Alaska cabins: Home is where the hovel is

Posted: Sunday, July 26, 2009

Alaskans refer to any small, secondary dwelling located off the beaten path as a cabin.

In the Lower 48, when someone mentions they have a cabin, it generally means they have a second -- albeit small -- home. Roughing it in most of the "cabins" I've seen in the Lower 48 means hopping in the car and driving to a Mom and Pop country store to buy toilet paper at an inflated price, or discovering the icemaker in the refrigerator isn't working.

Alaska cabins are different from those found in the Lower 48. Most Alaskans refer to their little getaways as "cabins" only because the word "hovel" has fallen out of general use.

I've often wondered why Alaskans are drawn to having cabins. After all, even in Los Anchorage access to wild areas is no more than an hour's drive.

The answer to that question is "to get away from it all." It's hard to determine what we're getting away from since a cabin is established by dragging, piecemeal, a duplicate of everything being left behind, only to assemble it in a remote location. What isn't dragged out to become part of the permanent outpost is lashed down to an ATV, or the floats of a plane, on every trip out.

Transportation to the cabin is often an issue. Any cabin worth the designation in Alaska has to be difficult to reach.

In that vein, there seems to be a bit of competition involved when describing how difficult it is to get to an Alaska cabin. One must be worthy to enjoy their cabin. The one who suffers the most wins.

"We have to drive 15 miles on the beach, then go through a dozen bogs to get to our cabin. We burned out three winches just last year."

"Oh, that's nothing. We lost a four-wheeler and Bob's mother in one of the bogs on the way to our cabin just last week. And it's a dry year!"

Men have to bear the blame for most cabins. There is just something in a guy's psyche that makes carving out a little spot in the wilderness appealing. It's the frontier spirit; it's the feeling of independence; it's the challenge of survival; it's the fact that most of us don't have the sense God gave a mentally deficient billy goat.

Carving out the basic personal wilderness niche is the responsibility of the guy. Guys are into such things.

"Look, Honey, our cabin is done!"

"What's with the roof?"

"Oh, that, it's what you might call a combination pitch: 3 in 12 on one side, and 5 in 12 on the other. There's been a little settling problem."

Once the basic structure is up, the women take over.

"Umm ... you are going to finish the inside, right? Insulation would be nice, and I'm not that into a two-by-four motif."

A couple we know have a cabin in the Caribou Hills. They have a generator. They have wiring. They have electric lights. She has a hair blower.

I really wish Georgia had never heard about that. I've been thinking about putting in a few dummy electrical outlets just to tamp down on the jealousy a bit.

Running water in an Alaska cabin means, at best, you run down to the creek with a bucket. In our case, it means running a water jug out on the ATV. Lucky are the folks who have managed to establish wells at their cabins.

The previous owner of our cabin drove a sand point in an attempt to establish a water source. It worked beautifully: there is an endless supply of sand at the bottom of the pipe.

There is one common denominator among all Alaska cabins, and that would be an endless supply of bugs in the summer. If we can't get to our cabin in the summer for an extended period of time, we visit an acupuncturist and donate a pint of blood. It makes for an entirely suitable substitute.

The Alaska cabin owner's version of air freshener is a combination of a smoldering PIC coil and a blast of Deep Woods Off.

The pinnacle of amusement for an Alaska cabin owner, following the grueling trip through bog and swamp, is sitting on the porch with a drink in one hand and one of those electronic bug zappers shaped like a racket in the other. No sir, there's nothing like a rousing game of bugminton to unwind.

(As an aside, I would offer this safety tip: do not use one of those bug zapper rackets in a pitch-black cabin to eliminate an annoying, ear-buzzing mosquito. The arc flash could blind a person for life.)

Although our cabin was primarily my dream come true, Georgia has finally warmed up to the idea. She no longer mumbles about divorce non-stop when we're out there. In fact, she has mentioned letting out bids on some contract work. I'm not sure what she has in mind as far as improvements go -- improving the trail in, clearing the trees and brush, or what.

One of the contractors is from New Jersey, by the name of Guido something, if I recall. Seems like a long way to travel just to lay some corduroy.

A.E. Poynor lives in Kenai.

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