Snowshoeing Adventure in The County

Snowshoeing Adventure in The County

Guest Blogger: Jen Brophy

He stared at the road in front of him.  He didn’t want to take that first step, knowing that it was going to be followed by fifty thousand more.  Fifty thousand steps.  Fifty thousand snowshoe prints in new snow.  Have you ever broken trail on snowshoes?  You start sweating after fifty steps, not fifty thousand.

But when you find yourself where you are, the only thing to do is keep moving toward where you need to be.  His friend Mark, fifteen years his junior and not even a year out of high school, was spending December at a remote camp in Deboullie tending a trapline twenty-five miles in the woods and hadn’t responded to radio calls in three days.  There was no way to get there by truck, no easy way to fly over, and no snowmobile trail.  So when you find yourself where you are, staring at a snowbank toward a long, empty road, you take that first step.

The going was just as difficult as you’d expect.  He knew the way by heart; he’d owned camp for several years now and had driven this road every few days.  When you’re moving only a tenth as fast, though, the world and the way become unfamiliar.  Landmarks that are usually minutes apart pass so slowly that you have to remind yourself that you’re moving in the right direction.  Trees that are usually just a minor backdrop suddenly have details: a green patch of tree lungwort on that maple, that tuft of old man’s beard that the deer haven’t gotten to yet.  The details that give life to the North Maine Woods.  If he wasn’t anxious about Mark’s condition, and if he was the kind of guy who snowshoed for fun, he might have smiled despite the difficulty of breaking trail.  

Since he knew the road so well, he knew where the big hills were and psyched himself up for them.  It didn’t help.  Climb a mountain with boards strapped to your feet before you judge him, but he turned around a couple of times and walked back downhill twenty or thirty yards because it relieved the burning in his muscles, if only for a minute.

He took thirty-five thousand steps that day before he made camp and spent the night beside the road.  At least it wasn’t too cold out; only twenty, not twenty below.

The next morning dawned overcast, with the promise only that he’d reach his destination but not what he’d find there, whether or not Mark would be safe, or even whether he’d have to walk the entire trapline, another several miles, to find him.  His legs were stiff with lactic acid, and he found himself once again daunted by that first step.  Still nowhere to go but forward, he took it, and seven miles later found himself anxiously climbing the final hill toward camp.  That hill was a killer even on the best of days without snow on the ground, but at least now he was walking in Mark’s established snowshoe track.  It helped a little.

A column of cheery wood smoke greeted him as he crested the hill and saw the lodge; he couldn’t decide whether to laugh or cry, but at least relief lightened his legs somewhat.  He took off his snowshoes at the door and walked in without knocking.  (He did own the place, after all.)  Mark, perfectly alive, perfectly ok, and enjoying a bowl of soup, looked up and asked what he was doing there.

Turns out that radio batteries don’t work when they’re frozen, and Mark’s had frozen four days before.  Knowing he only had a couple of days left in the trapping season, he’d chosen to stay in the woods and get back in touch once he was finished.  He’d forgotten to count on friends being willing to walk twenty five miles to mount a rescue- the Maine way.