“The first time that you begin moving in an unconventional direction is the hardest beginning,” according to modern-day adventurer Alastair Humphreys. "After that, you can’t imagine moving in any other way."
Since J & I returned from New Zealand, we had a dilemma and were at another crossroads. We have challenged ourselves to live differently and have done so successfully since 2011. Everything we've done so far is interrelated in one way or another and most importantly, closely mingles with the lifestyle we've chosen. Could we keep the momentum going and continue on this path? The simple answer is yes, we can make the decision to do so.
Once again, we chose to work together in the hospitality business. We are in northern Maine running Chesuncook Lake House and Cabins, a remote wilderness lodge. There are a few twists in this job that present new challenges and opportunities for us. It is hard to describe this place and how unique this experience will be, but let me try to set the scene.
WHERE ARE WE?
We are north. Waaaaaay north. We can see Canada from our front yard. Our home is "the North Woods," quite literally because we are one of the few specs of civilization among 6.5 million acres of forest surrounding us.
We travel 50+ miles of dirt, pot hole-ridden private roads to get here from the closest town. It takes 2.5 hours. We are either going to get a flat tire or hemorrhoids this season. Or both.
We are off-the-grid. Forget the fact that our closest resupply point is 2.5 hours away, Chesuncook Lake House & Cabins operates on solar and wind power, with 2 generators as the backup. We use electricity sparingly and run out if we are not conscious (still working on this learning curve). Most of the lights are propane and we don't have take-for-granted appliances like a coffee maker, toaster, crockpot, microwave or TV because they take too much power. So we use a percolator for coffee, oven for toaster and imagination for TV. Mail does not deliver here. No cell phone, no landline. But, we have satellite Internet! In case of emergency, please e-mail 9-1-1.
There was a medical emergency with one of the village residents this week!
We are so far north and east, the sun comes up at 4am. The flip side is, during the winter, we will only see sun (if any) between 9am-3pm.
The lodge is nestled on Chesuncook Lake (pronounced Cha-SUN-cook), with mile-high Mount Katahdin as its focal point. Katahdin is the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Baxter State Park and is close, only as the crow flies. Everything is close as the crow flies.
A number of rivers feed in and out of the lake, including the very popular paddling river, the West Branch of the Penobscot. Even though our kayaks are tucked in storage in Colorado, we have canoes and kayaks at the lake house that will put us on that river hopefully very soon.
Chesuncook Village, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is not the "village" you are envisioning. There are no more than 2 dozen "camps" here along a 2-mile strip and many sit unused because of the difficulty in getting to and fro. No one lives here year round, but for the summer period, we have a handful of very welcoming neighbors.
Lumber was the lifeblood of the area. From the 1860s through the 1970s, steamboats traveled the lake and other waterways with log booms (literally dragging the logs behind the boat). Back then, there were no roads and this is how the lumber companies operated their paper businesses. Lumbermen relied on villages like Chesuncook as they traveled through. Chesuncook Village had 247 residents in 1920! Even Henry David Thoreau canoed up Chesuncook Lake in the 1850s.
As the logging business changed as roads multiplied, the village became purely a getaway for fishermen, paddlers, hunters, snowmobilers, wildlife and birdlife lovers. For a century, visitors came only by boat, then by float plane more recently. Just in the past 5 years, the state built roads, making these remote camps just a long, bumpy ride from town. Road access has its pluses, but more minuses if you ask the long-time locals.
Chesuncook Lake House & Cabins was built as a farmhouse in 1864. For years, Maggie & Bert McBurnie provided services for the lumbermen and sportsmen. Bert, who was born & schooled here, is now buried here in a graveyard that has more plots than current residents. The graveyard, with tombstone dates as early as 1815, was relocated away from the shoreline when the loggers raised the lake level. We just found out that a true rite of passage for "villagers" is to camp in the graveyard. Hmmm …
The current owners of Chesuncook Lake House, David & Luisa, bought the property 16 years ago and ran the business while raising their 5 children here. With everyone grown up, they have purchased other booming businesses (campground, sporting camp) closer to town. That's where we come into the picture.
Chesuncook Lake House has 4 interior rooms for rent and is all-inclusive; we cook breakfast, lunch & dinner for our guests. The 3 Chesuncook Cabins offer a more primitive option (yes running water, but no electricity) and guests bring in their own food. The business is seasonal for the summer and fall, with a break, then again later in the winter following the holidays, followed by another break in the spring. We liked the idea that we essentially have the opportunity for year-round work, but with breaks for our bigger adventures.
Summer business has always been steady, but on the slower side than other businesses we've run, according to the owners. But we are here for when guests want to come and stay. We will cook, clean, maintain the house and yards and run shuttles for people wanting to canoe the river. We're not envisioning it being a terribly busy summer, but enough to get us by in a setting that I usually only dream of. Except for the squadrons of black flies and mosquitoes, it is quite idyllic with the hummingbirds buzzing by day and the loons haunting us by night. Can't forget about the moose, bear and deer that outnumber the people. Don't worry, we will keep a count for you.
Now winter, that's where all the action is. Spending a winter in Northern Maine is probably a nightmare for most. Winters are so harsh up here, even the moose complain. However, it is the stuff snowmobilers salivate over. Miles and miles and miles and miles of trails to nowhere. With a cozy and inviting Chesuncook Lake House smack dab in the middle of the wilderness to stop for lunch and a beer, or perhaps an overnight stay.
Hopefully I will have lots of good stories to tell about our time at Chesuncook. As usual, you are all invited to visit. That is, if you can find us. And if not, you can live vicariously through our crazy adventure we call the life less ordinary.