Alaska fixer-upper gives snowmachining couple their own slice of heaven
The leaves are changing and there is a nip in the air. That can mean only one thing – winter is coming. I am assuming since you are reading this that you are one of those Alaskans who see the signs of winter and are jumping up and down with excitement, or at least thinking really happy thoughts.
While we are patiently waiting for the white gold to fall, let me catch you up on my recent activities. Have you ever heard that saying, “If it is meant to be it will be.”
This was the case with our recent cabin purchase and our time as “fixer uppers.” As is often the case in small towns, a friend introduced me to another friend who happened to be selling a “Trapper Cabin” in Petersville close to where my family had been riding for years. If youʼve ridden in Alaska for very long you know this is one of the premier locations for winter fun.
We had dreamed of owning for awhile, and this small cabin seemed to fit the bill. Since the cabin was accessible year round we decided to put together a group and head out to see it. This was last October, and not sure of what to expect we hooked up with a friend who had an Argo and headed in with GPS coordinates and vague directions. We trekked across swamps and mud and streams and you name it in search of this little cabin.
It was raining off and on pretty heavily and after three hours on the trail, we were about to give up and turn around when we saw a tree marker that we were sure was leading us to the property. A couple of mud pits later and with a little help from the winches, we came to the top of a hill that looked down on the cabin. It was tucked in the trees overlooking Trapper Creek and since we had been riding in the rain and were chilled, we were excited to get inside.
The cabin was built on railroad ties over the slope of a hill so just getting up to the front door was going to be interesting. The current owner had a couple of logs stacked near each other that acted as steps up to the entrance. On closer inspection you could see that a bear had recently broken in and had torn part of the steel door up along with the doorjamb and lock.
We were able to get the door opened and crawled up inside. The bear had obviously cut a paw when breaking into the cabin because there were significant amounts of bear blood swiped across the walls and up the wooden ladder to the loft. There was a petrified squirrel in one corner of the cabin, which I think found its way in and ate the food that had been left in the pans on the shelves. It must have gotten too fat to get out because there it was, stone cold on the floor. We climbed up to the loft and found a couple of mattresses on the floor that had obviously been home to said rodent and needed to be burned.
After scanning the room and seeing the damage, I locked eyes with my husband and said, “I love it.” The shock was just beginning to register on his face when I started to talk about the remodel that was already coming together in my head.
I think you are either a person who can see the possibilities that come along with a fixer-upper, or youʼre not. Some people have to see the end product before they can purchase a property. Part of the fun for me is seeing the potential in a project and making the picture in my head become a reality. My husband is not a fan of this process because typically the picture in my head becomes a reality after he puts in a large amount of blood, sweat and tears.
Needless to say we were well on our way to owning a little slice of heaven in one of the most beautiful places on earth. As any fixer-upper worth her salt will do, I began the process of pinning all of my ideas on Pinterest. I remember showing my friend a picture of our current cabin (she wasnʼt impressed) and what it was going to look like with a Pinterest photo and hearing her say, “Is that even possible?”
I had no doubt that it was.
My husband and I began the process of fixing up the tiny cabin and soon hit a bump in the road. Fixer-uppers need a leader, and we both thought we were it. This can cause some distress in a marriage. I informed him that I was the project manager and that he could be the construction manager.
He wasnʼt thrilled. Our friends started referring to us as the Chip and Joana Gaines of Alaska but with more cussing and fighting. We were lucky in the fact that the cabin had been framed and well insulated, but I have to question whether the original builders owned a level. Cabins in the middle of the wilderness do not have to be perfect, but when you can see through the floors there might be a problem.
Anyway, after many weeks of working with friends and family (my brother flew up from Florida for a week to help out} we were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The lighting and flooring was installed, the tongue-and-groove was weathered and on the walls. The torn-up door was repaired and painted red, and the siding was up on the outside. We had one adventure after another each weekend as we planned and executed our remodel.
As it came together we decided to name the place. We put a request out on social media to help us with the name. Top contenders were: Bear Naked Inn, Snowed Inn, and the winner Rustic Retreat. We even had a flag made that hangs up on the wall.
We have been going to the Rustic Retreat now for almost a year and have seen every season – I love them all. There is something so peaceful about waking up in the middle of the woods with the snow coming down in handfuls and the sleds just steps away. This summer we saw ferns as tall as I am and blueberries the size of dimes lining the trail. Fall will bring the birds that visit us in the day and toasting marshmallows over the fire at night.
We left the bear blood on the loft ladder (who knew it was the perfect color red) and a few other items original to the cabin. The bear fence is up and we are still working most weekends to get it ready for winter. The before-and after-pictures tell part of the story, but they arenʼt able to fully explain the feelings and the memories that have become a part of us.
Like I said before, some things are just meant to be.