REGION — Every year at this time we ask expert Maine outdoors men and women for their all-time favorite outdoor gift.

Every year their stories mostly favor memories over money, travel over trendy gadgets, and time spent outdoors over anything else. And when an unparalleled piece of gear is named the best outdoor gift ever, it usually has a transformative quality.

Once again during the season of giving, here are five tales from avid Maine outdoor people about the very best outdoor gift they’ve received.

Maureen Beck learned to climb in Maine, but now climbs around the world. Photo courtesy of Maureen Beck


Ellsworth native Maureen Beck has won five national titles and two gold medals at the Paraclimbing World Championships. And even now, as Beck, who was born with only her right hand, transitions from a career as a competitive world-class paraclimber to more outdoor exhibition-style climbs, she proved this fall she’s still got it by finishing third in the first paraclimbing World Cup held in the United States.

“It was a cool feeling. It’s not like I strictly trained for it. And my competition is getting stronger and stronger,” said Beck, 35, who now lives outside Denver.


Beck started climbing at age 12, and figured out how to work around her physical challenges, even though 23 years ago she didn’t know about adaptive climbing. She went to college at the University of Vermont, joined the outing club, and her climbing prowess took off.

Today Beck teaches at climbing festivals and clinics to both able-bodied athletes and those with a disability. And as a professional climber with an array of sponsors, she’s received some cool gear over the years.

Yet her all-time favorite outdoor gift is a no-frills, plastic helmet given by her parents, Chris and Deborah Whalley of Ellsworth.

“Before my parents really knew what climbing was, it didn’t sound safe,” Beck said. “That’s the only piece of climbing equipment they gave me – that helmet. If that doesn’t send a message. In college I said to them, I’m not quitting, this is my passion.”


After working for 14 years for The Nature Conservancy in Connecticut and Boston, Jon Kachmar took over as executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance just over a year ago at a time when the off-road rail-trail is poised to grow.


Jon Kachmar, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance, has been an avid backcountry skier for about 30 years. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

With the long-awaited “gap” section between Scarborough and South Portland on schedule for construction next spring, the Eastern Trail will soon span from Bug Light in South Portland all the way to Saco. And the connection needed between Saco and Biddeford is in the works, as well.

So it’s a bit ironic that a guy who works during the week on one of the most important urban trails in Maine spends his weekends in avalanche country. But the backcountry skier loves the wild terrain and massive snow depth around Mount Washington. Kachmar’s most meaningful outdoor gift was one he gave himself in 2012 to help him travel safely there: a $500, three-day course about avalanches taught on Mount Washington.

“It’s so complicated and such a unique area that it’s hard to stay on top of all of it. There’s a lot to know,” said Kachmar, 54. “And it’s a huge benefit once you know about snow and different types of snow – you know a lot about how it can fail.”

Lester Kenway, second from left, hiked in Nepal near 26,800-foot Dhauligiri in 1979 to study the trails of Nepal. Photo courtesy of Lester Kenway


Lester Kenway is a pioneer in backcountry trail-building techniques, an icon in the Maine Appalachian Trail community, and a force behind The Maine Trail Center that the Maine Appalachian Trail Club is raising money to build in the coming years. The Maine Trail Center will be unique in the United States, offering college-style seminars on the most sustainable trail-building techniques.

A native of Connecticut, Kenway, 68, knew after he graduated from Bates College in the 1970s he wanted to build glorious, long-lasting wilderness trails. So in 1979 he took the generous monetary gift from his aunt and traveled to Nepal to study the ancient trail technology and hike around the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri Himalaya ranges 100 mile west of Everest. In one of the poorest countries in the world he was set on a path to pioneer trail-building techniques in Maine and across the United States.


“The mountain scenery was spectacular and I walked over trails that had been in place for centuries. Many of the techniques that I have used to build trails in Maine were inspired by walking those trails among some of the highest mountains in the world,” said Kenway.

Shelby Rousseau of Phillips is a land steward, a wilderness EMT, and a Registered Maine Guide. Photo courtesy of Shelby Rousseau


For Shelby Rousseau, the good fortune she experienced 26 years ago when she and husband, Mark, were brave enough, and maybe crazy enough to move to western Maine when they had little money, and no clue about Maine’s harsh winters was the greatest outdoor gift of her life.

The couple took what money they had and bought a half-built log cabin with no running water in Phillips. And they moved up from Connecticut with two children.

“We ate a lot of Cheerios that year. I never thought about having to plow the driveway before. We put our kids, ages 3 and 5, in a Flexible Flyer and hauled them up. What was I thinking?” said Rousseau, 53.

Today Rousseau is the deputy director at the Rangeley Region Heritage Trust, as well as a wilderness EMT and a member of the Saddleback ski patrol. And when she has time, she also works as a Registered Maine Guide. She loves it all.


“It was all so flipping worth it,” Rousseau said. “I get to know the most beautiful places on the planet and all the opportunities that come along with living in Maine. We’re in the right place.”

Randy Spencer is a guide and author. His prized possession is the fly rod from his dad. Photo courtesy of Randy Spencer


When Randy Spencer grew up in Manchester, Connecticut, his father, Kerwin Alton Spencer Sr., taught his three sons to fly fish on rivers around their home, as well as on Peabody Pond in the Sebago region, where the family had a camp. Before he left home after high school, Spencer’s father gave him a Fenwick fly rod.

A half century later, Spencer carries it in his boat as he guides fishermen on some of the most storied fishing waters in Maine in the Grand Lake Stream region, where he and his wife, Shelley, rent private camps on West Grand Lake.

He’s also earned a name as a storyteller with the award-winning books: “Where Cool Waters Flow: Four Seasons with a Master Maine Guide” and “Wide and Deep: Tales and Recollections of a Master Maine Fishing Guide.” He recently published his third book, “Written on Water: Characters and Mysteries from Maine’s Back of Beyond,” about life in Grand Lake Stream.

Spencer, 73, has guided sportsmen from across the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, Trinidad and Israel. And sometimes he offers them that Fenwick fly rod, the talisman he carries in his boat – and his best outdoor gift ever.

“My father passed in 2006, but I have that fly rod to this day. It’s worse for wear, but I keep it in the canoe for luck, which I swear it brings,” Spencer said.

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