From The Ground Up

Peter Cole drops into the West Knoll trail just after sunrise, with Bigelow Mountain serving as an impressive backdrop over the north side of Carrabassett Valley. 57

From The Ground Up Trail Goddesses and Sweat Equity in Carrabassett Valley

After four hours freewheeling along the rambunctious trails on and around Maine’s Sugarloaf Mountain, I realize I’ve made a serious tactical error.

I put the climb to the Stratton Brook Hut off until the end of the ride, about the same time our legs and my surgically repaired spine are planning a serious revolt. And my wife is not happy.

We should have done this an hour earlier, but Lauri and I were having too much fun exploring the fabulous webbed network bordering the Carrabassett River. Now, our CamelBaks have run dry, and by the time we reach this final climb my energy reserves are spent. The steep pitch is named, with brutal accuracy, “Newton’s Revenge,” and soon I’m bonking, my mind wandering into dangerous territory. Certain my ears are playing tricks on me, I tell Lauri I can hear a tractor engine and a dog barking.

“No,” Lauri says, “I hear them too.”

I round a corner, and blink hard. Back home, my buddies and I joke about the “trail fairies” whom we credit for the routes on Boston’s North Shore, but now I’m face-to-face with a true trail goddess. A young woman sits in the cockpit of a John Deere 17D mini-excavator, a welcoming smile on her face and a bright-eyed border collie/lab mix by her side.

Her name is Savannah Steele and she is the trails manager for Maine Huts & Trails, a nonprofit organization responsible for much of what we’ve ridden today and the hut ahead. She assures us the summit and the Stratton Brook Hut aren’t far off. Lauri and I nod a quick “thank you,” and soldier on as Steele fires up her rig. Within 20 minutes, the hardwoods and evergreens open into a clearing. We can see the hut, a horseshoe-shaped structure in which a couple of ice-cold hard ciders and a hot shower are waiting.

Rarely have I been so happy to get out of the saddle. Rarely have I felt so good about a day’s ride. This corner of western Maine is remote; the nearest town, Carrabassett Valley, has a population of 760. But this spectacular trail network—raw and unrepentant—will challenge and reward even the most discerning of riders. And though it’s existence may seem unlikely, it is no accident.

The long, lonely backroads of western Maine have a haunting quality. The demoralizing landscapes of abandoned vehicles and deteriorating, ramshackle buildings are fertile ground for the likes of native son and author of the macabre, Stephen King. But amid these desolate scenes are swathes of heart-tugging beauty, highlighted by the rugged peaks of the Bigelow Range.

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