Three friends prepare to travel the length of Maine's 100-Mile Wilderness on the Appalachian Trail in winter.
It was mid-October and most of the thru-hikers were done for the season. I, however, was just hitting the trail for a jaunt on the most rugged and remote section of the Appalachian Trail in the 100-Mile Wilderness of northern Maine. As an active and experienced hiker of 20+ years, the idea of hiking 100 miles in five days wasn’t too daunting. The weather forecast called for warm days, cool nights, high pressure and clear skies. The trail, despite having its fair share of roots and rocks, was dry and straightforward. The only variable in the equation was my fitness of mind and body. The river crossings proved easy, the campsites offered clean fire rings and solid nights of sleep, but the one thing that kept fighting for my attention was the thought of winter and what this trail would look like covered in several feet of snow and ice.
Last winter, on our last day of an 8-day ski circumnavigation of Baxter State Park in northern Maine, I found myself skiing fast up the last real hill with a heavy sled behind me. I felt strong, and with the car nearly in my sight, I started thinking about the next adventure. What could we do that would up the ante?
Fast forward one year. I’m preparing to embark on a longer, harder trip in northern Maine, on skis and pulling sleds once again. I’ve been training for months to get ready. Lots of trail running, weight lifting and long slogs in the mountains. Whether I’m struggling to get that last repetition of back squats or sucking wind trying to row a faster 300 meters, my vision remains the same—snow and wind in my face, breaking trail uphill through bottomless powder and knowing I still have miles to go.
I also know that I’m not a professional, sponsored athlete. Putting trips like this together is not my full-time job. I live with my lovely partner and her amazing seven-year-old son, and we’re the building managers for our three-unit in Portland. A week ago, our oil tank started leaking all over the basement. It took two days of coordinating the clean-up with contractors, mitigating the smell and moving everything around multiple times to keep our stuff clean. Then, during a small snowstorm a car slid into our building and wiped out the front stairs (for the second time this winter nonetheless). I still work at a restaurant 20 hours a week slinging pizza and beers, and we do all the normal adulting stuff that everyone else does.
That’s why I’m looking forward to that moment we leave the car behind and start breaking trail through the woods. The preparation will be behind us and my trust in the process will come to fruition. Despite the hectic life we lead, I know that I’ll have done everything I can to be ready, and that in itself gives me confidence.
Because we’re switching up our modes of transportation halfway through the trip, we need to plan a gear drop via snowmobile. Due to the terrain, we’ll be snowshoeing the first half of the trip and carrying packs. On day five, we’ll meet our resupply with more food and fuel and transition to XC skis and sleds. The sleds are of our own design, and built for the rigors of traveling through the Maine woods.
In addition, there’s food, water and gear to think about. We’ll be aiming to eat 4,000+ calories a day, so we’re making sure to pack lots of bacon, cheese and butter to supplement meals from pasta to oatmeal (if you haven’t tried bacon in your oatmeal, you’re seriously missing out). As far as hydration goes, there’s no guarantee that we’ll find a lot of open water, so we’re bringing extra fuel to melt snow.
Thankfully we can see the 10-day forecast before we launch and can make a few game time decisions on gear. The temps aren’t looking bitterly cold, so the big puffy down jacket will stay home. We’ve got car shuttles figured out, potential bail out routes planned and our repair kits dialed in. We can’t prepare for everything, but we can definitely stack the deck in our favor.
It’s pretty simple. For me, moving through wild lands under my own power is extremely satisfying. It’s natural and it’s primal. I’m putting my feet one foot in front of the other and when I get to camp at the end of the day, I can look back and see what I’ve done and how far I’ve come.
Brian Threlkeld is an adventurer and photographer based in Portland, ME. He first started exploring wild places with his father in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota as a child and he has continued to search for adventure everywhere he goes, from Alaska to Iceland and California to Ecuador. After getting diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 30, the desire to play more and adult less is constant. Thankfully, his incredibly supportive partner Anna and her seven year old son Arlo help to make that work/life balance easier.
Special thanks to our co-sponsers Big Agnes, Osprey Packs and Good To-Go!