November 27, 2021

cruciforme

travel, Always a step ahead

Spending the winter in an off-the-grid cabin in the Maine woods

With a sled full of supplies, Wendy Weiger treks across First Roach Pond on her way to her cabin in late February. Weiger has no road access to her cabin during the winter. Eddie O’Leary photo

Wendy Weiger’s drive to her camp east of Moosehead Lake in early December was supposed to be one of her final resupply trips as she prepared for a winter living in her primitive, off-the-grid cabin. 

But Weiger was traveling on logging roads in northern Piscataquis County, where winter comes early. So when a Nor’easter dumped 18 inches of snow and made the logging roads impassable, Weiger’s plan went awry. When her Subaru Forester got stuck, she had to hike more than 2 miles to her camp on the shore of First Roach Pond in Frenchtown Township. The next day she hiked another 7 miles to get help from the sporting camp co-owner at West Branch Pond Camps, Eric Stirling, who used his plow truck to rescue her car.

Despite the ordeal, Weiger persisted with her goal of spending the winter in the one-room, 14-by-21-foot cabin that has no running water or electricity and only a small loft for storage. It is an experience of isolation and a test of resiliency she dreamed of trying for years. For six months – from spring until fall – Weiger runs the Appalachian Mountain Club’s information center in Monson. The “Winter of Coronavirus” seemed the perfect time to try spending the offseason at her remote camp, because she would need to isolate from others anyway.

It turned out the misadventure with her car set the tone for a more primitive lifestyle that emphasized the importance of survival skills and wise choices.

“I needed to shift from the town way of thinking to the woods way of thinking,” Weiger said. “When a storm puts you at risk, forget about the to-do list. Respect nature. It was kind of a wild introduction to winter.”

Weiger, 59, was educated at Harvard University and worked in medical research in Boston before moving to Maine, where she wanted to pursue a simpler lifestyle. She came to the Greenville area 17 years ago, caring for her mother here before she died. Weiger has worked the past four years for the AMC in Monson.

Since coming to Maine, Weiger has amassed a vast resume in wilderness camping and survival skills – and is no stranger to going it alone on canoe or backpacking expeditions. She has canoed much of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway alone. And two years ago, she hiked the American Discovery Trail during her off-season. She also is a Registered Maine Guide.

Weiger enjoys visiting with friends in the Greenville area, sharing dinners out together or home-cooked meals. But that lifestyle became impossible during the pandemic. So that’s when another long-sought wilderness experience called to her – the opportunity to live alone in isolation in a primitive cabin, much like Henry David Thoreau did.

Wendy Weiger has had just one visitor at her cabin on the shore of First Roach Pond this winter. She says she likes the isolation. Photo by Eddie O’Leary

This winter, Weiger lives in her one-room cabin that is lit by oil and propane lamps and heated with a wood stove. She uses a four-burner propane stove to cook. There is no refrigerator, so when she resupplies in Greenville every four to five weeks, she must eat the fruits and vegetables first before turning to a diet of non-perishable foods. She washes dishes or bathes with water heated on the stove only when necessary.

Her days are full of chores that add a rhythm to her life, but she enjoys the solitude and simplicity.

She had three cords of wood delivered to the camp by early November, but the wood didn’t have time to season (and, therefore, dry out). Now Weiger must cut the wood blocks into smaller pieces each day, so the wood in her stove burns more efficiently.

The cabin is small and tightly built, but she keeps the fire burning during the day to avoid the temperature inside dropping below 50 degrees. The coldest night this winter was 14-below, and on many evenings it’s in the single digits.

She also must carry in stainless-steel pails full of water from her hand-pump well located 300 feet away. An outhouse sits 100 feet away, and a portable tent stores the wood nearby. 

“Laundry and dishes end up taking up a lot of time. It’s quite a lot more exercise than in the modern world. I’ve gotten a new appreciation for pioneer women,” Weiger said.

However, Weiger has not fully adopted the life of a hermit. She does travel into Greenville to resupply when needed by snowshoeing and pulling a sled back to her car, which is parked near an Appalachian Mountain Club lodge. She then drives the plowed logging roads into town. One time a visitor also brought her supplies.

She also can access the internet at her cabin by using a satellite dish and computer that are powered by electricity from a gas-fed generator, a luxury she limits herself to about two hours a day. When the computer and satellite dish are powered up, she chats through Zoom calls (as she did for this interview) or Facebook messenger, or Weiger writes on her online blog, wendyweiger.com.

She also spends her days reading or looking for animal tracks. And once a week, she attends a Zoom service with her Greenville church.

The longest stretch Weiger stayed at the cabin without resupply from any source was 19 days. That extended period of isolation gave her insight into her level of fortitude and deep love of nature.

“I don’t really feel alone,” she said. “There are the wild creatures. Some birds remain in winter. I hear the coyotes howling, and I see a lot of tracks. Mostly I feel a deep connection with the natural world. I feel nature is a companion.”

Few other residents live near the pond in winter: the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Medawisla Lodge, located about 3 miles away; a handful of year-round homes on the other side of the lake; and West Branch Pond Camps, located 7 miles away, are a few.  

Stirling, West Branch Pond Camps’ fifth-generation owner, said Weiger’s endeavor reminds him of the hermitage ways that were more common in the 1970s, when more people trapped and lived off the land.

“It’s pretty unusual today,” said Sterling, 46. “Most people vacation in their camps, and arrive by snowmobiles. She’s chosen not to use one, even for access. It’s really great to see someone immerse themselves in the quiet of the woods. Very few people choose to go off the grid for that period of time.”

Wendy Weiger pumps water from her well at her First Roach Pond cabin, which has no electricity or running water. Eddie O’Leary photo

Medawisla Manager Rachael Graber agreed that Weiger’s approach to off-the-grid living was unusual, even at the doorstep of the North Maine Woods.

“A lot of people own snowmobiles and are doing a similar style of living, but with transportation,” Graber said. “So for that reason, she is alone in her adventure – a single woman hiking into and out of the woods. I think that lifestyle is lost in history.”

Graber thinks the obvious pleasure Weiger finds living alone in the woods is not easy to come by. The lifestyle she’s chosen is demanding, both physically and mentally, Graber said.

“I live up here during the offseason, and I really struggle,” said Graber, 32. “To know Wendy Weiger is out there in the middle of the woods and is limited in resources and food and people and is completely comfortable and accepting and in love with that situation – it’s pretty amazing.”

Weiger admits if she had no connection of any kind with people, she would be lonely. But being by herself in the woods and cut off from human interaction much of the time has been insightful.

I think sometimes having a lot of people around gives the impression that you are not alone. But you have to be able to live alone like this in a remote location to be comfortable with all aspects of being alone,” Weiger said. “I am more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been – with the good and the bad. I’ve learned to be more compassionate to myself. It’s been a huge lesson.”

Source Article