I left the house at 9 AM and rolled into Greenville down past the Indian Hill trading post exactly at 11. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, the view of Moosehead Lake unfolding downhill stuns me. Today, the surface of the lake is covered in standing water, with the temperatures above freezing after some 5 inches of rain and a unexpected thaw. It’s eerie.
I grabbed a quick lunch of corn chowder and a hot dog, then drove out of town past the airport along the Katahdin Iron Works ( or “KI road”) for ten miles or so toward increasing wilderness and the Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins winter parking lot at Hedgehog Gate. It didn’t take long for me to become terrified. It was steadily raining now, and any sand that had been spread over the thick ice on the road had long been washed away. The roadway is essentially a lubricated, smooth ice-rink. But ice rinks are flat, and this goes up and down and pitches from side to side. The only reason I didn’t skid off was 4 newly studded winter snow tires on my 2000 Plymouth Voyager. Even so, I was so anxious and hyped up that I settled myself by “pranayama-ing” along, with one hand up on my nose, alternating yogic nostril closures while the other hand gingerly worked the steering wheel at 20 miles an hour. I knew that one mistake would skid me into the deeper snow on the side of the road, and so far there was no one else dumb enough to be out here. There were also no ” rescue me” Verizon bars showing on my iPhone. I was definitely on my own, creeping and sliding.
Toward the end of the road, I saw my first and only vehicle- a white 4 wheeled drive pickup traveling in the same direction way up ahead. I thought that if I could catch it, they would see me behind them, and rescue me if they watched my head lights flash sideways if and when I skidded off.
I knew I was in trouble as I advanced up the last long uphill. I was coming up the hill faster than they were to the point where I had to start slowing dow or I would run into them- uphill! Why were they going so slowly? Momentum was the only way I could make it up. If I had to stop on the hill, I would not be able to start uphill again, and would likely have to back all of the way down to a flat spot and try again. Miraculously, I crept to the top behind them, and there was the sanctuary of the parking lot.
The lot itself was so icy that I had to put on my traction devices just to unload my gear, including my Pugsley. The three guys in the truck were also headed into Little Lyford. You unload your gear here into a little kiosk where a snowmobile trailers it into LL at 2 pm every day, allowing the unfettered guest to ski or snowshoe 6.2 miles into camp.
The driver of the truck was shocked to hear that my vehicle was not all wheel drive. They were experienced outdoorsmen, and worked in the military- aviation mechanics. I learned why they were moving so slowly. This was their second attempt at coming in this morning. The first time, they actually turned around and went back to Greenville where they bought chains to attach to the wheels. The slow speed was necessary to prevent centrifugal force from stretching the newly-installed chains. Slow and steady worked for them, as it did for me.
I am definitely an oddity with my bike here. In fact, I had to get permission to ride to LL this winter season. Yes, I’m the first fat-tired bike rider to cruise the winter road to LLC. I gambled that the surface would hold me up and won. The other three Bangor guys walked in with the aid of traction devices, taking them two hours and 45 minutes, an average time for foot travel. I, on the bike, clocked in at 1 hour and 3 minutes. All my practice with recent ice riding trips in midcoast Maine for the past two weeks paid off. Using my studded 45N tires made a fall-free entrance possible, running 3.5 psi front and rear. I had a blast.
I’m here at the invitation of my new Triple Crown backpacking friend Bonelady, who is the head cook this winter, her third in a row. We had been Facebook CDT 2013 Group acquaintances until we met face to face on the Continental Divide Trail this season. I have wanted to stay here for a few years now, but it has never materialized. Turns out, the guest count is nonexistent at mid-week , and I promised to be no bother.
I’m staying in Little Lyford’s littlest cabin tonight.
I overheated it. Bonelady warned me that it would probably be too warm, but even with a one stick stoke at 4 pm, by my bedtime after 9, it must have been over 80 degrees inside. The log walls and metal roof hold the heat.
There’s a coupe of propane lights on the wall with an ancient outhouse out back.
Little Lyford camps have been in this exact location since it was started up as a lumbering camp in 1870. The Appalachian Mountain Club has owned it for the past 10 years. It is a thrill to experience this setting.
And yes, the food is superb, and plenty of it.
To read more about Little Lyford check out Village in the Woods from the January 2014 issue of Downeast Magazine.