‘What do you think about spending a winter in Alaska?’ my wife asked me one day. I was enjoying a very good job at Sky looking after multi-million pound partnerships and brands. We lived in a quiet cul-de-sac in Zone 2 in London with lovely neighbours. I hesitated. I procrastinated. I fretted.
Eventually, I said yes. Well, it’s the sort of chance that you don’t get twice in your life.
Friends who live a subsistence life in the remote Yukon wilderness and run a small husky-sledding business had invited us to spend a winter with them.
That was two years ago. We’re now spending our second winter in our 12’ x 20’ cabin in the bush. We’re a two-hour flight in the mail plane from the nearest town, completely off the road system and the electricity grid. We haul our water from a creek half a mile away. On this side of the river there isn’t another settlement for hundreds and hundreds of miles.
There is a village six miles upriver with an airstrip and a post office. The only way to reach the homestead from there is by boat in the summer and by dogsled or snow machine in the winter. For 10-16 weeks of the year we’re completely cut off from the rest of the world. When the river’s freezing or thawing it’s too dangerous to travel.
Living in crowded Britain you can’t really get a sense of the wild. Here bears amble through our yard. The caribou migration flowed across the river at our doorstep. Eagles wheel overhead. And you have to be careful. The nearest hospital is a very long way away.
Life here is different and unpredictable. Every day comes with some adventure or another – a bear raiding the fish store, a dog with a face-full of porcupine quills, a snow machine stuck in a huge drift.
Working here is about as remote as it gets. So how do I write that Christmas mailer for TalkTalk or edit graduate recruitment copy for Vodafone?
There’s a nine-hour time difference, so Skype calls need careful planning. The morning routine goes something like this: First, build a fire and light the wood stove. Then get our little Honda generator outside and crank it. Finally, switch on the satellite modem and wait for the connection.
Then, even here in my cabin among the sub-arctic spruce, I can help a client in London sound more human.
We’ll be featuring regular news from Neil, as he braves the Alaskan winter. So watch this space for more adventures from our intrepid writer and much-missed team member.