Life in a Dry Cabin

The best part about my first two weeks back in Denali was the jaw-dropping place where I was lucky enough to stay. My friend Katie’s summer sublet is a two-story log cabin nestled in the spruce trees on the edge of a bluff, where the land drops down to the Nenana River valley lined by boreal forest and tussock bogs. In the distance, mountains of the Alaska Range frame the horizon and the rocky peaks reach towards the sky.

I lean back against the notched spruce cabin walls, admiring the view. After a moment, I take a deep breath, and lift myself up off of the bench before heading up the porch steps and inside. I fill the tea kettle from the water jug sitting where a sink faucet would be and make myself a cup of coffee.

Living in a “dry” cabin doesn’t mean it will protect you from the rain (though it will hopefully do that, too). A “dry” cabin is a structure with no running water, which means no sinks, no toilets… and no showers.

Dry cabins are not uncommon in Denali, where in some places cabin-owners need to dig up to 1,000 feet to hit a well of water, which can cost upwards of $30,000. Many people spend the summer—or even the entire year—living in a cabin where fresh running water is not at their finger tips with the twist of a faucet handle. Makes you appreciate the little things in life, doesn’t it?

What the cabin does have is a leach field below ground that the sink drains into. This means that I can pour water in the sink without ever needing to empty out the container below. In this case, there is a well on the property to refill water, as opposed to going to a workplace or town to fill three cubes of water. Hoist the water cube up over the sink and voila, you’ve got “running” water!

The outhouse is another piece of Alaskan charm. Usually quaint and somehow cozy, folks up here take pride at how they decorate their outhouses. Music festival posters, park maps, local books and national geographic magazines, candles, lanterns… and the most important, a piece of blue foam that makes the seat feel warm no matter how cold the temperature is outside. In this outhouse, toilet paper is collected in a small paper bag that is burned in the woodstove once full. This reduces waste in the outhouse pit. Efficiency is everything around here.

Joel is a natural at filling the water jugs from the property’s well.

These days, I am reminded why I love to travel. Being home is undoubtedly more comfortable, there is no question. But every time I travel, no matter how rural or urban the destination, I am reminded of the things I take for granted back home and the pieces of my life that I value the most.

Living a simpler life, if only for a couple of weeks, always enhances my gratitude and appreciate for the little luxuries in life. I’ll admit that at home, I run the water for too long while I do dishes and I probably use too much toilet paper. Now, when I need to do my dishes, I try to limit my water use as much as possible to delay the next time we’ll need to wheelbarrow the three water cubes to the end of the driveway and fill them up at the well. When I need to use the bathroom, no matter what time of day it is, I put on a jacket and shoes to walk across the porch and the gravel driveway to the outhouse. It’s amazing how quickly you become grateful for a bathroom that’s just across your apartment, as opposed to your property.

For now, it’s a few more visits to the outhouse. Isn’t it worth it for this view?

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