It comes with it’s own set of unique challenges, yet I’m rather enjoying Runamuk’s Farmstay BnB. The people are always interesting characters, I get to serve as ambassador to the Bigelow Mountain Region that I love so much, and I’m exposing people to the realities of farm-life. While they’re here, I’m feeding guests real food that I have either grown myself or sourced from other local farmers. It’s an exciting new twist in Runamuk’s farm-journey, which has led me to this: I’m offering up a FREE 2-night stay to one lucky winner in a surprise giveaway contest! Surprise! 😀
What It’s Like
Friends have asked what it’s like to have strangers coming into my house. Admittedly this was my own biggest fear prior to launching into this AirBnB thing. Fortunately I have a big house. The way it is laid out allows me to keep the 2 guest rooms on one end of the house. The common spaces are centrally located on the first floor, and I am able to keep the front half of the house for the family.
My second biggest fear was how William would take having guests in the house, and how guests might react if they crossed paths with him. His Autism has given William a resistance to change, a serious need for personal space, and absolutely no filter on his mouth. So far he has not crossed paths with guests, but I’m dreading that day when it inevitably happens. I hope folks realize that this is a family home, and like any other family, we deal with the same sort of every day struggles as anyone else. Unfortunately we can’t shut those struggles off just because we have guests in the house, though I try to ensure things run smoothly and that folks enjoy a pleasant stay.
Anyone who is using AirBnB is comfortable going into someone else’s house or property for a stay. AirBnB has done a good job with their review-system too. Both the hosts and the guests have reviews, so hosts like me can screen potential guests before we decide if we want to accept their reservation. Everyone who has come to Runamuk since I began hosting in August, has been amiable enough, and I’ve had some interesting conversations with some fascinating people that I would not otherwise have met.
“Breakfast is not part of the AirBnB thing,” one guest told me when I asked what I could fix for him in the morning.
“No, but it’s part of my thing.” I responded. In fact, it’s been a big selling point with many guests, and everyone has been enthusiastic about the food.
When people eat at Runamuk, they’re getting food I have either grown here, or sourced from other local farmers that I know. Everything is farm-fresh and homemade: 100% real food. As a farmer, I am able to grow most of my own vegetables. I learned early on to bake and make things from scratch to stretch our household food budget. Even when finances are tight I’m eating pretty good─and I’m a darned good cook when I set my mind to it, thank you very much!
I really like to offer guest eggs and homefries, since this showcases Runamuk’s primo-eggs and my recently dug potatoes. Sometimes I have homemade bread or biscuits on hand. Other times I’ll make fresh muffins with zucchini, or Maine blueberries, or pumpkin…whatever’s in season. If a guest wants pancakes, I make big fluffy pancakes from scratch. If they wanted a waffle, I could do that too. I make a mean omelette, and have taken to keeping specialty breakfast meats just for the potential guest who asks for it. Likewise with coffee and tea; I’ve collected an assortment of higher end beverages to appeal to visitors, while I continue to drink Maxwell house when it’s just myself. It’s nice having someone to cook for and I like the feeling that I’m sending people off with a full belly of farm-fresh food.
Now that I’ve been doing it for a couple of months and have hosted over a dozen guests, I’m rather enjoying serving as ambassador to the Bigelow Mountain Region─Kingfield, Carrabassett Valley, and Sugarloaf. This really is a beautifully stunning part of Maine, and it’s a travesty that so many tourists come to Maine never venturing far from the coastal regions. Sure lobster is great, and the ocean is beautiful too, but have you seen the Bigelows!?
On a clear day travelers can see the Bigelow mountains rising up out of the landscape from more than thirty miles away. The Bigelow Range boasts a whopping 5 of Maine’s 10 highest peaks─the acclaimed 4000-footer club. Their blue-grey ridges on the horizon captivate the eye, and they’re surrounded by an unending swath of Maine wilderness that still teams with native wildlife. They really are breathtaking.
When I was 11 years old my parents bought a piece of land in Salem, Maine─an unorganized township just west of Kingfield. I remember being spellbound by the Bigelows the very first time we traveled to Salem. Even today the sight of those mountains fills by heart to bursting and brings tears to my eyes just to behold them. That feeling spilled over in a big way on the Autumnal Equinox as I drove up through Carrabasset Valley to the foot of Bigelow herself.
All summer I have been working long and hard, and eventually began to find myself longing for a day away─a chance to recharge and reset. I wanted some kind of adventure in the great outdoors. Hiking up a mountain has long been a favored past-time for me, and the ultimate way to connect with the Earth, and reconnect with myself. It recharges this farmer on a spectrum of levels. What’s more, now that I am here─farming on my very own farm, exactly where I always wanted to be: within range of the Bigelows─I feel the need to pay homage to these mountains. And so I decided I would take a day to climb the Horn Pond Trail on Bigelow Mountain.
Bigelow is a long mountain ridge with several summits including Avery Peak, at 4,145 feet, at 3,805 feet, Cranberry Peak at 3,194 feet and Little Bigelow Mountain at roughly 3,070 feet. Hiking the whole of it involves an overnight stay on the summit─which I am looking forward to doing some day, but right now I cannot spare that much time off the farm. Instead, I’ve opted to do it in sections. A couple years back I did Little Bigelow, but have not been hiking since buying the farm last summer, so I was pretty stoked to be going out.
It was just Murphy and I, which was actually quite perfect. We worked through our morning critter-chores, then loaded our gear and ourselves into the Subaru, and by 8:30 dog and farmer were heading north through Kingfield, and on into the Carrabasset Valley.
The road there follows alongside the shallow, and swift-running Carrabasset River, as it winds it’s way between the mountains and high hills that loom on either side. The landscape is picturesque─New England at it’s finest, and steeped in generations of tradition. At this time of year, the trees are resplendent in their bright yellow, orange, and brilliant red hues, and as I drove I was overwhelmed with such love for these mountains─such gratitude─that I found myself sobbing as I approached that great hulking mass of rock.
To have found my way to this place in my life where I bought a farm─within 30 minutes of the Bigelows─and I’m living this lifestyle that is so important and so rewarding─how can I be anything but humbled and grateful for this existence? There before the mountains that inspired it all, how could I not feel beholden to them? And so I cried great tears of joy as I drove through the little village of Carrabasset Valley, further north to the Stratton Brook Trailhead, and I reaffirmed my vow to do all that I can to always protect nature─especially the Bigelow Mountains.
The Wrong Mountain
Ironically, I ended up hiking the wrong mountain that day.
How does that even happen, you ask?
Leave it to me to end up halfway up the wrong mountain before discovering the truth of it, but having never hiked this side of Bigelow before, I wasn’t entirely certain where the Stratton Brook Trailhead was, and through as series of mix-ups and mishaps I lost my map, said “fk-it I’m going anyway”, and took the wrong darn trail.
……………I. Am. AWESOME!!!
With the AT running through the region, as well as the network of trails created by the Maine Huts & Trails, we have an abundance of trails to chose from. I’d like to say that it’s easy enough to confuse one trail with another, but I also completely overlooked the fact that Bigelow is on the eastern side of Route 27, and not the western side that I ended up on. As a rule I have a very good sense of direction─especially in the area where I grew up─so I’m quite mortified to have made such silly a mistake.
The trail was steep right out the gate, and densely wooded with little to no view all the way up that mountain. It seemed to go on and on, and there were very few hikers along the trail. When I came upon a pair of down-coming hikers I ventured to ask: “how much farther to the pond?” I’d promised Murphy a swim in Horn Pond on Bigelow Mountain.
The twenty-something girl looked at me like I had a cupcake on my head, then, in a rather faraway voice that reminded me of a mystic, she said, “Uh─this is the AT.”
I laughed inwardly, well of course I knew it was a section of the AT! and returned patiently, “Yes, but one of the trails on Bigelow is the Horn Pond Trail.”
“Oh, Bigelow’s in the other direction.” she said. “You’re going the wrong way.”
Of course I was. I couldn’t help but laugh, “So what mountain am I on?”
“This is North Crocker.” said the girl’s male companion.
“Oh my goodness!” I said, still laughing at myself. “Well, I guess we’re doing Crocker today, Murph!”
I decided that if the Universe intended for me to climb North Crocker Mountain on that day, then that was just what I would do, and on up that mountain I went─10.4 miles round trip! North Crocker is Maine’s 4th highest mountain, at an elevation of 4,168 feet, and it is a bit of a grueling hike too. Fairly steep-going all the way, picking one’s way over rocks and tree roots, though the trail would plateau periodically, giving my poor legs and my bad ankle a bit of a break. The forest was dense and had not been cut in a long long time─if ever─and felt like something ancient…primal. I felt small and insignificant as I climbed up through that forest, and yet supremely connected to the tangled web of organic systems working around me. The stone beneath my feet offered up that transference of Earth’s energy that I was craving. Replenishing me in a way that nothing else seems to do.
There’s no view at the top to reward the hiker, but Murphy and I were welcomed by a small troop of north-bound through-hikers to the Appalachian Trail.
Murphy, of course, is welcome everywhere by just about everyone and makes quick friends of them all, while I shared homemade chocolate chip cookies─which is another good way to make friends. These hikers were looking forward to passing the 2000-mile marker that day.
“Oh!” I said around a mouthful of tuna sandwich. “I just passed it on the way up here. The number 2000 is depicted in stone along the side of the trail.”
We shared a stories over lunch, they all seemed to be recent college graduates making the AT-pilgrimage before setting out into the world’s workforce. They asked about me and I was proud to tell them that I’m a local: “I’ve always been in the area, but I just bought a farm in New Portland last year.” and I told them a little about Runamuk Acres and my new farmstay BnB.
One young woman promised to look me up. She was from Lubec─a small town on the coast of Maine that happens to be our country’s easternmost point. She said she loves the Bigelow area, but it’s nearly 4 hours away, so taking a day trip isn’t practical. Apparently her mom loves farms, and she wanted to bring her for a stay at Runamuk so they could visit the Bigelows.
Some of my guests have also been hikers. For folks in southern New England states like Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusettes, Runamuk is a nice jumping point to the Bigelows. We’re 30 minutes to Sugarloaf and the Bigelow Preserve, and it really is the most beautiful drive at any time of the year.
Sometimes folks traveling back and forth to Canada will crash here for sleep before continuing onward. Recently a pair of friends making a sojourn together on motorcycles came from Canada on their way to Portland; they were planning to travel back up to New Bruswick along the coast, with a stop near Arcadia.
There was also a lovely older couple from Connecticut. The husband (80-something maybe?) was in the Peace Corp back in the 60s. His troop was having a reunion at a location down on the Maine coast. From there they were traveling to Quebec for a few days, before going to visit the wife’s sister (or was it her aunt?) over in Bangor. After that they would return home. This particular couple were very interested in the story of the man-made islands in the Kennebec River as they came up Route 16. They loved this old house, my old tractor Walter, and were very engaging─with questions and curiosities. They freely shared stories of their own that made for a very pleasant interaction.
I think my ideal guests have been the hikers and those that appreciate the quality of food that I’m offering. It’s challenging for me to keep the house in a state of cleanliness that is acceptable to everyone; some folks are more particular about that sort of thing than others. I knew going into this that I would have to step up my game. Housework is my least favorite thing to do, though I do take great pride in taking care of this very special old house. I think I’ve done a good job of that mostly. Yet, this is a family-home and a working-farm, and for the price I’m asking it’s a pretty sweet deal (just $26/night right now!). Even if the rooms are sparsely furnished, and my dinning room table has a little clutter on it…
Can I help it if I cleaned the bathroom before bed the night before, but my 12yo took a shower before school and then when the guest gets up the bathroom has 12yo’s laundry on the floor? Not entirely.
When the sheep escape and I ask the guest to cook his own eggs because I’m chasing livestock around the field, is that unreasonable of me?
What if a guest comes on a Friday night after I’ve been prepping for market all day, and the kitchen looks like a bomb hit it? Not much I can really do about that, but I always have it cleaned up before guests get up in the morning so that I can cook their breakfast. I’m up by 4 afterall.
I can, however, avoid opening the fermentation buckets while guests are eating their breakfast right there at the table, lol. The scratch grains can be a little─”odoriferous” once they get to day 3 or 4 in the soaking process. I can imagine that might be off-putting to some folks lol.
I’m getting the hang of it now though, I think. Figuring out people’s expectations, and how I can best meet them while ensuring the needs of my family and my farm. But I also know that an “authentic farmstay” is not necessarily for everyone.
My guest rooms are sparsely furnished. I’m a divorced, single mom who just bought a big-ol’ farmhouse! Everything I owned did not fill this place up, and I don’t have a lot of extra stuff or funds to sink into decorating the guest spaces. I’ve taken the best of what little I own and put it all into those 2 rooms─including my own bed. I am currently sleeping on the couch to make ends-meet, and no, it is not a comfortable couch lol.
New and beginning farmers: remember what I said about sacrificing for your farm-dream? and how far are you willing to go? Well, this farmer would sleep on the floor if it meant success for Runamuk.
Win a Stay at Runamuk!
If you─or someone you know─might be interested in an “authentic farmstay” at Runamuk Acres, I am offering up the chance for a FREE 2-night stay! If you’re within driving range, and can cover the cost of your own gas, I’ll put you up and feed you while you explore the Bigelow Mountain Region. You can get to know my super-friendly sheep, learn more about how I’m farming here, or just experience Runamuk first-hand and in-person! If you have a skill you’d like to learn while you’re here, I’m happy to oblige; want my recommendations for day-hikes, dinner, or scenic drives? I will hook. you. up!
The winner will be able to select whatever dates they would like to use their 2 free nights, though I am working to earn my “Superhost” badge with AirBnB in order to gain more frequent bookings. With market season drawing to a close, and winter coming soon, the farm needs the income and I could use your good review sooner than later. We’re also entering peak foliage season in this area, so now is a very good time to visit! Just sayin…
Renewed by the Mountain
The morning after I climbed North Crocker Mountain I was broken and sore. I’m in pretty decent shape, but a 10.4 mile hike up and down a mountain rated as “challenging” wrecked my poor body─especially my bad ankle. When I was 17, I broke the bones in my right foot in 5 places during basic training; that foot has never been right since, and still plagues me sometimes. I never let it hold me back though.
As I hobbled around the farm that day, I couldn’t help but think that the Universe sent me to Crocker for the express purpose of tearing me down so that I could be rebuilt once more. Prior to my hike I had been overworked and overwhelmed, worried and stressed about my situation. The mountain tested me. It tested my own physical limits─and even though I was popping the ibuprofen the following day just to get through the morning critter-chores, I felt that my core foundation: my personal values and principles, and my steadfast determination to protect nature through this work that I do─are stronger than ever. I am renewed by the mountain─and returned to the farm ready to face the challenges ahead of me.
…but I still want to climb the Horn Pond Trail on Bigelow someday soon!
Thanks for following along with the story of this female farmer! Enter to win a chance at a free 2-night stay here at Runamuk Acres, and come see the Bigelow Mountain Region in all it’s glory! Come be my guest!