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How occasional weekend jaunts snowballed into a lifestyle and a career

That cheering you hear off in the distance whenever your favorite local meteorologist forecasts a foot of snow? That’s probably me, shouting with glee from my living room a few towns away.

Shannon Bryan with a few of her favorite outdoor things, photographed in Sewell Woods in Scarborough (thanks to The Scarborough Land Trust for allowing this pop-up “campsite”). Photo by Heidi Kirn

It’s not that I have some masochistic adoration for ice scrapers or pre-dawn shoveling—let’s face it, that stuff brings joy to few—but when I hear “snow,” my thoughts jump to cross-country skiing in a freshly blanketed expanse, snowshoeing alongside heavily frosted evergreens and sailing down a hill in the neon green plastic sled I plucked from my neighbor’s “free” pile a few summers back. On warmer days, I swoon over sunset paddles, yoga in the grass and a sweat-inducing climb to a scenic mountain summit.

I wasn’t always so head-over-heels for the outdoors. Frankly, there was a long stretch of time when I wasn’t all that into physical activity of any kind. I didn’t grow up hiking in the White Mountains or kayaking in Casco Bay. I didn’t learn how to ski until I was 30-something. And on the occasions I did exercise, it took the form of panting, 45-minute stints on the treadmill at the gym while watching reruns of Unsolved Mysteries to distract myself from the reality that I didn’t much enjoy 45-minute stints on the treadmill.

Photo by Heidi Kirn

But Maine has a way of luring out our inner adventurer. It also helps to have a friend who invites you snowshoeing or hiking or who lends you a surfboard and a wetsuit and gets you to try surfing for the first time in the middle of November. That’s pretty much what happened to me.

What started as an occasional weekend jaunt to a destination randomly chosen from my Maine Gazetteer eventually turned into weeklong camping trips, morning workouts on the beach and a basement packed with paddleboards, bicycles, skis, snowshoes, a kayak, no less than three toboggans and a newly acquired aluminum canoe. I became outdoorsy. Active. The kind of person who delights in aerial yoga, trampoline fitness classes and outdoor workouts that involve cinder blocks and a couple of sledge hammers. All because I met people who were kind enough to say, “Hey, we’re going to do something cool this weekend. Come along.”

Scouting around for Maine adventures—indoors and out—became my specialty. And because I find it impossible to keep mum about the fun stuff I find, I created the website fitmaine.com a few years ago to round up all those cool ways to work out along with active things to do in Maine, like great hikes with nearby swimming holes and circus arts classes where you can learn a thing or two on a trapeze.

The Fit Maine Social Club at the summit of Mount Willard in the White Mountains. Photo courtesy of Shannon Bryan

But things really came full circle in January with the start of the Fit Maine Social Club. This coed membership club is a way for us to do active things together, like taking the SnowCoach up the Mt. Washington Auto Road and snowshoeing down or trying a TRX class, ice climbing or yoga trapeze. It’s open to anyone and welcoming to beginners, too. (I call it a “fit casual” social club, which to me means “let’s cross-country ski through an apple orchard and then go eat nachos after.”) We’ll explore new places and try new things—and make new friends along the way.

The social club is my way of saying, “We’re going to do something awesome this weekend. Come along.” Because these are the things that fond weekend memories are made of. It also happens that doing lively, active stuff is an excellent way to exercise. (But I don’t usually call it “exercise.” I call it “doing fun stuff that also happens to be good for our bods.”) Being fit isn’t just about feats at the gym or stamina on the treadmill. It’s about being able to do all the cool stuff there is to do around here. Like paddling out to Fort Gorges or doing paddleboard yoga at Kettle Cove. Like entering the amateur biathlon at Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson or tackling the ropes course at Gunstock Mountain in New Hampshire. And let’s not forget the million-and-one fun runs, boxing classes, hikes, road races, rock gyms, bike rides, ski clinics, full moon snowshoes, open-water swims and ice rinks in close proximity to places that serve adult beverages. Find out more about the Fit Maine Social Club at fitmaine.com/socialclub.

The Fit Maine Social Club XC skiing at the Roberts Farm Preserve in Norway, Maine. Photo courtesy of Shannon Bryan

For me, trying new things doesn’t stop there. While I’ve been growing Fit Maine the last couple of years, I’ve also had the honor to work as contributing editor for Maine Women Magazine (with a pretty fantastic team behind the scenes). I’ve loved being able to help tell the stories of Maine women—their passions, their work, their challenges and all the incredible ways they triumph every day. In many ways, I was inspired by those stories and the boldness it takes to make a change and go after a life you want. So, in December, I took a leap of my own, leaving my role with the magazine to focus on Fit Maine as my full-time gig.

Whatever adventures you’re taking on this year, I hope you’re trying new things, making great memories and having a grand time in the process. I hope to see you out there.

TRY IT! (YOU MIGHT LIKE IT!)
A few of Shannon’s favorite outdoor adventures

TAKE A SURFING LESSON

Photo by Shannon Bryan

Maine Surfers Union leads women’s surfing lessons at Higgins Beach in Scarborough all summer. Wetsuits and surfboards are supplied, and it’s a welcoming way for beginners to glean tips from experienced surfers and learn to catch some waves. The instructors are fantastic, and there’s comfort in learning to surf in a group and cheer each other on when it all starts to click. Lessons generally run weekly from June to September. (mainesurfersunion.com/ladies-slide-nights)

RAPPEL DOWN A WATERFALL

Photo by Shannon Bryan

You can rappel down 100-foot Ripley Falls in Crawford Notch in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, even if you’ve never rappelled down anything before. The waterfall rappel is one of the adventurous offerings from Northeast Mountaineering, a guiding company based in Bartlett, New Hampshire. Waterfall rappelling typically runs Memorial Day through October and costs $125–$200, depending on group size. (nemountaineering.com/rappelling/waterfall-rappelling)

KAYAK TO FORT GORGES

Photo by Shannon Bryan

Get to know Casco Bay better during a guided kayak tour with Portland Paddle. They offer morning paddles, sunset paddles, paddles to Fort Gorges and even overnights on the islands. No experience is necessary for a guided tour, and you’ll see Casco Bay in new ways. Visiting Fort Gorges is a personal favorite. You can also rent a kayak or paddleboard and do some exploring on your own. (portlandpaddle.net)

HIKE THE BOLD COAST

Photo by Shannon Bryan

Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land is often called the “Bold Coast” for reasons that become readily clear the moment you set eyes on those cliffs. There are 10 miles of trails here, including 3.5 miles of coastal trail, where you can look down into the Bay of Fundy from atop the cliffs or walk through meadows of chest-high flowers. From the trailhead, it’s 1.4 miles of fairly easy going to get to the coast and the promontory featuring breathtaking views. (maine.gov)

XC SKIING AT FORT KENT OUTDOOR CENTER

Photo by Shannon Bryan

The trails at Fort Kent Outdoor Center (aka “10th Mountain”) have witnessed their fair share of world-class athletes. But we average and sometimes-slogging cross-country skiers can also have a pretty splendid time there. Between the tall trees piled with snow, the exquisitely groomed tracks and the I’ve-got-the-place-to-myself quiet, skiing here is perfection. Trail pass $15 ($10 for snowshoeing), rental equipment available. (10thmtskiclub.org)

SNOWCOACH UP, SNOWSHOE DOWN
MT. WASHINGTON AUTO ROAD

Photo by Shannon Bryan

Climb aboard the SnowCoach, a 12-passenger van equipped with tank tracks, for a ride up the Mt. Washington Auto Road (not all the way to the summit—the weather’s too cagey for that). At 4,200 feet, you can strap on your snowshoes and trek your way back down (you can also ride the SnowCoach back down, if you prefer). Trips run daily all winter out the Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center in Gorham, New Hampshire, and cost $55 per person. (greatglentrails.com)

CHALLENGE YOURSELF ON A ROPES COURSE

Photo by Shannon Bryan

The Aerial Treetop Adventures course at Gunstock in New Hampshire boasts 91 different challenges—log ladders, bridges, swings, seesaws, foot bridges and zip lines. The five courses (not including the demo and kids courses) get higher up as you go. Last summer, I finally worked up the nerve to complete them all after chickening out during two previous visits, and now I feel very cool. The course is open during the summer. (gunstock.com/summer/treetop-adventures)

Check out fitmaine.com for outdoor adventures and cool ways to work out.

For more about the Fit Maine Social Club, go to fitmaine.com/socialclub

Shannon Bryan is the founder of fitmaine.com, where she writes about fun, active stuff to do in Maine, and she runs the Fit Maine Social Club, where members go do fun, active stuff together.

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