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Prologue: The Cabin in the Woods
Gerald flipped open his phone to answer it. He still used an old flip phone because it made him feel like he was on “Star Trek.” “This is Gerald,” he said.
“Hey, man, this is John.”
“Hey, John,” Gerald leaned back in his chair. “What’s going on?”
“So, I’m sure you heard that Susan got deployed to that disaster in the Lower 48.”
“Yeah, it’s crazy down there. Volunteers are heading out as soon as we can get them trained.” Gerald worked with Susan and had met John through her. She had invited Gerald and a couple of new co-workers to go camping on the Kenai Peninsula as a “Welcome to Alaska” trip.
“I know,” said John. “Anyway, we rented a cabin in the woods up north for a romantic getaway, and now that she can’t go, I was wondering if you’d like to go the cabin this weekend.”
“For a romantic getaway? Because I’m not sure Susan would appreciate that,” Gerald said.
John laughed, “No, I’m inviting a couple of other guys along. Maybe we could split the cost.”
“Yeah. Absolutely. What do I need to bring and how much will it be?”
John gave Gerald the list of things they needed to bring including bedding, firewood and food.
“Great! I’ll see you Friday afternoon.”
Gerald spent the rest of the week gathering supplies and anticipating the trip to the cabin. He picked up some firewood and some dehydrated meals that could be made with boiling water. Some of them were actually pretty good tasting, but they were for an emergency.
Each person was assigned to bring enough food to make two meals for the group. He wasn’t sure what anyone else was bringing, but he was pretty certain that John would be making something spectacular. Gerald shied away from eggs because he feared they would break on the way to the cabin. He knew they could be transported safely because he had seen John do it on that first camping trip, but he wasn’t going to risk it. Sandwiches were an easy choice if he could keep the bread from getting squished, and the leftover meat and cheese could be used for another meal or snacking if they needed it. A little lettuce, the right kind of mustard, and some red onions would make it seem like a gourmet meal. The best part is there wouldn’t be a lot of cleanup.
On Friday, Gerald put his gear in his car and went to work. When the afternoon rolled around, Gerald was waiting in his work parking lot. John pulled up in his car with all-wheel drive and unfolded out of it. Gerald always forgot how tall John was. He wore his hat and round glasses and had a soul patch on his chin.
“Hey, Gerald, you ready?” John extended his hand.
“Absolutely. My stuff’s in the trunk.” Gerald popped open the hatchback. “I’m so glad this is a long weekend.” There were two bundles of firewood and a backpack that was about two-thirds Gerald’s size. A rolled-up mat was attached to the outside of the pack.
“These four days are going to be great.” John looked in the trunk. “Is that it?”
“Only bring what you can carry, right?”
“That’s the idea.”
“Well, if I tried to bring anymore, I would fall over.”
“Alright. Let’s get it in the car.” He grabbed the firewood, and Gerald grabbed the bag. He popped up the hatchback on his vehicle and stacked the firewood on top of what was already there.
Gerald leaned in and put his bag on top of the other bags. “Hey, George! Hey, Lee! I didn’t know you guys were coming, too.”
“Hey, Gerry,” George said. “You know, John. He recruited me, and I recruited Lee.” George had a full well-trimmed beard and was stocky.
“Hey, Gerry.” Lee said. He had moved to America from another country and was making bank in Alaska doing some high-tech work that Gerald didn’t even pretend to understand.
“You guys saved the passenger seat for me?”
“Yeah,” said George. “Now shut the back and get in so we can go. We’ve only got a couple of hours until sundown.”
Gerald backed out from under the hatchback, and John shut it.
“Our cabin isn’t that far from the road, so we don’t have to hike too long,” said John. “Still, it’s better to get there while the sun’s still up.”
Gerald locked his car up and got in on the passenger side. John started the car and drove through downtown Anchorage and onto the Glenn Highway.
The drive took them past Eagle River and north. It wasn’t long until they reached the off-ramp and were headed down the access road. When they reached a red and white metal bar blocking the roadway, they pulled the car to the side and stopped.
“Here we are,” John said. “A short hike should get us to the cabin.”
Gerald opened his door and the icy air hit him. Snow crunched under his feet. Trees lined the road as far as the eye could see. Gerald headed toward the back and grabbed his bag and the two bundles of wood. It would be awkward to carry the wood, but he could manage it.
George grabbed his bag and threw a red plastic sled on the ground. “Stack your wood on this. It’ll be easier.”
“That’s a great idea.” Gerald put his wood bundles on the sled. “Do you want me to pull first?”
George stacked his wood on the sled. “No, I got it. If it gets too tough, I’ll ask for help.”
Gerald had his doubts about George asking for help, but he let it go. Lee and John put their wood on the sled, too.
“So, it’s just behind that bar and to the left. We should be there in 20 minutes,” John said.
The four men went around the barricade and hiked along the road for a little bit. Then, they followed a path that went to the left and down into a ravine. It went by a frozen river that had recently overflowed and left ice on the trail. It was slick and crunchy. The pine trees were covered in snow, and the white birch trees were barren of leaves. Their breaths frosted in the wind making it looked like they might have been steamed powered, and they were all dressed in heavy coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and boots made for the Alaskan winter.
Deep in the Alaskan woods, the state government has established cabins for rent. In a state where everything is bigger, including prices, these cabins are cheap, especially if you fill them to capacity. There isn’t much to do outdoors in the dead of winter if you’re not a snow enthusiast, but renting a cabin makes for the perfect weekend getaway, even in the cold.
The cabins are made of wood and consist of a single room with bunk beds, typically four. The beds are wood planks. The smart cabin renter brings a mat to sleep on and a sleeping bag rated to minus 40 degrees. There is a wood-burning stove for heat and cooking. There is usually a table with benches around it.
There is no electricity, which means no television, no computer, and often, though not always, no cell phone reception. Rent the cabin for several days, and when the cell phone dies, all you hear is the beauty of nature, the silence of snowfall, the light crackle of the northern Lights, and the popping and sputtering of wood in the cabin’s stove. With only firelight and battery-operated lanterns, it’s easy to adapt to the rhythm of short days.
These cabins allow you to get away from the stress of the workaday world and finally reconnect to your primal self. The four men who partook in telling these stories that I have collected were not survivalists. They had no need to prove their manliness. They weren’t all great at chopping logs, making fires, or cooking meals. Sometimes, they weren’t even very good at navigation. Still, they rejoiced in having a good time, playing cards, and enjoying the freedom that comes when constant communication is cut off.