changed from last year and the lessons we took home from the weekend.

Getting Better at Doing This

Last year's trip was our first time ever backpacking. We backpacked again late last summer and the combination of those experiences together with further research gave us a few things to try for this trip.

  • Less clothes. It's so easy to overpack in this regard. We were very fortunate to have avoided the rain that started to pour a couple days after we returned home. Hiking in that cold, wet weather would have been miserable (talk about cabin fever!) and required us to pack rain gear. As it was we didn't take any. Nor did we take our really cold weather gear since the temperatures were very mild, hovering around freezing.
  • Better packs. Last year I was so sore from the pack I had. It was simply an ill fitting (though well made) pack for my petite frame. Damien, bless his heart - that man does everything possible to make me comfortable, sold that pack and bought me new one. It's a bit smaller (yeah! I don't have to carry as much weight) but fits me so comfortably. This year I felt I could have walked much farther with that pack on my back and I didn't experience any soreness like last year's hip and shoulder bruising.
  • Shared meals. This year we not only hiked again with my folks but also our friends Renee and John Sifferman (& their awesome dog Ronin). We shared breakfasts and suppers and each family was on their own for lunches. We divied up the shared meals which especially saved us time in packing (making double of one meal is easier than making 2 separate meals) and also gave everyone a break from cooking during the trip.
  • The more the merrier. This wasn't something we necessarily learned from previous trips but was an opportunity we have wanted for sometime; to enjoy the outdoors with other people, in addition to our cozy five-some. The outdoors is something we love. Things you love you want to share with others. What a treat to share this awesome family experience with both my parents and the Sifferman's. So many wonderful conversations, dreams, ideas, physical work, great food and lots of rest - all experienced together. Getting outdoors with like minded folks - highly recommended!

Something I realized on this trip is that I am not just along for the ride anymore because my husband loves this. I love this!

Sure, I don't particularly love the work of getting ready (which Damien does most of) but you know what, life is work. We're just choosing to spend those work hours in support of our values.

Choosing to live according to our values.

That was the huge take home message of the weekend.

We Value:

  • Family. The weekend had lots of that; three generations.
  • Hospitality & community building, did lots of that too.
  • The outdoors. Well of course that was the major purpose of the trip, actually getting into nature.
  • Creativity. Oh boy, you don't even want to know the crazy ideas we talked about (actually you do but you'll just have to wait and see). The possibilities to create partnerships, livelihoods and living spaces.
  • Our Faith. It's our faith that draws us outdoors and together with other people in the first place.
  • Real-life, physical work. Carrying your share of the weight, feeling your tired muscles at the end of the day but also feeling fulfilled and fit, what a fantastic way to go to sleep (at 8:30pm).
  • Good food (real food, prepared at home food). We ate so well, what a blessing. We do have other values but the weekend was rich in experiences that highlighted the most important ones.

Living an inspired and inspiring life.

That was the other predominant theme of the weekend for me. This is intertwined with living according to your values because:

  1. people who live authentically are inspiring and
  2. you need to be inspired (and a little stubborn and idealistic) to live authentically.

Much of the weekend was spent talking and listening; dreaming and scheming. I came home from last weekend inspired to do something about it. To make changes on the small level that affect change on the big level.

In short, I came home inspired.

Our friend John talked about these same ideas in his reflections from the weekend. Great minds think alike!

Right now the lesson for me is about putting our values and all the things we hope to accomplish with our lives into action. Putting our daily planner and our pocketbooks into where we say our heart is.

Hard work? Yes. But living the life you want is good work, life changing work, family building work. Kind of like backpacking.

Welcome to a week of winter inspiration! This post first published March 2009 on our (now-neglected) outdoors blog. This inaugural winter backpacking trip was a game-changer for our family.

Excitement and apprehension, in equal measure, characterized my feelings going into our first camping trip with backpacks. My anxiety caused to me be, well... anxious. Not to mention I was just plain old tired from a difficult month. So I guess those were my excuses for the pre-trip slightly raised voice "discussion" about canned beans and powdered soymilk. Yep, those beans and soymilk brought me to tears.

Renee Camden Pack

It's funny now, but at the time, 10:00pm on Wednesday night to be exact, those were make-it or break-it pack items. I went so far off the deep end as to suggest to my husband that perhaps I wasn't the right partner for him because I had made the wrong assumptions about... beans.

But where exactly am I going with this?

Ah yes, I was quite anxious about this trip but also very excited. Anxious because we have never backpacked before and excited for the very same reason.

We picked a great place to break in our backs packs. A wood stove heated cabin, located an "easy" (nothing feels easy with that much weight on an initiated back) 2 mile hike in on a relatively flat and wide trail. We did the planning and researching. Ok, Damien did all that and I did all the fretting. But lest it sound like we just decided one day "hey, lets go on a winter backpacking trip" I need to set the record straight.

Damien started gearing us up years ago for backpacking, while I was still somewhat reluctant and uninformed. I'm still rather uninformed, I'm probably better off that way, but no longer reluctant (just don't tell Damien).

Family backpacking with elementary aged children is not an easy, get up and go effort. Although we're working towards making it that way we know these "firsts" will take a lot of work. Work that has been years really in the making. Weekly hikes with our kids to train our bodies and learn what clothing works best for the outdoors. Years of saving and spending our money on quality gear that is light but will still keep our family warm, safe and comfortable. Recipe trials that have been mostly successes but some failures.

This inaugural trip was years in the making but you forget all that when you are up late for a week cooking and dehydrating hummus, crackers, cookies and fretting over powdered soymilk and canned beans. All you feel is tired and cranky and maybe like this whole trip is just too much work.

coming to the cabin

But then you hit the trail head. And your push yourself through that first mile and realize "I can do this". You encourage the kiddos who don't seem to need it as much as you do. Because although their packs are the heaviest they've carried, they enjoy the walk and take time to throw snow along the way. And after the second mile when you arrive (already!) and set down your pack and smell the lingering woodsmoke in the cabin you realize you're in for a weekend to remember.

arriving at cabin

And what a weekend it was. Once in a lifetime. Not because we won't do it again. We will and then some. But because you only have firsts once. And this was a first.

First time packing our camping supplies on our backs. The first time winter camping. The first time doing both of these with my parents, who had never done anything like this before either.

Was my husband crazy or what? First time taking not only his wife and kids but his in-laws too out into the woods with everything on their backs.

I know what all you hard core types are thinking "a cabin?" Yes, we did stay in a cabin and not a tent. And yes we did take the canned beans and fresh fruit and not everything dehydrated. But it still was the first time backpacking for our family and I will never forget what a smashing success it was, for everyone. You have to know my comfort loving father (like father, like daughter) to truly appreciate hearing "we need to look into getting gear like this".

The weekend was a success not only for our family of five but also for my parents who joined us on this crazy adventure. We all agreed we want to do it again. The kids especially who were the center of everyone's love, attention and care. Does it get any better for kids than woods, sticks, stream, snow, cabin, a fireplace (are all kids pyros or is it just mine?), bunk beds, mommy, daddy, Nana & Papa? All in one place! The kids wanted to stay a month.

I'm still riding the wave of contentment, pure joy (bliss), and family togetherness that was this weekend.

Our two day trip was not without challenges. My dad had a cold that together with carrying 50+ lb pack wiped him out on Saturday and Brienne picked up a tummy bug somewhere along the way (eating snow?). My calves are still sore, my hip and shoulder bones a little bruised. But I'm certain those issues will be resolved in future trips.

Maybe that's the greatest success of this trip. That we're already talking about the next one.

We drove to Maine on Friday. Arriving in the evening at our friend's home on the first official day of summer, the sky hazy and the air warm. 

Our friend's home - the brick hearth dividing the living room from the kitchen, the foot wide plank floors and dark beams on the ceiling, the gardens, and the peonies going-by along the drive - all speak "Maine farmhouse".

They saved us supper and waited to eat with us. Farm vegetable lasagna (using up the end of last year's frozen vegetables) served with a fresh garden greens salad. 

As much as I was looking forward to seeing our friends, there was an ache in my stomach as we drove through north and central Maine to their mid-coastal farmstead.

It's been two years since we left, moving back to Canada. 

I loved Maine. 

Returning for this short visit reminds me once again that I still love Maine. 

We went backpacking the morning after we arrived. These are our hardcore family-hiking friends. They inspire us so much. We met on a mountain, a year before we left, and have stayed in touch since, planning regular meet-ups around an outdoor activity - winter skiing, summer backpacking. 

This family will be hiking the AT next summer also. We both choose the year independent of each other's decision and we will be hiking our own hikes but hopefully sharing some of our journey together. Our kids, though different in ages, get along so well and when they hike together it's easier on the adults. Hiking with friends is fun for all of us. 

So we went on a short overnight trip to the Bigelows, in the western mountains of Maine. Arguably, one of Maine's most beautiful mountain regions.

The mountains of Maine feel like home to me. Just like the peonies and raspberry canes in the farmhouse yard. 

That ache I felt while driving through Maine accompanied me as I hiked up the mountain also. I was missing Maine but there was more to it. 

I feel a little uncertain right now, have for a few months, about the direction I want to take my writing. I'm questioning the roles I have in our family life. 

I feel less and less the homemaker but not sure what I am instead of that. I am unsettled right now. Searching for the work I want to do that fits who I am and the lifestyle we live. 

Perhaps for me, Maine represents all that is settled. Farmhouses, mountains, deep lakes.

And that, I realized, was the source of the ache as much as my memories of this place. The general fuzziness I feel about what I'm doing right now. Not feeling particularly grounded in an identity, occupation, or place. 

Coming back down the mountain the next day I talked this through with Damien, as the voices from the rest of our party carried up the trail to where we lagged behind. (There's a definite reason we don't see much wildlife when hiking with talkative, happy kids.)

Driving back to our friend's home, itchy with bug bites and sticky with sweat and ineffectual bug repellent, the ache was replaced with appreciation for this state we called home for nine years. The state of my thirties, where I grew into my adult self, and where we formed our family identity.

I'm at the beginning phase of new stage of adult self and family identity. Of course I would feel an ache for the state I've left behind. 

Growth feels that way. Painful at times and disorientating as we ask the question - Who am I in this new place? 

We can look back to who we were in an old place and long for that sense of security and knowing. Just like my feeling as we drove into Maine. The ache not so much for this state, though I love it so, but the ache for clarity in my life. A clarity of identity (homemaker? writer? adventurer?). A clarity in my work. A clarity in direction. 

We leave Maine tonight on to the next leg of our northeastern US travel-rama. I'll leave this state behind but carry the questions with me. Maybe there are answers further down the road.