When Things at an Alaskan Cabin Go Wrong

~ by Maria Benner

Alaska cabin

We managed to get this far on the new Arctic entry building project.

At the beginning of this summer Scott and I had a great trip to our cabin in McCarthy, and he wrote about it in an e-mail to his subscribers.  His story described how much he loves being at the cabin in the woods in Alaska’s wilderness, and maybe even inspired some people to get out of the city and get closer to nature.  Well, there’s another side to that story, and this latest trip to the cabin will give you a more accurate account of what life in remote Alaska is really like.  Sometimes the simple life becomes really complicated due to the fact that you’re many miles away from civilization, and all your stuff just breaks in one week.  That’s what happened on this last trip. 

First, the most traumatic incident occurred (or so we thought at the time) when Scott’s iPhone X suddenly turned off, and just died.  We used my phone to Google how to bring it back to life, but nothing worked.  Unfortunately, the Apple store in Anchorage is about 300 miles away, so Scott had to live without his beloved phone for a whole week.  Turns out his logic board had fried, and $549 later, Scott has a new iPhone X from the Apple store.

Then, only an hour later, I did something really stupid that could have resulted in awful consequences, but I got lucky.  We started building an Arctic entry, otherwise known as a mud room.  The plan is to use this addition for a shower, a small washing machine, dry wood storage closer to the cabin, and to store muddy boots and bulky coats.  Well, the first step was to remove the wooden ramp that we’ve been using for years to get into the cabin.  Scott told me he removed it.  Then I had to make a phone call, but needed a receipt from the truck, and as I was dialing the number while looking at my phone, I opened the door and stepped onto… nothing.  Right down to the ground about three feet at full speed, and onto a rock.  My ankle did not like all that force, and I felt strong pain.  My first reaction was to deny that it may be broken, and to keep walking on it, while repeating the phrase, “It’s not broken, it’s not broken!”  Then I started to panic, because if it was broken, Scott would have to drive me for three hours one way to the nearest clinic in Glennallen.  So I felt nauseous and got all sweaty, and had to lie down on the ground while Scott ran and got me some ice.  Luckily we brought a small fridge to the cabin on this trip that is powered by our solar panels, so we actually had ice!  Turned out that I have pretty strong ankles, and it was just sprained.  So I taped it, and gently walked on it, and managed to finish my building project that day.  Phew!  That was a close call.  I’m going to call our insurance company to confirm that we have coverage for a Guardian or LifeMed flight out, and if not, we’re buying that insurance ASAP!

The next day, we noticed that a weld had broken on our little trailer that was holding the wheel cover on.  The McCarthy Road is rough, and nothing survives multiple trips without some damage.  We decided we need to buy a welder in Anchorage, and bring it to the cabin on the next trip.  We have a running list going on my phone of all the things we need to bring to the cabin from Anchorage.

Then we started smelling a funky odor inside the cabin, and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, until Scott opened the trap door under the house to access our extra stash of beverages, and saw that they were sitting in a soapy pool of dirty water.  Last year I installed a French drain next to the house, and pipes leading from the sink into the ground to drain water, so that we could get rid of the slop bucket.  Well, apparently, a pipe connection had come apart for some reason (maybe the log cabin shifted slightly), and all the dish water was just going under the house.  Gross!  Since I was the one who completed that project, I got to be the one to clean up the mess and fix the pipe.

A couple days later we noticed the smell of propane occasionally, and finally decided that the only possible source was the gas range, so we shut off the propane tank, and went to bed.  In the morning we had to figure out what was happening.  So we moved the counters out of the way to access the back of the stove, and inspected all the connections.  Everything seemed tight.  The instruction manual to the stove wasn’t helpful — it just told me to call the local fire department.  McCarthy has a VFD, but the Fire Chief encourages self-reliance.  So I made a soapy water solution, and brushed it where I thought the gas could be coming from, and sure enough, I found a leak right were the yellow propane hose connects to the first nut.  The hose had failed, because we installed it at a sharp angle.  Since the closest Home Depot is about 300 miles away, we couldn’t fix this problem until we can bring a new hose on the next trip.  So we just didn’t have a stove, or an oven for four days.  Luckily, we have an outdoor propane two-burner that we could use to cook food, so we cooked outside for the remainder of the trip.

So, if you have been dreaming of building a cabin in remote Alaska to get away from all your problems, just be prepared to handle a whole different set of challenges.  Living in the wild does have many benefits, and some amazing things happen right outside our door, like a mama moose and a baby suddenly showing up, or a bunny coming over to nibble on some grass, and the mountains and the sky are so big and majestic.  The silence is also nice — we sleep so well out here, not to mention the fresh air.  But it all comes at a cost, like so many things in life.  Everything seems to always work out, but when stuff goes wrong, it seems like a bigger deal out here when you have to be self-sufficient. 

Mama and baby moose

These two visited the cabin one evening.

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