I’d never even considered driving 120 miles inland to go cross-country skiing; coastal Maine is full of beautiful, accessible trails. But I started noticing photos on social media of acquaintances’ trips into AMC’s Maine wilderness area. I’d seen photos of women I admired but didn’t know well with their sons, all about Dolan’s age, leaning on their ski poles, looking hardy and happy. Those pink-cheeked sons and sporty moms had made me wistful for both that kind of camaraderie and my own backcountry experience.
Sometimes being a single mother can be lonely, and often, it is draining. I never want to be the kind of parent who passes up an adventure because the responsibility lies with me to get us prepared, out the door, and into a well-packed car. I leave the driveway for every camping trip exhausted from planning and telling myself I don’t have to do this. And then I leave every campsite relaxed, happy, and saying, Next time, we have to go for twice as long.
But in winters, we tend to hunker down, focusing on Dolan’s hockey practices and games and the mundane questions of winter, like one big shovel after a storm, or one at the midpoint and another at the end? We’d had rough winters before, like the one where I shattered my wrist and needed surgery, or the one where our bathtub fell through the floor of our 1875 farmhouse-style home. But this one had been particularly brutal. The year before, I’d finally let down my protective barrier, the one that kept me from dating in any serious way since Dolan had been born, and just after the new year, we’d found out together that my choice had been, to put it mildly, a bad one. Both Dolan and I had been hurt, he, in his innocence and longing for a nuclear family, perhaps even more than I had. Right around the same time, we’d had one of those heating system disasters that Mainers live in fear of, the kind where pipes freeze, boilers crack, and you’re suddenly Googling to find out exactly what the penalties are for tapping into your retirement account.
But we were getting through it, and I was conscious—as we shushed along together in happy tandem, whooping on the downhills and huffing together on the uphills—that every glide into the woods represented a journey back to our unit of two, to our mother-and-son team.
We were elated by the time we began the descent into Little Lyford, and as we saw the tiny village awaiting us, that joy only grew. There was a bunkhouse, a chalet-style dining hall, and then a row of small log cabins. Dolan rode a plastic toboggan all the way down the path to land just in front of our cabin, Wolf Star. It turned out to have been a favorite of a man named George Bliss, who spent the better part of 26 hunting seasons at Little Lyford in the first half of the 20th century. (AMC bought Little Lyford in 2003, when it was just beginning its major conservation and recreation effort, the Maine Woods Initiative, but for most of the century, it was a private sporting camp.) We rushed to try out the sauna, grabbing the last open time slot before a simple but delicious dinner, and were in bed, warm and cozy in front of the woodstove in Wolf Star, before 9 p.m. No phones, no iPads, nothing but books and the dog curled up at our feet and a tired, fulfilled contentment.
We vowed to come back the next year, even after we skied out the next day in conditions that teetered on dangerous: 8 degrees, with winds gusting to 30 mph. We took with us the memories of how our water bottles froze in our packs. How we didn’t stop to eat our lunches at all because it was too cold. How we conquered a twisty, hilly route back that was geared toward expert Nordic skiers. And we’ve kept that vow. There was the year we skied out in the rain, feeling like the snow might vanish into puddles under our feet before we got to the car, the year we skied for nearly an hour in the dark, arriving just as the friendly staff put dinner on the table. What new memories will await us this year? I know only these things: At the end will be the big hill, and we will have to go up it, steadily, together, knowing we can do it.