Posts Tagged ‘SATW’

In the Maine woods, with snow and wine

March 8, 2010

Here we go! Wessel snowshoes to the hut carrying a backpack and skis

While spring is in the air (yay!), my thoughts are still with the winter wonderland we recently submerged ourselves in at Maine Huts and Trails, near Maine’s western mountains. For now, the four-season system contains 30 miles of trails and two full-service off-the-grid lodges, or “huts.” At some point, it hopes to grow to a dozen lodges covering 180 miles. You can go to one at a time, or hike or ski between them. And, yes, the ski trail is groomed.

I learned about it last year, when one of my professional organizations, the Society of American Travel Writers, gave Maine Huts a Phoenix Award for outstanding conservation efforts. As an awards judge, I read detailed information about the environmental practices, including solar energy, geothermal heating, and composting toilets (love those!). I couldn’t wait to see it for myself.

A glimpse of Flagstaff Lake Hut through the woods. Lodge is more like it

Wessel and I were there the last two days of February for a Washington Post travel story, so I’ll save the details for that. We aren’t strong skiers, so decided to stay at one hut and explore around there instead of attempting to ski 10 miles to the other hut. We chose Flagstaff Lake Hut over Poplar Stream Falls Hut because it’s a flat area. For ski weenies like us (especially me), the cross-country skiing from that lodge was non-life-threatening and sublime.

The hardest part of the weekend was the hour-long schlep in from the car on snowshoes, carrying loaded backpacks with our skis and poles strapped on the back. Agony. Most skiers just ski the 1.7 miles in from the parking lot, but I would have ended up like a turtle on my back, yelling at Wessel to please roll me over and set me upright again.

Diane skis over bridge across creek

We were lucky to have nice temps (high 30s!) with fresh snow both nights, so the mornings before the meltdown were transformative. The world was all white, with snow weighing down the branches and covering the ground. We had a blast skiing on the gentle trail that runs along the lake, which, in the summer, you can swim in. Closer to the lodge, we snowshoed out to a piece of land jutting into the lake. Dunes of wind-swept snow rose along the banks and a white backdrop shone as far as the eye could see. Sublime.

Beauty from the banks of Flagstaff Lake

The cost is about $75 a person per night for a private room and a yummy breakfast and dinner. As of this winter, the huts can also serve beer and wine. Woo-hoo! The rooms range from three beds to family size and are pretty stark, but staying inside isn’t the point here. While I think anytime but mud season or black-fly season would be a draw, if you can come when there’s snow, you will be enchanted. That’s a promise.


Texas gives Dixie chicks a ride

October 28, 2008

Not being one who fears showing my ignorance (though, yes, I do like being right), here’s my confession. When I first read that I could have my photo taken posed with a “Texas longhorn” I thought that meant a cowboy. I was imagining a cross between Village People and Chippendales.

So imagine my surprise when I showed up at the George R. Brown Convention Center to find not a cowboy but a boy cow, named Texas.

Jane Wooldridge riding the longhorn steer

Miami Herald travel editor Jane Wooldridge poses pretty, even without a hat.

Texas is a longhorn steer, a breed of cattle known for its lean beef. More than anything, though, their distinctive horns have turned them into a symbol of the Lone Star State. (What’s the difference between a bull and a steer? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with boy parts.) According to Wikipedia, because longhorns are smart and gentle, they’re also increasingly being trained as riding steers. I can’t say I now know what it’s like to ride one, but sitting on one was pretty cool.

Ellen Perlman riding the longhorn steer

Writer Ellen Perlman lives in DC, so she's used to a lot of bull.

This photo-op invite came from the kind folks at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, a mammoth event held every spring in Houston. The rodeo was one of the sponsors of the 2008 convention of the Society of American Travel Writers, hosted by the Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, which I and about 400 other members attended last week. Many of us posed with Texas, including my colleagues shown here: Jane Wooldridge, travel editor of the Miami Herald, and DC freelancer Ellen Perlman of Boldly Go Solo and more.

Diane riding the longhorn steer

Diane casts animal-rights principles aside for a longhorn photo-op.

This here steer is an employee of Ralph Fisher’s Photo Animals in La Grange. To be honest, I was torn about posing atop Texas. I really, really wanted the photo (and an excuse to wear a cowboy hat), but I felt bad for the steer. How fun can it be to have a couple hundred folks climb on you, say stupid things, and then clamor back down while cameras are constantly flashing in your eyes? Not very, I’m guessing. But I managed to stuff all my animal-rights leanings into a little “See No Evil” box in the back of my head, which I then had to pull out and repack all over again in order to post this blog entry.

Steer retreats after convention duties

Texas's sidekick is led through the convention lobby after clocking out.

Aside from the photo ops, one of the craziest sights of the evening was watching Ralph Fisher’s handlers walk Texas’s colleague, whose name escapes me, through the convention-center lobby and out to a waiting limo, um, trailer.