Every now and then, I do something that reminds me why I live in Alaska.
Over our recent spring break, we dragged the kids out to Barber Cabin on Lower Russian Lake in Chugach National Forest.
While my kids have done some cabin camping with their aunt and uncle, it was the first public-use cabin experience for my wife and me. Why we waited so long — it’s been almost 17 years since we moved to Kenai — I have no idea.
I’m not anti-social, but I am a bit on the introverted side, and while there are occasions when a group campout is a whole lot of fun, for me, on most occasions, heading into the woods is an opportunity to live deliberately, unplug and recharge. (I’m pretty sure that if he lived in modern times, Thoreau would’ve added those last two.)
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, area campgrounds seem to have gotten awfully crowded over the past few years, and sharing them with folks who have brought all the comforts of home with them — generator, stereo system, blender — just isn’t relaxing. To recharge, I need to unplug.
The Kenai Peninsula’s public-use cabins are a prefect solution. Easily reserved online, cabins in the Chugach and on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge are tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the campgrounds, and are generally secluded from even the busiest trails.
That’s not to say our excursion was complete peace and quiet — after all, we had two teenagers with us. Our daughter serenaded us on the hike in and again on the hike out. She said she was keeping away the bears. When she wasn’t singing, she was working on her Crocodile Hunter-style documentary of our trip — I think it’s posted in YouTube. And a previous cabin user, a friend of ours, actually, had left a note in the cabin log book that her favorite activity was yelling off the cabin porch and listening for the echo. My kids were not afraid to give that a try, and let’s just say the hills were alive, mostly with the sound of the “Day-O” part from “The Banana Boat Song.”
But we also listened to the ice on the lake — it sounded like a tympani, which was really cool, though a little disconcerting as we walked across it. And there were songbirds out, and of course, the crackle of a campfire. While not quiet, it was certainly peaceful.
Our trip wasn’t without its harrowing moments, and for the first time doing it, there were definitely things we’ll do differently the next time. For example, we’ll bring ice grippers of some sort. For some reason we left ours sitting at home, and they would have been useful over the first quarter-mile of the trail or so. Apparently, this is my fault because I said the forecast was for snow, so it was assumed we wouldn’t need them. That was not my assumption, and all I’ll say is that I was not the one with a sore derriere when we got home.
I did have a couple of bruises, though, on the back of my legs just above my ankles. I pulled a sled in with a couple armloads of firewood and our various other provisions for the night. I hooked it up to an old skijor belt, so it wasn’t quite a full-fledged pulk — just a tow rope, rather than poles connecting me to it. That meant that if I wasn’t able to side-step quick enough, the front of the sled whacked me every time there was a little dip or downhill. That will definitely be on the list for next time.
Also, I’ll probably opt to bring the headlamp with the fresh batteries in it, rather than the one with no batteries. Yes, it was lighter to carry, but not nearly as effective. Fortunately, the moon was so clear and bright that extra light wasn’t necessary for the late-night trip to the outhouse.
And bringing graham crackers left over from last summer, while it saved a couple bucks, made for stale-tasting s’mores. Duly noted.
There’s other things on the list for next time. We’ll need another pack for when we go in the summer and can’t pull a sled. And we’ll need some new hiking boots for members of the family whose feet keep growing. And maybe a cushier sleeping pad for me.
But the best part about that is that there will, without a doubt, be a next time. Because, while we may have to work a little harder for it, there are still plenty of places on the peninsula to get away and live deliberately, even if it’s just for a day or two.
And it’s good to have the occasional reminder of just why we live in Alaska.
If he hasn’t escaped to the woods, reach clarion editor Will Morrow at email@example.com.