There’s nothing wrong with a traditional bachelorette party, in my opinion. It can be fun to go out on the town, rent a limo, hit the dance clubs, wear matching outfits and play silly games, just for one night. But being in my late 20s, I’m at the age where this type of celebration has become a bit old hat. Every summer, I have one or more bachelorette parties to attend for friends and family members who are soon to be married, and sometimes I wish the party would be just a little bit different.
So when my sister, Jillian, asked me to be her maid-of-honor for her wedding this fall, I was overjoyed when she instructed me to plan an “outdoorsy” bachelorette party, a getaway weekend that would be anything but traditional. And let me just toot my own horn here — If anyone can plan a fun, outdoorsy trip in Maine, it’s me.
I decided the best course of action would be to have an outdoor adventure combined with the comforts of home. While all of Jillian’s friends are outgoing, I wasn’t sure all of them would want to “rough it” in tents.
The first thing that came to mind was Maine Huts & Trails, a nonprofit organization in western Maine that has created an 80-mile trail network connecting four “huts” in the wilderness. All four huts — Flagstaff Hut, Stratton Brook Hut, Grand Falls Hut and Poplar Hut — aren’t really huts. They’re beautiful, modern eco-lodges that operate off the grid with solar power and super efficient boilers and fancy composting systems. And while these lodges have energy, any common area is designated a “screen free zone,” where guests are asked not to use cellphones or any other screened device.
I’d been to Flagstaff Hut before. Tucked in the forest near the sandy shore of Flagstaff Lake, the hut seemed the perfect place for our little group to enjoy paddling, swimming and relaxing by the water.
Flagstaff Lake, if you didn’t know, is mostly manmade. In 1950, the 20,000-acre lake was formed when a hydroelectric dam was constructed on the Dead River. The lake actually swallowed up the townships of Flagstaff, Bigelow, Dead River and Carrying Place. All houses in these townships were purchased by the state and abandoned by their owners before the flooding, but there are still remains of some of the houses below the lake. This, of course, is telling a long story short. If you want to learn more, there’s a great multimedia piece called “15 Feet Below” by Pete Land-Stanton, Chloe Prasinos and Roger Smith available online.
Though it covers a lot of land, Flagstaff Lake is shallow, with a maximum depth of 48 feet. This makes the lake nice and warm late in the summer. The swimming was excellent. Also, the bottom is sandy in many places. This sand is actually till and glacial stream deposits — a mixture of sand, gravel and clay.
Getting to Flagstaff Hut on Friday, Sept. 3, was easy. Before our short hike into the hut, we stopped in Kingfield to pick up trail maps at the MH&T office and have lunch at The Orange Cat Cafe, where we were greeted at the front door by an orange housecat. We then drove to the Flagstaff Hut Trailhead nearby, left the car behind, and took our time hiking the 2-mile Shore Trail to the hut.
That first evening, our group did yoga together on the lawn outside Flagstaff Hut, then drank wine and lounged as the sun sank. While all of the women invited to the weekend knew my sister Jillian quite well, many of them did not know each other. But as an outside observer, you never would have known. It’s easy to make friends in the wilderness, where conversation is chief entertainment and there isn’t much else to distract you.
At 6 p.m., the hut staff rang the dinner bell.
One of the best things about MH&T huts is the food.
That evening, in a beautiful dining room, we sat at long wooden tables and were served pasta with homemade red sauce and meatballs; a spinach and strawberry salad with balsamic dressing, poppy seeds and sunflower seeds; bread; and a dark chocolate cupcake topped with a strawberry.
After the meal, we took a tour to learn about the hut’s energy sources and composting system. The toilet system is pretty cool, but I’m not sure I can do it justice here. I will say that we named the whole system “Fred.” You see, by the time of the tour, we had each had a few glasses of wine. I’m sure we made for a very enthusiastic tour group.
Anyway — the fancy, composting toilets are located in the main lodge’s spacious bathroom, where we also found a number of sinks and private shower rooms. To conserve energy, the showers are run by coin. One coin equals 6 minutes of hot water. While that shoulds like a short shower, it actually isn’t that bad. None of us had trouble using just one coin.
Right beside the main lodge are two long bunkhouses divided into several rooms. We had two rooms — one with six beds, and another with three beds. The bunk beds weren’t the most luxurious sleeping accommodations in the world, but with easy-to-wash mattresses and hypoallergenic pillows, they were clean and a whole lot more comfortable than sleeping in a tent.
The next day, after breakfast in the dining room, we spent almost all day on the water with the hut’s rental kayaks and stand up paddle boards. A windy morning gave way to a calm, sunny afternoon. Pulling our kayaks up on a sandy point and ate lunch while enjoying a view of the Bigelow Mountain Range, which rose up on the other side of the lake. I could have lingered there all day, exploring the sandy beach barefoot, climbing onto sun-baked boulders and swimming in the warm shallows.
We stayed at the hut again that night. After spicy chicken burritos and coconut cupcakes, we sat around a campfire with a family from New Hampshire that we’d befriended over the past two days. Their three little girls (ages 3, 6 and 9) helped us make s’mores, then headed to bed. We didn’t last much longer. The day’s fun had tuckered us right out.
On Sunday, we hiked out of the woods, turned our phones back on (they’d been off the whole time, as we didn’t have reception out there anyway), then stopped for lunch at Old Mill Pub in Skowhegan before driving home, each of us having gained a few new friends and good memories.