Building Off Grid in Alaska: The Driveway Edition

Last fall, when I went to Town, The Chief painted our living room. Prior to leaving, I boxed up as much as I could to help him prep but on the day of, there were inevitably things to move and if you’ve ever moved things in a rush, you know what happened.

“Babe, have you seen my notebook?” I asked a week or so after I had returned and the dust had settled.
“The black one?”
“Yep.”
“The one you draw in every day?”
“Yep.”
“The one that’s always sitting right here?” Director’s Note: The Chief points to the side table in The Chester Family living room. All eyes are drawn to the location, hope and anticipation on their faces.
“Yep!”
“No, I haven’t seen that.”

Velvet pillow
Bare walls. The book always sat just to the right…


The hunt began. I can’t tell you how many times I looked for that damn book but my art stopped then and there until I found it. “Start in a new book!” you might be thinking to yourself and I agree, but my doggedly insistent side disagreed. That book or bust. I looked in every nook and cranny our house has and at 200 odd square feet (maybe), there aren’t that many places it could be. Still, I could not find it.

Until this weekend when I looked up and there it was.

Remodel
Ding ding ding!


Truth be told, I am certain to the center of my being that I scoured over that bookshelf time and time again but somehow, my Elf on the Shelf of a book found its way back and there she was. It felt a little witchy, like the time I had a dream in college that my rings were gone. I’d gotten them from a man in Berkeley who, upon meeting me, somehow knew I was wearing men’s socks even though my socks (indeed, men’s socks) were completely covered. He told me the rings were powerful. After the dream, I woke up and they were indeed gone. I tore my apartment apart. I’d been wearing them when I went to bed. No luck. The following weekend, I went to my boyfriend’s house. Freshly out of the shower, I lotioned up but the product was almost gone. I put my finger into the bottle to search for every last bit and what came out? My rings. Spooky.

So, spells, witchery or the truth that I am a terrible looker of things aside, the book was back. Oh, the simple joy of finding something once lost. I sat down with my old friend and stumbled upon an entry from exactly one year ago to the day:

“We went to Long Lake to look at property and we fell in love. The Chief looked at me as we approached the Lake and said ‘You just feel better out here, don’t you?’ I do. Once we’d snowshoed our way to the top of our favorite lot, a Bald Eagle flew overhead. The Chief took my hands in his and said ‘This is it.’ It was. It is.”

Love in Alaska
First picture on the property


Six weeks after that entry, after endless phone calls, emails, forms and signatures, hiccups and happenstance and help from our family, we closed on our property. Over 20 acres of raw land in the Alaskan wilderness were ours. We couldn’t believe it. After growing up in California where a small house on a tiny plot could cost upwards of $500k, my dreams of owning a house felt more like pipe dreams. Yet, it had happened. We were landowners, The Chief and I.

Lantern
One year ago, making a wish…
Make a wish
Send it off…see what happens

The daydreaming began. The first goal? Access. Oh, you thought the property came with a road on it? One can dream, but this dream of a deal didn’t include any of the niceties I’d always assumed property would (when I let myself have those wild pipe dreams). As the snow melted and the summer came full force, we started making trails. Machetes come in super handy for such tasks and whack away we did. By the fall, we’d had our first fire, a true Alaskan milestone.

Mccarthy, AK

We celebrated! We were getting closer to our goal. Still, after all that work, there was no way even a 4-wheeler was getting up there, much less our behemoth of a truck. So, we continued to work and this winter, we got our first vehicle up: the snowmachine. After building a ramp, cutting brush, stomping trail and crossing our fingers, The Chief made it up onto the land. As the winter wore on, The Chief would steal away in between work days to work on the property and finally, he got the trail all the way up to the ridge. Success! Access granted.


Still, true access, at this rate, would be years and years off and if we wanted to build a road, due to permafrost, it would have to be in winter and if we didn’t do it this winter that meant another year of hacking and sawing our way, little by little. Which is fine (and definitely the norm) but if we could, we wanted to speed things up. Thankfully (thanks, Pops!) my Pops was able to expand on his loan and thus, we were able to expand on our loan and so, we planned the fast track: a driveway. Like all things in Alaska, a decision didn’t necessarily mean action. We made the necessary calls, The Chief walked the land with the builders and then, we set a date.

And another date.

And another date.

And another.

Time and time again I forget: Mother Nature makes no promises. The first few setbacks were due to weather as the builder had a cutoff of 0 degrees (mainly for his machines. I’m sure he would have been out there at -20 if it wouldn’t have affected the equipment). Then, the equipment had a hiccup, needed a trip to town for the doc and then an inspection. Finally, months after our first call, all lights were green.

And then the weather took a turn again. -20 to -30 for a week straight. Hello late winter wonders!

Finally, the cold spell broke and it began. Breaking ground.

Building Alaska
Holy guacamole


For the first few days, The Chief was at the property to help and trouble shoot but a few days in, they were cruising and he could leave to come grab me in Anchorage. On our way home we got the call: “You can drive up your road tonight, if you want.”

Yes, please.

The moonlit drive became that much more magical, the snow all lit up and sparkling mimicked our excitement. As we pulled up, we let out hoots and hollers. I couldn’t believe it. It was a real driveway. We ran to the top and hugged and kissed. It was in.

Building in Alaska
Moonlit love


The next day, after a few finishing touches, the road was completely done and despite feeling absolutely terrible from his second shot, The Chief rallied. “We have to go see it in the daylight.” Snow was forecast for the next day and we’d already gotten a foot or more in the past week. After that, we probably wouldn’t be able to drive it for the rest of the Winter. So, off we went.

It was glorious.



This weekend, we headed out again, this time to put in a snowshoe trail up to the second ridge from the top of the driveway, the place we think we will eventually build. Why didn’t we get the road all the way up to it? Right now, even though we are in a long-term relationship, we are still getting to know the land. We want to spend time there, feel the breeze, watch the earth as it shifts in seasons to be sure before we build. We assumed we’d never make it up the driveway with the fresh snow we’d gotten on it but I knew once I saw that look in The Chief’s eyes that we were going to try. Some expert driving and a few attempts and there we were again, up on top, greeted by this:

Winter in Alaska


Leto was certain this being was an intruder, one not to trust. He growled his face off until we finally got him out of the truck at which point he promptly peed on the welcome guest (thanks, Long Lakers! We love you!).

After a few hours of snowshoeing, we were both beat and ready to call it a day and what did we do? We drove off of our property. Drove! We are both still getting used to that reality, still in shock that this is truly starting to happen. Long Lake.

Alaska


So, what’s next?

Phase I: Find a property and go through the rigamarole of buying it: DONE
Phase II: Gain Access: DONE
Phase III: Build

Building will be a ways off at this point so our Phase IIIa will be to buy an Airstream and setup shop on the land. It’s always easier to work on a property you don’t have to commute to and this way, we can truly watch the land go through the seasons. So, we are in the market, looking for new digs for our new drive.

What a difference a year makes.

Cheers to you and yours and to new ventures, big and small.

With love,

from Alaska

Alaskan Malamute
And lit up Leto


P.S. Have you started a new project lately? What’s next on your list?
P.P.S. If you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe to the blog (at the top of the page) and if you have friends you think would enjoy it, please do share it!
P.P.P.S Thanks to the wonderful welcome bonfire, friends! On Sunday the skies were bright blue and we decided we needed one more trip up this weekend. I cut down my first tree on the property and we were greeted by all of our friends, our first visitors on the land. It felt amazing.

The mountains finally came out.
Whoever gets there first gets the first baby kisses!
Long Lake love

22 comments

  1. Congrats! I’ve gotta weigh in for a yurt as your temporary home base – just sayin! They’re so bright and cheery, and the lattice walls are great for hanging tools and things on s-hooks. Mine stays cozy even at thirty below. Colder than that I’ll admit I need extra fuzzy slippers.

    I’m still in Phase 0.5: find a little remote community I can to live in for keeps. I love my place here, but Fairbanks isn’t right for me, long term. I want to be someplace where I don’t have to drive to get to my dang burbot sets! For now, I’m queueing up that summer road trip/boat trip playlist and holding my breath for the state land auction brochure to drop!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooo yes, I love me a yurt! Yours looks super awesome! It provably would be a lovely option! We are wanting something that we could hook up to our truck and travel with and then eventually rent out maybe…? We will see. Whatever happens, I’m just excited to get there.

      Oh I didn’t realize that! Wishing you the best of luck finding your special spot. Feel free to come visit out here but don’t get mad at me if you fall in love with it! ❤️

      Like

      1. Haha that’s a risk I’ll just have to take, I guess – it’s gonna be a fun summer! We’re talking about cruising all the long roads – Manley, Eagle, Wiseman, etc. I’ll definitely holler when it’s time to explore your neck of the woods!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I know the feeling of the first drive on the property, thanks for sharing the story and video.

    I don’t know if I sent you this but its a link to us (three retired guides) building on our homestead near Livengood 65 miles North of Fairbanks. The beginning is mostly us and building the cabin I lived in for 14 years but after 1:12 you get to see us constructing the main house the video is at ( https://youtu.be/t_EIx4R-d-Q ) and for a different point of view check out the drone video of the homestead. You can make out the road we dozed to get between our homes and the Elliott highway. You will have to FF because I did a bad job of editing this one.

    Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know you are going to love Long Lake, and Long Lake is going to love you! Congratulations! Are you imagining watching the awesome northern lights over the lake? I think you are in the perfect viewing spot. Magical!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your journey has been amazing. And do well told! Build a tiny house first!
    PS Former classmate of your Mom’s at University High school, Class of 1968!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yeah!!! Love your lot and your plan, except for the Airstream. I own a 25 foot Flying Cloud. There is no insulation in these. You will freeze in the winter! Buy something that is meant for 4 seasons. Yes, the Airstream is beautiful and iconic, but IMHO is not well suited to what you want to do with it- especially for the amount of money they cost. Good luck!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yeah, there would be some remodeling for sure! Plus installing a stove. I’m open to whatever works but trying to avoid having to maintain another engine. Tough work out here! Flying Cloud – that sounds dreamy!

      Like

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