Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Last Wilderness

As far back as I can remember I’ve had this fantasy about chucking civilization, building myself a cabin, and living off the land in some far-off wilderness - just like Dick Proenneke, or even Skip Robinson from The Adventures of the Wilderness Family. Well, I never actually had the courage to make such a drastic move, but fortunately for us dreamers, we can still read about the people who do have that pioneering spirit.

One such person, Michael McBride, recently published an autobiography about his life in the Alaskan bush, and how he grew his humble cabin into a world class lodge.

In The Last Wilderness, McBride tells the story of how he and his newlywed spent their entire life savings on supplies, rented a shuttle boat, and crossed over Kachemak Bay in 1969 to carve out a new life on China Poot Bay, roughly 10 miles from Homer, Alaska. The young couple literally had nothing to fall back on if they failed. Moreover, they made their move in November, just as the cold Alaskan winter was beginning to take hold. The only thing that would protect them from the elements was the old abandoned trapper’s cabin on their new property.

At first the McBride’s weren’t even sure how they were going to make a living. And, like the early settlers, they didn’t have electricity or running water for the first couple of years. They didn’t even have a boat to return to civilization in the event of an emergency.

Over time that old trapper’s cabin and the surrounding property would grow to become the Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, and in the process, the McBride’s would become one of the early pioneers of ecotourism – long before it was even a word. Soon the lodge was attracting guests from all over the world. Feature articles about it would appear in National Geographic, the New York Times, Men’s Journal and Outdoor Life. European royalty would also seek refuge at this beautiful outpost.

In addition to being a master guide, licensed skipper, bush pilot, marine biology expert and a Nationally Certified Yoga Teacher, Michael is also an outstanding writer. He’s very eloquent in his descriptions and observations, with almost a John Muir quality in his style. However, I thought there were times where he lapsed into ethereal rhetoric, where it was hard to tell what he was referring to. There were times where he didn’t provide enough background or context to a story, or it was difficult to ascertain the chronological order of events. However, I should say that I still found the McBride’s story of carving out a life in the harsh wilderness and building a successful business against all odds to be a great read.

It’s likely most of you have no realistic illusions of ever moving into the wilderness, but this book may inspire you to spend a few days or weeks in an isolated outpost of civilization someday, such as the Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge.

For more information on this book, please click here.

Hiking in Glacier National Park

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