Summer building season in the Arctic is almost here! A few weeks ago, Sean and I were busy with prep. Here’s the process, step by step:
Decide what to do this summer, make a materials list, order and schedule the delivery in time before breakup happens (we NAILED the timing this year). Written plainly, it seems so simple. But this step takes HOURS upon hours. I draw out all our build plans on an iPad with an Apple Pencil, which is a super duper upgrade from our first cabins that Sean drew on paper plates.
I've been asked if I learned somewhere where to draw plans for the stuff we build, and I guess my answer is yes / and no. Yes, because I learned from what Sean learned that first year... and we've bought different plans for inspiration in the past for previous projects.
But the actual "how to" of the drawing part? No. All self-taught. And I didn't even take art class in high school!
Prepare a “nest” for the materials to live on until it’s dry enough to build. This involved Sean driving over this little piece of our property over and over and over and - you get the idea. We stomped it with snowshoes, and then drove over it again. All we can do is hope for the best that we made a "flat" spot so the material piles don't fall over. And if you've ever seen Arctic Hive before, you know that a "flat spot" is hard to come by! Small price to pay, I guess, for the epic views that you get on a hillside!
Meet delivery truck and offload 7,000 lbs of materials to the side of our parking area in the village. We are a remote retreat center and commute a mile from Arctic Hive to the village, so every single item needs to be brought up piece by piece. Luckily, we're smart now... and snowmachine our materials in months before build season. But our first year? We started our build in the summer, and we hadn't snowmachined in our materials. Needless to say, the Igloo and 3 original cabins were hand hauled without a machine piece by piece, from the bottom of our hill. Whew!
We haul things up behind the snowmachine on this red Siglin freight sled, which rides super easily over all sorts of terrain. Each trip is only as good as our rachet strap job. If we make it all the way to Arctic Hive without things slipping off, we've done it right!
Fun fact: You might notice that we don't call it a snowmobile — it's primarily because they're used here in Alaska more often for utility reasons... we aren't tearing it up on our sleds every day for recreation... we use them as machines - for work. Thus, snowMACHINE. If you show up and call it a snowmobile, any Alaskan will know you're from the lower 48. It took me many months to break my own midwest habit of saying snowmobile. And another fun fact - they are often called sno-go in rural Alaska and the arctic.
Snowmachine in one load at a time. I think this took us 15-20 loads. The process went surprisingly well this time, and we often worked late into the night when the trail was hard packed, versus in the heat of the day when the snow was getting more slushy. Lots of late nights, and balancing this with feeding and tending to our retreat guests who were with us through the month of April.
It was ONLY our final load, late one night, where a bunch of materials finally slipped off our sled because the rachet strap job got sloppy. The LAST LOAD! Just another reminder that the minute you let your guard down, you have to clean up your own mess.
Offload and stack the materials in an orderly way on top of the snow, elevated by treated beams to preserve the wood… and try as best we can to make a flat surface so that as the snow melts, the piles don’t completely topple over. Then we tarp it all. We’ve only had to restack a few times due to snow melting under the stack.
We wait. We watch the snow melt and the creeks and rivers flow. We dream up timelines and more detailed plans. We acquire other materials and try to foresee the future in this new world of difficult access to certain things. For example: Wood stoves and oil drip stoves aren’t something we can always get when we want them. We need to be ahead of the game and order these things ahead of time so we can time the delivery with when we’ll need it. We learned this the hard way with The 8x10 guide cabin we built last fall… it took over 6 months from the time we ordered the little stove to when it was installed. Thank you COVID, inflation, shipping delays, etc. It all turned out in the end, but we always try to learn from our past “snafus” to prevent headaches in the future!
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