This had to be the most eventful trip to the property I’ve had to date. I arrived to the parking lot late on September 17 after picking up lumber from Spenard Builder Supply, unloading and loading at my boss’s brother’s place in Trapper Creek, loading up ATV and getting fuel. Then, as usual, I had the task of screwing a small load of lumber together to drag out to the property. I assumed on this trip I’d have to do a load a day at least so that I’d have enough lumber to work with. By the time I hit the trail it was past 7 p.m.

I noticed right away excessive water on areas of the trail that are always dry, even on the well maintained gravel trail from the parking lot. It wasn’t a good sign, but I was hoping those were just spots where water wasn’t able to run off and drain away. Well, I was wrong. Fall rains had many, many areas of the trail thick with sticky mud and soppy deep in the marsh areas. I got stuck right away and wasted a much time winching out with my come-a-long. Good thing I had it. Then, in the first part of the trail where riding right on the marsh is the only option, I was sinking and dragging my load slowly. It was roughly going, and eventually, due to deep ruts from all the hunting traffic, I was stuck in up to the ATV frame. I had to dump some wood from the load to lighten it and then carry on, but that wasted a hell of a lot more time and it was getting dim out quickly.

At one point the load got hung up on something and stalled me out. I sat, darkness setting in, contemplating how I would ever get enough wood in, without killing myself, to make any progress. At that time, I also heard some strange blowing noises and realized I might be about to disrupt a hunter calling for moose. In fact, the private cabins I had been driving past where only minutes away. A confrontation was probable.

When it was too dark for hunting, I started the machine back up and continued on. Where the trail leaves a final marsh to head into the woods and toward the hunting camp, I got stuck AGAIN. This time I had taken the time to walk and look for a passable route around holes and ruts. I chose one that WOULD have worked, but the drag of my lumber and the angle I attempted to cross a rut caused me to get pulled into it. I revved the machine to power through and became lodged against a fallen tree, the one with the No Trespassing sign on it. By this time I was pretty discouraged, and in moving the dragging lumber around, it came apart. I had enough. I unstrapped it from the ATV, tossed it to the side, got my machine unstuck with much greater ease since there was no drag, and headed on in the dark.

When cresting a hill that slopes to the hunting camp, I saw lights in the window. I thought then that this was the moment I had been waiting for and dreading at the some time. I wanted to get permission to cross the property, but couldn’t help think that perhaps the owners would be a bit alarmed and annoyed that I was doing so all along. Still, when I came along side the cabin, I saw the gentleman (bearded hunters) through the window and waved.

One guy, Mike Berg, stepped out onto the porch to see what I was up to, especially in the dark. I told him about my cabin project across the creek and that I was wondering if it was okay to cross his property even though I had found a sign.

“Oh, sure,” he said. “Don’t worry about that sign; we didn’t even put that there. You can pass through any time you want.”

He proceeded to ask more about what I was working on, and then invited me in for a beer and to meet the other guys.

Inside was Ed, Dave and Scott, all friends that had hunted the area together for years since the cabin was built in 1979. In fact, they were directly responsible for all the trails I had been using to reach my cabin. We talked for a while, and I answered all their questions about who I was, where I worked, what my cabin was going to be like and how much trouble I was having that particular evening. I also came to realize that Mike Berg was the owner of Wasilla Arctic Cat, and that I had called him just days prior for an interview for an article in Alaska Snowrider Magazine. He hadn’t returned my call, but now here I was, sitting in his cabin, sipping my fourth beer wit a stomach full of spicy stew. These guys were great, and seemed genuinely impressed that I was out there on my own, building a cabin. I was then invited to stay the night so that I could continue on in the morning.

Breakfast at the Berg Hunting Camp with my new neighbors

Breakfast at the Berg Hunting Camp with my new neighbors

The next morning, before the others were awake, although I can’t understand how with the snoring and farting going on, I got up and headed back on the trail to pick up what was left of my lumber and drag it back to the cabin. When back, everyone was awake and breakfast was being prepared, some oily, cheesy omelets with hash browns. Mike also pointed out that he wanted to run to the parking lot and get my lumber hauled in one load, ONE LOAD! He was heading to the highway anyway and figured it would be an easy task for he and his six wheeled machine with tracks. We agreed that I’d head to my cabin to get busy, then would meet back at his place the next morning to make the run to the road.

Mike’s older brother, Greg, had shown up by this time and was quite interested in who I was and what I was doing there. He was friendly and inquisitive… and funny. He had been stationed in Alaska while serving in the army years prior and never left. We had an army enlistment in common and he too liked that I was out there working on a cabin. When I headed off to my place finally, he lead the way to show me the better trail.

Turns out I had been on that trail before, the first time I took my boss’s ATV to the property. It is easier going, less lumpy then my usual route, but also a bit longer and passes at the south end of the small lake, now known to me as Weiner Lake according to the guys, where a deep mud hole waited to draw you in with no way around it, not on a small machine like mine anyway. Before that, we ran into Ed at one point and helped chainsaw a new path around some other muddy places in the woods on the far side of Trapper Creek, then continued south on the marsh north of the property to the lake. At the lake we both agreed that it didn’t look like there was a safe way to travel around the mud, so we walked, probed the creek running from the lake and tried our best to find an alternate route. It was hopeless.

I decided I’d give the mud hole a shot, and Greg agreed he’d wait to help if I got stuck and just winch me out. At the hole, I stepped into the mud, almost up to the top of my bots in some places and sticky, almost not letting go of my foot when I tried to get out. In the middle, what seemed to be the deepest place and most risky, there wasn’t sticky mud, only murky water with years of logs and branches on the bottom that helped all these guys cross and one time or another. It was deep, but at least I would sink any further and bury the machine in mud. We decided I’d best drive straight on through and cut a sharp turn onto high ground near the end, just before some deep ruts that would give me trouble. I did just that and passed with ease! My Suzuki bumped along through the murky water and plowed it’s way out on the other side. I waved off toe Greg and headed to my place. He headed back to their camp.

Don't trust a standard tarp to cover your cabin.

Don't trust a standard tarp to cover your cabin.

At the cabin, I first saw that, despite wrapping my tarp under the cabin floor, bear had pulled on it again at the corners. The middle where my ladder held the tarp firmly peaked in the middle so rain would run off, was torn with a 3×3′ square hole. Rain had been funneled onto my floor the entire time. I had enough of the bear by this time, and my thoughts wandered to my rifle. Still, it might have been rain that caused the center of the tarp to rip and anything else the bear had done was still partly my fault for not keeping the tarp out of reach. I calmed down and proceeded to remove the tarp all together, unpack and get things situated for work. It was getting late.

Timber!

Timber!

I didn’t have my lumber yet and with the day winding down I set to make some visual improvements around the place. My girlfriend Dee would be coming out the next evening, and I thought it would be good to clear a couple of trees and get some sunlight and a better view. I took down a total of three trees, one that evening and two more the next day. Each was to the south of the cabin and blocked up my elevated view into a ravine and of the southern, sunny sky. The difference was incredible.

Afterward I walked around, visited the marsh to the south, stood and waited to see a moose for a while. Then I head back through the property, passing some spruce grouse on the way, then standing quietly to listen. I heard a bull moose to the north, coming generally from the direction of the lake. I walked off that way, all the while with my rifle in case I was charged by bear or moose. Near the lake I stood for some ten minutes, but heard and saw nothing. Meanwhile I had no idea there was a moose gut pile from an earlier hunter not more than forty feet away.

There's no place like home.

There's no place like home.

A number of animals might have been nearby feeding on it to include brown bear. The pile was found later during the trip with my girlfriend when we passed it on the ATV and smelled it. Fortunately, at this moment, nothing was bothering it, or me, and I walked back to the cabin unknowingly to eat and sleep for the night.

The next morning the guys were out scouting for moose early. I ran into Greg on my usual trail that leads straight from the cabin to Trapper Creek and there place. We chatted for a moment, and he asked if I had heard anything. I told him about the moose I heard the evening before, then went along to their cabin to link with Mike and make the run for my lumber.

After coffee and getting the rigs situated, Mike and I headed off for the highway. Once there we made a quick trip to Trapper Creek Inn for fuel, then back to load the lumber. He had a pretty good plan to overlap all my boards so that once strapped they’d all stay solid on the trailer. A few other boards were place on top of his ATV which had a tall, aluminum rack on it. The entire load was a masterpiece and looked solid, so we headed off back to the cabins.

Mike Berg hauling my lumber with ease

Mike Berg hauling my lumber with ease

Traveling was easy. His vehicle was 100 times more capable than mine and made the hauling look easy. We cruised along a new path Mike Showed me which almost cut the travel time in half.

Six wheels and tracks helps conciderably.

Six wheels and tracks helps conciderably.

The going was quick, accept for two occasions, in bumpy, muddy areas of the trail, where the trailer tipped over. One side of the trailer would lift up, the other side sink in the mud and over it would go. Still, we used my machine with rope to right it the first time. The second we were able to set it strait ourselves, and overall we didn’t waste too much time. We reached his cabin around noon.

Once there we took a break. The guys had a turkey dinner the night before and Greg was boiling the remains for soup. He then took to making homemade noodles while I paid close attention and photographed the event. The last thing I ever thought I’d be doing was learning how to make noodles out there, but these guys knew how to eat well in the wilderness. A whiskey bottle as even used to roll out the dough. The final soup was delicious! Afterward, Mike used his sauna for a while before making the remaining journey with the lumber to my place.

Me, Mike Berg, Dave, Greg Berg, Ed and Scott was taking the photo

Me, Mike Berg, Dave, Greg Berg, Ed and Scott was taking the photo

Before leaving, the load was further split up, some placed on Dave’s machine, just to make traveling easier for Mike. Scott also followed along since each of them were heading out to hunt anyway and in my general direction. We were cruising caravan, until after crossing trapper creek, Mikes trailer broke.

Mike inspecting the busted trailer tongue.

Mike inspecting the busted trailer tongue.

The tongue of the trailer was built to swivel, a week location that snapped from all the rough trail and flexing. we left it to deal with the next morning and continued on with the wood they had on the racks of their machines.

At my cabin, the guys seemed pleased with my work, and I was really glad to finally have someone on site to see it and give some approval. They tossed lumber up to me, then joked that they wanted to be invited up. Once up on the floor, each looked around. I caught glimpses of some grins, and Mike pointed out all the great things I had going for me out there, the southern view and porch that overlooked a ravine, the high and dry ground and open space between the trees, the marshes surrounding the property, lake and creek.

“I’d hunt RIGHT HERE,” Mike said loudly.

The first visitors to my Alaska Backcountry Cabin, Scott, Dave and Mike.

The first visitors to my Alaska Backcountry Cabin, Scott, Dave and Mike.

We took a group photo, me and the first visitors to the cabin; then they went off to hunt.

Meanwhile, I cleared a couple more trees, stacked the lumber, fueled up the ATV and packed for another trip to the highway, and then headed off. Whith my portable power screwdriver and drills, I meant to fix the trailer on the way back, but Greg was waiving to me from a tree nearby, hunting, so I didn’t want to ruin hi shunt. I continued to the Berg Hunting Camp where I waited to hear from Dee who was going to meet me at the parking lot. I received a text message not long after that she had passed Willow, so I hopped on the ATV and headed for the parking lot, taking the new route Mike had shown me early, all by memory.

Dee showed up not long after I reached the parking lot. She changed while I loaded up the machine. Then it was time for another pass on the trail. The machine was fine with two people. Added weight doesn’t slow it down much as compared to dragging lumber. We had very little trouble. It there were any locations I felt I might get stuck, she’d hop off and I’d drive past or through. Sometimes I’d get off and walk the machine through as well. After, we’d get back on and be on our way. Only once did we pull out the come-a-long to get free of a deeper whole that I tried to skirt but failed.

At the Berg Camp, we chatted and joked with Greg for a while. I think he liked having a girl around, especially one that had been in the army too, and he told some pretty funny stories about his career in the military and first coming to Alaska.

It was dark now, but we headed on. Just past Trapper Creek, another whole in the trail trapped us. I had driven through it many times, but it had gotten worse from all the guys riding through it too. Fortunately they were all coming back from hunting right then and pulled my out. They met Dee, then we all went out separate way. Finally at my place, Dee and I had some dinner, laid around talking and laughing on the floor with the sky as a ceiling and when it finally got cold enough we headed into the tent for the night.

Rise and shine!

Rise and shine!

The next day, Dee and I  woke to a beautiful sunrise, beaming in through all the open space where I had cleared trees. It was a perfect start to the day. After looking at the scenery through the tent window for a few minutes, I climbed out and took some photos. Dee got up soon after and set of collecting blueberries. I then mixed up some cold, powdered milk, and too my surprise it was really good. We had a breakfast of cereal and milk, then suited up for a ride back to the Berg Camp where I needed to fix the trailer.

To my surprise it was already fixed. It seems Dave, before leaving to go home, had used my drill to do the job earlier that morning. I had left it on their cabin porch with the chainsaw when I went to pick up Dee. Greg was awake to chat with for a while and have coffee, but the rest of the guys were asleep. On the porch, while watching some camp robbers, he also told a great story about getting them drunk on whiskey soaked bread and crackers, then watching them hop around and make fools of themselves. He said they were pretty shit beaked. Dee an I laughed a lot, then headed back toward my place. Mike would be towing in in later.

4x4, differential lock and super low gear!

4x4, differential lock and super low gear!

At Trapper Creek we watched and followed a red salmon make its way through shallow water and past small rapids. We then visited Weiner Lake where Dee photographed me taking the Suzuki through the deep mud.

Dee is all smiles during a sunny morning in Trapper Creek Glenn.

Dee is all smiles during a sunny morning in Trapper Creek Glenn.

Denali ( Mt. McKinley ) from across the lake

Denali ( Mt. McKinley ) from across the lake

We walked along the grassy shore, took some photos of Denali, then moved along to my place. It was then that she and I smelled rotting flesh near the trail while entering the woods. I stopped and backed up. Then, with Dee on guard with bear spray, I looked a around for the kill, all the while keeping a close eye out for bear. We had already driven past here and made lots of engine noise, so I wasn’t expecting to see any wildlife, living that is. Then I found it, the moose gut pile, stripped of all the precious meat and the rack. It didn’t look like many animals had bothered it, but it was good to know it was there so I could watch for danger in the future.

Denali with fall colors from south of the property

Denali with fall colors from south of the property

Dee and I then rode on to the southern marsh. I cruised along the edge of the open meadow for some time, quickly, hoping she wouldn’t turn to look behind her. She never did, so it was to her great surprise after a rode around a corner of spruce, turned, then headed back the way we came, that Deanli was alarmingly visible, from top to below the closer mountain peaks, clear as ever I had seen with golden birch leaves in the forest and orange and rust grasses across the meadow in the foreground. We sat and looked and photographed for quite some time, then made our way back.

Covering the walls with plywood

Covering the walls with plywood

All through the afternoon, Dee assisted me with placing felt paper on two of the lower walls of the cabin. Then we hung plywood over that. It was a big help, especially since I hadn’t come to any conclusion yet how best to do it if I were alone. We also installed a bit more lumber for one of the window frames, and Dee took a series of artistic and funny photos of me while working. She was entertaining, but I suppose I was to her as well.

During the course of the day, Mike and Scott showed up towing the trailer with the rest of my lumber. He dropped the trailer, and he and Scott got better introduced to Dee. We all shared a had a beer and shared a couple of laughs. inquired to Mike about a rusting stove I had noticed beneath his sauna, that I’d be willing to buy it off him if it was just going to waste. He had almost forgotten it, but once he knew what I was talking about would hear of me paying for it. He told me to just pick it on up the next time I passed through, that I could have it. Then, after the beers, he and Scott left to hunt.

Later Dee and I patched the tarp, hung it in place, then ate some breaded and blackened fish that Mike had left for us. We then packed her belongings for her trip back in the Mike’s ATV trailer and hitched it up to leave. It was Sunday evening and she would have to work the next day. On the way back, already getting dark again, we talked to Mike and Scott again for a while. Then, about the time the sky was pitch black and both Dee and I knew the ride would be a hassle, especially on a new tail for me, we mounted the Suzuki and rode on.

Travel was easy enough, even with the trailer in tow. There were only slight hassles, and until a particular point, I could always tell where I was and that I was on the proper path, despite a series of seldom used trails and tracks through the marsh darting off in different directions. Still, at one point after just crossing a bridge of short, thin logs, I turned off the main trail to follow what I thought was Mike’s tracks from earlier. I was certain there was a turn there, even though the main, well used trail headed straight. After only a minute, and surrounded by short spruce that blocked the view and reflected the headlights back at your eyes so that you couldn’t see more than 20 feet through, I began to question my choice.

We stopped, turned the lights off and looked around. To the left and high could be seen taller trees from the wood line. That was a good sign and something I could use to help me get back to that same spot if we had to turn around. We drove on and eventually began to exit the short spruce into more open country. Not another silhouette from a tall tree could be seen for far off in most all the space ahead of us, so I wondered it that was the area where a lake was that we needed to be traveling south of. Then, we came to a more worn trail, but at an angle that I wasn’t quite sure, after going through all the short spruce and never on a straight trail, which direction to take on it. Instinct told me to go to the right, so I marked the intersection with a branch just in case we had to got back and headed on. Soon, I stopped and got my compass out of my bag. Sure enough, we were headed generally in a southeast direction, toward the highway and toward where the many trails converge onto the gravel one that leads to the parking lot. I packed the compass, but before heading on, with all the lights off, we sat in amazement at the number of actively sparkling stars in the sky and the thickness and clarity of the Milky Way. It was incredible.

Traveling on for a few minutes, at one moment I mentioned to Dee that I felt like we were in a particular area and that I would almost expect to see a fork in the trail and a small spruce leaning over the trail we needed to take. Sure enough, the leaning spruce appeared not more than thirty seconds later. I had taken a short detour, but we were on course and made a quick sprint to the gravel trail and parking lot.

We unloaded, got Dee’s bag and belongings loaded into the jeep, said our goodbyes and she was off. I was left to sleep in the truck for the evening, which turned out to be pretty comfortable. Come morning I drove to Trapper Creek Inn, got some fuel, then went to my boss’s brother’s place to pick up more lumber. It was at that time I experienced some transmission trouble, a whole other story. Needless to say, I was able to get back to the Trapper Creek Glenn parking lot, load the lumber on the ATV trailer and head back out to the cabin.

I only had one trouble spot the entire way which was remedied pretty quickly with the come-a-long. Even with the trailer, I could still only haul my usual load of lumber, with only one extra sheet of plywood. When passing Mike’s place, I stopped to break and was once again ordered to eat breakfast, eggs, hash browns and moose sausage patties, the best I ever had. After, Mike and Scott used the sauna while, I took my lumber to the cabin, dropped the trailer, then headed back. Once back I helped those two clean up and load their machines for the their trip home. Mike then helped me get the wood stove on the back of the ATV and gave me some food that they were about to toss out. We all said out goodbyes; I said a bunch of thank yous, then parted ways.

Hoisting the wood stove withthe come-a-long

Hoisting the wood stove withthe come-a-long

Back at my place, the only way I could get the stove off the ATV and into the cabin was with the come-a-long. I tossed a chain over the top plate of one of my walls, hook a rope to that, the the come-a-long to that. The other end of the come-a-long cable was hooked to the stove with rope I tied around it like a Christmas gift. I ratcheted it up off the ATV and into the air. Once high enough at the edge of my floor, I was able to tip it into the cabin, then drag it into the corner where it would sit. The cabin took on a hole new feel with that stove, much more comfortable and home like. Before dark, I managed to get one wall fully studded and ready for felt paper and plywood. Until then, it was till missing most studs in order to be light enough for me to lift into place.

That night it rained like made. I talked to a friend for a long while on the phone, having trouble hearing everything and occasionally pushing the tarp up to get water off of it that was collecting. At one point, when the rain died down, I also heard the corner of the tarp. I thought surely a bear was starting to mess with it again, so I yelled and stomped. Turned out to be the wind, but better to be safe than sorry. I’m sure my friend got a kick out of it too.

Hail!

Hail!

By morning the rain had stopped. I exited the tent, not exactly in the most motivated of moods after all the rain. However, during breakfast I realized that every so often the sun was attempting to break through the clouds. That was all it took, I got to work building in more studs in the wall and framing out a window. While doing so it actually hailed for about five minutes, but soon after the clouds began to separate and the sun was coming back in. I pulled back the tarp after the hail had melted to let the light in and give me room to work on top of the last wall to need studs, and got back to work.

It almost looks livable!

It almost looks livable!

Working steadily with reasonable sunlight and a decent temperature, I was able to get felt paper and plywood on the remaining two walls. It was tricky, but manageable. Most of the paper was hung while I was on the inside of the cabin and reaching out between the studs. I also cut it in half so that I wasn’t having to lift an entire 16 foot long sheet at once. Outside the cabin, higher paper was hung using a ladder. The lower plywood was set in place by putting screws in the corner edge of the floor rim joist at such an angle that one end of the plywood could sit on it and still be flush with the edge of the floor. At my end I’d hole the plywood in place with one hand and somehow use the screwdriver with the other hand to sink a screw in. After that the plywood wasn’t going anywhere and I’d continue to put more screws in. As for higher pieces, I cut the full sheets so that I had pieces I could lift into place easily with a ladder. I had to keep moving the ladder around, and the ground was quite uneven, but eventually I was finished… aside from more screws that I’ll put in later. For now, the wood was in place and not going anywhere.

getting late again, I rushed like mad to get packed up, get the cabin and tarp situated which ended up bing a nightmare to do alone, loaded up the ATV and tore out of there with Mike’s trailer. I Rode quick to his place, left the trailer, then moved on. Darkness set in fast and I had two mishaps while driving quickly. All the rain from the night before made the trail awfully wet and difficult to drive on. I constantly tried to skirt the edge of the trail, and at one point my right wheel was drawn into a deep, elongated trough i the marsh that was mostly water and some grass. By the time I stopped, I was on angle, left wheels on the high ground, right wheels in the trough, almost ready to tip in. I backed up and into the trough. Luckily there was solid ground underneath the water. At a more perpendicular angle to the edge of the trough, I climbed out with no trouble in 4×4 super low gear and the differentials locked on the ATV.

Not too long after, now even darker, on the left side of the trail my left wheel was pulled off down a slope. This time was worse through. I turned the wheels to direct the machine down the sloped toward some trees so as not to flip over, but just then, right on the side of the trail, a stump caught the frame. I came to an abrupt halt which tossed me to one side and turn the handlebars. In a fraction of a second the machine was rolling over. I let go and was tossed into flowing water that was running off the trail. The machine was settled, not quite all the way over on it’s side, but nearly. I jumped and grabbed the throttle to feather it and keep from stalling while I rocked the machine vigorously to set it right. It was useless. I was stuck on the small stump and the rear wheels were too tight against the slope. The machine stalled.

After some back-breaking jerking, lifting and pulling I was able to point the machine down the slope then tip ti almost straight again. Having stalled the engine, and it since it was so hot from being run hard in my rush to get to the truck before it got too dark, it was considerably hard to start. I pulled the spark plug in the dark at one point, allowed it to dry, the replaced it. Still no start. Then I realized the plug wire had pull out of the cap on the spark plug. For a second I was beaten until I remembered form year work on dirtbikes as a kid that those caps screw onto the wire. I replaced it, pulled about ten more times, and fired the beast up. In low gear again, I drove right on forward, turned, climbed the slope, got back on the trail and cruised cautiously to the gravel trail where I then hauled but to the parking lot to load my machine, pack the truck and head to Dee’s place in Palmer. While packing, water on my pack and the ATV was freezing, a clear sign that I don’t have much longer to work on the cabin.

On the highway, my truck transmission was worse han ever. Long story short, after dropping the transmission pan to pour out the extra fluid someone had put in it, I was able to creep to Palmer at 35 to 40 miles an hour wit a lot of stop and go in order to get the transmission back in gear. What usually takes me 1.5 hours to drive took twice as long.

All said though, this cabin trip was AMAZING. I learned a new route that cut my time nearly in half, met my awesome neighbors, ate like a king, had my lumber hauled out in one trip, was given a wood stove, had the first visitors to the cabin, had my girlfriend out for the first time, got my walls studded and covered, and spent time exploring around the property and getting incredible views of Denali.

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