Exile to Lonesome Lake Hut

By MILES HOWARD  |  November 9, 2012

It hit me like a bucket of ice water: I was already starting to miss people. Dearly. After four days on my own, I craved that familiar comfort of banter, shared laughter. No wonder I'd dreamt of Syria: there was nothing and nobody up here to take my mind off whatever media I had digested each day. The of retreating to a log cabin with baked beans, a machine gun, and several gold bricks — "every man for himself," if you will — never seems to take into account the implications of being completely alone with one's thoughts. The reality of that classic American dream was grimmer than many of us would imagine.

Even in the woods, community remains important. Because at one point or another, Mother Nature will kick the living shit out of you. Nothing ruins an outing like a freak blizzard or twisted ankle on slippery rocks. In those desperate moments — your once-insulating, cutting-edge wind jacket sodden, your knees lacerated like a roast ham — it helps to have others nearby, ready and willing to offer you a hand. And that is the absolutely salient point here: everyone needs a hand sometimes, whether they'll admit it or not.

Ultimately, the function of Lonesome Lake Hut — a warm sanctuary for outdoor visitors to take shelter and at times, help each other — swooped in and saved my mind.

The weekend had just begun, and my reservations sheet indicated that I had a group of 48 travelers en route for the evening. Jumping from zero to 48 living companions is dramatic in any event. But what really caught my eye about this particular group was the subheading: "MIT GRAD STUDENT RETREAT — CAMP SLOAN."

Giddy, I swept the hut floors vigorously, hid everything breakable, and made sure that all of the fire extinguishers had inspection tags. I had lived right next to MIT for a year and knew what those students could get up to, in and out of the classroom. They had rented out the entire hut, a new (and cheap) option for 2012 guests. I was anxious, but really, beyond what havoc the group might have been planning to wreak, I was looking forward to seeing and engaging them.

They arrived sodden and shivery at 6 pm, with frozen hamburgers and what looked like tubes of fireworks. Before they finished frying up the patties, the group had erected battery powered speakers, thrown on "Gangnam Style," and formed a breakdance circle in the dining room. They might as well have brought a wagon of elephants and baboons with them. It would be a tiring night — enough to make four more days of solitude seem heavenly. But it moved me to witness others enjoy their time in such an extreme, removed place, where life is boiled down to its most lasting essentials. I was grateful to be trusted with the responsibility of preserving a place unstuck from time. And I realized: this was what I had left Boston for.

"I hope we're not making life tough for you up here," Denise, their leader, said to me at one point as she sloshed water around a tray of beef fat.

"Not at all," I replied, handing her the dish soap. "Actually, you're making it interesting."

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