Tag Archives: Building a log cabin

What we do in McCarthy.

~ by Maria Benner

My dentist asked me the other day, “So, what do you do when you’re in McCarthy?”

Maybe I should start by telling newer blog readers the background story.  In 2005 I dragged Scott to McCarthy in Wrangell – St. Elias National Park for the long 4th of July weekend, because I wanted to walk on the huge glacier.  Scott has always been reluctant to travel to new places, and grudgingly boarded the little plane that flew us to McCarthy in a rain storm.  Two weeks after that amazing trip we drove back to the little town to check out a 10-acre lot that the University of Alaska was selling.  In October we owned that lot.  I bought the land as an investment, but Scott had different ideas.  Before I could comprehend the implications of what he was about to do, Scott ordered 198 logs to be delivered to our lot in 2012.  That’s when we started building our log cabin.  It took us 182 days to finish it to the point where we could move in.  We still have many small projects left before the cabin is completely finished though.  During summers we go to McCarthy for two-week stints.  We can’t stay for the whole summer, because we have to come back to Anchorage to work on the art business.  So, if you’re wondering what we do out there, here’s a description of a typical day.

We don’t have to get up at a certain hour, but the birds’ loud chirping wakes us up at roughly the same time each day.  We drink coffee while checking e-mail and news, and then make breakfast.  We recently acquired a sourdough starter, and I brought it with us to McCarthy, because we went for three weeks, and I didn’t want it to starve while we were gone.  I’m really glad I brought it, because we made sourdough pancakes twice, and Scott baked delicious sourdough bread!

Sourdough bread that Scott baked in the cabin.

Sourdough bread that Scott baked in the cabin.

After breakfast we work on Real Art Is Better.  Scott usually has to work on commissioned paintings, or a Thirsty Thursday beer painting, while I take care of the business and marketing side of the business.  Luckily Verizon provides LTE out there!  Then we break for lunch.

Scott painting in the bug tent.

Scott painting in the bug tent.

In the afternoon we work on the cabin-building project.  Neither of us is a builder, and we learned from books and YouTube videos how to peel and stack logs in the shape of a cabin.  Every time we make a mistake, we think about whether it’s worth the money, time and effort to fix it, or if “it’ll be fine, it’s just a cabin in the woods in Alaska.”  Not like there’s a Home Depot in town where we can get some extra parts.  On our trip in May we insulated and installed the bottom floor, chinked most of the gaps between the logs, installed gutters so we can collect water from the roof for washing dishes, showering (not drinking), installed five windows, built a front door, AND…  MOVED IN!!!  The moving in ceremony consisted of nailing a horse shoe from a friend’s horse above the door.  Our friend gave us that horse shoe specifically for the cabin a couple years ago.

Cabin building project!

Cabin building project!

Hi! I'm moving in!

Hi! I’m moving in!

After about five hours of building we call it a day.  Sometimes we want to keep working to finish a task, but we learned the hard way that if we keep working when we’re tired of it, we’ll make mistakes, and get grumpy.  After work we take showers every other day, which involves heating several gallons of water on a propane turkey fryer and pouring the water into a bucket with a hose and spout on the bottom.  I built a shower stall out of plywood a couple years ago.  It’s simple and it gets the job done!

After relaxing, making dinner, and doing the dishes, we leave our lot on bikes or on foot (we rarely drive the dirt roads in McCarthy) and go for a little adventure.  We’ll either visit a friend, or go to a beautiful place.  On Friday nights we usually go to softball.  On most weekends there’s a band playing at the bar.  There’s a lot going on for such a small town.  Now that the cabin is mostly done, we can spend more time adventuring!

Evening canoe float on the Beaver Pond.

Evening canoe float on the Beaver Pond.

Friday night softball game.

Friday night softball game.

Now we’re back in Anchorage for a month.  The mosquitos are horrible in McCarthy in June, and we don’t mind skipping that stage of summer.  We’re getting ready for Scott’s art show at Midnight Sun Brewing Company this Friday.  His paintings and prints will be on display and available for sale all month.  Check out the details on the Facebook event page.  We also plan on doing a Kenai Peninsula breweries tour and go dip-netting for salmon before returning to McCarthy July 2 in time for another tremendous 4th of July weekend.

10 Life Lessons Building a Cabin in Alaska Has Taught Us

Framing the roof.

Framing the roof.

Scott and I started building a log cabin in McCarthy, Alaska in 2012. We expect to finish the project this September. This isn’t the first time we endeavored to do something big. In 2009 we rode a tandem bike all the way down the Pacific Coast from Vancouver, Canada to the Mexican border. In 2011 we toured on individual bicycles from Kaliningrad, Russia to Paris, France. In 2014 we started and completed the Year of Beer Paintings project. So working on a time-consuming, long-term task is not new to us, and we have a 100% completion rate so far. Each endeavor has taught us important life lessons, and this cabin-building project is no exception. So here are the ten things we’ve learned so far.

1. We don’t like to take steps back. When we make a mistake, we try to find a way to work with it, rather than starting over and fixing it right away. The farther along we get, the more evident the mistakes become as they pile up. Sure, had we gone back to fix every error, and started over with a new log, or made a new notch, we wouldn’t be as far along as we are today, and would have had to buy more materials, but the house would have fewer flaws. We’re hoping all of our errors will be smoothed out by finishing touches.

2. We stopped expecting a perfect cabin. When we started, we had high hopes that every notch would fit perfectly, and everything would be square, but the reality is that this is our first big building project, and we’re not professional builders, so we had to get over the disappointment that our cabin wouldn’t turn out as perfect as the Parthenon.

3. Plans will change. Scott spent countless hours researching how to build with logs, and drawing plans. We have a stack of graph paper with different versions of cabin plans, and when we settled on the one, we really did intend to build it as planned. Yeah right. Once we got started, we realized what would actually work, got new ideas, and plans changed. Not dramatically though.

4. When working with your spouse, give compliments on tasks well done. Compliments are encouraging and do wonders for boosting morale.

5. A stitch in time saves nine. Before beginning a task, think about what you’ll need and get everything ready. That saves so much time and frustration.

6. While building a cabin, your social life will suffer greatly. We were in denial about this during our first building summer and made a special effort to be social butterflies, but now that we’re building the roof, going down to town is just not a priority.

7. Don’t start building a log cabin if you don’t have a lot of spare time. You’ll end up hiring someone to finish it, or it won’t get done.

8. Women can build too, when the right person is teaching. Men have to be patient and explain things really well. That’s how Scott ended up having a building buddy who works for free.

9. Quit working when you’re tired. We set goals for each day, but when we get tired we start making mistakes and that costs more time and materials later. Also, most injuries happen when people are tired at the end of the day. So just quit for the day.

10. You can accomplish big projects if you break them up into smaller stages, and just take one step at a time, and don’t stop until you are done.