Bonnie Rose Ward and her husband Sam Ward left a comfortable life in the suburbs of Ohio to pursue their dream of living in the wilderness of Alaska. For nearly a decade in the 1980s they lived on a remote island on Skilak Lake and embraced a self-sufficient lifestyle, which involved building their own cabin, hunting for food and surviving the trials and tribulations Mother Nature threw their way.
Bonnie Rose Ward shares their adventure in a newly released memoir titled, “Winds of Skilak,” on sale Tuesday at Cabin Fever Creations in Soldotna.
Ward, who now resides in West Virginia with her husband of 40 years, said she always felt “compelled” to write about their move to Alaska and that her story is inspirational for others who may share their sense of adventure.
“Most people cannot just do what we did,” she said. “We heard stories about people who tried and failed. My message is: Whatever you put your mind to you can do it. It took a lot of faith in my husband and God.”
Ward said moving to Alaska was a dream her husband kept talking about. After being fed up with sitting in three-hour traffic commutes to work, he decided to quit his job, put the house up for sale and make his fantasy a reality.
With just enough money to buy some property, a used boat and supplies, the Wards settled on Caribou Island on Skilak Lake in June 1981. By the time the winter snow arrived, a 16-by-18-foot cabin had been built and they survived without running water, electricity and no immediate communication from the outside world.
Ward said the biggest adjustment for her the first year was the isolation, which she talks about in a chapter called, “Cabin Fever.”
“There were times I would go a couple months without seeing another person, except for Sam,” she said. “We didn’t know anybody when we first arrived and there was no road from the lake to the highway. It was like Timbuktu out there.”
Without the convenience of modern technology, their only source of communication was a radio station Northwinds KHAR, which they would turn on every night to hear the news and were then able to transmit out calls.
The most difficult change for Ward was not having contact with her family back in Ohio.
“My favorite place was the little log cabin post office in Sterling,” she said. “I would write and receive letters from my parents. That was my link to loved ones back home.”
While it was a dramatic adjustment from their fast-paced way of life to slow down and live amongst nature, Ward said they just fell in love with the off the grid lifestyle. Her husband would hunt moose and bear and catch salmon right out of the lake and she would can the meat and bake her own bread and only bought dry goods from the grocery store, stocking up enough to last a year at a time. Every night they would burn a wood stove to cook and radiate heat.
Ward said waking up on a cabin overlooking Skilak Lake was indescribably beautiful.
“The best views — you cannot experience anything like it until you are there,” she said. “I loved watching the ice roll on the lake. We would drink right from the lake, the freshest water I’ve ever had.”
With all the beauty and peaceful surroundings, Bonnie Rose Ward said there were plenty of reminders of how dangerous wilderness life could be.
Frigid sub-freezing temperatures and horrendous storms that would bring wind gusts up to 100 mph, made living in the wilderness a battle for survival.
“The fall season is the worst,” she said. “One time we got our jeep stuck and for nine months we had to walk to Sterling. When the storms got real bad, we would have to wait them out, we had nowhere else to go.”
Despite its beauty, Ward feared and respected Skilak Lake, which claimed the lives of 32 boaters during the time they lived on the island. Still, she felt safe in the arms of her loving husband.
In time the couple met friends in the area and Sam Ward found work on the North Slope with an oil company, which gave them the income to build eight cabins on the island.
The Wards moved off Caribou Island in 1990 but still keep in contact with friends from the area and a couple who now takes residence in one of their cabins at Skilak Lake.
While Ward sees similarities in her life with people like the Kilcher family from the reality TV show, The Last Frontier, which airs on the Discovery Channel, there still is more modern technology available today.
Ward said it took about 10 years to complete the book. While she started a draft and wrote journals about daily experiences, life always seemed to get in the way.
“A lot of people tell me they would love to write a book but don’t have time,” she said. “You never know what you have until you start writing.”
Bonnie Rose Ward said she had encouragement from her mother who kept all of Ward’s letters she wrote back home and told her, “You may need this when you write your book.”
While the official release date of her book was Tuesday, Ward started selling copies online through her website. She has sold 190 books since Dec. 2, 2013 and has received great feedback.
“Winds of Skilak” can be purchased from the author’s website, www.windsofskilak.com.
Dan Balmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org