Loading lumber and concrete at Spendard Builders Supply

Loading lumber and concrete at Spendard Builders Supply

On April 18, 2009 I rented a U-Haul truck and then made my first purchase of lumber from Spenard Builder Supply in Anchorage. That was a great feeling, to look at the stack of raw materials that would soon become my wilderness haven. At that moment, I knew I was on course, and that nothing would stop me from completing my project.

By some time in the afternoon I was picking up my boss, John, to make a run out to the property and make use of the season’s last snow. That’s right, we wanted the snow. In fact, I was getting a bit nervous that too much of it had already melted away. Travel to the property is actually easier in winter due to snow. With a snowmachine and sled, we had plans to cruise on out there by way of some of the state groomed trails, meaning I’d have more direct access and a smoother ride. With a trailer in tow,  a little tow-behind ski trailer and John’s snowmachine already loaded, we headed north.

Find what you need at Alaska Toy Rental

Find what you need at Alaska Toy Rental

On the way we stopped by Alaska Toy Rental to pick up a working sled to do the hauling work while John would follow on his ride. The machine we rented was a Yamaha Viking, aptly named. That thing was unstoppable. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Before even leaving, the owner of Alaska Toy Rental saw the little tow-behind trailer with skis and insisted we use one of his tow-behind sleds, an aluminum rig build just for the job. He had a number of them and we quickly tossed one in the U-Haul, knowing full well it was 100 times better than what we had intended to use.

Further north, we arrived at the East-West Express Trail parking lot on Parks Highway. While unloading and getting plans sorted out, a few guys that had just come off the trail showed their concern that we might have trouble on the trail, especially areas that cross wet, slushy and expanding muskeg ponds. Apparently they had a lot of trouble themselves, but I felt a bit confident that we weren’t heading into the same territory as them. That turned out to be the case. Also, John and I would be going out in the evening when the snow had time to set back up and solidify for the ride.

Photo taken while waiting for John to test the snow. Notice the grey, volcanic ash from Mt. Redoubt.

Photo taken while waiting for John to test the snow. Notice the gray, volcanic ash from Mt. Redoubt.

Our first load was small. Our plan was to simply find the way, and it turned out to be a cinch. We cruised the Express with ease, then darted south for a mile or so, through some trees, and right to the property. The only sketchy area was a long stretch of muskeg where no defined trail could be seen from previous riders.

Unstoppable Yamaha Viking 750

Unstoppable Yamaha Viking 750

The snow was deep and melting, just the sort of stuff that might cave in under you and get you stuck beyond your capability. John tested it first, nearly running the entire distance to the property before we took the heavier Yamaha and sled. To our surprise, it had no trouble at all, floated like a boat and pulled that load in like a champ.

Back at the U-Haul, we stacked up our second load, this time larger, which gave us some trouble at first, but once moving there was no stopping… literally. The Yamaha was unstoppable, and though I drove slow, we managed to reach the property without much trouble, even when towing uphill and the Yamaha’s front end lifting slightly. It reminded me of driving tractors when I was a kid on the farm in Michigan. Low gearing and heavy loads would easily cause the front end to rise in a wheely and get your heart racing just a few beats faster. Still, I kept the Yamaha in control.

John, tightening straps on the second load of lumber

John, tightening straps on the second load of lumber

Once at the property, however, travel was a bit difficult. Deep snow between the trees and the heavy load caused us to get stuck a couple of times. Eventually we’d get free and pull on ahead, then dumped the lumber in a suitable area.

:) Now that's a load.

🙂 Now that's a load of lumber.

The following loads, each growing with our confidence, became more and more of a challenge. Maintaining control, keeping the load strapped tight, the load from tipping over, getting stuck at the property, all slowed progress through the middle of the night. Many hours were wasted fumbling with solutions to predicaments out of our control… for the most part. A jackknife incident while headed downhill into Trapper Creek even caused the tongue of the sled/trailer to break and bust a taillight out in the Yamaha Viking.

Again and again we attempted to rig straps to the load and continue to pull it in. Eventually we made some distance, only to have the load tip again. This time, we ditched some of the load, righted the sled, packed it, and hauled it in to the property, still getting stuck in the forest snow. We then returned for the lumber that had been left behind, and took it in.

By the end of the ordeal, we had all the lumber I had purchased out at the property, but in three piles, each where the machine had gotten stuck and it was just easiest to call it done. Our plan was to go back in the morning and get it all situated and staged to last through spring until I could begin working. Problem was, it was already morning. We had worked clean through the night, taking full advantage of the stiffening snow.

Time to energize before making a final run to the property

Time to energize before making a final run to the property

Back at the highway, after that last load, we made our way for John’s brother’s place to get some sleep before heading back in for a quick attempt at covering and stacking the lumber. By the time we woke, we had very little time to do that or anything else for that matter. The Yamaha was due back at the rental shop before getting charged additionally.

That final run back in, after a hot pizza, allowed us only enough time to throw tarp over the disheveled stacks of wood, pin them down with bags of concrete, and bolt back to the highway. I knew I’d have to just go back out the following weekend to get things situated so that rain and melting snow wouldn’t ruin all the wood.

Back at Alaska Toy Rental, the shop owner wasn’t too surprised or alarmed at the damaged Viking or sled. Seems that sort of thing happens often. That’s not to say it didn’t cost me. But, in the end, I had lumber on the property, the most import thing, thanks in part to John for the laborous help. Come spring, there’d be little to hinder my progress.