Retreat Owner Profile: Mr. & Mrs. Alaska

Area:  Alaska (off-grid, fly-in access only, a 20 minute flight to the nearest rural airport)

Present Home:  In 2007, we bought five undeveloped acres on a lake surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of state owned boreal forest in Alaska. One couple lives full time within 10 miles of us.  The nearest rural airport is a 20 minute flight away. No roads through the forest or across the mountains or rivers. The nearest river access to a road is a 3.5 hour snowmachine trip cross country.   Our home is a two-room, 750 sq. ft. log cabin (built from 106 spruce trees) supported by about 8 outbuildings (see description). Most of the year our minimal electrical needs are supplied by a small solar array and wind turbine  (we have no television, dryer, microwave, or other common electrical appliances). We primarily feed ourselves from several gardens, wild foods, small animal husbandry, and hunting/fishing. We go 10 weeks at a time without seeing anyone else.

Ages:  61 (her) and 58 (him).

SOs (significant others):  Two adult sons, siblings, and parents in other states.   Only one son and my parents have visited. The others have no interest.

Annual Income:  Retired/Savings/Occasional income from business consulting in the financial and call center industries. We live debt free.

Profession:  Former careers in telecommunications, finance, business writing/analysis, and teaching.

Investments:  Gold and silver coins, junk silver, cash.  We regard our long term food storage, perennial plantings, and tools as investments in our future, too.

Vehicles:  1954 Piper PA-20 two-seater plane with floats and skis; 1993 GMC Suburban 4WD; 2 Arctic Cat snow machines with freight sled; ATV with game trailer and tow-behind backhoe

Firearms Battery:  .338, .30-06, .22 Ruger, 9mm Glock, 40 cal Sig Sauer, .22 Sig Sauer, .44 magnum S&W revolver, three 12 ga shotguns.

Stored Ammunition:  1,000+ rounds store-bought; many thousands of components awaiting reloading.  Because of our location, we are less concerned about two legged predators than four legged ones.  We do not even have exterior locks on our doors.

Fuel Storage:  800 lbs propane and 180 gallons of stabilized gasoline (2 year’s supply of each).

Two years worth of birch and spruce in the wood corral (about 18 cords) : one year drying and one year current use for heating home (birch) and hot tub (spruce). The surrounding forest supplies future fuel needs.

Improvements:

Buildings: 750 sq foot log cabin home, 500 sq foot guest cabin/ ham radio shack, and utility buildings (outhouse, shower house, food shed, covered wood corral with workshop area, chicken coop, rabbit hutches, greenhouse with hydroponic system, cold frames and row covers for extended season gardening, snow machine “garage” and fuel shed.  A wood fired hot tub.

Transportation: Docks for plane and kayak, snow machines with freight sled, SUV stored with our airplane mechanic on the road system.

Utilities: 120 foot power tower with solar and wind power, satellite internet and cell phone booster.  Inverter and battery bank (stores for about one day). 61 foot well with electric and hand pumps, three small gasoline generators for backup.

Food and medicine:  8 raised bed gardens (up to 60 food and medicinal plants), small orchard, many domesticated berry varieties.  Annual attention to nurturing, harvesting, drying/canning/consuming wild plants of culinary and medicinal value, including many wild berries and tapping birch trees.

Fire safety: Generator powered water hose on dock.  5 gallon jugs at burn barrel. Gutters and water barrels at most buildings with low eaves (for winter removal).  Dead or dying trees culled for fuel and construction.

Annual Property Tax:  $225

Livestock:  6 laying chickens, 2-13 meat rabbits, 6 bee hives, ducks.  Wild foods: bear and moose, northern pike, salmon, trout, and grayling.

Communications Gear:  120’ guy-wired Rohn tower, 2 HF base (amateur, MARS, SHARES), 1 HF base (Civil Air Patrol [DoD]), 3 VHF mobiles, FRS pair (walkie-talkies for daily use around the property); many antennae including a log periodic, satellite internet, microwave connections to two area-wide mesh-networks, Proxicast cell phone booster (to tower 40 miles away).  Hand-held aviation radio.

Food Storage:  1+ year for 2 adults.  Purchased foods include bulk supplies of pasta, grains, spices, cooking oils, and freeze dried fruit and vegetables.  Our big commitment, however, is to home raised food, which we consume fresh and also store. I raised 65 foods last year (meat, honey, vegetables and edible/medicinal plants) and foraged for others.  Honey lasts forever. Other home dried and canned foods are recommended for two years, perhaps longer in our cold climate. We have a s-l-o-w grain mill. We are increasing the numbers of perennial food/medicinal plants and trees that grow here and saving seeds (lower germination rate than purchased seeds). We tap the birch trees for spring sap as a spring tonic and to replace water in making mead and melomel (honey and fruit alcohol).

Cleaning/hygiene:  I make our shampoos, lotions, salves, and balms.  I use salt, vinegar, and baking soda to clean almost everything.

Hobbies:  Our lifestyle is a mix of work, pleasure, learning, producing.  I hadn’t really thought of the word, “hobby”. Maybe reading, hiking, snowshoeing through the woods.  Kayaking happy hours during the summer. I am starting to become interested in whittling and using birch bark/twigs for decorative items, as well as repurposing tin cans into whimsical items (like scarecrows) in the gardens.

Lessons and learning on-going: This lifestyle requires skills far different from those we learned in universities and city jobs.  Some of our skill building training over the past ten years:

Ham radio (he is Extra and she is Technician); Civil Air Patrol (volunteer pilot for wilderness search and rescue), on-line classes in ethnobotany, botany, herbalism, and chemistry of medicinal plants.  Master gardener, master naturalist and permaculture certifications, welding, furniture building, wilderness medical emergencies, soap making, candle making (don’t use either of these), sewing (I never see this mentioned on your website), home cleaning and hygiene product making, canning, drying, smoking food, making home remedies of tinctures, teas, salves (with our beeswax), oils, poultices.

Background:

We lived in Houston, Texas for 30 years, the last decade in high-rises.  I had NO experience with anything like this Alaska life. My husband, however, had grown up in suburban Chicago while spending holidays and weekends at his family’s tree farm in Wisconsin, where he developed the skills he uses here.  In the mid-2000s, we consciously started to downsize our home, possessions, and expenditures. With the savings, we paid cash to fund the life in Alaska, which we built up incrementally (while taking relevant classes, too) over four years before moving here full time.

Interview

JWR: Why did you choose your location?

A: The setting is very beautiful.  It was an undeveloped 5 acres on a freshwater lake, surrounded by old growth state forest with views of three mountains across the lake (2500, 4600, and 5500 ft high).  In addition, it is less than an hour’s flight to a major airport and a 20 minute flight plus 40 minute drive to consumer resources like a Walmart and a hospital. We liked the low population density (2 other full time people within about ten miles).  The cost of the land was low ($20,000 for five acres), with low taxes, low regulation, friendly and can-do population in the region. Access is limited to small float/ski planes 8 months per year and, for two months (Feb-Mar) a 3.5 hour one way snow-machine (snowmobile) trek to nearest road.

JWR: What are the drawbacks to the region?

A:   The logistics for supplies are challenging.   The winters are long (8 months) and dark, with occasional  temperature dips to -22 to -36 F. For heat, my husband needs to cut, limb, split and stack nine cords of wood each year for cabin and hot tub. Almost anything plastic or rubber cracks and degrades within three years due to the extreme cold.  Bear and moose are tasty but can be dangerous and have been destructive to our property (and animals and bees). We have to create and maintain a runway on the frozen lake, grooming it after each appreciable snowfall. For about 8 weeks in the fall and spring when the lake is in temperature transition, no transportation is possible to/from home.

JWR: Who will be joining you at your retreat if the balloon goes up?

A: My son was a paratrooping medic in the 82nd Airborne and is a current pre-med student.

We would also benefit from somebody better at construction than we are.

JWR: How long do you expect that it will be before order is restored?

We do not anticipate uniform disorder.  Rather, we anticipate a long decline in the US with patchy regions of order/recovery/disorder.  We moved here not as an escape from a future dystopia but to build independence skills and a satisfying lifestyle regardless of conditions elsewhere.  With my husband’s ham radio connectivity throughout Alaska and to the Lower 48, he will likely hear about various geographic disruptions.

JWR: What is your worst case scenario?

A: For society: Large scale grid decay/sabotage, economic collapse, increasing surveillance, privacy intrusions.

A: For us:  Our home is remote with seasonal restrictions to access, but it is vulnerable should someone with a float or ski plane intend harm or theft here.  Other bad scenarios could involve earthquake damage (in this very seismically active region – a 7.1 earthquake on Nov 30, 2018 followed by thousands of aftershocks) or an acute health emergency, especially during Freeze up and Break up periods when no planes can land on the lake.

JWR: What personal circumstances have shaped your preparations, and how?

A: Working in the financial industry, we were dismayed by the fragility of the economy in 2008 and then disillusioned by both the banking corruption and the subsequent bailouts.  We had already started downsizing and shedding costs, but increased the pace. On a more positive note, my husband loved his childhood experiences in rural Wisconsin that taught him many of the life skills we enjoy here.  In addition, when he lived in the mountains west of Denver in 1999, he bought a pallet of long term food storage in advance of Y2K. I, however, had no preparation for this life. Then I climbed a steep learning curve. Numerous courses in our prior city, as well as on-line, and book learning have contributed to increasing competence and confidence in this lifestyle.

JWR: What shortcomings does your retreat have that you would like to improve if you had the opportunity?

We would like to have insulated, underground water piping for year-round use, a larger root cellar, more and higher-capacity battery storage, and increased healthcare knowledge. I am learning to sew and we are learning to preserve animal pelts/skins.

JWR: What are your long term goals?

Our goals have been to do the “heavy lifting” in the first years of life here before we age out of some skills and strength.  Now we are focused on increasing efficiency and safety as well as some quality of life enhancements, like last year’s wood fired hot tub (Snorkel Tub).   Future goals include expanding the plantings and foraging of perennial plants (such as berries and horseradish and asparagus) and improving ham radio technology for short and long distance communications.  We work to develop our physical strength and limberness to remain healthy in this physically demanding lifestyle.

Other:




19 Comments

  1. Wow…. I love ‘rural’ but can’t imagine living like this. It is very interesting. I’d want a lot of books for the long winter. Someone must have excellent engine maintenance skills. Lacking them I respect others possessing them.

    Health is a wildcard, especially for one couple of retirement age and basically on their own. We had a 2-person homestead and then one of us experienced health problems. It was a major game-changer.

  2. Great article! We live north of Upstate New York, 20 miles from Canadian border. You mentioned X number of “cords” of wood. We deal in “face cords” of wood; dimensions vary, but usually 4’H X 8’L X 16” (about 1/3 of a full cord). My inference was that yours are “full cords”, yes? Thanks. Again an enviously great article!

  3. perhaps for bear and moose deterrence some 12ga blanks,non lethal perimeter alarms would be in order. https://fithops.com/ there are many DIY versions search youtube.

    maybe stock some antibiotics as well from http://www.antibioticsforsurvival.com

    maybe also consider a stand alone solar generator like the apex inergy brands or a DIY build

    your armory list was absent of any mag fed battle rifles which may should be considered for bad actors

    Your retreat looks awesome by the way.

    1. Guns and bears are not as straight forward, we have found, as one might expect. During moose hunting season, hunters report that bears follow them because they know that a gun shot means a dead moose with a gut sack and other innards that will be left for them! It is like their version of following the ice cream truck music. At our home, where the human population is so low, bears are curious but not afraid of guns or marine horns (which we have used to deter them). So if they are small enough, I just bang a pot with a spoon and yell at them to go away when they are bothersome. But most we just let mosey on through. It is only the destructive repeaters that end up in my pressure cooker.

      We have been beefing up our medical supplies, and do have a 30 day supply of penicillin.

      I will look into your solar generator. Great idea, thanks.

  4. My wife and I are from Alaska and have lived this type of lifestyle. But as we entered our seventh decade of life circumstances started changing. Such as: our children and grandchildren live in the “lower 48” and medical issues became a concern (example: I had prostate cancer surgery recently).

    As an avid SBlog enthusiast I reread JWR’s accurate recommendations and we are currently searching for that ideal place in Northern Idaho on a ROAD SYSTEM.

    The Alaskan lifestyle is great for the young ….especially if your children are around to help occasionally. But over the long haul we have watched most of our old friends and relatives move south.

    I will admit though, I will always miss The Great Land.

    1. Idaho is quickly changing. The hospitals are great, I had a major injury and was well taken care of. The “gimmes” from CA are moving in. They pass multi-million dollar school bonds and medicare for all. They sold the medicare for all ballot inniative as a measure to “help working people” but when the legislature put a work requirement in the law they sued. Stay away from Sandpoint, Meridian or Boise. You might as well move to CA.

  5. Aging out in your bol is a biggie, I waited too long (retired at 64, basically crippled by rheumatism by 68), this should be a major consideration in your location. Now cannot garden or fight back much but hoping to see the beginning of the end before I go.

  6. I admire your courage at tackling off-grid living in isolated parts of Alaska! I lived in Alaska when I was a child and then went back years later for a visit. I found I couldn’t take the dark winters or the extreme cold anymore so I settled for country living in the lower 48. Good Luck and God Bless You.

  7. I lived in Alaska in a remote cabin fo 5+ years. Great time of my life. Had a 800lb Grizzly try getting in once. Another time had to kill a 250lb black bear 5 ft from the front door. Winters are hard, but if you can make it through 2 of them Alaska will be in your blood for the rest of your life. Recommend you have a good dog (don’t tie him up) reliable weapons, and a can-do attitude. Those with little common sense need not apply.

  8. Congrats! Very well done article, and interview by JWR was very informative.
    Sounds as though you have it dialed, working on the fine tuning. Most of us are still “just in the ballpark”. Nothing I see in your situation is a detriment, with the exception of the long, dark, & cold winters. 4-5 months of winter is about enough for me. I applaud you on your efforts.
    Happy Easter everyone, may the Lord bless and shine His light upon you all.

  9. I expect that I live 20 or 30 minutes, flying time, from the author. They have not chosen an easy life. They have chosen a very rewarding one. I no longer have a remote cabin and I’m too old to acquire another. Most of my friends with a remote cabin also have a home, in the real world.

    Bless you and keep you.

  10. We live in Alaska, our “remote cabin” is actually in a city … but we are working hard to make it independent as possible. In our 70’s now my bride and I cannot fathom a remote cabin life unless it for vacation .. but no matter what comes, with Christ in our lives we are ready for eternity … what better preps could we have than Christ?

  11. Super article! Super people! I might suggest a forklift battery in your favorite voltage, formatted with removable 2.2 volt cells. In a 24 volt battery, there will be 12 cells in the steel casing, each weighing about 125 lbs. Each cell will likely have around 1500 amp/hours of capacity. You can fly whatever number of cells, and the case in, in increments if necessary. You’ll never need another battery. You’ll have to make your own distilled water to maintain it periodically.

    My 24 volt battery weighs 1960 lbs and I live well on it. Mine does not have removable cells, but I can move it with machinery you don’t have. Available in 12, 24, 36, 48 volt. You’ll love the power….microwave, 19 gallon water heater, appliances (no dryer, electric range, please), etc. I use 10% of it’s capacity in daily cycles. You can have it shipped dry and fill it on site. See Giant Industrial Battery, Chicago, IL. Forklift batteries cost about 1/3rd of what a similar sized bank would cost in smaller, solar batteries.

    After the battery issue is resolved, pile on the 300+ watt panels and you’ll never want for power (when the sun isn’t hidden for most of the day). The turbine is nice, be advised that they wear out every couple of years.

    The .338 is a perfect choice for Alaska!

    Best,

    Paul

  12. Love the setup, the only things that comes to mind is airborne looters showing up at your cabin. It seems unlikely as if things are bad enough that people start looting, not too many planes will be in the air, but I think it deserves consideration.

    Perhaps upgrade in the body armor and fire power department, as well as coming up with some defensive plans?

  13. I assume you folks have had a talk with your children about coming home if things go crazy? It would probably be a hard life for them but your place would be a refuge where all of you would be safe.

  14. Congrats on becoming more self sufficient, that kind of life isnt for everyone. The Wife and I bought our piece of Alaska last winter. waiting on our retirement to move to the property full time. We are not as remote as you folks, but we are out of range for most people. Our place is only accessible by boat or seaplane. We are planting our orchard this year. The wife and I, both have the kind of skills needed for the remote lifestyle. She makes most of our medicinal needs and I am the woods crafter. Best of luck to you

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