If it did, I’m sure it would have a different name, like “Jersey City” or “Canton”. But no, this is Alaska, and it sounds majestic because it is. Or maybe it’s because I hear my brother’s booming bass saying it: “A-LASS-KA.”
Kyle has lived there thirty years. Though he has been a journeyman electrician during that time and has wired most of the large commercial and governmental buildings within his ample reach, he is excited now to be working more on his own place.
Which, ironically, is not electrified, nor does he have running water. Unless you count this:
Kyna, my sister, has been there four years – this time. She was actually the first in the family to move to Alaska 30+ years ago. It turns out that the states where doctors don’t want to live are more favorable for Family Nurse Practitioners (FNPs), which is what Kyna is. In states where doctors are itching to live, like, whatever, California or New York, the powerful medical lobbies push FNPs to the side. As you can see in the pic below, she is not one to be sidelined.
Entering protected space
It ain’t easy to get to Kyle’s house. It isn’t easy to get anywhere in Alaska! One night Kyle said, “Let’s go to Taco Bell – it’s just around the corner.” But it was 15 minutes away! DRIVING!
So imagine how far away his house is, at the end (one fervently hopes) of a global pandemic, for a fellow who watched Grizzly Adams on repeat and now recreates the Firefox books every day. It’s over an hour from Anchorage on paved roads, then a half hour on a dirt road, at the end of which you park and board ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicles) for the last thirty-minute leg. After a wallet-blasting trip to the grocery store, this was where we headed.
Kyle put me in the ATV’s driver’s seat and said, “It’s a piece of cake, just keep going slowly and the ATV will get you there. There’s one spot that is a bit rough, but we can winch it up if we have to.” (Whatever that means.) I am not going to say my teeth were grinding, but Ramon did have to peel my hands off the steering wheel a couple of times.
It’s sort of a road, at least at first. It then devolves into deep ruts and puddles. By ten minutes in, you’re just driving through a river. See the pictures – I’m not exaggerating (though that is my tendency!)
At each of these scary moments of increasing uncertainty and craziness, I thought, “Oh, that’s what Kyle meant by that one spot that’s a bit rough, and we made it!” But no. THIS is what he meant:
This is the hill just before you get to Kyle’s cabin, and it is very steep and muddy and rutted. Kyna got off the ATV and walked up by grabbing onto trees and branches. We made it up once, and the second time – we had to winch it (NOW I know what that means!) There is a cable from the front of the ATV that Kyle looped around a tree, and then there’s a mechanism that basically hoists the ATV up the hill (along with my judicious accelerator action). I hope I never have to do that again. I was hunched down so low over the steering wheel – just trying to keep myself upright – that I must have looked like:
…but with more mud.
Kyle’s cabin is cute and very Kyle-y – a place for everything, and everything in its place. One moment, an enormous flying thing (we all suspected “murder hornet”) came zizzing through the air and without even looking, Kyle reached in to the air for his butterfly net, hung just above his head. Yeah, he’s that organized.
This cabin is too small for long-term living, and too old – it was not built with a sufficient foundation. So while it’s fine for now (if by fine you don’t mind that it doesn’t have heat, lighting, or running water), Kyle is currently clearing land to build a new cabin.
Just as soon as we got there, it was time to go to a neighboring cabin, across the river, where the bunch of us had room to stretch out and sleep – since Kyle’s cabin is too tight a fit for that. This meant taking Kyle’s raft down to the river (BACK DOWN THE HILL IN THE ATV!!!), along with all the food and our gear, and hauling it in repeated trips across the river.
Here’s some video of us crossing:
Parallel parking like a boss
The river lets you know who’s around. So does Kyle’s day-and-night motion-sensitive camera. The nighttime ones are spooky – bears!!!
I’m sure I’m not the only one having flashbacks to 90s TV:
You didn’t think you’d get out of this blog post without hearing about cooking, did you?!?! We had a BLAST at the cabin making meals over the fire, like poblano sauce on eggs and loads of bacon and sausage.
We did learn something we can pass on to others: don’t get a rotisserie chicken in a plastic clamshell box. With all their liquids. Because, it turns out, the trip to Kyle’s house was a bit too exciting and the clamshell ruptured, so all our food was dipped in chicken grease for the whole weekend. Oh well!
I could get used to this
The place is even more beautiful than advertised, more remote, quieter, more beautiful for hiking and exploring. Kyle has a million ideas for what he wants to do, from creating a cold cave for dairy by rerouting a bit of his creek, to terracing, to a ropes course for executive outings. Seriously. Oddly, upgrading the access road is way down his list!
Is there anyone cooler or cuter than my niece Lauren? Also bad-ass?
Ramon had to get used to his job as sentry-slash-sharpshooter. Pretty cute himself.
I was somewhat less vigilant.
A hike up Flattop
You might not notice unless I point this out, but I have some masterful plaid boots that I bought there for all our gallivanting. It was the only pair in my size – I would happily have chosen any other color or style – but you wouldn’t believe the reactions! Even my brother, for whom fashion is a four-letter word, had to admit they were cool.
Flattop is very near Kyle’s first Alaska house – we used to see it out his living room window. He and Lauren have come here many times. I thought it would be a walk in the park but it is, in fact, a big training ground for serious Denali climbers! On the way back down, I couldn’t believe how stupid I’d been to climb up the rocky part. There are points where I didn’t know how we were going to go down even another step! But it was all good and the plaid boots surely helped.
We talked to some Californians who had stopped at a nice overlook, and I mentioned how brilliant, strong, amazing and marvelous my brother is. Later he thanked me for saying “all that.” How could he not know how I feel about him???
The animal farm
The pictures on the website are far better, but here’s what we saw at the Alaska Wildlife and Conservation Center (@akwildlife). This bear. I mean, come ON. What a pose!!!
The musk ox, or more aptly named “qiviut” (bearded one) was awfully peaceful out there, munching grass. Little did he know how fervently I’ve tried to use his name in Scrabble.
Lots of grass munching going on, in fact – bears, caribou, all manner of deer… We also saw a lynx, a porcupine, wolves, foxes, moose… in short, this center a short hour from Anchorage is totally worth a visit. I wish I had captured them all better – particularly that bouncy lynx!
This was chilly and windy but we were well prepared with our coffees. Portage Glacier has receded enormously in the time Kyle has been in Alaska – something that gives us all pause, or should.
The ducky floated along in the tank the whole time, but it was nearly the end of the trip when the captain or first mate or someone plopped in a block of ice, which they had fished out from the lake. It was a visual reminder of how much of a chunk of ice is underneath the water when you see a bit of something floating atop. (Hello, Titanic…)
We weren’t always outside during this trip, despite the above pics and videos. Here are some shots of us shooting pool and eating! My cousin Cole is featured in the pool-shooting – I wouldn’t want to play him for money, that’s all I’m saying.
Another favorite part of this trip was seeing Kyna’s house. She is living in downtown Anchorage and has a great apartment with a view out over the sound and an amazing “catio.”
When our stepdad Bob passed away last year, the two cats that Kyna had adopted in Honduras, taken all over the world, and then left with Mom and Bob for their final years were reunited with her. They were flown up Special Delivery. Meanwhile, she had brought a new fellow into the family. Here they all are, from left to right: Tita and Monstruo/Little Bit, with Stevie Ray sporting the blue collar. I’m glad they’re all home with Keen.
Hate to go
What I learned from this trip is that one week is FAR too short. I guess I already knew that… I’ve always had such fun here in Alaska, and having both my sibs and my niece here – and now my cousin too – it is even harder to leave than before. I hope Ramon and I can come back in winter and go dogsledding and see the Northern Lights someday. In the meantime, as you can see, we’ve got loads of memories. And Alaska gave us a beautiful rainbow as we headed to the airport – obviously we will be welcome on our return!