When I was about 15 years old, growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, I read a book that my parents owned. It was called One Man’s Wilderness, and was the story of a man named Dick Proenneke who built a cabin and lived in the Alaskan wilderness. I loved that book. I read and re-read it, devouring every detail. His descriptions of the beauty of the land around him, and his self-sufficient lifestyle planted a desire in me to have that sort of experience in my life.
At the same time, in California, Richard was reading that same book, and experiencing a strong pull to Alaska. Some twenty years later, when we met in Barrow, I saw that book on his shelf and thought, “Hmmm”. A few years later when we were talking about getting married, living in the Bush was definitely a part of the conversation.
We began looking at lodges all over the state. We looked in the Brooks Range, we looked in Halibut Cove. We visited Lake Louise, and scoped out the Susitna Valley, Yakutat, and Southeast. But it wasn’t until a friend-of-a-friend proposed becoming partners in a lodge on an island that Lake Clark really came onto our radar. Richard flew to the lake to see it, and when he came back he said I’d better come take a look.
Our first impressions were a little disheartening. The lodge had been closed for 12 years. After having been lovingly built and run by a family in the late 1970’s – early ‘80’s, it was sold in about 1986. The new owner ran it for a year, before he was killed in an aircraft accident. His widow boarded everything up and left it to sit. By the time we came along everything was overgrown. The glacial dust was about half an inch thick in the cabins, and some of the buildings and boats were deteriorating. All of these things were discouraging enough, but also, we noticed many cabins nearby – not exactly the solitude we were looking for. On the other hand, the area was gorgeous! The lodge’s generator and water system seemed to be in good shape. And – once we started learning about the area we realized that it was about a twenty minute flight to Twin Lakes, where Dick Proenneke had built his cabin. It may seem odd that neither of us knew where Dick’s cabin was before, but there are many, many “Twin Lakes” in Alaska, and when we were young we just never identified where that particular set of lakes was. It had been so long since we read the book that we had forgotten the names of nearby towns and people. So imagine our delight when we researched Lake Clark and discovered how close we were!
Well, we decided to go for it. Luckily for us, (in hindsight), the potential partners backed out. We made an offer, which - like every one of the many offers that had been made by others over the years – was immediately turned down. We reconfigured the money, pointed out the deterioration that was happening, and re-submitted the offer. It was accepted! We closed the deal on April Fools’ Day, 1999. (I actually tried to put off the closing until April 2nd!)
Richard flew out right away and met a couple of the owners of nearby cabins. When he came back to town we invited the wife of one of them over to dinner. We were happy to meet Sara, and she proceeded to write down on a piece of paper for us the names and relationships of all the people with cabins nearby. Once during the course of that evening, Sara and I came out of the kitchen to find Richard face down on the living room floor with 10 year old Ashley walking on his sore back. Sara said, “Oh it is so good to know that the lodge has been bought by real people”.
In Dick Proenneke’s old age he left Twin Lakes and lived with his brother in California. He made a trip to his cabin in the year 2000, but he died in 2003 without us ever having had the opportunity to meet him. We are grateful to him though – not only do we have a lodge and a lifestyle that we love…but all those nearby cabins we were worried about? The neighbors turned out to be one of the best things about the lodge. We are so happy to now call them friends. One of them gave me some of Dick’s sourdough starter, so I can make his famous Hotcakes. A new book of Dick’s journals shows a picture he took of our lodge being built, and talks about his visit here. Whenever PBS shows the “Alone in the Wilderness” video that was based on his journals, our phone rings off the hook with people looking for information about going to Twin Lakes.
One year, on our anniversary, not long after we bought the lodge, Richard and I flew up to Dick’s cabin and spent the day admiring his craftsmanship and hiking in his mountains. The circle was complete.
Living in this beautiful place is an adventure! From animal encounters to off-the-grid challenges to the food we eat - there is something unique everyday. Over the years I have written letters, journals, recipes, and stories of our daily life. Here is where they are all going to end up! To begin, I will upload stories I've already written, but as time goes by I will add more real-time entries. Enjoy!