THE BUSH LIFE

THE BUSH LIFE
My old boat on Six Mile Lake

THE BUSH LIFE

THE BUSH LIFE
My tent cabin on the Kvechak River

The Bush Life

The Bush Life
My old buddy "KAYAK"

Sunday, March 20, 2011

I found this interesting

For River Mike Cranford, isolation is in-tent-ional
by Reba Lean / rlean@newsminer.com
Feb 20, 2011 
River Mike Cranford talks about living the remote lifestyle at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
River Mike Cranford talks about living the remote lifestyle at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
slideshow
River Mike Cranford soaks up the sunshine on an otherwise cold afternoon at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
River Mike Cranford soaks up the sunshine on an otherwise cold afternoon at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
slideshow
River Mike Cranford, right, points out a newspaper article to his friend Markus Mager, left, during a visit by Mager at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
River Mike Cranford, right, points out a newspaper article to his friend Markus Mager, left, during a visit by Mager at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
slideshow
River Mike Cranford spends much of his time producing carvings and signs at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
River Mike Cranford spends much of his time producing carvings and signs at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
slideshow
River Mike Cranford s wall tent camp is seen from a distance along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
River Mike Cranford's wall tent camp is seen from a distance along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
slideshow
River Mike Cranford refers to a plastic jar hanging from a small tree he uses to send letters via passing boaters as his "Blueberry", joking "I need to get more apps for my Blueberry," at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
River Mike Cranford refers to a plastic jar hanging from a small tree he uses to send letters via passing boaters as his "Blueberry", joking "I need to get more apps for my Blueberry," at his wall tent camp along the North Fork of the Chena River about two miles off of Chena Hot Springs Road Wednesday, February 16, 2011. Cranford, who has lived the remote tent life at his current location for over six years, is the Spotlight for the week. Eric Engman/News-Miner
slideshow
FAIRBANKS — When life gives Mike Cranford black bananas, he eats them on oatmeal — much like someone would make lemonade out of life’s lemons. Cranford, or River Mike as he prefers to be called, has had to make the best of many tough circumstances in life. Black bananas are some of the least of his troubles.

The Sourdough Life

If ever there was a man who came to Alaska to get away from it all, it is River Mike. He lives in a wall tent year-round with his 6-year-old malamute husky, Matty. On the East Fork of the Chena River, Mike finally has the life he wished for when he left Oklahoma about 26 years ago.

“Before I came to Alaska, I had never heard the word ‘sourdough,’ but I knew I wanted to be one,” he said. Now he knows the term doesn’t just refer to pancakes, which are a major portion of his diet.

Living on his own in a two-layer canvas tent among the spruce trees and a fresh water supply gives Mike a sense of freedom he didn’t have for the first 40 years of his life. Now he’s 65 and he plans to finish his life where he is.

The term “off the grid” holds a certain meaning for River Mike. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one doesn’t exist on paper or isn’t reliant on others, but that one is disconnected from modern life.

Mike’s only connection to modernity is a radio on which he listens to talk shows and Trapline Chatter on KJNP-FM every Monday and Tuesday. He is diligent about listening to the radio hotline on those designated days because it’s the only way for people like Markus Mager, to get in touch with him.

Mager is a computer scientist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He came from Germany about five years ago and is River Mike’s most trusted friend.

Reaching River Mike

Visiting River Mike is no easy task, but Mager tries to every couple months. He brings special treats for Mike and drops off Matty’s dog food by boat in the summer.

In summer, the trail is longer because people have to avoid the river. Mager brought his parents one summer, and everyone arrived at Mike’s camp with soggy feet from the tundra. The winter trail is nicely groomed from heavy traffic, and visitors can walk along the river ice.

More than 40 miles down Chena Hot Springs Road, Mager parked his car in a driveway. He loaded his sled full of goodies, including newspapers, sausages, ice cream, cheese and bread — enough to last Mike a couple weeks. On what started out as a 30-below day, Mager began hiking on a snowmachined trapline to his friend’s home. About a mile in, a snow-shoed trail breaks off from the trapline. Mager followed the tracks behind his husky, Cheery.

The trail took Mager through short black spruce trees only as tall as him. Then it turned into an ice-covered slough, with taller spruce and heavily frost-laden branches. He had to duck beneath some fallen trees. The heat seemed trapped in the woods, but the winter’s yellow sun didn’t do much to heat the clearings. The trail led to the East Fork, where fresh bunny boot prints from River Mike and Matty were scattered about. Still following the trail, Mager arrived at a slough off the East Fork, and saw smoke from a tent’s chimney in the distance.

Solitude

“The dogs are born killers and I’m crazy,” states a sign leading to the tent. “Good idea to KNOCK.”

It’s just a facade. River Mike enjoys visits, especially from Mager. When Mager pulled his sled up at the front of the tent, Mike rifled through the groceries as he asked about Mager’s last two months. They chatted about Mager’s trip to Germany and things Mike took note of on the radio. Matty was visibly excited to see Cheery, following the smaller dog around the campsite.

Inside the wall tent, Mager helped himself to tea that he brought on one of his trips out. Mike doesn’t drink tea. A fire inside a wood stove roared and heated the small tent quickly. Incense burned to cover the smell Mike has become accustomed to, he said. Shelves made from wood poles held food, art tools, cigarette tobacco and Mike’s books. Mike has read his few books many, many times.

His favorite is “Arctic Village” by Robert Marshall. The book is a portrait of the town of Wiseman in the 1930s. Mike called it “insight into how folks like me think.”

One thing River Mike has a lot of is time. He doesn’t hunt, trap or fish, so he has even more hours than people might think. He spends a lot of it thinking about one-liners he either tells Mager or writes down for his artwork. He writes the sayings in calligraphy on polished wood. He also spends time collecting firewood. His life is simple — it’s about survival. He jokes that the hardest decisions he has to make all day are when he wakes up: where to take Matty on a walk and what to eat when they get back.

“Solitude is probably the hardest part,” he said. Visitors are rare. If he needs something from the store, he bundles up, hikes the trail and hitchhikes to Pleasant Valley, about 20 miles away.

River Mike’s story

Mike is a former auto body mechanic. It’s what he did in Oklahoma before he moved north, and it’s what he did when he started out in the state.

When he first arrived in Fairbanks about 1984, he wondered why on Earth he was doing the same job he had in Oklahoma. He thought, “There’s got to be more than this.”

He began traveling the state. He has herded reindeer, handled dog teams and sold his artwork. Somewhere along the way he picked up his 1961 GMC, “Ole Blue” as he calls it. The car has a wood stove inside, and he claims it’s “the most photographed truck in the whole state.”

River Mike has a way with tourists. He claims he can sell them anything, including sand from the beaches of Nome. He loves to set up his camp in front of a tourist attraction and become the attraction himself. In Skagway, he spent a summer on Broadway, telling visitors from cruise ships about his lifestyle and enticing them to buy his artwork and other Alaska items.

Since tourists carry credit cards more often than cash these days, selling his artwork has become difficult. That, coupled with Ole Blue’s engine troubles, mean that Mike has had trouble selling his art. Mager recently found someone to fix the car, and Mike is excited about the coming summer.

“Matty and I can take a tour of Alaska one more time,” he said. He wants to make it to Chatanika Lodge, which isn’t too far from home.

He calls Fairbanks and the Interior the “romantic” part of the state. He says that while the Southeast is beautiful, Fairbanks has the cold, the dark and the northern lights. “This is Alaska,” he said motioning to the view from his tent.

“This is my last camp,” he said. “I’ve been everywhere, done everything I’ve wanted to do.”


Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner - For River Mike Cranford isolation is in tent ional

3 comments:

becky3086 said...

This was wonderful!

John said...

Ya gotta give him credit. Man I love the free life.

becky3086 said...

My father-in-law lived sort of this way. He was free as far as his work as a woodcarver, built his own cabin (in NH), his own workshop, got water from the stream, had his animals and was happy as long as he made enough money to go to the little restaurant in town for coffee and had enough to pay his property taxes.