INTRODUCTION

 

INTRODUCTION

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It’s a good place to become who you’re trying to be instead of being who the world is trying to turn you, is trying to make you.
— MARTIN MORRISON

EPISODE NOTES

Out Here tells the stories of people who've dared to live life differently.

Focused on the end-of-the-road community of McCarthy, Alaska, it explores off-the-grid living, raising children in the wilderness, bucking the 9-to-5 and living off the land. It's easy to romanticize, but what's it really like living at the end of a 60-mile dirt road in Alaska surrounded by the country's largest national park?

Here you'll find grizzly bears, a rugged landscape, a community of individuals, self-reliance and self-governance. Here you'll learn about the boundaries of freedom and what happens when a community of transplants tries to make a go of it living in the woods. You'll hear stories of tragedy, triumph and a whole lot of floundering. And you'll hear about my own journey to make a life out here.

The podcast comes from my own experiences and those of 18 residents of the McCarthy area. You can learn more about the project and about me here

Music from Galen Huckins and Blue Dot Sessions / Slate Tracker, Ultima Thule, The Kennicott, ZigZag Heart / Episode artwork from Ian Gyori / Financial assistance from the Duffy Fund and the University of Missouri / Guidance and support from Scott Swafford, Sara Shahriari and Dr. Cristina Mislan / Featured in this episode: Tony Tengs, Ali Towers, Martin Morrison, Greg Fensterman, Stephens Harper, Tamara Harper and John Adams


 

1: HEADING NORTH

 

EPISODE I: HEADING NORTH

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I learned so much about my own resources. If you run out of something, you’ll think of something else. If you don’t run out of it, you never will
— CAROLE MORRISON

EPISODE NOTES

For Gary Green, it was gold prospecting. He wanted a place that was wild and lonely like the Westerns of his youth.

For Carole and Daniel Morrison, it was chance.

And for Greg Runyan and Kristin Link, it was the adventure, the community and the lifestyle.

And love.

Everyone has their own story. 

Some people come here to run away from the world. Others are seeking adventure and an alternative way of living.

Some stumble in as seasonal workers and never leave. Others build a house and a life and then move on. A few are born here.

The journey to get here is just the beginning.

At one point, there was no road. It was a fly-in only ghost town. When it did come, it was called the worst road in Alaska. There were mudslides, road glaciers and a rotting plank bridge across a 238-foot drop.

A lot of people turned back. But a few kept going all the way to the end of the 60-mile dirt road and beyond, heading toward the dark and the cold and the emptiness, toward a place with no services, no public utilities, no grocery stores and only their own resources to help.

What kept them going? Listen on, my friends.

Music from Galen Huckins and Blue Dot Sessions / Ultima Thule, Arctic Draba, McCarthy, Careless Morning, Building the Sled, Snowmelt, A Rush of Clear Water, Sweetly / Episode artwork from Ian Gyori / Financial assistance from the Duffy Fund and the University of Missouri / Guidance and support from Scott Swafford, Sara Shahriari and Dr. Cristina Mislan / Featured in this episode: Gary Green, Carole Morrison, Greg Runyan and Kristin Link


 

2: BUILDING IN THE WILDERNESS

 

EPISODE II: BUILDING IN THE WILDERNESS

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You get into things you don’t know how to do, and you just learn as you go. If you’re not willing to do that, you’re not going to survive out here.
— GREG FENSTERMAN

EPISODE NOTES

Building is what brought Karla Freivalds and Martin Morrison together.

Karla worked as a television producer on a show called "Building Alaska." Martin was on the show. Two years later they're still together, and they're renting the log cabin Martin helped build for the tv show. 

But they're not going to stay there forever. They want to try their hands at building a cabin on their own.

"It's kind of like a right of passage," Martin said.

The turn of a faucet, the flip of the switch, the drive to the grocery store: things we take for granted. But out here, you have to build it all from scratch: the cabin, the road in, the utility systems, the knowledge base that comes with off-the-grid living.

And a lot of people who come here, have no idea where to start.

"Everybody's always worried: How am I gonna build this house? I don't know how to build a house. And you're like, of course you don't know how to build a house," 35-year resident Malcolm Vance said.

"It's just a lot of mini-failures."

On this episode of Out Here: stories of building a cabin and a life in McCarthy.

Because there's a lot of different ways to go about it. And you have to get creative when the nearest Home Depot is an eight-hour drive, and the only person providing your utilities is you.

Music from Galen Huckins and Blue Dot Sessions / Ultima Thule, Valantis, Burrow Burrow, Club Count, Swapping Tubes, The One Shot / Episode artwork from Ian Gyori / Financial Assistance from the Duffy Fund and the University of Missouri / Guidance and support from Scott Swafford, Sara Shahriari and Dr. Cristina Mislan / Featured in this episode: Martin Morrison, Karla Freivalds, Greg Fensterman, Greg Runyan, Ian Gyori, Stephens Harper, Tamara Harper, Mark Vail, Carole Morrison and Malcolm Vance


 

3: LIVING IT

 

EPISODE III: LIVING IT

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I’ve had scary moments. There’s been a bear that visited the cabin once. When it’s 30 below, you definitely question your sanity a little bit. But those experiences just amount to living a full life, in my opinion.
— KARLA FREIVALDS

EPISODE NOTES

Ali Towers and Scott Anthony first came to McCarthy in the summertime. When a couple needed a caretaker for their cabin, they traded in a winter in Hawaii for cold weather gear, a generator, a chainsaw and a snow machine. They decided to stay through the winter together in a tiny cabin, and they'd only just met a few months before.

The odds were against them. They didn't know how to run a chainsaw or how to get water. They didn't know how to go grocery shopping for four months at a time.

They didn't know how to live life out here in the wintertime.

On this episode of Out Here, hear how they fared their first winter. Then, Mark Vail, a 30-year resident of the McCarthy talks about day-to-day life. He'll answer the question that resident Greg Fensterman says he gets all the time from summertime tourists.

"What do you do all winter?"

And several residents share how and why they live off-grid and have decided against a 9-to-5 lifestyle. Hear how they make money in a place without a wintertime economy, and hear the nitty-gritty of life in a cold weather climate. 

 Things like to break here all at once. And everything always takes longer than it should. Life out here takes patience. And a whole lot of floundering.

Music from Galen Huckins and Blue Dot Sessions / Winter Theme, Ultima Thule, Rapids, Hammer and Damper / Also music from Martin Morrison and Pete Seger / Episode artwork from Ian Gyori / Financial assistance from the Duffy Fund and the University of Missouri / Guidance and support from Scott Swafford, Sara Shahriari and Dr. Cristina Mislan / Featured in this episode: Ali Towers, Scott Anthony, Ian Gyori, Malcolm Vance, Mark Vail, Karla Freivalds, Gary Green, Greg Runyan and John Adams


 

4: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

 

EPISODE IV: BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS

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Your kids are out there exposed to whatever nature can hurl at them, and you have to be okay with that as a mother. We’ve taught them how to deal with it. We’ve taught them how to stop and build a fire or whatever it is they need to do. We’ve taught them to be prepared.
— LAURIE ROWLAND

EPISODE NOTES

In 2000, Laurie Rowland and her husband Keith uprooted their family of five from Fairbanks and moved to the end of the road. They wanted their kids to grow up in a place where they would learn how to do things for themselves.

"We wanted our kids to be not just educated but competent," Laurie said.

Life in the wilderness with young kids wasn't always easy. Sometimes they did really dangerous things. Sometimes they got hurt. And they had to be intentional about their relationships because there weren't many other kids to run off and play with.

"You have to realize these are my people. I've got to make whatever relationship work with them. It has to be right," Laurie said. "Otherwise, I'm kind of by myself."

The solitude scares many, but the intimacy might be more intimidating. Living through a winter with another person in a tiny cabin is no small feat. What happens when you add kids to the mix?

On this episode of Out Here, hear the benefits and challenges of living in a place where loneliness and aloneness aren't the same things.

Hear the secret to surviving winter after winter in an 11 x 13-foot cabin.

And hear what it's like raising a family in a place with no school, no hospital and a whole lot of wilderness.

Music from Galen Huckins and Blue Dot Sessions  / Ultima Thule, Lead In, Bell Solo, Nuthatch, Deathly Recitation, Villager, Tidal Foam, Colrain, Flagger, The Kennicott / Also from Podington Bear / Boardwalk / Episode artwork from Ian Gyori / Financial assistance from the Duffy Fund and the University of Missouri / Guidance and support from Scott Swafford, Sara Shahriari and Dr. Cristina Mislan / Featured in this episode: Gary Green, Martin Morrison, John Adams, Mark Vail, Greg Runyan, Kristin Link, Greg Fensterman, Malcolm Vance, Karla Freivalds, Tamara Harper, Stephens Harper, Scott Anthony, Ali Towers, David Rowland, Laurie Rowland and Carole Morrison


 

5: LIVING WITH THE WILD

 

EPISODE V: LIVING WITH THE WILD

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I think the more that you’re connected with your surroundings and the resources around you, the more that you’re interested in conserving them.
— KRISTIN LINK

EPISODE NOTES

In the middle of the country's largest national park, people live with animals large and small, and they also live with the weather. In a place like McCarthy, the outside creeps in.

Because you can't even go to the bathroom without having to venture outside.

That makes climate change more obvious and impactful. It means people use the resources around them to survive. And it means most people want to live more of a subsistence lifestyle. Whether they actually do is a different story.

On this episode of Out Here, hear how living with the wild makes you more aware of your natural surroundings, hear how this community of transplants is struggling to live off the land for a variety of reasons and hear what it's really like living with grizzly bears.

"You can't leave your cooler with the ham on the front porch in August when the bears are cruising around, " Stephens Harper said. He's the lead law enforcement ranger in the area for the national park. And he's also a community member.

"Nobody wants to be the cop of your neighbor," he said.

In a community of individuals where there are no city ordinances, no local government and no real law enforcement to solve the problem, you have to be the one to walk over and tell your neighbor to take the ham off the porch.

Or that bear just might come on your porch, push in your window and make a big old mess.

Music from Galen Huckins and Blue Dot Sessions  / Ultima Thule, Glinting Giant, Kallaloe, Decompression, Snow Crop, The Big Ten, Gondola Blues, When in the West / Episode artwork from Ian Gyori  / Financial Assistance from the Duffy Fund and the University of Missouri / Guidance and support from Scott Swafford, Sara Shahriari and Dr. Cristina Mislan / Featured in this episode: Karla Freivalds, Malcolm Vance, Stephens Harper, Laurie Rowland, Gary Green, Kristin Link, Mark Vail, Ian Gyori, Greg Runyan, David Rowland, Greg Fensterman and Ali Towers


 

6: MAKING COMMUNITY

 

EPISODE VI: MAKING COMMUNITY

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We don’t care what you do on your individual level. That’s between you and your maker—unless you’re impinging on someone else’s space or rights.
— MARK VAIL

EPISODE NOTES

People come and go. Others stay for years. There's no government beyond the state. And there are all different ideas of what the community really is or what it should be. Yet, somehow, it works.

"We are a far-flung, loosely dispersed bunch of people," Stephens Harper said.

The community is far from traditional. There are no schools, no hospitals, no year-round stores or restaurants. A non-profit helps with community-wide decisions. They hold meetings half the year, and people raise their hands to vote. Otherwise, there's no police force, public utilities or local government.

People do it all on their own. They come from different political, religious, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Everyone has a different way of living out here.

And yet, there are things that bind us. 

We sort each other’s mail and entrust each other with it. A former ghost town binds us. Common experiences bind us. The challenges of life out here bind us. 

"We all kind of get together and share parties, share dinners, share birthdays, share Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year's, share snow machine expeditions," Greg Runyan said. "It’s really magical like that."

This place is far from perfect. It lacks racial diversity and generational wisdom. There's conflict and people act irresponsibly. But, in general, it does work.

On this episode of Out Here hear why people who don't like each other still take care of each other, and why you can leave your door unlocked, your keys in your car and walk home alone in the dark without worrying about anything more than a grizzly bear.

"It's kind of like living on the moon, like we're in our own little community out here," Greg said."There's no one else to help us. It's just us. We all gotta get along."

And hear from Stephens Harper, a community member and law enforcement ranger for the park. What's it like regulating in a national park littered with private land in-holdings?

Especially in a community of individuals where a lot of people really don't like rules.

Music from Galen Huckins and Blue Dot Sessions  / Ultima Thule, Cash Cow, Sunday Lights, Jackbird, Patched In, Vernouillet, McCarthy / Episode artwork from Ian Gyori / Financial assistance from the Duffy Fund and the University of Missouri / Guidance and support from Scott Swafford, Sara Shahriari and Dr. Cristina Mislan / Featured in this episode: Greg Runyan, Stephens Harper, Tamara Harper, Malcolm Vance, Mark Vail, Ian Gyori, Ali Towers, Greg Fensterman, Gary Green, Karla Freivalds, Laurie Rowland, Scott Anthony, David Rowland and Kristin Link


 

7: CHANGE

 

EPISODE VII: CHANGE

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There’s still plenty of wilderness out there.
— DAVID ROWLAND

EPISODE NOTES

It started as a boom town. And then it busted. Then people came to live an older way of life.

But progress called. First came the road and then the park. And then, the people.

Tourism increased. The economy shifted. A hand tram was replaced by a footbridge. Later a vehicle bridge was added by a private individual.

Letters, CB radios and radio messaging systems were replaced by cell phones and 4G LTE internet.

Vacation homes started. Services were brought in. Now you could build a life out here without having to do it all on your own.

A reality television show came and went, and a two-story restaurant popped up in town. The road improved and maintenance grew more frequent. Now the isolation and the hardship became more of a choice than a necessity.

"The difficulties of pulling off life here and making life comfortable here are, in my mind, a very strong thread of the fabric of our community," Stephens Harper said.

"As things get easier and as you can now just pay for it, that is not a common thread amongst everybody in this community any longer."

With tourism came environmental impact and potential regulation. 

"There's impact, there's feces, it's a big issue," Greg Runyan said. "The way that changes things: You have to have group size limits and trip limits. Out here it’s always just been like you just go."

On this episode of Out Here, what's progress for a place surrounded by preservation?

Music from Galen Huckins and Blue Dot Sessions / Ultima Thule, Rapids, Borough, Valantis, Turning to You, Pikers, El Tajo / Episode artwork from Ian Gyori / Financial Assistance from the Duffy Fund and the University of Missouri / Guidance and support from Scott Swafford, Sara Shahriari and Dr. Cristina Mislan / Featured in this episode: Martin Morrison, Gary Green, Ian Gyori, Mark Vail, Greg Fensterman, Carole Morrison, Greg Runyan, Malcolm Vance, John Adams, David Rowland, Stephens Harper, Scott Anthony, Tamara Harper and Kristin Link