Harrison Elementary School students Aiden, left, and Mariah Baker pursue outdoor adventures as part of their remote education. Submitted photo

HARRISON — The Baker family – parents Robert and Emily, sixth-grader Aiden and fourth-grader Mariah – generally lead an active outdoor life, hiking, skiing, running and biking. But remote learning and sheltering in place inspired them to kick up their adventures several notches. Not only have they gone new places but they spent quarantine days going to familiar places and experiencing them in new ways. And wherever they go, Mariah has to perform one of her signature handstands.

On one early quarantine day the family decided to ski Shawnee Peak. Mountain operations had closed but they wanted to ski so they first had to hike up, hauling all their gear, before they could ski down.

“Aiden made it to the top in about 40 minutes,” Baker said. “It took me more than an hour but he waited for me.”

“It took me 30 minutes,” Aiden corrected her. “I went nonstop up the entire thing. Dad and Mariah went to Midway, a little past halfway up. Then we all skied down it together.”

“I don’t think we ever would have done something like that if it hadn’t been for quarantine,” Baker said. “I knew people do it. It’s a thing, hiking to the top of mountains to ski. It was so neat, I was so glad we tried it. It was really hard but it was really rewarding.”

“It wasn’t easy at all,” Aiden agreed. “There were other people, too. It was a day when we didn’t really know what to do so it was really cool.”

The family seized on SAD 17’s History in the Hills unit as a way to include education in their outings, submitting one of their weekly “staying active” videos to the Otisfield Elementary School’s online time capsule.

Aiden Baker started mountain bike riding a couple of years ago with one of his friends and liked it so much he got one for himself. This spring Mariah tried his out and decided she wanted a bike of her own.

“Mariah got her bike in April,” Baker said. “They fell in love with them so for Mother’s Day they got me a bike. I had been riding kind of an old junky one, but then we started doing a lot of exploring so I got one too.”

Frog Alley in Lovell was just one of the many outdoor sites Mariah (l) and Aiden (r) Baker visited when COVID-19 forced schools to close last March. Supplied photo

The family often rides the Bethel trails. They have also gone to Frog Valley in Lovell, which features a covered bridge and Evans Notch, a state park that connects Gilead to Fryeburg.

“It was early spring so the gate at Evans Notch was still closed and we were able to ride that whole road with no traffic,” said Baker. “There are all these pull-off spots on the river.”

“I went down to the river and jumped over the rocks,” Aiden, who is always on the lookout for ways to jump his bike, interjected.

“We went to Witts’ End Trail in Norway,” Mariah said.

Witt’s End is a Western Foothills Land Trust trail off of Pleasant Street that leads to Shepherd’s Farm preserve. The family compared it to entering an enchanted forest. It includes a long, narrow boardwalk over a swamp.

It was at Lost Valley in Auburn where Aiden tried out a fat tire bike for the first time. He loved it so much that he got one so that he can go trail-riding during the winter season. The Bakers even hauled their bikes to the coast to ride through the salt marshes of the Eastern Trail in South Portland.

“You start from the salt marshes in South Portland and you can ride all the way to the bottom of Florida,” Aiden said.

“But we didn’t go that far!” Baker exclaimed.

“No,” Aiden admitted. “But we rode to Scarborough to the ocean and I got to ride my bike on the beach. I built a jump on the beach and jumped that.”

The next family trek will be to Mt. Abram, taking their bikes up on the chair lift and riding down from the summit. Aiden will use the trip as a chance to try out rental equipment ahead of his next bike purchase.

“I want try out different ones with rear suspension before I buy one,” he said. “I’ve been talking to a bike shop in Norway where I can try them out. I’m looking at a Rocky Mountain Reaper. It’s full suspension with locking rear.”

The family has been able to explore and learn around their home too. Living at the foot of Hawk Mountain gives them the opportunity to trail ride or hike anytime they want.

“People parasail off Hawk Mountain,” Mariah said. “It’s cool to watch them jump off. It takes a long time to get up there.”

Mariah credits quarantine with inspiring her to spend more time practicing her guitar, a Yamaha six-string acoustic. She takes remote lessons via Zoom.

“I go on my Kindle and the teacher sends me a link and he teaches me from Zoom. He teaches me songs to sing and play,” she said. “My dad bought me my guitar and taught me Free Falling, but I’m still learning it. I can play this Taylor Swift song, Haunted.

“I’m also learning different ways to strum. I’m learning the patterns.”

Baker said Mariah is a big Taylor Swift fan.

“She can tell her teacher which Swift song she wants to learn and he’ll go find it, figure it out and then teach her to play it. He’s been amazing.”

“He sends them to me and I practice until I can play it,” Mariah said, adding that she thinks her guitar playing gotten better because of quarantine.

Distance learning brought lessons of backyard nature to the family as well. Any given day features a half dozen hawks flying above. They have named several of the deer that inhabit the woods around their house. Also plentiful are wild rabbits, critters that keep larger predators like bobcats healthy and happy.

“One morning my mom saw a big deer in the back yard,” Mariah said. “It went in the woods and then she came back with a fawn!”

“I saw her cross the yard and she was rather plump,” Baker said. “And just a little while later she came back with it. He was brand spanking new, wobbling on new legs.”

“It was making a really weird cry,” Mariah said. “The mom stomped at the fawn, like telling it we were a sign of danger. But the baby didn’t listen. Then the mom got used to my mom.

“We name the deer we see. The mom is Juliet. Her baby is Speedy. Then a different fawn came out and Aiden named that one Thunderbolt. And there is Snowflake and Romeo.”

“We can get pretty close to them now and talk to them,” Baker said. “I was sitting on the porch a couple weeks ago when I heard some growling and this bobcat came out and walked up to the driveway. I was thinking he was beautiful, but stay away from our fawns!”

For Aiden, mountain biking has turned serious. Stuck at home because of COVID-19 restrictions, he grabbed some lopping shears, a hatchet and a rake and began building his own trails in the woods around the house. Almost every day he spends at least an hour working on it; a few days a week a friend comes to join in the work. Undaunted by some of the larger trees in his way, Aiden purchased a reciprocating saw with money he earned working at his dad’s excavation business to get them out of the way.

“It is a trail big enough for an ATV to get through,” Aiden said. “It will be wide enough for two bikes to go side by side. We have enough done that we got to an old skidder trail and I’ve started weed whacking that. I need to get some dirt in there and get it packed down for riding.”

“The thing about quarantine, you’re stuck,” said Baker of the family’s ever-increasing adventures. “There was nothing to do. So we got to the point where one day when it was time to get the mail [which is a mile from home] I was like, ‘why are we driving? We’ve got nothing better to do, you’re done with your school work, let’s go for a bike ride.’

“Then it became a thing. We’d have to do errands in town so we’d ride our bikes. Then we started packing basketballs in backpacks and riding everywhere. Now we ride into town to get a haircut.”

Robert and Emily Baker have opted to stick with distance learning when schools reopen in a few weeks. Emily was on the fence about whether to send them back; Aiden was really looking forward to playing drums in the middle school band and he wants to run track this fall. She did not want him to miss those experiences but it’s not a given that athletics or music will happen anyway.

“With all the restrictions and the masks, it won’t be the same,” Baker lamented. “But we are going to plan a couple days a week where we can get together with other kids during class times so they aren’t completely isolated.”

Remote learning should give them the chance to build more adventure memories, like when Mariah tried to rescue Aiden from a nearby bog.

“That was horrible!” Aiden said. “Our friends had told us about someone who kayaked this stream and got out and was stuck waist deep in the mud. We wanted to see it. I ended up in the mud and got stuck waist deep too.

“Mariah tried to pull me out with a tree branch but she wasn’t heavy enough to pull. I was pulling her in. So Mom had to come help to get me.”

Mariah Baker, right, of Harrison attempts a rescue of her brother Aiden during a quarantine outing last spring. Supplied photo

“He was literally up to here,” Baker said. “I was taking video of Mariah trying to get to him with the tree branch. And he was finally like, ‘aren’t you going to help me!’ I had to put my phone down to help him get out.”

“I had to lie on my stomach to pull and my face got all muddy,” Aiden recalled. I couldn’t do anything. If I tried to lift one leg the other one would go even deeper. I was afraid I’d feel animal bones with my feet. I was covered with mud and had to rinse my sweatshirt off in the water.”

In person or through distance learning, it is probably safe to say the Baker kids will excel in their physical education classes.

 


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