So, there’s a new year coming. It’s traditionally a time of reflection and resolution. Or partying. It really can be a matter of either/or.
Let’s put it this way ... if you want to make your life better in 2014, are you better off to start Jan. 1 by waking up with a hangover, or by waking up in beautiful surroundings far away from the ordinary, perhaps pleasantly sore from having exercised the day before, ready to make a fresh start on a new day, a new year, the rest of your life?
I always try to get at least one overnight outdoors somewhere in the days between the shortest day of the year and a week or two after the human-proclaimed "new year." The actual day doesn’t matter; it’s what you choose to do that makes a difference.
Our plans for this year (if the weather cooperates) involve snowshoes, backpacks, zero degree-rated sleeping bags and a lightweight nylon tipi with a woodstove in it. Not everyone has the luxury of owning their own portable winter palace, but if you do, consider yourself one of life’s fortunate few.
For several years, my sweetheart, Marilyn, and I got together with and some of our friends to do a wilderness winter cabin adventure to celebrate the New Year. We tried a number of options and we discovered that winter cabins without heat are hard to hang out comfortably in, and winter cabins with heat and a wood supply, away from roads and snowmobile trails, are hard to find and need to be booked far in advance, especially for weekends and holidays. The best we’ve found are at Merck Forest (www.merckforest.org) in Vermont near the New York border, but they are pretty much booked up on weekends and holidays throughout the winter.
So what else is there to do? I went looking at some of my favorite places for winter adventures to see what might still be available for New Year’s or thereabouts. What sparked this was an email from Polly Mahoney and Kevin Slater at Mahoosuc Guide Service (mahoosuc.com) in Newry, Maine, saying they still have openings for their New Year’s trips Dec. 30 to Jan. 1. Kevin and Polly bred, raise, train and run sled dogs. But they don’t do what I call "tourist trips," which is where someone packs you into a dog sled and hauls you around like human cargo. If you go dogsledding with Kevin or Polly, you learn how to hitch up the dogs to the hand-built wooded sleds, how to drive the sleds and a lot more.
They maintain two separate camps on U.S. Forest Service lands on the shore of Umbagog (pronounced uhm-BAY-gog) Lake on the Maine/New Hampshire border north of Errol. These camps feature big, comfortable, canvas, cabin sleeping tents with double roofs, fragrant balsam-bough floors and foam pads to sleep on, a kitchen tent with a table for meals and a very private "out" (which is an outhouse without the house) for bathroom facilities.
If you don’t have the skills or equipment to take to the winter woods yourself, this is the perfect starter adventure. You will be warm and comfortable, you will meet some great people and wonderful dogs, and you start your New Year with a new perspective.
If you aren’t quite ready to consider a winter tent adventure, take heart. Maine Hunts and Trails (mainehuts.org) has champagne toasts scheduled at all four huts in their system, and a full-on New Year’s celebration with a four-course meal served in the decorated dining room at their Flagtaff and Stratton Brook Huts. This latter boasts a most-spectacular view of Sugarloaf Mountain.
Though you have to hike (bring snowshoes) or ski to reach the huts, they have indoor toilets, showers and saunas, heated bunkrooms and private bedooms. The food is fabulous, the accommodations are total comfort, and it’s an experience you won’t forget.
According to its online availability chart, the AMC (outdoors.org/lodging) still has vacancies around Christmas and New Year’s at most of its facilities. The one exception, the self-service backcountry huts at Carter Notch and Lonesome Lake are full for New Year’s. But you can still find a bed at Joe Dodge Lodge and Highland Lodge in the White Mountains, Cardigan Lodge near Newfound Lake in New Hampshire, and the amazing Maine Wilderness Lodges, Little Lyford and Gorman Chairback. Some of their regional camps, such as Noble View in Massachusetts, are also likely open, but you have to call (603) 466-2727 to check.
Any of these destinations will take you away from the ordinary and start your New Year right -- even if you don’t go until later in the winter. For a complete overview of cabin getaway options: easternslopes.com/2012/12/29/where-to-go-for-winter-cabin-and-yurt-and-heated-tent-adventures. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!