Breaking Trail

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making ski trip plans.

By Brian Kevin
[E]very December for the last three years, I’ve gone on a cross-country ski trip to Acadia National Park with my wife. Actually, that’s not true. For the last two years, I’ve gone on a cross-country ski trip in Acadia with my wife. The year before, it didn’t snow, and she wasn’t my wife. So I spent the first day with some woman who lived with me and the second day with my fiancée. Somewhere in the middle, we got engaged atop Gorham Mountain.

The lack of snow was disappointing, because I love snow, and because I wanted to pop the question surrounded by it. But the Gorham Mountain summit was a decent substitute. The hike to the top is two miles long and not particularly challenging unless the trail is covered with ice, which it was on that December day three years back. We wore some stretch-over-your-shoes cleats from Renys and held hands while we walked across the more treacherous sections. Gorham Mountain tops out at 525 feet above sea level, which is pretty much where the hike begins — at sea level, I mean — just a stone’s throw from where the crashing waves give Thunder Hole its name.

Back in Montana, where my Mainer wife first picked me up, a 525-foot mound of dirt and rock would be called a “hill” or perhaps, quite generously, a “butte.” Under no circumstances would Gorham be considered a real mountain, but I’ve learned in Maine to be more generous with the term. In Montana, one of my favorite places to ski was at a 7,251-foot pass on the Continental Divide. It was beautiful, but then so is Acadia, and besides, I usually skied there alone, which isn’t as fun.

Under no circumstances would Gorham be considered a real mountain, but I’ve learned in Maine to be more generous with the term.

The place where my wife and I stay in Bar Harbor is that town’s least expensive B&B. Or anyway, it contains what I’m pretty sure is the least expensive room in any Bar Harbor B&B. The husband and wife who run the place are warm and eccentric and have two of the fattest cats I have ever seen. I’m guessing that they — the cats, I mean — get some of the leftovers from breakfast after the guests are done eating, because the breakfasts are hearty, accompanied by a mountain (Maine-size) of homemade pastries, and because it just cannot be possible for cats to get that fat eating cat food alone.

It was so cold at the top of Gorham Mountain that first year — the kind of cold that the wind carries right through the fibers of your outerwear. I got down on one knee, as one does, and when my now-wife saw the ring, she cried a few icicle tears. “Is this real?” she asked. Then she clarified: The unfolding engagement, I mean. Not the diamond.

The next year, we went back, good and married, and it snowed so hard on Mount Desert Island. We skied our brains out: around Witch Hole Pond, along the edge of Penobscot Mountain, down the side of Eagle Lake. The snow was fluffy and abundant and wonderful. It took me and the B&B owner an hour just to shovel out the driveway one morning, his enormous cats somehow hoisting themselves onto the windowsills to watch. At night, my wife and I trudged our ski-sore bodies through the white and silent streets, and we ate an extravagant dinner we probably couldn’t afford at a restaurant where Barack and Michelle once hung out.

When we went to Acadia last December, the snow was meager, but skiable. It’s one of those chest-thumpy things I like about Nordic skiing: we cross-country skiers make do with the snow we have. Downhill skiers have it a bit differently, particularly here in Maine, with all our diminutive mountains. Some years, it feels like they — the skiers, I mean — spend half their season schussing on crunchy, machine-made snow. Ours in Acadia last year wasn’t so different, really — a base of week-old stuff, refrozen and dusted with a couple inches of fresh — but hey, at least it was real.

Of course, we only skied a couple of miles last year, because my wife, who is a badass, was nine months pregnant.

I can’t wait for this year. I can’t wait to see those rounded little mountains and to ski alongside my wife (who is still a badass). I can’t wait to strap on the used ski trailer that I bought on Craigslist and put my year-old son inside and show him around the treasure that is Acadia. I can’t wait to pose for a selfie with my little family in front of icy Gorham Mountain. And I can’t wait to put a handful of newly fallen powder in my son’s mittened hand and see what he does with it, to tell him, “This is snow, buddy. This is wonderful. This is real.”

Brian Kevin

Brian Kevin is Down East's editor in chief.