Spring break in Alaska means skiing, building snowmen, and spending time inside, because up here winter lasts well into April. Most stores are on a national merchandising schedule, so while Costco is selling snorkel masks and swimsuits in March, we’re still looking for hand and toe warmers, and new ski jackets. Ever since we finished building our log cabin in McCarthy, we’ve been going there for Spring break whenever we can, because McCarthy in March is super beautiful and fun! So here are some photos from our rowdy spring break shenanigans, Alaska style. At the time we still didn’t know that spring break would be endless this year due to COVID-19.
~ by Maria Benner
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.
~ by Maria Benner
Today is the first day of snow! This is a very exciting day for most people, and this year it happened on a Monday, making the dreaded first day of the week a bit interesting. We all know the first day of snow is coming, but for some reason most of us choose not to do anything about it. But this morning we quickly realized that we’d have to add some extra chores to our list today if we want to continue with our regular daily tasks, like driving.
- Change tires on our vehicles to winter tires. Preferably studded ones, which have the best performance on ice versus the ones that claim to be studd-less winter tires. Some stores, like Costco, stopped carrying studded tires, because they cause so much road damage, but we found a place just a couple blocks from our studio that still sells them, and tomorrow we’re dropping off our truck so it can get brand new studded tires put on it.
- Switch to our fat bikes that also have studded tires. We ride bikes to the studio from our condo, because the studio is only 1 mile away, and we have to pay for parking. So today we had to air up the tires on those bad boys, and get them ridable again for the first time since last March.
- Put the big brushes that we use to clean the snow off our truck back into the truck. We took them out for the summer to have more space in the back seat.
- Pull out winter boots, and put away summer shoes. Same goes for winter jackets, hats, gloves, etc. Good luck finding all that stuff after several months.
- We live in a condo, so we don’t have to worry about snow removal, but most people had to clear their driveways on top of all the other snow-related chores.
We still have to wash our summer bikes to make the transition to winter complete. Right now we’re excited for winter, and all the activities we’ll get to do like ice skating, skiing, and fat biking. Ask me again in a few months how I feel about it.
In case you’re looking for some indoor activities now that it’s cold outside, this Friday we’re hosting a First Friday Open Studio event. Stop by and see the newest oil paintings for the first time, enjoy some complimentary refreshments (Scott always bakes fresh cookies), and meet the artist if you haven’t already. Click here to see the event on Facebook. If you’re not on FB, here are the deets: November 2nd, 5 – 7:30pm, Suite 4 inside the 4th Avenue Market Place on 333 W 4th Avenue.
“Life is Short, Drink Good Beer.” That’s quality advice printed on my steel pint cup. You might not always get a great beer, but the least you can do is try. This little painting tells a story. For three years now I have been trying to correlate a time to go with my collectors and friends, the Kirkpatricks, to their cabin in Humpy Cove on Resurrection Bay. After totally missing it for two summers in a row I finally nailed down a time when I wouldn’t be in McCarthy, dip-netting, or flying to a wedding somewhere out of State. Alaska summers are nuts, but also a blast. I try to just relax and let the insanity flow around me without letting it disturb my inner peace. This is hard to do when the midnight sun is pulling you to do more and rest less.
Our trip to the cove was amazing! After loading up the boat we stopped right outside Seward’s boat harbor to watch a pod of Humpback whales. We actually saw whales every day on this adventure. Then after arriving to the cove in the fast red boat we hung out on the dock and sipped delicious keg beer from our steel pints, while soaking in the sun. After Taiya the Siberian Husky attacked a porcupine, and had to have a dozen quills pulled out of her paw and snout (could have been much worse), we went for a hike up the hill where the bay vistas were unbelievable. Then Taiya went swimming and I got to play lifeguard, and got an armful of shivering wet husky. Good thing I didn’t spill my beer! I had to be careful around that pooch, because she likes to drink beer, so if I set my pint on the deck, it was likely to get the dog tax.
We went fishing and caught a halibut about the size of a chicken. Maria got one that was so small, we all agreed it was the size of a large keychain. After fishing I sat on the dock and made this painting while the boat took guests back to Seward, and Maria and Colleen went kayaking. Yes, I drank some beer while I painted. Overall a very noteworthy trip! Whales, waterfalls, bluebird skies and three draft beer options made for a very exciting weekend! Resurrection Bay is one of those places in Alaska that is definitely beautiful! I left this painting at the cabin as a gift to our hosts for being so gracious!
~ by Maria Benner
One of my side gigs is working as a freelance guide for a local tour company, guiding only 2-3 trips per year. This allows me to see many different places in Alaska, and to do the fun things that mostly tourists get to do. I get to meet interesting people from around the world, and the extra income is a bonus. So a couple years ago I guided four different groups that all had an identical itinerary. That may seem redundant, but the tour included a train ride to Spencer Glacier, and a flight around Denali with a glacier landing. So in a span of less than two weeks, I got to land on Ruth Glacier on Denali three times! The fourth group got to fly around Knik Glacier, because Denali was unapproachable by plane due to a storm. We flew with K2 Aviation. One of the guests exclaimed as she stepped down from the De Havilland Otter onto the glacier on Denali, “If I had known about this, it would have been on my Bucket List!” That really sums up the whole experience.
One of the fun parts of my job as the Business and Marketing Manager for Real Art Is Better is brainstorming with Scott about ideas for new paintings. So, a couple months ago, I remembered that summer that I got to fly around Denali three times with K2 Aviation, and I suggested that he paint one of the the iconic red airplanes flying in front of Denali. He painted this piece, which is 20 inches x 30 inches, oil on panel. The painting was on display at Scott’s solo art show at Midnight Sun Brewing Company this month, and it sold on opening night. Scott allows customers to take the paintings right when they buy them, so the painting is now hanging in its new home.
If you haven’t taken this flight, I highly recommend it. Put it on your Bucket List!
Limited-edition art prints of this painting are for sale at our Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.
The person who bought this painting posted a picture of it on Instagram hanging in its new home, along with another one of Scott’s paintings that he bought at the same time of the Coastal Trail in winter time.
Part of my duties as the Vice President of the McCarthy – Kennicott Historical Museum is to volunteer for a couple hours a week at the museum. So, over the years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in that building, looking at artifacts and at black and white photos from the late 1890s – early 1900s. One day I decided to make an oil painting from two black and white train photos that I saw at the museum. As anyone can tell by looking at my paintings, I like to use bright colors, so I went to work trying to recreate the photos in color. There was no way for me to know what color things should be, but being in the same setting where many of these photos were taken, gave me a pretty good idea.
Recently, the museum asked me to design a new sticker, so I looked through many photographs of the Kennicott mining town back in its hayday, and put together the painting below that I named First “Lode”. This depicts the first train load of copper pulling out of Kennicott, on its way down to Cordova and onto a steamship headed to Tacoma. I worked from several different black and white photos to put together this scene. Seeing today’s ruins of Kennicott was very helpful in helping me decide what colors things should be. In the future, I plan to make several more paintings like this based on those photos hanging at the museum. Creating large, colorful oil paintings from small black and white photographs highlights those historical moments, bringing more attention to them. In any case, I’ve stumbled onto an interesting new genre that I’ll be experimenting with.
Here’s one example of a train oil painting that I did based on a black and white photo. Prints of this painting are for sale at my Etsy shop.
Another example of a train painting. Prints of this painting are for sale at my Etsy shop.
And this is the latest piece that I painted from a combination of photographs and my imagination called First “Lode”. Prints of this painting are for sale at my Etsy shop.
About a month ago I stumbled on a photo online that caught my eye because of its striking colors, and the combination of blues, reds and yellows inspired me to create a painting using those colors. I researched other images online with similar colors, and then created a couple basic sketches of different compositions.
Then I painted a small study of each sketch to see what each one would look like as a painting. These are only 12″x6″.
I decided for now to continue working on the composition of the Anchorage skyline, and painted a larger study of it that is 24″x12″. I haven’t decided yet whether I’m going to paint a larger version of the Sleeping Lady composition. I’ll wait and see what feedback I get about it.
Finally, I was ready to start working on the large support, which is 5 feet x 2.5 feet. I spent about five hours a day for three days working on the final painting. I wanted this to be dry for my upcoming art show at Midnight Sun Brewing on January 2nd, so I came into the studio on Christmas Eve to finish the painting. Here is the gradual progression.
Right now this painting is drying in my studio, and will be on display, and available for sale, at Midnight Sun Brewing from January 2nd – February 4th.