On October 7th Carl picks us up in the park next to the river, where we take out the canoe for the last time. Less than a year ago we planned our route to here, Fort Kent, Maine. We didn't book a hotel or made a reservation for a place. The canoe route ends its 1,200 kilometers here. After Fort Kent we would go to Canada, which is literally one bridge away from our current location. We were going to rest and experience the Canadian winter. Maybe write our book again. We would like to work on a dog-sled farm, think about our future and possibly take a short ski trip. The only thing that we have arranged is the transport of our bicycles and the canoe. John, the owner of Mountainman Outdoor in Old Forge, will pick up the canoe and bring our bikes. We know we have to leave the US because our visa only allows us three more weeks. We know that winter can come any time and we still have to find a place in Canada where we can do ‘house sitting' for a month or two, taking care of a house and the pets while the owners are on vacation. None of those ideas were planned. We don't even know how long we can stay with Carl and his wife Pat. Maybe just one day, a week if we are lucky. Yet we don’t feel any stress. How is that possible?
When we arrive at Carl’s house, the canoe tied to top of the car, Pat is waiting for us in the doorway. Mandy barks at us. We meet the horses Scascha and Dunbar, the cats George and Monty and the chickens. It feels like we are arriving at our uncle's farm, right at home. Pat says welcome while she gives us a hug. The wooden house is impressive on the hilltop, with views in all directions. We don’t know where to look, there are things everywhere, there are as many as 50 coats hanging on the coat rack, saddles are drying on the stairs and the kitchen cupboards are bulging with collected containers, and yet this house breaths peace, cosiness and life. The mug on the counter reveals the character that is hidden in this house: "Keep the house clean, by staying outside".
We quickly feel at home, open cupboards, take things from the fridge and ask our own hosts if they also want something to drink. We take off our shoes and nestle on the couch. It is our sixth sense that tells us if the household allows it. With Pat and Carl we quickly sit around the kitchen table with our home-made sandwiches. "What are your plans?" Carl asks. "We don't really have any plans yet," says Zoë. “We have to wait for our bikes to arrive next Tuesday. How long can we stay? ”Zoë asks. "As long as you want" Pat is her answer. If people say that, we assume that a week, maybe another half week is not a problem. But that answer doesn’t say we can stay a month, but time passes quickly and we can stay until our visa expires, and when the visa is about to expire, Carl comes up with an idea, "We'll extend your visa at the border, and then you can watch our house when we're in Spain." <
From the very first day, Pat and Carl are not only incredibly hospitable to us, but also to our friends. They invited Brad, our canoe friend, and his wife for a typical local breakfast, "ployes", buckwheat flour pancakes, and the next day they also let John, who comes to pick up our canoe, sleep with them. We honour the mug in the kitchen and are always outside. Carl and Pat surprise us with the playground in their back yard. The playground that they built together with the Fort Kent community. Carl is one of the founders of the Fort Kent Outdoor center. The center started with the bizarre idea of holding a world cup biathlon event in a village with only 4.000 inhabitants. The village had hardly heard of biathlon and hardly any facilities for such an event. The location was first to be established an hour from Fort Kent, but they convinced the village to build it in the village itself. They got support from a wealthy widow from the state of Maine and built the outdoor center with an army of volunteers. Carl is a fanatic, with more than 100 skis in his basement. With all his passion, he sets children and parents in motion to be outside, to practice sports and to discover. As a coach at the center and at the high school, he introduces new children to biathlon and brings the most talented up to the national level. From beginner to professional, it helps everyone. Also us.
Their home is almost part of the Outdoor Center. Back in the yard, behind the horse arena the ski slope and a network of trails starts. The trails for mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners, horse riders, dog owners, roller skiers, frisbee turn into snowshoe trails, cross-country trails and an athletic biathlon stadium in the winter. We can play freely and are coached in all sports that we don’t know yet. First the roller skis and biathlon and later the winter sports. He gives us each a set of roller skis, a kind of short ski on wheels on which nordic skiers train in the summer. It looks a bit like skating, so Zoë clicks the skis under her shoes and leaves. Ten meters later she lays on the ground. Olivier takes it a bit easier, controlled and conceived. As a beginner we are struggling with shaking knees. We practice and practice, each in our own way, Zoë through trial and error and Olivier through concentration and tranquility. Despite our experience with roller skates, this comparable sport is no easy task. The skates are long, the ankle is loose and the ski poles feel awkward and too long. At the end of the day we are entitled to the skis. "This is so cool!" The asphalted and hilly trails are quite a challenge, certainly without a brake, but it is a lot of fun and every day we are on the trails with the skis in our hand.
The rhythm of our daily lives goes along with theirs. Breakfast, play outside, lunch, play outside, eat dinner. Olivier regularly goes out for mountain biking. Pat teaches Zoë everything about horses. We go trail running, practice on roller skis and walk with the dog Mandy. In between we catch up with our work. We still have a lot of blogs to write, photos to edit, making films and make new plans. By this time we know for sure that we want to do a long ski tour. When Zoë explains the possibilities for ski routes in Canda to Carl, he says “why not follow the Saint Lawrence. There is no road there in the summer and in the winter the locals use a snowmobile trail to go from village to village.” Meanwhile, Olivier is also listening and we google it. Soon we find "the white trail" or in French "la route blanche". When we play the teaser and see beautiful snowy landscapes glide past the screen, the goosebumps are on our arms. "Sold!" Calls Zoë. “Ho! This is cool "says Olivier. "Are we going to do this?" Zoë asks Olivier, full of adrenaline. Carl follows our eyes and laughs when he realizes that the plans have just been made.
Our plan comes as fast and unexpected as lightning. The follow-up plan is just as fast. When the images of a sled behind us pass through Zoë's thoughts in the snow, she shouts "hey, but we can do that too with the skates!". "A sled on wheels," Carl nods affirmatively. We have a cart at the outdoor center where you can take out skis and put wheels underneath. “ Olivier finds a video on youtube in which a traveler travels through a desert on skates. He pushes a stroller in front of him." Ha! "Says Olivier. A second lightning strikes, and the next plan has emerged.
As soon as Carl and Pat leave on vacation we have the responsibility to prepare the animals and a mountain of preparations for our next adventures to do. The two weeks fly by. With a lot of love we live the lives of Pat and Carl. We spent time with Memere and Pepere, Carl parents who live next door and enjoy having a home. Just before they return, the first snow falls out of the sky. The start of a winter. For many a depressive period of cold and isolation, for others and for us a magic of beautiful landscapes and lots of winter fun. A life that suits us. That playground in the back yard, that is our dream house.
Carl and Pat are wonderful friends and wonderful parents, their family feels like our family. Their house as our house. We learned cross-country skiing, we learned roller skiing, we learned about snow, about winter clothing, we learned about tractors, about horse riding, we learned about chickens and got the bizarre opportunity to do dog sledding and meet mushers. We learned about our dream location and built our new travel plans.
Imagine we had booked a hotel...