Banner image by Alexandra Roberts; Intro by Gale Straub
Experience provided through the Appalachian Mountain Club
Have you ever made a friend on the trail? Have you noticed how movement breeds conversation? There is something about fresh air that coaxes a let down of inhibitions and builds the beginnings of a bond.
Alexandra Roberts and Gretchen Powers are two women who make their livings as photographers in New England. Their work is influenced by nature and our connection to it, be it in wedding or lifestyle imagery. And while they have common interests, their styles are quite different. Alexandra’s work contains deep tones; her photos are cinematic slices imbued with the richness of story. Gretchen’s photographs carry a lightness that transports you to the experience. When she takes a portrait, we feel like we know the subject. And that’s not to say that there aren’t overlaps, but there is a distinct individuality that we see – and it’s one of the reasons we love photography.
Before their trip to ski in the 100 Mile Wilderness of Maine, they had never met in person.
When the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) offered to send a representative of She Explores on a self-guided hut-to-hut cross country skiing adventure in Maine, we asked some of our favorite local outdoorists and were thrilled that Gretchen and Alexandra were keen to go. That they were open to the vulnerability of taking a three day trip with a stranger, even better.
G: Why did you let me come with you on this adventure?
A: I love getting to know new people, and women who like to spend time in the freezing cold with no link to the outside world are hard to come by in my daily life. I knew that if you said yes to something like this, we’d get along just fine.
A: Why did you want to come along?
G: Gale [editor of She Explores] said Maine, wilderness, xc skiing, and all inhibitions were gone – I felt like I was proposing to you and we had never even spoken – BRING ME WITH YOU I Begged. When you immediately emailed back yes, I felt like I had won the lottery!
G: What was it like going on a trip like this with another lady photog you’d never met?
A: It was very interesting and really lots of fun! Although most of my friends are photographers, we don’t hang out while working. I’d been following Gretchen on Instagram for a while before we met, and it was really fun to see her process. We had great discussions about things we had in common in our daily self-employment life and things we do differently. I think we stepped on each other’s toes a couple of times, but what is great is how we worked through it. When you go from not knowing each other at all to spending every second together with nothing to distract you, you sort of fast-track your friendship!
When you go from not knowing each other at all to spending every second together with nothing to distract you, you sort of fast-track your friendship!
I also want to add that I am not a skier. I didn’t know that Gretchen was basically a pro when I asked her to come with me. I became really nervous about this because I figured that she would just ski ahead of me and I’d see her at the lodge. Or maybe she would be annoyed at me that I was slow or falling. Of course, I thought about that a lot before the trip, but never once while on the trip. I feel with outside activities, often friends decline the invitation to join because they are worried that they will be bad at it, or hold the group back in some way. But every single time I’ve said yes to something that made me nervous or scared, people with way more experience than me have only ever cared that we’re safe, and that we’re having a good time. I think that’s an important thing to remember and help push you into something new.
Talk about letting your guard down with a near stranger!
G: There is something really raw and scary as hell about putting yourself in a position where you know the chances are great that you are going to break down and someone you’ve never met is going to see realness in you that only your closest people can recognize. I told Alexandra she was going to see me in my happiest place – xc skiing through the woods under freshly fallen snow, and halfway through day two my back hurt so badly I felt like curling up in a ball on the side of the trail. Talk about letting your guard down with a near stranger!
Alexandra and I come from different photography backgrounds as well – she is a full time wedding photographer who loves to adventure and I’m a full time lifestyle photographer who loves to shoot adventure weddings – because of our different perspectives, training and experience, I felt like we also pushed each other to try new things – think of new shot angles, shoot when we didn’t really feel like it, and more often than not just keep skiing and take pictures with our eyes because sometimes those are the images I can remember the best.
A: What’s your hot toddy recipe?
Fancy style: Two lemon slices, once cinnamon stick, a shot and a half of Stroudwater bourbon and Untapped maple syrup to taste.
Camp Style: a good chai tea bag and a shot of whiskey
G: What’s something you never leave home without on an overnight wilderness trip?
A: I never leave home without my headlamp but I feel like that one is a given, so I’ll mention a couple of luxury items! Coffee & my harmonica!
A: What do you love most about nordic skiing?
G: Oh man, what don’t I love about it? Mostly the quiet and the squeaking of cold snow beneath my skis and how fast you can fly down trails under your own power. I’ve also gotten into more off-piste xc skiing this winter with my pup and the trudge breaking trail through the woods has me equally charmed.
G: Favorite trailside snack?
A: Dehydrated mango, and not the healthy stuff. I prefer the kind that is coated in sugar! You also cannot go wrong with classic GORP!
A: What is your favorite way to relax after a hard day on the trail?
G: Hot shower, immediately changing into dry comfy clothes and drinking a hot toddy with my pup in my lap.
Day 1: Drove into the middle of nowhere. AKA 30 minutes past Greenville, Maine Dropped our overnight bags at the trailhead and skied roughly 8 miles on winding trails to reach Little Lyford Lodge. We sauna’d, and ate dinner with the other guests before heading to bed early.
Day 2: Breakfast at 8 and back on the trail by 10 skiing another 8ish miles to Gorman Chairback Lodge. Settled in to their octagonal cabin and skied about on the frozen lake before dinner.
Day 3: Up for breakfast then set out across the windblown lake to head back to civilization!
Video by Gretchen Powers; Music by Ira Wolf.
The AMC offers hut and lodge experiences in the greater New England area. Learn more on their website, outdoors.org.
Alex Roberts is a photographer in Boston with roots in Maine. She worked for years as a web designer but followed her love of photography into a new profession. She spends all her free time outside. Follow her (and see how true that is) on Instagram.
Photos by Gretchen Powers & Alexandra Roberts as indicated.