Off to Alaska - Life in a Tipi

Life in a Tipi

The Story

The first public display of production versions of our tipi style tents was at the Ouray Ice festival this year. During that time the tent acted as a place for many to keep warm and we met many interesting people. A group of enterprising young ice climbers asked if they could sleep in the tent over night, unfortunately due to security concerns at the park, they could not stay.  We offered the young men,  a chance to stay in a prototype 8 person tipi in our yard. They were good kids, with interesting stories, and they shared our passion for the outdoors (of course who climbs frozen waterfalls, if they don’t like getting outside). Anyway, a few months later we got an email from one of the ice climbers (Jesse) and his girlfriend (Angelina). They were interested in relocating to Homer Alaska (a place we’ve always wanted to visit, so perhaps we will need to do a customer visit) and they wanted to live in the tipi full time, while they were trying to get on their feet. They have one of our early production Tipi’s, so a few things have changed, and admittedly, the liner may have been a little rough. However, we were happy we could help them live their dream and we were interested in how the long term living would be. The following, is a report from Angelina and Jesse.

Life in a teepee

Thursday, August 11, 2011

We arrived to Homer, Alaska a little over six weeks ago and already the sun is
setting significantly earlier each day. The solstice has come and gone and autumn
is on the horizon. The teepee has been our home for these past darkless days at the
59th latitude. We have staked it in the Ohlsen Mountain community, a peak that rises
above Homer along its bluff, and gives home to some of the town’s most unique and
talented residents. Our caretaker at the moment is a former Iditarod dog musher
who lives on the original homestead built in the early 1900s to over 500 acres atop
Ohlsen Mountain. We live a life similar to more than 20% of Homeroids, sans indoor
plumbing nor heating. It is a luxury to shower in your own home, let alone shower
with hot water.

So the teepee is received with open arms in this community. We both hold down
(relatively) professional full-time jobs. Jesse is a float plane mechanic and I am
an administrative assistant to the largest halibut buying company in Alaska. Yet
we speak about our commodities without reservation and all who have ears to
hear, understand and can assimilate to our livelihoods. Tenting is quite common
as fishery workers fill the Homer Spit with tents each summer to work. Laundry
mats and shower houses (going rate these days is $7 per shower) become central
locations for the town’s residents. So we are not too far fetch from the status quo
here. But to be living in a teepee as opposed to tent? Now that is something that has
perked a few ears.

The teepee (or single-pole tent depending on your preference of terminology) has
been our saving grace. For those who have explored Alaska’s last frontier would
know that summers are a blender of rain, shine, wind, mosquitoes, and more rain.
Therefore, the teepee has been our shield against all these elements. We protected
the outside of the teepee with spray-on waterproofing guard we successfully
purchase on discount at the Sierra Trading Post Outlet store in Reno on out road trip
to the far north. It has held up to a tee as the coastal fronts unload its precipitation
before heading south. The only leaks have been through the zippers, and even those
have been few and far between.

Jesse sealed the base of the teepee with silt from the river. We didn’t want rain
seeping through the openings, so before attaching the inside insulation layer he got
buckets of silt and used it like paste to seal the edges. Nothing has leaked through
since except for a few spiders and shrews, but those seem unfortunately inevitable.

The double layer material has kept us warm through the 40 below nights. The
humidity is another item on our “learn to deal with list” since we have departed the
dry Colorado altitude. Even in the summer, long-johns are a must on highly humid
evenings (overcast and rain); the humidity always finds a way to pierce your bones.

But it doesn’t take long to get accustomed to the thick air, you just have to know
how to be prepared.

We purchased a wood-burning stove, but foolishly didn’t look at the dimensions. We
got the “Alaskan” thinking of course it was the wisest choice, but when it arrived in
Colorado, we decided the 2 ft. X 1 ft. metal box was a little too large to strap to the
roof of the Honda Civic for the journey. Keep in mind we drove the Civic over 6,000
miles from Durango, Colorado to Homer, Alaska (via many stops along the way)
with all our necessities for life for the next year including rock climbing gear, skis,
bikes, clothes for all four season, and Jesse’s plane mechanic tools, not to mention
the wok I couldn’t leave home without.

So unfortunately, the “Alaskan” stove did not make the cut. It came down to warmth
or skiing and we chose the latter only because at the time warmth seemed so trivial
compared to the possible back country terrain we were to find. But it is only early
August and the nearly 19 hours of sunlight has acted as our own natural heater. At
this latitude, daylight hours exponentially increase and decrease. Each day after
summer solstice (June 21st), the sun is in the sky roughly seven minutes less. Within
one week day light hours decrease 49 minutes, nearly one hour less than the week
before. Winter is coming and it is coming fast. With it comes cold. I am beginning to
think the decision of skis over stove was poor judgment.

Our adoptive caretaker has been so gracious to open her storage shed to our use.
In it we found insulated padding we were able to use as flooring to keep the heat
in and the cold away. We also took advantage of her many empty paint cans and
unused cinder blocks to use them as legs for our bed (the “bed”: simply paco pads
atop a particleboard base). We have a kitchen table and bed table assembled in
relatively the same fashion. The kitchen table sits on logs and the bed table is on
beer boxes which we use as drawers.

The kitchen is more like a pantry with all the cookware and stove stored outside
under a spruce tree for shade and cover from the rain. It gets cold enough at night
to cool down the cooler so we never need ice and just as long as you keep it in the
shade during the day, the cooler doesn’t get too warm. We looked into those super
heavy duty Yeti coolers before coming out here for fear of bears getting into our
stuff, but we haven’t had any problems yet (fingers crossed). The largest predators
to our food stash though are the many neighborhood dogs that roam the lands. To
deter their wet noses from finding our goods, we’ve resulted to putting camp straps
around the cooler so the dogs cannot knock it over to open it (a lesson learned).

“Life in a teepee.” That has become our new slogan in response to the adversities
that face us under a circular tarp.

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