May 03, 2013

Q&A With Kate and Andy

Q: Can you describe your life before Alaska?
Kate: My life before Alaska was also a wonderful adventure, but totally polar opposite to the life I live now. The only things I miss are my family, friends, and high heel shoes.

Q: What do you think would most surprise people about your lifestyle?
Andy: It is very comfortable. We work physically, but we have a very high quality of life. For me, quality of life is measured by how much free time you have to pursue your interests. Isn’t that what retirement is supposed to be? Two years after I moved to Eagle, I visited my family in Silver Spring, Maryland. My dad introduced me to his friend, “This is my youngest son Andy, who lives in the Alaska bush and is retired.” I was only 25 or 26 years old at the time. We always chuckled at that. Later, he came and witnessed firsthand my life, and the retirement thing seemed to slip away.

Kate:People are most surprised by the fact that I am not afraid of being alone in the bush. Quite the contrary, I am very comfortable. 

Q: Have you always been an outdoor person? Was there a particular experience you had that spurred you into this lifestyle?
Andy: Growing up in suburban Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C., I spent all of my time outside. I just loved to be in the woods. It always felt natural and I was always at peace there. My parents were also instrumental in getting me involved in Scouting and later in a father-son club my dad organized with some co-workers. We would meet twice a month at one of the member’s homes and they would teach us a skill or an activity that they were good at. Then every year on Father’s Day, 7-15 father/son pairs would pack up and spend a week on a group camping trip. That was one of the most valuable experiences growing up, and great exposure to many types of experiences.

Q: What’s a typical day like for you during the winter?
Andy: That very much depends on the time of winter; our dogs are the main focus of my time and energy in the winter. Early on, we focus on getting them in shape and trapping, though not as much as I did when [they were] younger. Otherwise, I’m busy with basic chores like getting wood, collecting water from the Yukon under the ice, and keeping trails open. Living off the grid with wind and solar power also requires a daily routine of checking power consumption and ensuring the batteries are performing well and maintained. I always have a long list of projects I want to accomplish, so there is never time to just sit around for me. That said, Kate and I like to spend the mornings in bed with coffee and tea just chatting, and evenings are our time together.

Q: How do you keep yourselves entertained when weather keeps you cut off from “civilization.”?
Kate: This is our civilization. The rest is merely outside. It is peaceful during the freeze-up in the fall and break-up in the spring of the Yukon River ice, knowing you can't travel. Extremely zen.

Q: What is the scariest moment you’ve had out alone in the winter?
Andy: I have had a few very close calls with death. Most recently, I fell through the ice at the mouth of a small river and was almost swept away by the current under the ice. The dogs were on top and unintentionally were pinning me to the bottom of the river. I had bad dreams for a long time after that, and still get clammy when I think of how close I was to not making it.

Q: What is your proudest moment?
Andy: I am pretty humble, but I think the best experience I have ever had was my years alone trapping with the dogs. I went three months without seeing anyone; it was just me and the dogs and the wilderness. I never felt lonely and never felt scared, it just seemed right for me. I experienced very pure thought and no compromise in my life. I was living day-to-day with just my dogs for companionship, and we became very close. We were so in tune with each other they would do things without me giving commands.

What would you say your biggest daily/weekly challenge is during the winter?
Kate: Sometimes it is hard to get motivated to do my mundane daily chores. Sounds like life anywhere, does it not!? 

Q: Tells us about your dogs: how many do you have?
Andy: Currently, we have 25 dogs. A few are retired or close to it.

Q: Do they all have names?
Andy: Of course they do! Having 25 dogs is like running a daycare center for 2-year-olds; they are very similar in behavior. Each time we have a litter of pups, we choose a theme to name each pup from that litter by. It helps us keep track of who is related to whom, and of course choosing funny names is a lot of fun.

Q: Do you have a favorite?
Andy: Yes, but we really love them all. I think for me the favorite changes from time to time depending on what I am doing and how they are behaving. Some dogs tune in to you better than others, so those tend to become favorites. Each has a very distinct personality, just like kids.

Q: Do you think of them as family, or more like employees?
Andy: Our dogs are working pets. They are all very well trained and all come inside to spend time with us one on one. We tend to spoil the dogs at times, but I really like having a close bond with the dogs. I ask a lot from them and in return they are treated very well.

What do you hope viewers will take away from watching you on this show?
Kate: I would like viewers to see that life in the bush for a woman is a wonderful life, not a hardship. If I inspire one woman to come over to the wild side, I will be delighted.

If you could choose any other place in the world to live, where would it be and why?
Kate: I have thought about that, and for me there is nowhere else in this world I would rather be. I will be a part of this land for as long as I live and beyond. It frightens me to think otherwise.

Andy: As Dorothy once said, “There is no place like home.” I have no desire to live anywhere else. This is where I belong.

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