By Cindy Atoji Keene
An eight-mile commute to work might sound like a breeze, but for Sarah Pine it’s especially idyllic. She goes to work from her home in Carrabassett Valley on skis, and the only detours might be a fallen limb or an occasional deer crossing. Pine, 30, is headed for a two or three-day overnight stay as hut operations manager for Maine Huts and Trails. If the word “hut” conjures up bare-bone dwellings, perhaps the better word is eco-lodge ¬– off-the-grid backcountry accommodations that include locally sourced meals, radiant heat floors, hot showers and the option of private rooms. They are part of a hut-to-hut trail system in Maine’s western lakes and mountains region. On any given day, Pine might be ordering supplies for dinner, checking the propane generator, answering questions about snowshoeing trails, or sweeping the floor. “These huts are in a remote wilderness setting but we’re here to provide hospitality and comfort to our guests,” said Pine, 30.
Q: These ‘boutique hotels’ have clean energy systems that reduce impact to the surrounding environment – what does it take to maintain them up in the back country?
A: Maintaining the energy systems is a large part of my responsibilities. For instance, I check the specific gravity of the batteries and fill them up; grease the hydro station; add wood shaving and bacteria to the Clivus (toilet composting system), clean ash out of the tarm (wood boiler) and remove the snow from the solar panels. Today I was at Flagstaff Hut and I ran into our Clivus expert Geoff. He was replacing a broken pump and installing an alarm for the next time the pump fails. He showed me all the build up that had occurred and why. We chatted about his off-the-grid yurt while we took turns stirring in more wood shavings.
Q: What’s the vision behind these huts?
A: Maine Huts & Trails is a non-profit public service organization dedicated to creating a 180-mile network of trails stretching between the Mahoosuc Range in western Maine to Moosehead Lake. They increase accessibility to the wilderness and also help boost the local economy. I got involved when looking for work in this area, and helped build the trails. The outdoor adventures and guest hospitality experiences are a perfect combination for me.
Q: You said that best part of your job is being outside – what’s the worst?
A: It has to be the latrine duty at the Flagstaff hut. It can get quite disgusting. The other huts have composting toilets, and those super efficient, extremely clean and don’t smell at all. All I need to do is add wood shavings and bacteria and rack it.
Q: How does the weather affect your job?
A: It’s huge. In the winter, we do snow dances out here in snow country, because of the cross country ski trails. This winter we’ve had nasty rough weather, with lots of ice and rain. In the spring, it’s mud season and it takes a while for the trails to dry out. There’s also bug season – black flies and mosquitoes.
Q: What’s your go-to winter garb?
A: I just invested in a pair of minus 40-degreemboots after shuttling food with a snowmobile in minus 19-degree weather. I can’t believe it took me 10 years living in Maine to finally break down and get a pair. Another few key pieces of gear I have purchased this season is a pair of toe covers for my mountain bike shoes and studded bike tires. This equipment allowed me to make the best of the icy weather we have had this winter.
Q: Do you miss lattes and malls?
A: No on the lattes – we have really good coffee in the huts; it’s a delicious organic dark roast that keeps us all going. As far as malls, I can’t remember the last time I’ve stepped foot