Mickie is Cheryl's sister. She moved from Lake Tahoe to Valdez, Alaska about 10 years ago to get away from civilization. Like Cheryl, Mickie has always had "itchy feet"; always searching for the perfect home. Well, about seven years ago she finally found her perfect home and it is definitely away from civilization. She bought 320 acres of raw Alaska land with a lake on it. It's less than 150 miles from the Arctic Circle, more than 50 miles from the nearest store, telephone or road, and during some months of the year is completely inaccessible by any means of motorized transportation.
In a letter she wrote to us dated January 19, 1996, she says:
“ . . . . I want to move to Fairbanks. From Fairbanks I could at least visit the LAKE. It's become my whole direction in life. It is my goal to live there someday. . . . . “
.... and here's the story of her goal coming true.
To learn more visit www.EdenLakeBisonRanch.com
The last time you heard from us we were on our way up the AlCan to Fairbanks to help Mickie move to her new home, now officially named Eden Lake, or as she calls it "The Homestead." Since her letter in 1996, she had moved from Valdez to Fairbanks -- a move that brought her to a city that was big enough to provide good job opportunities, but more importantly, allowed her to make more frequent visits to her lake. Along with Mickie came her, (then boyfriend,) John and his son Matt.
|Here's John and Mickie and one of their dogs named Mac,
(a MacKenzie River husky.)
We had hoped to get to Fairbanks by mid-March to help them move their most fragile and difficult possessions -- 14 head of young bison -- but we didn't even leave Seattle until March 15th.
If you didn't see our previous webpage you probably should take a look at it for an introduction to this one.
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The move was done in two stages. The first leg was from their property in Fairbanks to the tiny village of Manley Hot Springs, (population 98.) Manley is 150 miles from Fairbanks. To get there you travel down a dirt and gravel road and when the road ends you've reached Manley! Mickie and John have a small lot in Manley with a cabin where they can store things that will ultimately be taken the additional 52 miles out to The Homestead.
|When they got their load to Manley Hot Springs they moved
two of the bison out of the trailer and into the "bison sled" that John
had built for the move. The plan was to tow the sled to The Homestead
behind snow machines. (OK, I know that everyone else in the world
calls them snowmobiles, but in Alaska they are called snow machines.)
Here's a picture of Mac, a great guy who really helped a lot. Here he is out at The Homestead.
When stuff like this happens, the locals just say, "that's Alaska."
|While we were making our way north up the AlCan, eight bison were on their way to The Homestead. On our fifth day of driving, (and freezing,) we crossed the border between Canada and Alaska. The boys are standing by the border monument and the border line is literally that -- a straight line. Look carefully and you can see it run right over the furthest hill.|
|We made it to Fairbanks in 6 days -- a little over 2,300
miles from Seattle. The timing turned out to be perfect. Mickie had
unloaded everything in Manley and just gotten back to Fairbanks to pick
up the rest of the bison, the other animals and her stuff. The plan
was to get some repair parts for the snow machines, change some flat tires,
pack up everything else and then head out to Manley for her final move.
We pulled into her place in Fairbanks at about 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night. She had arrived there just ten minutes before us.
|The next morning we were all up at 6:30 cleaning out
the trailers, replacing flat tires and preparing to load the last six bison.
Since most of the bison are somewhat wild, we prepared the trailer so the
bison could be loaded without us having to be in the pen or loading area
Here we are tying a rope that Mitch will use to pull the sliding door closed after the bison go into the trailer.
Nice bison, come on, get in the trailer now.
With the trailer ready for loading we let the bison into the loading area so they would get used to the trailer. Meanwhile, Mickie went off to town to get three flat tires repaired and pickup a new piston for one of the snow machines. We had errands too. I went to get the front crank seal replaced on our truck and move our trailer to Mac's house. I noticed the seal leaking after our first -20oF night and had been pouring oil into the engine ever since.
|Well, let's jump back to Fairbanks for the rest of our
Next it was time to catch and load the geese, chickens and a turkey. Mickie said here's how you do it.
"You need to . . . . . (gasp, laugh, flutter, flap, gasp, laugh, dust flying, flutter, flap, more laughing) . . . hold the wings."
|Then she said, "sometimes it helps to hold them upside
Well, its suppose to disorient them, but not this one.
So next, Mitch went in to catch another goose.
|Here I am with the last two chickens. This was Mickie's last trip from Fairbanks. We loaded the last of her barley seed, animal feed and final supplies. Next, it was time to get the bison loaded into the large trailer and then load her two horses into the smaller one.|
Below is a picture of Max standing on the fence that encloses the bison pen in Fairbanks. The entire fence was lined with black fabric so the bison wouldn't be tempted to explore Fairbanks.
A short "ED-itorial" here --
We're sure glad we've gotten to the other side of the fabric in our society. Stepping out of the "norm" and living as we do is really interesting and enjoyable. Quitting a career, selling the house along with everything in it and moving into a RV was stepping into an unknown. But looking back, most of the challenges and hurdles were no stronger than this thin layer of fabric and the fence itself is no match for a buffalo.
I guess we could say Mickie "buffaloed" them into staying
in the fence. Think about it.
Really, we had to wave a towel and make a little noise but they went in quite easily. Once the first one went in, the rest acted like sheep and all rushed in. Mitch pulled the rope and closed the sliding door.
|We left the next morning after loading the horses and headed for Manley. Mickie towed the trailer with the bison and I towed the trailer with the horses. It was about 1:00 p.m. when we arrived at Manley Hot Springs. As I said before, the dirt road stops here. Manley, besides being a small community, is also a staging area for people that use the frozen rivers to haul supplies to homesteads and small communities along the Tanana River. The village of Tanana, (population 345,) for example, is 60 miles down river from Manley Hot Springs where the Tanana and Yukon Rivers meet. It is accessible only by river or airplane.|
|We don't recommend boondocking in Alaska in the winter
in an RV without having either power or a fireplace. Since we don't
have a fireplace we looked for power. If we have power we can run
our furnace without draining the batteries and use our electric blankets
If we come here again in the winter I'll buy a used school bus and custom build it to fully function in -60oF temperatures. Commercial RV's just don't do it when it gets below +15oF (i.e. a warm day up here.)
|Remember Mac? He was in an earlier picture, (not
the Mac the dog, Mac the big Alaskan guy.) He invited us to park
next to his house in Fairbanks. (Pretty nice, these Alaskans; inviting
complete strangers in and offering electricity.) Here we are camped
out at his house.
We tried staying without power at John and Mickie's place in Fairbanks, but without a fireplace or electricity it was too cold.
Oh, did I mention that even in Fairbanks, they live without
electricity or running water? Mickie hasn't had either for the past
10 years, ever since moving to Alaska. I don't know whether she's
crazy or just very tough -- probably a little of both.
I had adjusted the heater ducts to heat the belly of the trailer to prevent the tanks from freezing but with the generator running the adjustments caused fumes from the generator to enter into the living area. I could run the heater and the generator, but not at the same time. The night time temperatures were about -10F and using our catalytic heater all night requires some air flow, (like an open window,) to vent the carbon monoxide so we don't use it while we sleep. The forced air furnace works fine but running continuously all night would drain the batteries and I wouldn't be able to start the generator in the morning. It was typically in the mid-30's in the trailer when we woke up in the morning. I would usually wake up about 5:30 to light the heater, start the generator, and plug in the block heater to the truck so it would start.
|We really appreciated staying at Mac's. We would
have stayed at an RV park, but none were open.
People ask, "did you see any moose?" We saw these two a couple of times. I took this picture standing in Mac's driveway in the same place I stood to take the picture right above this one.
|So off we went to Manley with our trailer, but before leaving we drained the gray and black water holding tanks and got drinking water. This took most of the day. Lots of gas stations have dump stations, but guess what. Instead of "Free sewer dump with gas fill up" the sign should say, "Free sewer dump -- if you can find it."|
|Each station would send us to another that they thought
was working, but it wasn't. On our fourth try we found one we could
successfully dig, chip and melt clear of ice. Now all we had to do
was boil big pots of water and carry out several gallons of hot water from
the service station to back-flush the ice from our trailer drain pipe.
"That's Alaska." It's also a plus for retiring young.
|By now we have completely given up on the concept of running water in the trailer. We picked up two 5 gallon water jugs and got water at a natural spring near a little place named Fox, just north of Fairbanks. The spring's pressure forces the water out the pipe and then it forms a large ice stalagmite. There's a valve in the little shed to fill the jugs. Every time we went for water there was a line to get what's locally known as "the purest water in the state". I'm going to bring ten gallons back down to the Lower 48 with me. Did I mention it makes most any scotch taste pretty darn good.|
|Just past Fox is a roadside stop where we could walk right up to the Alaska Pipeline. Seventy miles north of here is where that guy shot a bullet through the pipeline a couple of months ago.|
|On the way out to Manley we stopped by this ice flow
for a picture and a chance for the boys to play on the ice. The water
in the hillside continues to flow and builds up on the existing ice, making
it grow even thicker. This ice flow would cover the road if it weren't
for the road crews continuously chipping it back.
We occasionally found ice flows like this crossing the AlCan highway. Up here, if a sign says "Bump", "Ice on Road" or "Falling Rocks" they mean it!
|Here we are on our fifth day in Alaska parked next to
the buffalo trailer and next to Pete's cabin in Manley. The birch trees
behind us are beautiful. An Alaskan tour book we have says that "if
you make it all the way to Manley Hot Springs, you'll only meet real Alaskans
We found it to be a great place to visit. There's a cool Roadhouse with rooms and restaurant, an airstrip for bush planes and beautiful scenery.
Here's Pete, in his cabin
Mark and his snow machine
Matt, John's son, to the left
Remember the replacement piston parts? After dinner,
about 10:30 p.m. all the guys hopped on snow machines and we went over
to a friend's small shop to replace the burnt out piston on John's Polaris.
The shop is heated by hot spring water running through pipes in the concrete
so it was nice and warm. Mitch and Max got tired about 12:30 a.m.
so we went back to our trailer about the time the engine was all torn down.
John and Mark finished the repairs about 2:00 a.m. and then went back to
John's place to finish loading supplies on the freight sleds. I hear
they finally went to bed about 4:00 a.m.
CLICK HERE FOR PART II
||Next Adventure (Buffalo Drive Part II)|