Reluctant Pioneer

The day trip to the Cabin was a bit of a disappointment … because I hated to have to leave after only a couple of hours!  The walk in was slushy with dangerously slick mud hiding under the slush.  Whole chunks of trail slid out from under me in places, so I finally gave up and walked through the brushy kinnikinnick at the side of the trail.  The lake is still frozen, but doesn’t look solid anymore.  As the snow melts on the lake and above it, water builds up on the surface of the ice.  So to my eye it looked like open water all along the “ice road” that my neighbors use, and although I was assured that it was still plenty solid for a vehicle, I’m a chicken.  The trail worked just fine!  

My footprints!  Going back I took the slightly firmer high ground to the right of the trail

My footprints! Going back I took the slightly firmer high ground to the right of the trail

Doesn't look great for walking to me!  The ice should be completely out in another few weeks

Doesn’t look great for walking to me! The ice should be completely out in another few weeks

On my way out I stopped in to accept a dinner invitation with my friends, Susie and her husband, who live up there year round.  They had a real treat for me.  They had come across a book written by a woman who had come to Alaska in the 1940’s with her husband and two small children.  Amid the trials and tribulations of pioneer life in Anchorage, this woman found the money, time, strength and courage to build a remote cabin.  My cabin as it turns out!  I am so excited about reading and sharing this book that I’ve decided to relax my strict policy of not disclosing personal details that could give away my location.  But in order to learn more, you’ll have to read the book!  “Reluctant Pioneer” by Cecile Betts.

reluctant pioneer book

As we had suspected, the cabin is built from a kit.  Cecile had recently divorced her first husband and acquired the property on the lake after a round of court battles over child support.  The ruins of the tiny log cabin that I have long referred to as the “trapper’s cabin” on the property is actually the original dwelling that her family used when staying up there.  She reported that it was too small and the roof leaked which prompted her to find the Quik Log cabin kit which she purchased for $900.  She then enlisted a local man to haul it from Anchorage for her for $50.  She and her children carried the logs up the hill to her building site.  Over the July 4th weekend of that year a military friend helped her build the Cabin, which likely explains the military bunks that were in use there until just two years ago.

 Cecile unfortunately passed away just 3 years ago in California.  I hope to make contact with some of her family and already have a letter on its way to a young lady whom I believe is her grand-daughter.  As I read the book, I am finding more and more names of folks that I recognize from stories my parents have told about their early lives in Alaska.  One gentleman that Cecile worked with was not only the father of my dad’s best friend but he took out my tonsils when I was 11 years old! 

 I am so excited to have come into this bit of history of a place that I hold so dear to my heart.  I promise to share more as I learn more.

Categories: cabin, nostalgia | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Spring is coming…but it’s dragging it’s feet!

#37 Christine Roalofs passing through the crowds during the Anchorage ceremonial start of the Iditarod

#37 Christine Roalofs passing through the crowds during the Anchorage ceremonial start of the Iditarod

Much has happened since my last post, but only recently have I had anything Cabin-worthy to write about!

The last post I was looking forward (with some anxiety) to my friend Christine’s running of the Iditarod. I’m very, VERY pleased to say that she completed it in one piece and all of her dogs came home healthy. Although she got the Red Lantern (last place) she completed nearly 1000 miles of trail that even race veterans said was the worst they had ever seen. Warm temperatures created sloppy trails and dangerous overflow on river and lake crossings. When the temps finally dropped enough to firm up the trail, she was hit in the face with a blizzard. We were all thankful when her GPS tracker finally showed her in Nome…and NO ONE was more thankful than she was!

A few weeks ago I joined some friends for a vacation to wine country in California. Thanks to the incredible hospitality of a childhood friend of a friend, we were able to stay in a guest house in the middle of a private vineyard. The grapes were still teensy green specks, but the foliage was thick and green and glorious to us color-starved Alaskans!

We spent 10 days exploring and touring in the hot sunshine before coming home to our dirty grey city. Even the snow on the mountains is grimy looking this time of year, but each day a little more green shows up in the yards around town.

While we were in California I celebrated a milestone birthday. (50…gasp!) That’s all I have to say about that. (eye roll!)

This last weekend we did a quick dash to Kenai to pick up the motorhome. The camping season is upon us, starting with a big group campout in Seward over Memorial Day weekend, so we have some work to do to get Winnie cleaned up, flushed, charged and restocked. In spite of that to-do list, I managed to sneak away on Monday to run up to the Cabin.
Much, much to tell about that terribly brief trip, so I’ll save that for the next post…

Categories: Living in Alaska, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ready, set, go!

My friend, Christine, made the front page this morning! Follow her on Facebook at Kinetic Kennels and read up on her kennel with this Anchorage Daily News story and photos. I can’t decide if I’m nervous or excited for her!

(if the link above doesn’t work, just go to – it’s the lead story for today, February 26)

She has invited several of us to join her at the musher’s banquet on Thursday, which will be a treat. There the mushers will draw for positions/bibs. Then on Saturday morning they run across Anchorage in the ceremonial start. The real thing starts on Sunday in Willow.
Then we have a week and a half of worrying and watching race reports!

Go Christine!

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How to learn to downhill ski…

Writing about the ski train the other day made me think back to the day I learned how to downhill ski. OK, let’s be honest…by most skiers standards, I didn’t really learn anything. Instead let’s call it the first day I made it down a hill with skis on. This was in the 1980’s and my then-boyfriend earned some mighty big karma points that day for his patience with me!
It was a double date. Both of us girls were new to skiing. In fact our friend’s date, Debbi, had never been on skis at all as I recall. I had a teeny advantage of having done some cross-country skiing as a kid.
The first part of the adventure was getting fitted for rental skis. Even slim as I was then, my chubby ankles – cankles – required that I get extensions on the boots. Embarrassing and frustrating to say the least, as boyfriend and rental dude fussed over my fat legs trying to squeeze them into the hard plastic torture device they called a ski boot. Finally I was outfitted and on my way.
Anchorage has a lovely little ski area called Hilltop with a single chair lift and two or three basic trails from the top of the lift back to the chalet at the bottom. The trails are short and easy, perfect for a beginner, but to us beginners it looked like we were going to the top of Mt. Everest. The boys had their first chore getting our butts onto the chair lift.
“But it’s moving!”
“Don’t SWING it!” (Girly screams)
As the lift chugged its way to the top, I was torn between the beauty of the view and the terror of having to exit the chair without getting bonked on the head as it made the turn and headed back down. Never mind the terror of having to get myself back down the hill… (Both boyfriends insisted that we could NOT just ride the chair back to the chalet!)
Luckily we picked a fairly quiet evening to do this. Fewer witnesses…
At the top of the hill, having successfully gotten both of us girls out of the chair lift and out of the way of other skiers, the real lesson started. Poor Debbi was the first to go. It went something like this:
“How do you make the skis go?”
“Just point them downhill…” (Exasperated sigh)
“Like this? AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhh…….” (Long, LONG drawn out scream, followed by a distant thump and a little puff of snow as she crashed halfway down the hill.)
Then it was my turn. I didn’t know her well, but she seemed like a nice girl… How the hell am I going to get down this hill? I’m ashamed to say there may even have been some tears…
I was still standing there arguing and procrastinating when Debbi came up behind me.

She was grinning from ear to ear. “That was awesome!”
“But I was sure you were dead!”
It was what I needed to finally get me moving – proof that she not only survived but was eagerly doing it again, complete with screams and crashes and laughter and crazed exhilaration.
Needless to say, I also survived and enjoyed myself to boot. If you’ve never done it, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s like flying, complete with the spectacular aerial views and the soft shoosh of the skis on the snow.
I went many times after that, though never often enough to justify buying my own equipment. In other words, I enjoyed it enough to deal with the rental place each time! When my knee blew up, my downhill days were done, but our evening trips to Hilltop and our one big (expensive) trip to Alyeska are wonderful memories of younger days.

Categories: Living in Alaska, nostalgia | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Ski Train

Know any avid back country skiers or snow shoe enthusiasts?  We have an annual event here known simply as the Ski Train, sponsored by Nordic Skiing Assn of Anchorage every March.  It really is a train, chartered by the group for a day-long party in the back country of Southcentral Alaska.  The train includes a fair number of regular passenger cars, a food and beverage car, and best of all, a POLKA car complete with a live polka band and a dance floor that literally rocks! 

Folks board at 6am, checking their skis and other equipment at the ski car with the attendants there.  The train makes one stop at a second boarding depot and then heads on to the back country, which used to be Grandview, high in the mountains between Anchorage and Seward.  Now they go to Curry which is on the northern line towards Fairbanks. 

LOTS of skiers take part in this annual event

LOTS of skiers take part in this annual event

The trip out takes about four hours and is relatively quiet.  Folks are excited but still in morning mode.  Many have coolers with breakfast and other snacks and drinks to supplement purchases made in the food car.  Upon arrival, the skiers spill out of the cars and line up to collect their gear and hit the trails. 

The train pulls out on its return trip at 4pm and that’s when things get rowdy.  To date the polka car has never derailed itself and I’m not sure how that’s possible.  In years past the wine and beer flowed in impressive amounts and the dancing and singing could be heard several cars away.  I say the dancing could be heard…and I meant it.  These folks dance with athletic energy and the wooden floor boards vibrate with the rhythm like a rail-car sized drum.  The whole car sways from side to side in an alarming fashion, but pretty soon you find yourself jumping and stomping along to the primal beat of music you can’t even hear anymore! 

Many years ago I joined a group of friends for this experience.  I had a bum knee, so opted not to ski or snow shoe, instead bringing a paperback to read while I waited for the group to come back from skiing.  Friends would ski for awhile then come back in to warm up and get something to eat or drink before heading back out to try another trail.  Eventually most of them were back on the train, changing into dry clothes and preparing for the ride home.  Most …

Three of our ladies were yet unaccounted for and the clock was rolling down towards the all-aboard whistle.  Finally, just as we were beginning to gear up to go looking, they showed up, red faced, sweating and swearing in equal measure.  They had gotten down into a bowl of snow that was a little off from where everyone else was skiing.  They could just see the train, but kept punching through the crust so couldn’t make any real time climbing back out of the bowl.  Once they made it to the rim, they had to really hustle to make it back to the train. 

Yes, stragglers do get left behind!  There's shelter and a radio, but you will have to wait on the next train and it will cost you $$

Yes, stragglers do get left behind! There’s shelter and a radio, but you will have to wait on the next train and it will cost you $$

I can still hear C’s drawling voice as she stated “Y’all shouldn’ta let the girl from Tennessee tell you where the trail was!”

I still don’t ski.  Although my knee has been repaired, I don’t trust it much and I actually worry a little about my future winters at the cabin where skis and snow shoes will be my best bet for getting around. Anyway, these days the Ski Train sells out every year, so I don’t feel right about taking a seat when a real skier has likely been denied a ticket. 

The March 2013 train has long since sold out, but if you’re thinking this would be a fun thing to do one day, I recommend joining the Nordic Skiing Association and getting on their email list.  (Plus you can get discounted Ski Train tickets that way!)  Tickets back when I went were about $45.  These days they go for $140, but if you join you can get them for $110. 

Skiing, beer and live polka…who could ask for more?

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Weekly Photo Challenge – my 2012 in pictures

 WordPress suggested a themed photo post so here goes…

The year started with a trip to Hawaii in January for my brother’s wedding.

January wedding - I made this necklace for my new sister to wear for her Hawaii wedding

January wedding – I made this necklace for my new sister to wear for her Hawaii wedding

A March trip to Homer was slightly delayed as we transferred gear to another vehicle after mine was attacked by my neighbor’s house!  Ice slabs the size of our coffee table smashed my car… 

ummmm....we won't be taking my car to Homer this weekend!  The ice and snow on my neighbor's roof slid off onto my car and smashed it ... luckily we weren't standing there loading her gear when it dumped!

ummmm….we won’t be taking my car to Homer this weekend! The ice and snow on my neighbor’s roof slid off onto my car and smashed it … luckily we weren’t standing there loading her gear when it dumped!

Late spring trips to the cabins for restocking and supplying for longer summer stays…


The big toe of the Matanuska Glacier as seen from the driveway of my friend's cabin

The big toe of the Matanuska Glacier as seen from the driveway of my friend’s cabin

Rain was a regular visitor to SouthCentral Alaska this summer
Thunderheads build over the mountains near Palmer - a record setting rainy summer

Thunderheads build over the mountains near Palmer – a record setting rainy summer

Lake levels were high and the poor old dock was very low!
Partly the result of the rain, the old dock sags under water this spring

Partly the result of the rain, the old dock sags under water this spring

The new dock taking shape with help from my Dad...This was a much bigger project than I realized it was going to be

The new dock taking shape with help from my Dad…This was a much bigger project than I realized it was going to be

View from the lake.  See what I mean about how close those trees are?

This is what it’s all about for me these days…my private paradise

New neighbors at the lake this fall...I just hope they don't push the loons away

New neighbors at the lake this fall…I just hope they don’t push the loons away

A September trip to Homer was windy but scenic.

A September trip to Homer was windy but scenic.

After a year of record snows in spring and record rainfall in September, October was relatively warm and beautiful

After a year of record snows in spring and record rainfall in September, October was relatively warm and beautiful

All in all a pleasant look back at a good year…

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Dog Park

Chugach Mtns east of town as seen from Univerity Lake


I had the day off so got to be the one to take the dogs to the park today. The weather was spectacular, but this day before solstice I should have remembered to start earlier! Sun was already going down at 3:00.


Starting tomorrow the days get longer! Woohoo!

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A busy little guardian angel!

I ranted last week about Alaskan drivers and may have given the impression that I’m perfect. (HA)  To set the record straight, I’ll share some highlights of my driving career…my “auto” biography if you’ll pardon the pun.  (sorry about that…)

I took a notion one year to drive my teeny little Chevy Luv to Valdez to get some winter pictures.  In January.  In a blizzard.  With 4 hours of daylight and snow blowing sideways for two of the three days I was on the road, there wasn’t actually a lot of photography.  The drive to Valdez at night in a blizzard isn’t all that scenic as it turns out. 

It was about 10pm when I came down out of Thompson Pass and headed into Keystone Canyon.  Exiting the canyon, I went from relatively calm snow and some visibility to a crazy white swirling world and no road in front of me.  I slowed my truck, and then slowed it some more until I was barely crawling along.  Just as I was thanking my lucky stars that I had the road to myself I saw headlights coming.  I couldn’t see the road, never mind lane lines so I cautiously sidled over to give the oncoming 18-wheeler plenty of room to pass me.  And then I sidled my way right into the ditch.  I only knew that because my forward motion stopped and I was listing to port all of a sudden. 

Huh.  Now what? 

By the time I had collected my wits and stepped out of my truck to assess the situation, the trucker had gotten himself stopped and was walking a tow strap back to me.  I was out of that ditch before I could think about it.  How many folks can say they’ve been pulled out of a ditch by an 18-wheeler?

Turnagain Pass in winter

Turnagain Pass in winter

Years later a friend and I were coming back to Anchorage from Kenai after Thanksgiving with my parents.  I had a little Mazda 323 at the time and had had just enough money to purchase two new studded winter tires.  Not knowing any better, I instructed the tire guys to install them on the front since it was a front-wheel drive car.  If you’re not from winter country you might not realize what a big NO-NO that is.  Here’s why…

The snow started coming down as we left Kenai and by the time we got to the Sterling flats it was really thick, the kind of snow that Hollywood thinks of when they try to create snow for film.  Big, wet flakes were swirling around and were rapidly accumulating on the road surface.  I slowed a little, but I wasn’t too worried until I realized that the back end of the car was going faster than the front end around a long slow curve in the road.  With more weight on the gripping winter tires in front, the summer tires in the back had nothing to hold them to the road, so slowing down on a slick curve was actually the worst thing I could have done.  Only the front tires could respond. 

We did a nice, slow-motion 360 and came to rest nose down in a shallow ditch.  My guardian angel was on duty once again.  A tow truck came along just as we were climbing up out of the ditch and wondering who to call.  He hooked up, yanked us out and wished us a safe journey before we could even get all our winter gear on.

Kenai River in midwinter.  Some of our swans stay year round.

Kenai River in midwinter. Some of our swans stay year round.

Incidents like these have made me a cautious driver.  Road trip gear, especially in the winter, includes blankets or a down sleeping bag, flares, a small air compressor, heavy cold weather gear in case I have to walk for help, a jug of water, food and first aid supplies.  The gas tank is always topped off before setting out.  Even if the accident that stops highway traffic isn’t yours, you could find yourself on the road hours longer than you had planned.  My dad got caught between avalanches one year and couldn’t go back home or come the rest of the way into Anchorage.  He was lucky and only spent a few hours at the gas station in Girdwood before road crews cleared the avalanches. 

Our family has the best guardian angels anywhere!

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Driving in that first big snow

A truly serious snowfall yesterday, the first of the season. We’ve had several light dustings and one or two that looked like they were going to become serious, but this one pulled out all the stops and dumped close to a foot in places.
There’s a learning curve that Alaskan drivers seem to have to go through every year after the first real snowfall. We forget the basics.
Like…having a big badass four-wheel drive truck doesn’t mean you are going to be able to stop any more reliably than I can in my little front-wheel drive SUV. In fact, since you were probably going a little fast for the conditions, you’re WAY more likely than me to slide through that red light…so what the heck…just go on through. I’m expecting it.
Like…fewer cars are going to be able to make it through each cycle at the intersections and you might have to sit through a couple of cycles before you can (legally) go. Your office/home/grocery store will still be there when you finally get through the light.
Like…MANY folks will get frustrated that it took so long to get to the head of the line at an intersection so they are just going to go through it, even though the light is now green for you!
Like…lane lines (and curbs) have disappeared for the next four to six months, so there are a few nervous (or oblivious) drivers who take what seems to them to be the safest route…driving right down the middle. Slowly. Expect it. Deal with it. Dodge ‘em if they’re in oncoming traffic, otherwise pass ‘em when it’s safe, and get on with your day.
Like…the many listening devices we employ in our vehicles: iPods, CD’s, Pandora, Sirius radio, etc., are going to take second chair to local radio stations who offer regular traffic reports.
Like…you can’t count on the other guy to see you…he didn’t bother to brush the snow off of his windshield or windows. He’s peering out of small areas partially cleared by his wipers and defroster. Also don’t count on anyone behind him to see you…they are busy dodging the snowstorm that is blowing off of his vehicle as he travels down the road. (With wet snow, this can become a storm of flying snowballs…alarming to say the least.)
Like…sometimes, no matter how careful you are, suddenly the snow grabs the wheel and takes you on a little side trip…hopefully up onto a median or into a shallow ditch and NOT into another vehicle.
Like…you can absolutely count on Alaskans – even the crazy, red-light runners – to stop and help you out when we see you slide off course.
It’s just what we do.

Categories: Living in Alaska | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Where is that lottery ticket?

I have given some thought to the total cost of this mid-life crisis (aka “retirement dream”) of mine.  For those who have built cabins, feel free to comment on my unrealistic projections!  For those who haven’t, understand that this is VERY rough…I’m sure that I’m in for some expensive surprises along the way.

If you visit Friesen’s website, you will see that the Plan 5 in a 20×24 with T-111 siding starts at $20,120.00.  If I’m reading the specs correctly, this includes the pilings, the floor, basic framing of outer walls, door(s), windows, and a metal roof. 

A sample of a plan 5 cabin built by Jay Friesen's crew.  Mine will be slightly larger and will have a deck and an extended roof over the front door

A sample of a plan 5 cabin built by Jay Friesen’s crew. Mine will be slightly larger and will have a deck and an extended roof over the front door

It does not include: insulation under the floors (approx $1368), one extra 4×4’ window ($368), 8×24’ deck ($3409), and a 4’ extended overhang at one end of the roof ($855).  It also doesn’t include installation of a chimney (no cost given) or the added costs due to the remote off-road location (I assume a number in the $1000’s). 

All told, I’m looking at right around $30,000 for the shell of a cabin.  Other expenses I will have to manage piecemeal (doing most of the work myself) will include: interior insulation, drywall and paint, the new woodstove, flooring, appliances, cupboards and fixtures for kitchen and bath, and lastly, furniture.    

For plumbing, I am researching eco-friendly grey-water disposal systems that won’t necessitate a septic tank.  This will be another Do-It-Yourself project.  The composting toilet is – so far – working out just fine which will save the need for a “black water” disposal system.  (For an amusing review of the Nature’s Head toilet that I currently use, visit the Good Luck Duck.   They use theirs in a big RV and have enjoyed not having to deal with the icky splish splash dumping of black water!)

Research is on-going as to feasibility and costs for electric but it will also be eco-friendly as far as I’m able.  Solar panels (iffy in winter with 4 hours per day of daylight!) and possibly a thermo-electric generator are possibilities, supplemented by my propane generator.  (The Kimberly Woodstove that I want supposedly has an optional thermo-electric accessory.)  Off-grid living isn’t a matter of choice on my property!

As I review and edit this post I realize that I’m going to be sitting at a desk for a few years yet to pay for all of this stuff…but as with any pleasant destination, planning the journey is often half of the fun!

Categories: cabin | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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