Finding Alaska… (my way)
A number of visitors, to my blog, have asked how I cam to live in the Alaskan wilderness. The story of how this came to be is motivated on quite a bit of personal tragedy and a perceived physical health situation. Before any of these triggers happened I was a blissfully ignorant, happily married tradesman. I had worked in printing for 27 years and my daily routine was like millions of other ‘normal’ people. I never desired to move away from running water, electricity, telephone, TV and internet.
That blissful ignorance left in 1993 when my wife of 29 years died. She went into the hospital for routine surgery and never came home. It was a total shock to the system. No matter how we interact with our spouse on a daily basis the total loss of that person, cast you adrift. It is like you have no real purpose in life anymore. Terry was the anchor of our family….she was the center of everything and for the next year I just went through the motions of existence. The following year almost to the day my mother died and within less than a month my father also passed on. I was not yet reconciled with the loss of Terry and now both my parents all within almost a year. Needless to say I was mentally not in the best shape. I was looking for some ‘new’ purpose in life…some new direction.
This direction came by chance. I spent hours numbly watching satellite TV. Something new at the time and noticed that most outdoor shows were geared for men. I do not know what made the connection but my son had a fledgling graphics and video production company and I loved the outdoors…I saw a market that was not addressed…outdoor shows for women. We worked on this idea for a year and had some tentative offers for outlets so we decided to produce the series.
Where in America would you go to produce the series with the most spectacular locations, Alaska, of course. We drove our equipment SUV up and spent April to September in 1995 shooting 12 episodes of the series. From rafting for 10 days down the Copper river to Cordova to Hiking for a week in the Gates of the Arctic NP. We covered a large portion of the states wilderness areas.
During the production of the series I met a man, a true Alaska, named Les Cobb. He was hired, to guide & outfit, two of episodes. He was based on a small ranch near the village of Rampart, on the Yukon river. We spent quite a bit of time with him during the two shoots and I came to respect his remote way of life and his ideals. He was a major influence on my decision to move to Alaska……..
We used his home, ‘Lost creek ranch’, as a base for one of the episodes. The weather would not co-operate and we had almost a week extra waiting for the skies to clear. Les and I spent many hours just talking, not about the project at hand but just about life. His Alaskan way of life compared to my city life. When you live 40 some years in one environment you believe that is they way normal people live. To go through life without instant access to power, running water and TV was unthinkable. To get into you car and take hours to be at a store would be considered insane. To not be able to reach out and dial 911 when someone is seriously injured would normally create panic in any city dweller. But that was close to everyday life at Lost creek ranch, and the cabin here where I ended up.
Being away from these ‘distractions’ and after spending months in the wilderness shooting various segments of the series, I was becoming aware that a different way of living that was not necessarily bad, just different. I think the combination of the loss of my wife and parents had made me susceptible to a different outlook on life. I began to appreciate a simpler way of life. When you add to that the fact that almost wherever I turned I saw God’s handiwork in these majestic surroundings…one could see that I was headed for a major change in my life.
Not yet fully knowing what I intended I bought a small cabin site near the ranch, and mad plans to return the following spring to work with Les. My son and I returned in September and began to edit the series. During this time I told him of my plans and returned to Alaska that following April to begin my new life.
I worked under Les for three years as an assistant guide, in 1998 I branched off and started a fishing guide business during the down time between spring bear hunts and fall moose hunts. Over the years we built the company by web site, outdoor shows and results in the field. In fact that is the main reason I and two other guides, left the business…it seemed that we no longer treated our guest’s as hunting buddies and more as numbers.
Rose Stowell was a fellow guide and it seemed that we were of like minds when it came to how to treat our clients. When we broke off we planed our own business, that would remain small always having the feel that you were in the woods with a friend. Life does not always turn out the way you want and Rose did manage to purchase 80 acres of remote land and we did build by our own hands what was supposed to be housing for our clients and ourselves. It was just time and circumstance never saw the business take hold. While we built the homes on her property I was living in Fairbanks and driving out to help with the construction. This is when I was told by a doctor, on a trip back East to visit my kids, that he thought I only had two years to live.
I didn’t really feel that much different after that trip I just decided that if he was right I would spend what time was left doing what I wanted to do. When I got back to Fairbanks I asked Rose if I could move out to the homestead and help her full time with the building, that was in 2001. We now have 5 major homes on the property and Rose has said I could stay in my cabin until the doctor is finally right. As my condition progressed over the years she has allowed me to remain even though the extent of the help I now give her is showing up for morning coffee. She has mentioned that it provides some entertainment for her and her daughter Kara. So I guess I am helping in a small way.
I do still get out to the nearby streams to not catch the fish, but that’s OK a day on the water in these surroundings is far far better than living in a city with a million other people all chasing the dream I now live.
To enlarge click on the photo’s…