Life in Alaska

The Cabin Life


The MacKenzie Cabin



Winter twilight, absolute peace.

Every cabin has a story of origin. Some are glamorous, some just seem to happen, and all are worthwhile as a cabin is one of the few places where people really live in the here and now.

In Alaska, cabins take on a slightly different meaning than they do in the lower 48. Access varies not only by mode of transportation requirements but by season too. Whether it is on the road system, by four-wheeler, snow machine or small plane—each cabin has its own allure and challenge.

This article is intended to be an open ended story. I welcome you to share your own experiences, ideas, and trials about your cabin or memories of someone else’s cabin. Everyone has something to offer and we all have something to gain. So please, send in your stories and pictures. Let’s share.

Our cabin was what brought my family to Alaska—at least in the beginning.

In a chance meeting with an Alaskan old timer who was living in Washington, I learned he had sold everything he’d accumulated since the late 30s with the exception of one piece of remote property. He once tried to sell it on a note and was forced to take the land back when the buyer defaulted. This information came up casually in our conversation. Little did I know what an impact that afternoon encounter would have on my young family.

After much research, examining maps, making calls to surrounding remote lodges, and consulting with local bush pilots, we came to an agreement with the Alaskan old timer and bought the land … during the winter. What had I done!? I just bought land in the middle of nowhere in Alaska! I had never even been to Alaska!

The following summer, I travelled north with a couple of others to see what we’d gotten ourselves into. I left two weeks after my son was born (I have a remarkably tolerant wife) and spent a week locating the corners of our lot and looking things over. This trip provided several revelations. The land was good and the country was spectacular. It was also the second time I’d been in a small plane. The first time I flew left a slightly favorable impression, but this time was even better. By default I wound up in the front right seat of a Beaver on floats as we flew out to inspect our new land. On the way back out, I made it a point to be in the same seat again. Needless to say, this experience was the catalyst that led to a life changing decision.

Upon my return home, my young bride asked me, “How was the land?”

“Good. I’m going to learn to fly,” I replied.

That started it. I earned my pilot’s license over the course of the next year. We spent our vacation time the next couple of summers camping and fishing from our place in Alaska and making plans for the cabin. The third summer, we began construction and the following year, weathered it in. We began making a couple trips a year and bringing the kids with us. Summer or winter, we spent every available chance heading north and learning. Many of our friends would take cruises, or go to Disneyland. We’d pack up, head north, line up an air taxi and get dropped off for however long we could steal away from work and the daily grind.

Several years later, we made the decision to move to Alaska. We packed our family’s worldly goods into a conex and moved. We’ve never looked back.

The cabin has brought our family immeasurable satisfaction. Our children have memories of exploring, fishing, growing up and peace. My son enjoys taking friends out, asking me to drop them off for a week or so on school breaks. Our daughter, despite living outside again, always requests to fly out to our land while she’s home on visits. My wife and I are on the verge of being empty-nesters and are able to address each other by our given names now. We managed something last winter that in the 16 years since building the place were never able to do. We spent six successive weekends at the cabin this last winter.

In the summer, we have a very gracious neighbor at the end of the lake who allows us the use of her airstrip. She also lets us keep a boat at her place. The summer trips to our cabin involve an 87 mile flight, a ¾ mile hike to the lake and a five mile boat ride to the cabin. It can be an expedition but it is an enjoyable challenge. In the not too distant future, we may be able to finally put an airstrip on the back of our property. It will make the gear hauling that much easier. In the winter, I groom an airstrip on the frozen lake right in front of the cabin.

Our cabin has become many things to us and our friends. It is frequently a gathering place for the Iditarod or the Iron Dog races. We’ve also had a number of impromptu get togethers with flying friends merely dropping in for coffee and cookies. As many as 13 airplanes have shown up at one time. Twenty-five people in our little cabin was a welcome problem indeed!

One of the things we’ve learned with our cabin is that you always need to have a project. It will keep you busy with planning and executing. Activity is important.

Our cabin is 18 x 24 foot with a 6 foot covered deck and was built on 6 x 6 inch posts that go as deep as 7 feet into the ground. I’d had difficulty finding bearing material so we hauled large flat rocks up from the lake and placed them in the bottom of the post holes to support the weight. The structure was built with 6 inch three sided logs. In hindsight (it is 20/20 you know!) in addition to the Oly bolts, I would have used a sealer like Liquid Nails® between each course of logs. I would have sheathed the roof differently and built a sauna immediately. We’re going to build a new machine shed and convert the old shed to a sauna/shower house. We have plans for a small (15 x 15 foot) guest cabin. We’ve had as many as 12 people spend the night in our place and while fun, it gets pretty tight. I would have made the deck a little bigger and extended it along one side with the roof over it. There’s always a list of wants, though none of them diminish the enjoyment we get out of our cabin.

There is one puzzle I have never been able to solve. My beautiful bride is an amazing cook. However, the only time she ever bakes bread is at the cabin. Must be inspired somehow, might have to spend more time there …

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