Exile to Lonesome Lake Hut

By MILES HOWARD  |  November 9, 2012

No one walked through the hut door for the rest of dinner, nor while I washed my dishes and spread out my sleeping bag in the caretaker quarters. In theory, anyone could crack open the door any time, even as I slept (a reality I tried not to reflect upon too much). If they were modestly experienced hikers, I'd likely find them eating their own cold porridge in the dining room the next morning. But if this was their first time in the woods, or worse, if they had gotten themselves wet and been out in the cold long enough to develop the shakes, I could be up well beyond 2 am wrapping them with emergency blankets and spoon-feeding them instant chicken soup to replenish their body temperature and sodium levels. It was an entirely imaginable, if daunting prospect.

The crew room was arrestingly cozy with six bunks, a desk stacked with journals, and a dusty two-way radio, through which I would receive and transmit weather reports each morning. I chose an upper-level bed by the window — I figured this would allow me the best vantage point in the event of a nighttime visit by genetic mutants with names like Virgil and Purvis. Stripped down to my briefs, I encased myself in the bag and hit the lights.

But before allowing myself to drift off, I uttered a brief, quiet "Hello?" into the dark. I'm not quite sure why I did it, but it was the first time I had spoken since arriving at the hut that afternoon.

It was Monday night, and I was officially off the grid.

I awoke the next morning with a head full of phlegm and a heart full of purpose. I couldn't remember feeling so juiced up for the day during my entire tenure in Boston. I threw on jeans and flannel, brewed a pot of coffee, shoveled some oatmeal down my gullet, and went to town on my morning chores. First I spritzed the composting toilets with bacteria-killing spray. Then I checked the gauges on the hut's propane tanks and made sure that none of the hoses had developed a leak that could incinerate the entire area if some poor sucker lit a match nearby. Finally, I slipped into steel-toed boots and began splitting firewood with a weighted axe called a maul. I'd been pumping iron on a regular basis for the last few years, but this was a workout I could actually enjoy, probably because it would guarantee a toasty fire by the end of the day. I swung and swung until I thought my arms would fall from their sockets, relieved that I had not given myself a lobster foot with the chopping blade.

The crazy thing to consider is that not too long ago, this morning ritual was of vital importance for the survival of millions of American men and women. To endure a winter in the countryside, hematoma-inducing amounts of firewood were needed to keep the house warm. If livestock were part of the equation, endless bales of hay and grain, reaped from the fields out back, were also necessary. Toweling off from my first bout of log splitting, I thought about fitness beauties and bodybuilders packed into gyms, wringing what pleasure they could from lifting metal plates under fluorescent lights, with LMFAO pumping from the stereo. Laura Ingalls Wilder would have wept.

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