A Moveable House

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When buying a house, something that comes up often is ‘location, location, location’. Websites and professionals tell you to look at the houses around you, are you close to a school, where is the closest grocery store? It basically comes down to how many square miles your life will reasonably fill up in daily tasks (so maybe don’t worry about your favorite Friday night bar). And for me, I have to say, location played a big role in choosing my place. I have a trail close by, I’m not too far from work, there are no hills between me and work, and the grocery store is just a few minutes away. So I would be a hypocrite to say that location wasn’t a factor to me. But by no means do I wake up with the same view every morning. That is far from the truth.

Instead, I also bought a moveable house for my dog. My REI Half Dome 2+ is perfect for Kiska and myself, plus my bag. I am totally that dog lady who read the reviews and honed in on any pictures or posts that had a dog in it. When people give the specs of their dog, their review becomes priceless to me. You fit yourself, a pack, your sweetie, and you 75 pound, long haired, sprawler of a child in your tent? Perfect.

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For me though, Kiska likes a little more leg room than most dogs. Probably because of the plates in her knees from her torn ACLs, she very rarely curls up like a lot of dogs I see. And that’s ok, she has had quite the medical road so far at the tender age of 4. But, that means that it is a bit cramped for her, myself, and another person. Due to some squished nights with little sleep, I bought a second tent for Barksalot. I got the Marmot Limelight 3. There! A three-person tent should fit me, Kiska, and another person. Because when shopping on sale, why not.

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Though this tent is heavier than the 2 person, the extra room helps ensure that everyone gets a good night’s rest – should a second person join us. And to be honest, it’s much easier to fit her sleeping pad and sleeping bag in there when it’s meant for three people anyways. Oh yes, Kiska has an air mattress, a fall/spring bag, and her winter bag. My next dog will probably have more fur, but I didn’t notice her pink mostly-naked-belly when I adopted her at 8 weeks old (to be honest I was looking more at her face), and now in the winter she gets a bit chilly tent camping, or out all night watching Lady Aurora. My adventure buddy should be just as comfortable as I am. And hopefully my next dog will have a bit more insulation for living here (and white toe nails so they are easier to clip). Even though my friends give me grief, on multiple occasions a friend not planning to spend the night has ended up sleeping on her pad and in her bag and in our tent. So consider me ridiculous, or overly prepare, I’ll take them both.

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I don’t deny that I bought my dog and cat a condo. Because with as many cultural saying out there, I will also mention that not only should you consider location, but no matter where you live, ‘home is where your heart is’. So when I take the love of my life to a cabin, or we camp back in a mountain basin, or take a boat out to an island and camp on the beach, when I wake up with Barky it doesn’t matter where my home is. Because the little beast that I love more than anything is there with me. Without Kiska and Ember, my condo would just be a condo: a place I store my stuff and where I keep my food. It wouldn’t have the emotional attachment of providing for my little fur-mily, the mornings snuggling in bed squished between them, or how Ember runs up and down the stairs at night like a possessed little dust bunny. To me, it would just be four walls, a floor, and a roof.

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The Kingdom of North Douglas

The people of North Douglas are a proud people. They treasure their relationship with nature, and the solitude and community they have fostered. You can always tell the locals from people who have spent time down south, as townies lament about driving ‘all the way out North Douglas’. But the people who choose to live out North Douglas are happy with their seclusion. It is only a ten minute drive from the bridge to ERA Helicopters. For some reason our perception of time and distance changes as soon as you take a right and head west along the island.

But there are several reasons to head out North Douglas. For anyone that likes to ski or snowboard, Eaglecrest sits back in the valley overlooking the airport from its ridgeline. When they built the Black Bear chair they put in a maintenance gravel road, and this road serves as a pedestrian thoroughfare in the summer, helping to preserve the marshy meadows. There is a trodden trail along the ridgeline once you get to the top of Ptarmigan chair, and there are also some alpine lakes for swimming in the summer. One time we even crashed a Land’s End photo shoot at the top of Eaglecrest. In the fall, it is so wonderful to see parents with their small children up picking blueberries, and recently a mountain bike trail was put in coming down through the ski runs and weaving in the trees. Many Klondike Road Relay runners will train for the harder legs by running up the Eaglecrest road.

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If you look at the hunting regulations, because Douglas is an island, you are allowed to shoot does past September 15th. So we say, ‘if it’s brown it’s down’. The only problem is that for people who don’t own boats, Douglas is the closest and easiest way to be able to hunt both does and bucks. So you can see how it’s easy for the area to get over hunted. The deer are very skittish and elusive during hunting season. But, there aren’t any brown bears* and unfortunately most of the wolves got trapped several years back. There are still plenty of black bears, and one time I even got stalked by a young dumb one. But I just sat in a meadow facing him waiting for him to catch up, and as soon as he saw me sitting there watching him, he – literally – mid step just turned and hung his head and walked into the woods knowing he had been spotted. But overall hunting on Douglas is pretty safe, and as long as you never cross over a peak (and end up on the backside), if you get lost just walk downhill towards the ocean and you will eventually hit the road. The alpine hunting is both beautiful and frustrating, as the clouds can roll in and leave you wondering where the trees went. But when the alpine snow gets too deep, both the hunters and the deer get pushed down hill.

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But, being a true Alaskan, I don’t just want to be able to play at the top of mountains; I want to be able to dip my toes in the ocean too. Out the Rainforest Trail at the end of the road empties out into a rocky shoreline. We have our own special spot out there, where families have come together over the years to create rock fireplaces and seats, so for years we have been able to sit back and enjoy the sunsets. Named after a beloved dog, ‘Chunks Beach’ is our favorite summer time spot for shenanigans. We have had solstice parties, evening bond fires, and of course have shared so many laughs and memories. And yes, being a townie, it is a bit of a drive, but the view and friends is always worth it.

* There have been a few brown bears that have been seen and shot on the backside of Douglas, where they swam over from Admiralty Island. But it is exceptionally rare.

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The Backloop Group

I was very fortunate to live on Backloop for a few years. Yes, they tend to have snow the longest, tend to be colder than other areas of town thanks to the giant ice cube just a few miles north, and thanks to the impressive mountain views, tend to get a little less sunlight. Though, I have to say, it was all worth it for me. I enjoy being a little further away from town and people, and enjoyed being so close to the glacier.

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One thing I never really heard was sirens. For some reason, and it wasn’t because the house was well insulated, we just didn’t get street noise, even though our street branched off the main drag. It was convenient to be close to the main road, without really suffering any of the drawbacks. My yard was situated close to the Dredge Lake area, so in the summer when I wanted to make blueberry muffins or a blueberry pie for my housemate, I just had to put on my shoes, walk out my back door, and across the yard to the berry bushes and walk as far back into the woods as I needed to until I picked 4 cups of berries. Talk about a lazy bakers dream!

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Though, there were times when the forest came out to us too. I found that there was a lot more bear activity on the Backloop than in other areas of the valley. But having the glacier area and the whole Juneau Icefield as your general backyard, most people never even batted an eye. And why would they? It took simple forethought to forego a lot of ‘problems’ that some people faced. Secure your trash. Don’t leave food out in the backyard and get mad when a bear or the birds come to give it a loving home. These two things could have saved some people a lot of problems.

But the bears also have an impact on Backloop and glacier area adventuring. From the Mendenhall River entrance to Dredge Lake, you have access to a huge trail system that you can spend hours on if you want. I also allows you to go from one trail system, head towards the glacier, cross the road, and hop onto the Under Thunder trail and head south towards town and go several miles without hitting pavement. From the Under Thunder trail, you can even head up and over Thunder Mountain and drop down into the Fred Meyer area if you wanted to. Well, some people do on accident actually. So, if you hike Thunder, pay attention to the trail signs.

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But aside from the Dredge area, out Montana Creek road you can hop onto the Montana Creek trail and hike northwest for approximately 13 miles until you come to the beautiful Windfall Cabin out the road. Hiking that trail was a wonderful experience, and though the trail needed a bit of work in a few sections, I highly recommend the day trip from town to Windfall. We parked a car at each end, and spent a warm summer day hiking from dense trees, to meadows, to follow along the river and end at Montana. I will warn you, we had to cross the river once, so be aware that you may be getting wet and Barkie may be going for a swim.

But, if instead of hiking away from town, you want to go towards the Brotherhood Bridge area, there is a wonderfully paved path that goes from Backloop through the woods and empties out in the beautiful meadow at Brotherhood. This trail is awesome for runners who want their not-running buddies to join on bikes or skates, or with strollers and kiddos. But keep in mind, there are several black bears that live back there, and I have occasionally run up on deer on the trail before we saw each other and they bounded off. There is fishing in the river, a horse trail for more rugged off-roading, and of course plenty of squirrels for the chasing. There is also a trail that parallels the main path, and makes trail running easier for people who don’t want to be too far away from other people should they need assistance. * This is not to replace being safe in the woods and letting someone know where you are and when you expect to be back.

And as we welcome March but look forward to summer, we can’t forget the snow sports at the glacier! The Juneau Ski Club is amazing and maintains a wonderful cross country ski track out at the Mendenhall campgrounds. Everyone I have met out there is just wonderful and so respectful. Dogs are little LED balls bouncing through the trees at night, and most people offer a friendly greeting, but some are obviously in the middle of a serious workout. It is nice to see all skill levels together along with their furry friends.

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Auke Bay Fleet

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Just as living out North Douglas can be ‘so far away’, so is the Auke Bay area for people who live down town. But let me tell you, the original people who settled here had it right! Auke Bay gets less rain than down town does, they tend to have more sun, and generally better weather. We always joke about having to go ‘north of the border’ to see the sun. Though their snow can stick on the ground longer than the valley, for those of us that enjoy the snow it’s not always a bad thing.

While I lived in the Auke Bay area, I was graced with more sunsets that took my breath away than I can count, more beers and s’mores (have you tried using an Oreo instead of graham crackers and chocolate? You’re welcome.)  than I care to admit, and so many adventures I probably can’t remember them all. People always joke about being a valley person, down town person, or Douglas person, and I have to say that I am an Auke Bay kind of girl at heart.

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Having been married to a commercial fisherman, Auke Bay was the spot to live. It is no secret that a fisherman’s first love is the ocean, so being able to watch the boats dock at dusk, and head out at first light was something that made him a bit less restless being stuck on a rock. And the stumbling distance from Squires was also a plus. As with any community, the fishing community needs a place to call theirs; a place that they can get rowdy, tell stories, network, and express both their joys and sorrows. For many local fishermen, Squires is the place. But in the summer it also fills with whale watching crews, who also share a love of the ocean. So really, Squires is a ‘we love the sea’ bar. The older fishermen who have earned their own special chairs at the bar while they all watch hunting shows and drink Vitamin R, are the consistent fixture that give Squires the beloved local feel, and it is noticed when they are gone from their post.

For those of us who would rather get outside to enjoy our comradery, living in Auke Bay gets you most of the way to most of our cabins. Possibly due to the topography of the area as downtown has steeper mountains and there aren’t any cabins on mountain peaks, or the fact that ‘out the road’ has more sprawling and wooded area, you will find almost all of our local cabins past the Auke Bay roundabout. Again, only people who have never lived in large cities will complain about having to drive ‘all the way’ out Auke Bay, but the beaches and the cabins are worth the extra 15 minutes.

Though there are beaches on Douglas and out Thane, I have found that generally the most popular beaches are out Auke Bay. You get a good mix of jagged rocky beaches where the waves thunder against shore, beaches with round pebbles in a smooth arc of a cove, and the giant alluvial fan that sprawls out to the ocean at such a gentle slope. On even just ‘decent’ nights you usually have at least someone with a fire, people scattered around it for warmth or light socializing and laughing. And during the summer days when the wind isn’t biting and the surf isn’t crashing, paddle boarders and kayakers take to the ocean while families barbecue and dogs keep their children busy with sticks and balls.

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And even for people who don’t want to hassle with the beach, tent camping, or cabin camping, just driving out the road can give you the opportunity to see whales from the pull outs, and let you appreciate the beauty of nature even if you don’t want to get too personal with nature.

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Love in the Great Outdoors

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Phew! Now that the holiday roller coaster is mostly over, we have one last little hill then slide into a summer of simplicity!

Valentine ’s Day is such an odd duck: either people love it or hate it. Personally, I see it a lot like Christmas and think that we have fallen into the consumer trap of our affections having a price tag. After reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Marie Kondo), and not buying anything new for several months (except that one running skirt at Christmas) and counting, I have shifted my view on stuff: hopefully for the best. I am putting less value on things, and more value on experiences. So, being a baller on a budget, I look forward to VD not with ribbons and bows, but rather with laughter and views.

Some of us are romantics at heart, and others are more of the practical sort. But in nature, there is a little bit for everyone. It doesn’t take a creative genius (though Pinterest and Google sure help) to think of something romantic to do outside. Though, depending on your location, it can take a little extra pre-planning. For the hopeless romantics, a beach-side dinner complete with candles stuck in the sand and an adorable blanket thrown over a piece of drift wood can be a memorable setting. But let’s not forget the snow bunnies! Looking back years ago, my friends and I still reminisce nostalgically about digging little holes in the snow so we could recline back in comfort in a large open meadow, each person bringing their own favorite thermos of hot tea and bottle of wine to share, while bundled up tight we watched the stars, told stories, and hoped for the northern lights. No, we don’t have anything to tangibly show for it, but that was a night we have not yet forgotten.

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And for the practical person in your life, consider it an opportunity to burn some calories before you feast on a glorious meal. A cross country skiing date or a trail walk or run will help offset that bottle of wine you paired with dinner and get everyone in the mood to enjoy some hot (or cold) food. Nothing makes food taste better than an elevated heart rate! And like anyone will turn down an ACTUAL excuse for that extra glass of beer.

But all of this aside, experiences are something that you can’t buy in the store. It’s something that no one will ever share but you, and something no one will ever appreciate more than you. So instead of buying something from the store (unless it’s a plane ticket or a guided adventure), consider something that really will be just unique as you are.

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And for the single peeps this time of year, TAKE YOURSELF ON A DATE!! Because you are pretty fabulous and have every reason to celebrate how awesome you are.

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Marten 24 Hour Stay-Cation

I feel the adult equivalent of taking a ‘time out’ is running away to a cabin on a Wednesday afternoon, and telling your boss you will see them sometime Thursday afternoon.

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Even if January was the first snowfall-less January since 1942, at least out the road still has snow on the ground. Town has been looking pretty bleak on the snow front, so it was nice to see some snow driving out the road to Eagle Beach.

In Juneau you will run into plenty of people who’s weekends fall on random days. Having so many people in the tourist industry, fishermen, people in the private sector, and of course our various pilots and captains. My boyfriend Plett happens to be a pilot, so his weekend is Wednesday and Thursday. So, seizing his weekend and not having to worry about compete with other campers, we booked the Marten cabin at Eagle Beach.

I will say, this is the first time I have ever camped out there, and I wasn’t even completely sure where the cabin was. But, thankfully a little wooden sign pointed us off the main trail and into the woods on the left. We passed plenty of fire pits, so I’m guessing that in the summer there are plenty of families that come here for some less extreme camping. And personally, I am so happy that there is some amount of ‘car camping’ options in town for families – and those of us that want to be lazy.

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I will say that the cabin was a little smaller than I was expecting, having been in so many other Forest Service cabins. But, the audience of these cabins are probably single families, not adults and 10 of their friends plus a dog or two. There was a nice little nordic stove, though it was slightly different than the one in Cowee. Plett took the three gallons of fuel and put it in the fuel tank out back, and we lit the stove and for a while I snuggled for warmth. I know I was only 20 minutes out of town, but the temperature was colder out the road, and the cabin took a lot longer to heat up than I was expecting. I probably should have warn warmer bottoms, but I was lazy and didn’t bring an extra change of clothes. But I did totally remember my slippers!

And food, we for sure remembered the food. You could say that the theme of our trip was ‘nom nom nom’. Sure, I forgot warm clothes, but he brought the steaks, and I didn’t forget the mushrooms, onion, sweet potatoes or carrots, so let’s focus on the important things in life. Plett marinated the steaks for several hours, and while he cooked on the fireplace, I fired up my Primus stove and set to boiling the carrots (with butter), mashing sweet potatoes (with butter), and then sauteing the mushrooms and onions in butter to smother our steak. All in all, it was a pretty fantastic meal, probably the best steak I have ever had.

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Something every camping adventure should never be without is tea light candles as these little guys are indispensable. They don’t take up much room, the trash is very minimal to pack home, and honestly using headlamps just isn’t the same mood lighting as these candles.

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I did pack along my parent’s Othello game, because you know, I had to hike a whole mile into the woods. This is the first time I have ever taken a board game with me, but this is also the first time that it has ever just been me and one other person. Usually I take my Uno deck, and we play and get rowdy. But this trip was much more about having some nice quiet time. I have to say though, don’t take a board game expecting to win. Plett had never played Othello, and unfortunately he is very good. I took it expecting to crush him, but I didn’t win a single game.

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After such a filling dinner, breakfast was a simple scramble that of course had some bacon.

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We ended up lounging around after breakfast. I have to admit that I even took a short nap. I was slow to pack, as we weren’t in any hurry. We drank some tea, sat around, nibbled on food, then eventually packed up and headed to the car. The walk out was very nice, and maybe next time I will rent the cabin on the river. Though I did like being back in the woods in the snow. But I think summer camping on the river will be beautiful, when everything is green and maybe some flowers are in bloom. Kiska will sure enjoy the sandy beach at low tide. Though I hear there are bears that like to hang out here, so for sure be bear safe and keep food cleaned up.

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Glamping in Cowee

I have decided that this is the year of the cabin.

I can’t really say that this is some noble decision, or that it’s to support the Forest Service and DNR with my rental fees, or that it’s even to show others the awesomeness of cabin camping: it’s really just for my personal comfort. Well, and for Kiska too.

I am so lucky to live in an amazing town that has such a well maintained cabin selection. It not only is because of DNR and the Forest Service, but also every person that goes to the cabins and tries to keep them nice. As we all know, one group can leave a cabin in a sorry state: beer cans littering the ground outside, hatchet marks in the wood beams and rafters, and of course damaging any furniture because of goofing off. But when you walk into a cabin that has clean grounds outside, the table and bench is in order, and the floor is swept, you can’t ask for more! Well, we can always ask for dry wood, extra fuel, and of course a beer or two, but let’s not be greedy…

I have reserved basically a cabin a month this year through August. After our incredibly wet summer last year, I have learned my lesson and will be camping every month regardless of the rain. And, hopefully having the promise of a roof will encourage other friends to join me all summer and fall as well.

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So I started out the 2016 camping season with Cowee Meadow cabin. A super easy 2.37 mile walk partly through the woods then along a giant meadow, then to the cabin nestled in the green belt just before the beach. The snow at the beginning of the trail had been packed down into a glacier anywhere that the open canopy allowed the snow to accumulate, but it was a frustrating mix of ice and mud as the general lack of snow in the trees made for a slightly frozen, sometimes wet and muddy walk through the woods on my way to the cabin. I headed out around 1300 so I would have plenty of light to hike out, then go sit at the beach and eat my late lunch with a gorgeous view. Kiska and Body ran around like crazy little animals, chasing sticks and each other. I am so happy that I live in a place where Kiska can run around off leash and sniff things to her hearts content.

Lindsey and Body headed home, while Kiska and I hung out in the cabin by ourselves for a time. I put the gallon of D1 fuel (which I guess is almost like kerosene with something added for cars) in the nordic stove fuel reserve out back, and lit the stove just as the light faded from the field. I read for a while, while Kiska just sat around on her sleeping pad I brought. I read for about another 45 minutes before Kiska woke from her sleep to chuff a few times, and look intently at the wood door. So, I got up and walked her to the door and saw three little headlamps bobbing along the trail. I told Kiska to ‘go get them’, but she didn’t wander too far down the trail towards them. She mostly just hung out at the bridge and waited for them to walk to her.

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Now, let me just say, that my brothers take food SUPER seriously. Like, really really seriously. Not that cabin food is a competition, but it kind of gets that way when packing. I totally thought to myself that I was going to bring better food than Jake (our brother-from-another-mother who is besties with my twin brother Jon), but Jon wanted to cook in style and packing a fucking cast iron skillet 2.5 miles into the woods so he could do his breakfast how he likes. YUP. A cast iron skillet. I was only a tad surprised to see him whip that bad boy out of his pack. But when Jake pulled out some deer tenderloins with a hunk of butter and mashed potatoes, I knew my smoked salmon fettuccine with sun dried tomatoes had been beat. Jake lit the small fireplace so I turned off the stove, and Jake cooked his meat to perfection. He did take a few moments to organize some wood by the fire place to help it dry out, as I had put a few small logs across the top of the nordic stove to dry. Matthew, Jon and Sam feasted on deer tacos, complete with an entire head of lettuce, a bag of cheese and of course sour cream.

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I only brought one big beer, but Jon had packed a gallon jug of berry mojito mix for himself and his lady Sam. Matthew brought a mix of rum and coke, and after Jake finished his trail box of wine (I think he bought it because it was on sale), he started in on some beers. I helped clear the table, lit the nordic stove, and busted out the Uno cards for a night of drinking Uno. It was the most I think I have ever drank in my life, and after going outside to look at the stars and see if the northern lights were out, we all headed to bed. The fireplace died, but nordic stove ran all night keeping us all toasty warm. Matthew just slept on top of his thin fleece sleeping bag – the one he has just for cabin camping. I fully unzipped my sleeping bag, and Kiska and I both slept on top of it on my sleeping pad and I just had the top part covering me like a blanket. I am waiting for the day Kiska’s nails poke a hole in my sleeping pad, so I would rather have her sleep on top of it and have dog hair in the bottom of my bag than a hole in my pad.

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The next morning we all lounged around. Jake made sausage links with hash browns, Jon made an incredible pot of eggs and oatmeal with fruit, and Matthew and I snacked on what we brought and then helped finish the extra food. We all took a short walk to the beach, soaked in the sun and took some pictures. Matthew headed out just a few before the rest of us, and after Jake re-organized the wood pile I swept the cabin as we all left.

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