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How to go off-grid in Alaska Americans are increasingly vanishing into the wilderness

“We're free to be poor.” International Game Fish Association/Getty Images

“We're free to be poor.” International Game Fish Association/Getty Images


August 24, 2023   5 mins

Who in their right mind would choose to live without a washing machine? To most of us, life without this miraculous modern contraption is a sign of abject poverty and domestic tyranny. A woman who is forced to wash her family’s clothing in a river is deserving of our deepest pity, her husband of our disdain.

This was not the view of “Guy Alaska”, who earlier this month posted a photo on Twitter of his wife doing just this. “She has been doing our laundry like this for TWO YEARS,” he wrote. “She can’t even feel her feet and she’s shivering in front of the woodstove. A true heroine. Comment ‘❤️’ to show your appreciation for this monument of a woman.”

Quite unsurprisingly, Guy’s post provoked a backlash. Why had his family chosen the harsh pioneer path — living off-grid and without running water — happily and intentionally. What could possibly make this couple choose to live, to put it bluntly, like poor people? The answer, as I found out, is both straightforward and illuminating.

Guy Alaska is originally from Michigan, but his wife, Shay, is an Alaska Native. With several young children, they were living on an acreage in Michigan when their house burned down two years ago. The insurance money didn’t cover a rebuild, so they decided to start afresh in Shay’s homeland, something they had long been dreaming of.

Shay, Guy Alaska’s wife

Guy tells me that, for them, Alaska represented “one of the last free places” in America. “There’s still plenty of places in Alaska where you can buy land,” he says. “You own it — you don’t have to pay anybody so-called ‘property taxes’, which means you’re free to not have to earn money, which means you’re free to not participate in a system that you don’t want to participate in.” For him and Shay, the goal was to opt out of what sociologist Michael Bell calls “the treadmill of consumption”, which describes the way in which people in highly developed countries try to “keep up with the Joneses” through more and more material consumption, without any real gains in overall happiness or satisfaction.

After their house in Michigan burned down, the Alaskas started out by camping in a Mongolian yurt in different locations in her home village, but soon grew tired of getting evicted and decided to broaden their search. They soon found the perfect spot: three acres on an island that cost just under the $30,000 they had in savings. The couple bought the land sight unseen and set off. “We just showed up here with all that stuff, and basically blazed a trail into the woods with a pair of loppers until we found a spot that we could build on,” Guy says.

In the past two years, Guy has built a 75-square-metre cabin and a woodworking shop that doubles as a barn. He has also cleared a half-acre of forest for hay, installed paddock fencing around a quarter acre and a small solar panel system for electricity, as well as building a two-hole outhouse and a smoker for smoking fish and game. All the while, the Alaska family has subsisted off the land: on one occasion, Guy hunted down a bear which Shay then prepared by hand with her youngest in a baby carrier on her back.

While the family has accomplished a lot, they don’t yet have a rainwater harvesting system to collect enough water for indoor plumbing. This means they have to haul water to use in their home, which makes washing in the river an attractive option. Guy takes odd jobs in carpentry and milling to pay for things the family can’t produce themselves, and he is saving up to eventually buy a washing machine. (Even hardcore off-gridders see a benefit in that.)

The Alaskas aren’t the first American family to vanish into the wilderness. The early pioneer stage of the United States is central to its ethos and self-image. Americans think of themselves as valuing self-reliance, and central to that belief is having the courage to resist the push of conformity. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s key text on the topic implores: “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” But with industrialisation, mass wealth and the expansion of the welfare state, there has been an upending of this value in lieu of a new worship of consumerism, ever-increasing material standards of living, and vague notions of “progress”.

Even as writers such as Steven Pinker insist that this ever-increasing mass affluence is always a net good, we are reaching material, environmental and even spiritual limits that are causing breaks in the normal functioning of society. The way they see it, the Alaska family isn’t recreating the pioneer lifestyle for merely philosophical or spiritual reasons. First and foremost, they see their path as logical: “You have these huge systems that everybody’s really relying on, and to be free for us out here, we can’t rely on those systems.”

For Guy and Shay, the path of freedom necessarily aligns with a rational desire to be both self-reliant and prepared for the potential breaks in those systems. They are not alone in their thinking. Before the Covid pandemic, about 10 million people in the United States would fit the definition of a “prepper” or “resilient citizen”, with the ability and resources to survive any kind of disaster for at least one month. Following Covid, that number has jumped to about about 20 million. There is an increasing sense of unease at the prospect of a world of escalating disasters — chlorine gas spills, zoonotic diseases, typhoons, solar flares, civil unrest, terrorism, and full-scale war — but also a loss of faith in the state’s ability to help its citizens in times of emergency.

The recent wildfires in Hawaii are a clear example. Citizen accounts assert that people were waiting over a week for any help from the government, after a catastrophic failure of state warning systems: the only assistance came from fellow citizens sharing resources and generator power. While officials report only 114 confirmed deaths, journalists attempting to cover the story suggest the death toll could be far greater. The lack of reliable reporting on disasters such as this further undermines people’s trust in institutions, strengthening their desire to pursue resilience on a household or community level.

But fear is not the only motive behind self-reliance. Though Guy and Shay want to be prepared for a potential disaster, they are also interested in connecting with a deep cultural lineage. “We kind of settled on staying in southeast Alaska, just because Shay’s heritage is here. Her people have been here for 4,000 years, and that’s our children’s heritage too. They have rights to hunt marine mammals like seals and sea otters, and we wanted to be close to their culture, so they can stay involved with it. As far as our philosophy goes, we’re interested in authenticity.”

To that end, the Alaska family has an ongoing fundraising campaign to buy their family a yak for use on their homestead. They’d like to move away from reliance on cars to something more sustainable, and plan to use the yak to get them to town, to move fish and game, and to log their land. Functionally, a yak can do most of what a tractor can do, but, as Guy says, “the only difference is you can’t go quite as fast”. In many ways, despite being rural conservatives, the Alaska family is living a progressive “degrowth” lifestyle, with lower consumption, low energy use, and sustainable livelihoods.

But the online backlash to their lifestyle suggests a growing bifurcation between those Americans who want to exercise individual liberty and those who are shackled by the ideology of mass affluence or the drive for status. Not that it bothers Guy and Shay to be called “really poor”. They think they’re the lucky ones. As Guy says, “We’re free to be poor.”


Ashley Colby is an environmental scientist and co-founder of the Rizoma Field School.

RizomaSchool

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

These people have a lot more courage and resiliency than I could ever muster. Congrats to them for living the life they want.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
9 months ago

These people have a lot more courage and resiliency than I could ever muster. Congrats to them for living the life they want.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jim Veenbaas
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
9 months ago

In June 2023, Ofgem (the UK’s electricity market regulator) ruled that minimum grid inertia requirement will be reduced. This got no coverage in the news, and no doubt it might seem quite irrelevant to write about it here. Bear with me.

Grid inertia is what keeps the nation’s lights on when a power plant (or its connection to the grid) trips. Grid inertia supplies electrical power to the system for a few seconds to fill the gap and hold up the electrical frequency above 49.2Hz, enough time to restore a plant’s grid connection or bring online an alternative power plant. This is really important; if the electrical power gap is not closed in time, the grid collapses, and there is a blackout affecting millions. If, even just moments later, the electrical power gap is closed to allow the lights to go back on, they can’t be. You see, grid inertia is needed to switch the grid back on. Without grid inertia, you also can’t re-power the grid all at once. Without grid inertia you need to progressively re-connect parts of the grid. Scotland’s entire grid would take over a week to switch back on. That is for some homes, businesses, water plants and hospitals a week without electricity.

Ofgem recored its reason to reduce the minimum grid inertia requirement as follows: “operating a low inertia system is necessary in order to meet net-zero targets”. The minimum grid inertia requirement had to be lowered due to renewables, and will be further lowered as more renewables storage is added.

So what is the risk of one of these outages? Much depends on the weather, demand, where the trip occurs, and what back up plant is available. 49.2Hz is the magic number, and Ofgem estimate there is now a 1 in 10 years event likelihood of the grid frequency collapsing below this. It was 1 in 600 years in the 2000s. It will become more frequent as grid inertia is lowered again in the future.

A likelihood of 1 in 10 years makes it a near certainty large parts of the UK will be without power due to the difficulty of managing the renewables grid, and it may take weeks to reconnect some areas. That would be apocalyptic for those affected, breakdown of society type stuff. And this has been planned by those governing us.

The unease many of us feel about the future is real. Whether shutting fertiliser plants necessary for feeding half of us, or catastrophically weakening our electricity networks, we can see the very foundations of modern society being deliberately damaged by policies driven by nihilists. Guy Alaska can live without modern industrial society. We can’t.

Last edited 9 months ago by Nell Clover
Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The idea of switching off “Scotland’s entire grid” sounds very attractive indeed, and no doubt would yield enormous environmental benefits.
Perhaps we might also ‘switch off’ the ludicrous Barnett Formula which keeps too many ungrateful Scots in clover.*

(*No pun intended.)

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Robbie K
Robbie K
9 months ago

lol

Robbie K
Robbie K
9 months ago

lol

Eamonn Von Holt
Eamonn Von Holt
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Thanks Neill,
Very interesting, and extremely concerning, but as you point out these major issues that have massive implications for society as a whole are simply not reported.
As we saw during Covid, the false narratives of the ruling class echoed by a compliant MSM are only half the problem, the other half is the failure to report news that does not support the narratives.
I live in Australia, and having seen the issues of relying on unreliable renewables created across Europe, are ruling elites seem determined to follow the same path.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

In addition making everyone switch to vehicles, and heat their houses with electric heat pumps, etc, makes the electrical grid a single point of failure for our whole society.

Andrew H
Andrew H
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Great comment. I already agreed with you on this but thanks for fleshing out the case with these – very concerning – numbers.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

The idea of switching off “Scotland’s entire grid” sounds very attractive indeed, and no doubt would yield enormous environmental benefits.
Perhaps we might also ‘switch off’ the ludicrous Barnett Formula which keeps too many ungrateful Scots in clover.*

(*No pun intended.)

Last edited 9 months ago by Charles Stanhope
Eamonn Von Holt
Eamonn Von Holt
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Thanks Neill,
Very interesting, and extremely concerning, but as you point out these major issues that have massive implications for society as a whole are simply not reported.
As we saw during Covid, the false narratives of the ruling class echoed by a compliant MSM are only half the problem, the other half is the failure to report news that does not support the narratives.
I live in Australia, and having seen the issues of relying on unreliable renewables created across Europe, are ruling elites seem determined to follow the same path.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

In addition making everyone switch to vehicles, and heat their houses with electric heat pumps, etc, makes the electrical grid a single point of failure for our whole society.

Andrew H
Andrew H
9 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Great comment. I already agreed with you on this but thanks for fleshing out the case with these – very concerning – numbers.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
9 months ago

In June 2023, Ofgem (the UK’s electricity market regulator) ruled that minimum grid inertia requirement will be reduced. This got no coverage in the news, and no doubt it might seem quite irrelevant to write about it here. Bear with me.

Grid inertia is what keeps the nation’s lights on when a power plant (or its connection to the grid) trips. Grid inertia supplies electrical power to the system for a few seconds to fill the gap and hold up the electrical frequency above 49.2Hz, enough time to restore a plant’s grid connection or bring online an alternative power plant. This is really important; if the electrical power gap is not closed in time, the grid collapses, and there is a blackout affecting millions. If, even just moments later, the electrical power gap is closed to allow the lights to go back on, they can’t be. You see, grid inertia is needed to switch the grid back on. Without grid inertia, you also can’t re-power the grid all at once. Without grid inertia you need to progressively re-connect parts of the grid. Scotland’s entire grid would take over a week to switch back on. That is for some homes, businesses, water plants and hospitals a week without electricity.

Ofgem recored its reason to reduce the minimum grid inertia requirement as follows: “operating a low inertia system is necessary in order to meet net-zero targets”. The minimum grid inertia requirement had to be lowered due to renewables, and will be further lowered as more renewables storage is added.

So what is the risk of one of these outages? Much depends on the weather, demand, where the trip occurs, and what back up plant is available. 49.2Hz is the magic number, and Ofgem estimate there is now a 1 in 10 years event likelihood of the grid frequency collapsing below this. It was 1 in 600 years in the 2000s. It will become more frequent as grid inertia is lowered again in the future.

A likelihood of 1 in 10 years makes it a near certainty large parts of the UK will be without power due to the difficulty of managing the renewables grid, and it may take weeks to reconnect some areas. That would be apocalyptic for those affected, breakdown of society type stuff. And this has been planned by those governing us.

The unease many of us feel about the future is real. Whether shutting fertiliser plants necessary for feeding half of us, or catastrophically weakening our electricity networks, we can see the very foundations of modern society being deliberately damaged by policies driven by nihilists. Guy Alaska can live without modern industrial society. We can’t.

Last edited 9 months ago by Nell Clover
Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
9 months ago

After all the fun of 2020 and the failures of government and corporate America since, it seems like just about everybody is stocking up. Democrats are buying guns and ammo, city dwellers are buying generators, and rural people are trying to increase the self-sufficiently of their land. Everyone is buying food. It’s not a panic or anything like that. There is just a profound sense of unease about the future and it seems like no one in charge has even noticed.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well that is a good thing. I have spent a lot of time in the Canadian remote wilderness and you learn a bit about reality. If you can’t find water you are immediately in a serious crisis. If you get soaked in rain and the temperature drops you have to get warm. Which can be really hard to do in some conditions. We live in an earthquake zone and it amazes me how few people have done even modest preparations to be self sufficient.

Simon S
Simon S
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

My acupuncturist has bought herself a pistol as well as a shotgun

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well that is a good thing. I have spent a lot of time in the Canadian remote wilderness and you learn a bit about reality. If you can’t find water you are immediately in a serious crisis. If you get soaked in rain and the temperature drops you have to get warm. Which can be really hard to do in some conditions. We live in an earthquake zone and it amazes me how few people have done even modest preparations to be self sufficient.

Simon S
Simon S
9 months ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

My acupuncturist has bought herself a pistol as well as a shotgun

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
9 months ago

After all the fun of 2020 and the failures of government and corporate America since, it seems like just about everybody is stocking up. Democrats are buying guns and ammo, city dwellers are buying generators, and rural people are trying to increase the self-sufficiently of their land. Everyone is buying food. It’s not a panic or anything like that. There is just a profound sense of unease about the future and it seems like no one in charge has even noticed.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
9 months ago

The subtitle says: “Americans are increasingly vanishing into the wilderness”. The article is entirely about one family from Michigan that moved to Alaska. There is not a single statistic in it to suggest they are part of an “increasing” number of people doing this. Nothing. Total clickbait BS. I find this really tiresome.
My wife lived in Alaska a number of years. She managed a bulk healthfood store in Anchorage that did a large business with the kind of people this article pretends to be about. I showed her the picture accompanying the article and she scoffed dismissively. “That’s a sports tourist up on a fishing trip. The guide took the picture. Look at those sunglasses. The cigarette. The clothes. The real off-the-grid people don’t look anything like that.” Her customers came in wearing homemade clothes, with beards and hair, smelled like they looked; they bought pallets full of supplies they loaded onto big ugly trucks. Once a year. She still has brothers and friends in Alaska. And their opinion is that the number of people trying to live “off the grid” there is diminishing, not increasing.
Makes me wonder if this “environmental scientist and co-founder of the Rizoma Field School” has even been to Alaska. Their website says they are in Uruguay. Why not write about that? Sounds interesting. But surely off the grid in a climate like Uruguay is going to work a little better than in most of Alaska.

Dana I
Dana I
9 months ago

And the part where she lists all the things things he’s built in the last 2 yrs. How does someone with absolutely no money build a 75 sq meter cabin in that timeframe. I do lots of homesteading type projects and it’s not cheap to plant a hayfield or create a garden when you’re just getting started.

G K
G K
9 months ago

Too much animus but the points are valid

Ollie Ryan Tucker
Ollie Ryan Tucker
9 months ago

editor will have chosen the title.

Dana I
Dana I
9 months ago

And the part where she lists all the things things he’s built in the last 2 yrs. How does someone with absolutely no money build a 75 sq meter cabin in that timeframe. I do lots of homesteading type projects and it’s not cheap to plant a hayfield or create a garden when you’re just getting started.

G K
G K
9 months ago

Too much animus but the points are valid

Ollie Ryan Tucker
Ollie Ryan Tucker
9 months ago

editor will have chosen the title.

Jeff Cunningham
Jeff Cunningham
9 months ago

The subtitle says: “Americans are increasingly vanishing into the wilderness”. The article is entirely about one family from Michigan that moved to Alaska. There is not a single statistic in it to suggest they are part of an “increasing” number of people doing this. Nothing. Total clickbait BS. I find this really tiresome.
My wife lived in Alaska a number of years. She managed a bulk healthfood store in Anchorage that did a large business with the kind of people this article pretends to be about. I showed her the picture accompanying the article and she scoffed dismissively. “That’s a sports tourist up on a fishing trip. The guide took the picture. Look at those sunglasses. The cigarette. The clothes. The real off-the-grid people don’t look anything like that.” Her customers came in wearing homemade clothes, with beards and hair, smelled like they looked; they bought pallets full of supplies they loaded onto big ugly trucks. Once a year. She still has brothers and friends in Alaska. And their opinion is that the number of people trying to live “off the grid” there is diminishing, not increasing.
Makes me wonder if this “environmental scientist and co-founder of the Rizoma Field School” has even been to Alaska. Their website says they are in Uruguay. Why not write about that? Sounds interesting. But surely off the grid in a climate like Uruguay is going to work a little better than in most of Alaska.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago

I sincerely hope it works out for them. In the future we will all have to become far more self-reliant as the elites destroy our food supply.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
9 months ago

I sincerely hope it works out for them. In the future we will all have to become far more self-reliant as the elites destroy our food supply.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
9 months ago

Inconnu, great fish.

Cho Jinn
Cho Jinn
9 months ago

Inconnu, great fish.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
9 months ago

Great stuff. For an English approach, see also Maximus Ironthumper’s charming Youtube channel.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
9 months ago

Great stuff. For an English approach, see also Maximus Ironthumper’s charming Youtube channel.

Robbie K
Robbie K
9 months ago

Sounds romantic, I suspect the reality however is a miserable existence in such an environment. I’m a fan of the series ‘Alone’ which is set in places such as this and the participants usually tap out within 4-6 weeks emaciated. On that note there was a family in Colorado that tried this quite unprepared and unfortunately they all died.
https://coloradosun.com/2023/07/25/three-people-found-dead-at-colorado-campsite-sisters-14-year-old-boy/

Robbie K
Robbie K
9 months ago

Sounds romantic, I suspect the reality however is a miserable existence in such an environment. I’m a fan of the series ‘Alone’ which is set in places such as this and the participants usually tap out within 4-6 weeks emaciated. On that note there was a family in Colorado that tried this quite unprepared and unfortunately they all died.
https://coloradosun.com/2023/07/25/three-people-found-dead-at-colorado-campsite-sisters-14-year-old-boy/

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
9 months ago

Interesting article but this phrase really is extremely and absurdly loaded:

“those who are shackled by the ideology of mass affluence” !.

It is just about possible for a significant though still small minority to live this way in North America; it is completely impossible in Europe and the UK. OK, so it sounds more honest to advocate a drastic reduction in population to go with the lifestyle.