Friday, February 10, 2017

Remote Living: Once-a-Year Deliveries

People who live in cities and suburbs enjoy the gift of spontaneity:
a) frequent, short trips to the supermarket or a restaurant when “there is nothing to eat in the house.”
b) "just in time” delivery of purchases

Short days = cold hauling
By contrast, residents of small towns, villages, and island communities plan their errands around once-a-week or once-a-month visits to Big Box stores where they buy bulk supplies, including food, tools, and toilet paper, to be stored in ubiquitous sheds or walls layered with shelves.  Even more remote homes and villages await twice a year shipments, by boat or plane of a pallet-load of carefully selected supplies... and an eye - opening delivery charge ($0.30 - $0.60/lb).

In our case, our little airplane affords a certain amount of spontaneity for excursions and small purchases... when the weather allows.  But big, bulky, heavy, or flammable items, like furniture and fuel, have to await a  once-a-year window for transportation to our remote home.  As you can imagine, we maintain and continually update a precious inventory and shopping list for these important occasions.  Some purchases are planned (or wait) for several years, since transportation needs have to be triaged by priority and some seasons are truncated.
Water catchment hauled in last winter

Thus, after seven years of waiting,  I look forward to a bathtub and my husband now has the rocking chair he has long wanted for the front porch.

Generally, January - March are our “hauling season” because the rivers are frozen thick enough to become speedy iceways for lodges and residences located alongside, as well as for the recreational snowmachiners and dog mushers who traverse them, too.  We, however, live an hour's snowmachine trip west of the rivers, so we need the right snow conditions to get there.  This winter began with so little snowfall, that we lost the entire month of January.  Devil's club spikes, alder, and even small spruce trees perforated the trail. Our only neighbor told us he went out into the woods to hack out some underbrush and even move around some snow!  But by the time we went out, his hard work was obscured by a 24 hour snowstorm that blanketed the landscape with a pillowy soft 13 inches.

So, before we could go anywhere, we had to construct a snow road hard enough to support the weight we anticipate - up to 1000 pounds - otherwise, the snowmachine, sled, and all purchases will be mired in the deep, soft powder, perhaps even far from any assistance.

To walk around our property, we first pat out “sidewalks” by walking several times in snowshoes, then drive lightly over them with snowmachines, and finally widen and flatten the paths with a groomer, each step followed by a freezing night or two to toughen the crusty surface.  For the 3.5 hour trip cross-country to the nearest road, we have lots of help, in the form of recreational snowmachine associations and race organizations that engage volunteers or paid staff to groom the river trail, which is 6/10 of our route.  Also, to and around remote ice fishing lakes, numerous ice fishermen carve shallow tracks with their machines and small supply sleds.  One such  pike fishing lake is halfway between us and the river.  Those tracks smooth out a 30 minute base trail traversed by the outdoors enthusiasts from the river to the lake (which is 2/10 of our distance). However, like the “last mile” in telecommunications (to the residential home),  constructing a 30 minute trail between that lake and our home is the most problematic. What to do?  We obviously don't want to snowshoe back and forth, and our heavy, "work-horse" machines have tipped into soft snow too often in the past to be cavalier about the work that goes into trail blazing.  Some recreational machines are designed for speeding through soft snow, but not ours.  Fortunately, winter moose hunters carved out back and forth tracks in the direction we plan to go both before and after the big snow.  So, one sunny weekend, my husband and I  followed a faint trail  toward the target lake, carrying come-alongs, snowshoes, and shovels in case we needed them.  Because his machine is wider and stronger than mine, Bryan went first, powering through and over the snow, dragging a groomer that redistributed, weighted, and smoothed out the recent snowfall.  I drove behind to press the snow down a bit further.  The next few nights of below 0 F temperatures hardened the surface.  Then, a few days later, the other remote cabin owner groomed it again, wider and harder.  Finally,  we established a reliably sturdy “snow road” for 30 lonely minutes from our cabin to the lake where it connected to the ice fishermen's path to the river, followed by 2 hours downstream along three rivers to the closest "real" road.  Like shoveling a driveway,  each additional snowfall erases evidence of prior work, but hauling heavy sleds would further improve conditions.

We then watched the weather.  My husband has determined that the ideal time to travel is between 0 and 15 F degrees, with neither wind nor snow.  Sunlight eases the way too.  Not only does it seem warmer, but also it sharpens contrasts and shadows.  Otherwise, in flat, gray light, it is a strain, hour after hour, to spot the margins of the white on white trail, fearing a deviation of a few feet that could dump the entire enterprise, resulting in sweaty work and a tedious delay.

Last week, he ran two, back-to-back, 7 hour round trips to deliver (empty and return full) several 100 lb propane tanks and 55 gallon drums for gasoline - much needed, because we were down to our last five gallons of gas!

I rose early to cook him a hearty breakfast of chorizo, tortillas, and eggs before my
Gasoline and propane going home
husband suited up.  It was minus 11 degrees F, but he needed to retrieve some fuel.  He donned his silk long underwear,  Carharrts quilted, lined snow suit, balaclava, fleece cap, glove liners, thick, long armed mittens, bunny boots, and a heavy, full face helmet (with a rebreather). Although his water froze and his ham radio didn't transmit to me, the trip was uneventful and he arrived 3.5 hours later, at EagleQuest Lodge, safe and sound, cold and stiff, for his usual hot mocha and spicy breakfast skillet, sharing a table with other haulers and locals at this friendly spot where the proprietor, Cindy, knows everyone's name.

Because we lost a whole month and have an especially long list of extra purchases, this year, Bryan hired a professional snowmachine hauler to help cut the number of tiring trips. Roger's machine is so much more powerful that it can handle a double sled, AND double the weight.  Plus, he can help Bryan load and unload the heavy materials. Well worth his reasonable fee.

Cindy filled the propane tanks right at the lodge, but other purchases Bryan had towed in on a 2 axle trailer and stored at EagleQuest for this once-a-year transport opportunity.  Bulky items have included an ATV, a metal cistern, construction supplies, furniture, and even 250 gallon water bladders in cages.

Roger flies like the wind, so the two of them pulled into our yard earlier than I expected.  I served up some stick-to-your ribs tamales and beans, followed by a decadent peanut butter chocolate dessert.  They deserved every warming calorie. After that break, they unloaded the boxes, barrels, and tanks at the fuel depot, woodshed, and cabin.  Creaky and tired, my husband stripped off his icy outer clothes as I poured him a glass of his home brewed Chimay.  Meanwhile, Roger headed toward his own cabin, four hours away, where his wife awaited him, no doubt with something hot to eat.  The next morning he would undertake the next of 60 more hauling trips he hopes to accomplish before the river ice starts to break up.

End of season update:  Anticipating a short season, we hired the professional hauler, as well as a construction crew to haul in what we estimate to be 11,000 lbs in 7 weeks for some long term supplies and construction equipment.  Monitoring the weather carefully, Bryan ran his final haul of the season on a Monday, two days before a predicted, end-of-March snow storm, degrading to sleet and rain, which would likely ruin the cross-country route.  Fortunately, his trip was clear, sunny, and windless and followed the very next day by a two day white out.  Phew!  We got everything in this short winter season.  Now we are set for Break Up, as we watch the snow degrade and wait for the lake to thaw.


  1. Wow, we take so much for granted in other parts of the world. It's so hot here, I'm ready to book my ticket and come help you pat down your snow. I've never patted down snow, but now I know how it's done.

  2. Dear Possum Queen: I appreciate your comments. Thanks, Laura