John got up absurdly early and started puttering around the cabin by the light of his battery-powered lantern. The sun wouldn’t be up for a while. Darkness covered the cabin like a threadbare blanket.
John stoked the fire, and threw some paper into the wood stove. He added some kindling and then threw a larger log on the top of the pile. Soon, the fire was warming up the cabin. He went to the sink area and grabbed the coffee pot. He put coffee grounds in first and then added water. He put that in top of the stove.
John then pulled out his breakfast supplies and started making a batter. It would be apple cinnamon pancakes for the men’s last meal in the cabin. He hoped that one of the men had brought some fresh fruit though it wasn’t likely.
As quiet as John tried to be, in a small cabin, small sounds get amplified. There was rustling in the other bunks, and soon everyone was up. John charged up his portable stove and lit the flame. He put some batter into the pan, and breakfast was being made.
The others took turns heading to the outhouse, and by the time everyone had done his business, the pancakes were piled high. George produced some apples. Gerald brought out some maple syrup.
“Eat what you can and we won’t have to haul it out,” John said.
“That’s a great idea,” Lee pulled out some jerky and put it on the table. “Let’s feast.”
Gerald grabbed the coffee off the stove and poured. The men ate.
John slowed down a little first. He was enjoying the flavors of the meal and the coffee. “Well, men, we have just a couple of hours left. In honor of what the weekend we’ve experienced, I thought we could end with the last of our stories. We can’t really go anywhere until it turns light outside anyway, and there’s no reason for us to want to leave sooner than we have to. So, what say you? Do we take this chance to enjoy each other’s company or do we jump straight to packing and getting ready to trek out into the cold and back to the border of civilization?”
“Let’s get as much out of our cabin fee as we can,” said George.
Gerald and Lee agreed.
“I thought you would all agree to one more round of stories,” said John. “I’ll start.” This is the story he told:
The cabins didn’t always work the way they do now. The code for the lock makes it much easier. You used to have to go to a DNR office to pick up the keys and then bring them back. Presumably, there were several sets of keys, so they could rent out the cabin on consecutive nights without needing to have the keys brought back or handed out when the office wasn’t open.
If the cabin door closed behind you and you didn’t have the keys, you would be locked out. That meant cutting your trip short or breaking a door or window to get in. Neither was ideal, especially considering the consequences of vandalism and the cost in heating problems if the door or window were broken too much. There were plenty of cautionary tales about using the cabins in general, but not all of them addressed the problem of lost keys. There are a lot of other problems cabin users, especially inexperienced ones faced.
Robert was a city dweller who moved up to Alaska in late May during a relatively warm spring. He didn’t care much for the outdoors or for learning about survival skills. Everyone told him he needed to find some outdoor hobbies he could do if he wanted to survive in Alaska more than a couple of years. Otherwise, the cold and the dark would get to be too much.
Robert laughed it off, but by mid-February of his winter, he was going a little stir crazy. There wasn’t enough pizza and movies to make the sedentary lifestyle worth the paycheck. He had gained weight, felt lethargic, and the lack of light, even as the days were getting longer, didn’t do anything good for his mood or his thought processes.
About this time, he received a letter in the mail with keys and a map to a cabin. There was also a list of supplies already in the cabin, so he knew what he didn’t have to bring with him. It seemed like something easy he could do, and he was ready to try anything for a change of pace. He figured it was probably one of his friends that sent him a gift.
He bought a pair of snowshoes, and when the day came, he packed his warm clothes, a couple of books, and his favorite coffee into a suitcase. He drove out to the trailhead early in the morning, parked his car, pulled out his suitcase, put on his snowshoes, and walked toward the cabin.
The suitcase was awkward and difficult to deal with. It wasn’t too heavy, but it was bulky. As the morning became midday, the February sun and the physical exertion conspired to make Robert feel hot. He soon had his gloves off. Then he took his hat off. Then he removed his scarf. With all of these clothes and the suitcase in his hands, Robert didn’t notice that one glove fell by the wayside. Then he dropped his scarf. When he took off his coat, he dropped his hat.
As midday became dusk, he still hadn’t found the cabin. He took the map out of his pants pocket and looked at it again. He put the map away and headed in the direction he thought was indicated. He hadn’t had anything to eat or drink during the entire hike and was feeling weak and dehydrated. He figured he could eat as soon as he made it to the cabin.
The temperature dropped quickly as the light of the sun completely disappeared. Robert didn’t bring a flashlight, so he decided he would wait for the moon to come up to light the path. He put on his jacket, but his other garments were missing. His fingers were going numb. His head and neck were cold, even with the jacket pulled up to his neck and the hood pulled over his head. Robert was tired. His body shivered, and he decided he needed to rest. He sat down with his back to a tree. The snow under him melted and refroze. He set his suitcase nearby. He was hungry. He was thirsty. He was tired.
He couldn’t see. Where was the moon? He was cold, but he had stopped shivering, and it felty like his body was getting warmer. Then he was hot – much too hot. He tried to take off his jacket, but it was frozen under him. It bound his arms.
That’s how the park rangers found him. No one knows who sent him the keys. Robert didn’t have any on him, and they didn’t find any near him. He did have the DNR map and the letter, which wasn’t from the DNR. But the map was for a park that was a hundred miles from where they found him.
“That’s why you should never go camping alone, always wear the appropriate clothing, and keep hydrated and the calories going in, even during the winter,” John said.
“Man, it seems like there were a lot of things that Robert did wrong,” said George.
“Survival out here isn’t for the weak of heart or mind,” said Lee.
“I’m not sure Alaska is the land of independence I thought it was,” said Gerald.
“No,” said John. “It is. We just know when to seek help and when to be interdependent. There are plenty of people who do fine up her by themselves, but they’ve learned how to survive. If you have the skills and knowledge, it becomes easier to be out here.”
“Tales at an Alaskan Cabin” is now available for preorder at Amazon.