Ultimate Test 365 - The Tenth Mountain Ski Center is for everybody

28 October 2011

There's a new trail system in town, boys.

Julie Column


Earlier this summer, volunteers from the Tenth Mountain Club in Fort Kent started working on an expanded snowshoe trail on the hill, part of which workers are constructing as a novice mountain biking and trail running system.  And in a completely surprising turn of events to me, my participation in the expansion of the trail system seems to be expanding my priorities as well.

I've helped to work on all the Tenth Mountain trails periodically over the years, starting with a job as part of the chipper crew on the original ski trails.  This fall, I was given an opportunity by Jeff Dubis, the Maine Winter Sports Center and the Tenth Mountain Club organizers, to drive an excavator owned by Carl Soderberg and to help build the developing trail system.

For those of you who know me, the fact that I'm helping to build a mountain biking and trail running system is easy to understand.  Driving an excavator, however, is a pretty sharp departure from my usual cup of tea.  I've been a strong advocate for non-motorized sports and recreation probably since I got my first bike at nine or ten years old.  And when I bought my first kayak in my early twenties, well, that was it for me.  Why put up with the engine noise and the sharp smell of diesel fuel when you could trade it all for the relaxing sounds of nature and the health benefits of muscle-driven power?  I even took my interest in all things non-petroleum-powered to my housing choices.  About ten years ago, I and a couple of friends built a platform for my yurt (round, pointy tent) completely by hand.  Yep, we used no electric or gas-powered tools whatsoever...and yes, it took us three weeks to dig the holes for the Sona tubes dug and to pour the concrete, to say nothing of constructing the platform itself.

The thing is, a big part of the interest I have in non-motorized sports and recreation has been simply a matter of time management.  I only have so much time in the day to get my work done, to meet my responsibilities to my family and friends, to (hopefully) squeeze in some exercise time, and to relax.  If I can combine the time I spend on exercise and staying healthy with one or more of my other priorities, so much the better.  In the past, I've generally tried to multi-task my relaxation time and time with family and friends with exercise time.  But with my participation in the mountain bike trail system construction at Tenth Mountain, I've made a discovery that has been pretty startling to me:

Driving a piece of heavy equipment is really fun.

Yes, the excavator is loud and stinky, and it's kind of dangerous and it helps to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and all that mechanized equipment does is contribute to the loss of jobs overall in this country and sitting in a piece of heavy equipment every day isn't really exercise.  It's hard work, but it's not exercise.  It doesn't do a thing for your heart health or for your waistline, except maybe to send both in the wrong direction.

But working with the machine is also really-really fun, and seeing the progress on the trails has been incredibly satisfying.  Without the use of the excavator, we'd be much farther behind than we are now.  There is an vast amount of skill that goes into operating the equipment successfully without damaging the surrounding trees.  The hand-eye (and foot) coordination that it requires would challenge even my most proficient video-gamer friends.  It even involves some pretty extensive problem-solving skills, when making decisions about how to bank and slope the trails to most effectively address rainwater runoff and potential erosion issues.  And I'm still sore from operating the dang grease gun. I think I've discovered muscles in my arms I didn't know I had.

So I think I'm starting to see what the appeal of all of this motorized stuff is all about.  In fact, I'm already planning some snowmobile trips this winter, and I've only ever been on a snowmobile once before.  I live in Cross Lake Township, so how about a snowmobile trip into town and then a snowshoe hike on the Tenth Mountain trails?  Is that even possible yet?  I'll have to check, but if it isn't and other people are interested in that option too, we should let the club know.

If I can learn to love gas-powered recreation, then anyone can learn to love to muscle-powered activities too.  They each require a different set of skills and a different orientation, but there's room enough for both of them.  If you've never been on the Tenth Mountain trails because you don't think of yourself as a skier or a mountain biker or a hiker or a trail runner, think of it this way: hiking is just walking, and most people walk all the time.  Come check the trails out out and if you think that there's something the club could do to help make the community facility more appealing to everybody, let us know.