Anyone can camp when the weather is mild. It takes a special kind of Survivalista, with some scratch, to rusticate in style during the more challenging seasons here. Just because you’re in the wilderness doesn’t mean you can’t be wild.
Fantasy 1: You’re heli-dropped on the top of Mount Katahdin just so you can snowboard down on your Burton Vapor ($1,295) in your Juicy Couture Igloo Logo Boots ($195) and Loro Piana reversible (so you can hide it) coffee-dyed mink fur coat with adorable hood ($29,995)…
Fantasy 2: A huntress in the wilds of Maine, you’re fierce (Tyra will be proud). Jetting in from your place in Sag Harbor, you climb aboard a custom 1953 de Havilland Beaver float plane in Greenville and zoom across Moosehead Lake with your winning lottery ticket to bag a male specimen of alces alces near the source of the Allagash. But moose isn’t the only thing on your mind…
Fantasy 3: After screening a Resort Sports Network episode in your suite at the Hotel Concorde in Berlin, you have a eureka moment: Only Olympian Seth Wescott is good enough to teach your children how to snowboard…
Now that haute couture designer Alex Carleton [Rogue's Gallery, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren] is revving up classics from L.L. Bean-think jet-black boating shoes with jet-black soles -it doesn’t take a leap in the dark to understand that wilderness isn’t just about flannel socks and pork pie hats anymore. See, The WildernessTM has a press agent now. You know the recession is coming to a close when you see crusty Maine guides and trip planners repackaging themselves as wilderness concierges these days.
“We call it the Ya Ya Getaway,” says Linda J. Bortis of the Lodge at Moosehead Lake. “Groups of up to eight women enjoy a private guided tour based on their customized itinerary. We send them off with our Safari Box Breakfasts to assure an early start.” When the weary travelers return, “they’re provided wine when they get back to their four-star lodging here, fresh fruit, and our Lily Bay Spa provides Swedish hot-stone and sports-therapy massage, with individual-room treatment also available.” For dinner, there’s “‘Up North’ cuisine-buffalo meat grown on the foothills of the northern Maine woods, stuffed trout, peekytoe crab cakes, and Atlantic salmon, all specific to this region because the food is part of the experience.” While elk rut and scratch their antlers in the woods outside, “we finish the perfect experience with chick flicks.” Oops. Don’t forget the “Mooseopolitan, the signature martini we’ve trademarked,” Bortis says.
“We fly into many of the private lodges like Bradford Camps and Libby Camps up toward the Allagash, out of Ashland,” says Marcia Sullivan of Katahdin Air Service in Millinocket, purveyors of high-end, fabulous excursions to the great outdoors. “We have a very nice clientele up here. During foliage season, we fly around Mt. Katahdin and to show them the ghost trains up on Eagle Lake. You can still see the shadows of the old logging rails from the air. Our Cessna 206 is white and navy, seating five guests and the pilot.”
Your point of departure here is right on the Golden Road. “The American logging trucks go right by our office. We’re quite remote, and that’s what they’re looking for.” As for the view, “It’s absolutely breathtaking today.” When foliage is at its peak, it’s like gunshots against the green before the reflected images of leaves in the lakes explode into blazes of dizzy color. “When you fly over the mountain, it looks like a patchwork quilt. It’s absolutely incredible, breathtaking on photographic flights. We see moose and bear in the open, blueberrying. We flew the crew from the Discovery Channel when they did their big American Loggers documentary up here.”
“We have a fishing cabin that celebrities rent,” Sullivan says while keeping mum on who they are until she tosses in a red herring by saying, “Ted Williams always used to fish here. Jimmy Buffett comes a lot. He flies his own plane and stops for gas.”
So…no women, right? It’s as though a dam breaks open.
“There’s a HUGE interest among women. The Big Moose Inn across the street hosts groups of women who come here, and they usually fly with us as part of our trip.” Then there are the visiting executives, “women who are part of the Nature Conservancy.” And “have you heard of Trek America,” a European ultra group who promises their client base wilderness chic?
“Most of them have been from Germany,” Laurie Cormier of The Big Moose Inn says of her Trek America guests. “I believe it’s all internet. They fly them in and do different, unique things in select wilderness settings they couldn’t do anywhere else.” Other guests include Mona Simpson (the film version of her novel Anywhere But Here starred Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman) and Catherine Ryan Hyde (Pay It Forward). Martha Stewart’s scooted by. Let’s see…several Victoria’s Secret models came here to whitewater raft, there’s Alan Greenspan”-hey, where would you hide if you were Alan Greenspan?
“We do ‘fly-and-dine’ to lovely remote lodges like Nahmakanta Lake Wilderness Camps,” says Sullivan of Katahdin Air Service. As in, fly in and dine for one unforgettable evening. “Celebrities usually book in groups to fly into Bradford Camps and Libby Camps. The lodges are at the ready with world-class cuisine for those roughing it: delicacies like salmon, steak, or roasts.”
“There are more women coming out here,” says Karen Sikorsky of Bradford Camps in Ashland. “My husband, Igor Sikorsky [yes, his namesake grandfather invented a little device we like to call the helicopter], and I bought this place in 1996. All of this started here in the 1890s, and we still have just eight cabins. I’ve worked to deliver the wilderness experience to other women, men, and families who come such a long way” to find something extraordinary here, like nowhere else. Overwhelmingly, women seem to be the trip planners. “Families who comes here expect a lot.”
“There’s a definite trend” toward more and more women staring down the wilderness, says Don Hibbs of Nahmakanta Camps. “Particularly winter stuff, too. Women appear to be the more active of the two sexes.”
Is it an existential encounter, something about pitching their tent under the stars? Certainly these alpha females have more than moose on their minds.
Why else would former White House press secretary Dana Perino, 37, who took over for Tony Snow in 2007, have been recently sighted up here (after being wined and dined by the Nature Conservancy)?
Then there’s Katahdin Lake Wilderness Camps, a magnet for photographers and artists. “Even more exclusive is Frederic Church Camp, privately owned, where guest painters from around the world come to channel the famous landscape painter and try to capture views of Katahdin the way he did,” Sullivan says.
“I’ve been to several places where famous artists have painted, including Collioure in France, a favorite of Picasso’s, or Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. But here’s this little rustic artist’s camp on Millinocket Lake that just takes your breath away,” says artist Evelyn Dunphy [visit evelyndunphy.com]” where “women just happen to outnumber men eight to one. You really know when people sign up for something like this that they’re game.”
But what about the cell phones, a cynic might say? The reception can’t be all that good this far north of nowhere!
“You can’t flip open a cell phone in a plane anyway, because music is going through the earphones, as well as our tour patter,” Sullivan laughs. Besides, this is sensory deprivation as luxury: “Women are here for fishing, scenic flights, lodges. We just sent a group of nine women into one of the lodges this past weekend.”
Others are picked up from New York, Boston, and north: “Portland, Augusta, and those flying directly into Bangor International. Also the seaplane base in Bangor.”
“There’s foolish money floating around everywhere,” observes Roger Currier of Currier Flying Service out of Greenville, who’s seen them come and seen them go. “All sorts of business people. It’s like they think there’s no recession. We do foliage excursions-great scenery, lots of wilderness, lots of water. Sometimes we don’t find out we’ve carried a celebrity until afterward. In town, somebody will say, ‘Do you realize who that was?’”
The mind reels. Oprah? Hillary? QE2?
One of these swells, as an afterthought, had a fish driven back to Greenville “on a limousine from Rhode Island, with no other passengers,” says taxidermist/artist/guide David Footer, “just so we could mount it.”
What, without a Mooseopolitan?
Then there’s the luxury kayaking.
“In Maine, we do some very nice bed and breakfast trips that are more luxury than roughing it,” says Jeff Cooper, Director of Fun at H2Outfitters, who lists “soap stars from New York” as some of his clients. “This has been our first year working with a small cruise ship company operated by three sisters that makes its own cruise ships with just a six and a half-foot draft, 180 feet long. We can go way up the rivers, including the Kennebec River. From these luxury ‘mother ships,’ we also launch kayaks for up to 25 passengers in scenic Somes Sound near Bar Harbor. We call this new offering Sea Lodge Adventures. The beauty of it is to head out to the outermost islands, get on the water, paddle to [an absurdly exotic, otherwise unattainable] destination, and meet the ship at the end of the road. This allows for the luxury of a hot shower, private berth, talks and presentations from the lounge” of these glamour-craft “ranging from understanding the geography to group navigation. It’s a pretty innovative approach, and we’re lucky to have finished our two maiden exploratories. We’ll be doing Maine next year like this, all summer. Cost is $1,500 for seven to eight days. There’s nothing for the customer to do but go to Portland and get on the boat.”