The lakes and mountains of western Maine were home in the 1970s. My energetic parents kept my brother, my sister and me busy with outdoor activities through the changing seasons. We did everything together from a rustic camp they built on the shores of Long Pond, five miles south of Rangeley. We fished, swam, canoed, mushroomed, hiked the endless logging roads and bushwhacked on wooden skis and snowshoes amid snow-crusted spruce and pine.

The Benoit family, all set for an outdoor adventure in the 1970s. Front row, from left: Unknown dog, Lynne, Ann and David. Back row: Judy and John. My brother holds a pair of Landsem skis, made in Norway. Photo courtesy Lynne Benoit-Vachon

Like today’s popular obstacle and adventure races, outings with my parents usually presented challenges. Any preparation was compromised by the conventions of the time. For lengthy outings, my parents packed wineskins, not water bottles. Winter nordic gear meant synthetic unisuits over cotton long johns and homemade mittens that resembled yeti paws if one took enough tumbles down steep, snowy inclines. We did not consult GPS, consider distance or check the weather. We just went.

My brother was 16, my sister 14 and I was 10 when it was decided we would ski to Mountain Pond from the camp. My brother had been camping up there with friends the previous summer and enjoyed “roughing it” – hanging out around a fire and cooking things over the flames. My dad packed a canvas sack with food that couldn’t be consumed unless it was cooked. We donned our pointless polyester and headed out over the frozen lake, then picked up the snowmobile trail and herringboned three miles uphill to the pond.

We arrived with no extra gear to layer over our sweaty but cooling bodies. An icy wind kicked up and the fire failed to ignite despite repeated attempts. “I’m cold, I’m tired, I’m hungry and I want to go home!” my father yelled after a few hours of frigid family togetherness. My brother, who turns 60 this year, still does a flawless impression of my father at this moment.

My mother quietly took command, ordered everyone to ski home as quickly as they could, and we all dispersed on the journey back down the mountain. As the youngest I brought up the rear, as I did so many times on these outings. If I had not shown up, they would have come back to find me, but no one waited. I remember being alone on the steep and winding descent, tumbling frequently off the trail, my mittens swollen with snow chunks, tears of frustration stinging my eyes.

Our Mountain Pond mishap remains a celebrated story in our family, made richer by the moments of imperfection. Fireless fires and falling on skis. The foibles are what my family laughs about when we remember. Was it a grit-builder? No more so than eating my mother’s boiled carrots. On that winter day, we finished what we began. Maybe it wasn’t grit, but it was pretty great.

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