Doug Rudolph, 63, and his wife, Cathy, 57, left family, friends and a comfortable lifestyle in West Chester Pennsylvania to live off-grid in Anchor Point, Alaska. In a recent video tour of their home and property, the couple seems to be thriving.
“Probably what inspired me the most was the movie ‘Alone in the Wilderness,’” says Doug, referring to the 2004 documentary about Dick Proenneke, who in the 1960s built his own cabin in what is now Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park.
After visiting a cousin in Alaska and making the breathtaking drive from Anchorage to Anchor Point several times, Doug says he “fell in love with the place. It truly is an amazing, beautiful place.”
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He and Cathy decided to purchase property in Anchor Point and to live off-grid there because, as Doug puts it, “you don’t get the true wilderness feel if you have all the necessities.”
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The retired couple built their 1,300-square-foot two-level home from a kit from an Alaska builder, but they have modified it, according to their own needs and preferences. For example, Doug incorporated logs that were on the property into structural beams, and he moved a staircase’s location and angle to offer more floor space on the main level. He had to construct three sets of scaffolding to complete the 19-foot tongue-in-groove wood ceiling.
“After seven and a half years, we are still building,” says Doug, referring to some of the siding and framing that still remains unfinished. The home, which features a welcoming and open floor plan and features south-facing five-foot windows, is powered by three 250-watt solar panels. In the video, Cathy demonstrates how she moves the direction of the solar panels — usually twice a day — to capture as much of the northern sun’s rays as she can.
They use an outdoor wood boiler and a woodstove that burn about eight cords of firewood a year. In the summer, when they are not using the wood boiler, they have a three-tank propane system to heat water and the stove. In addition, they have a back-up gasoline-powered generator that can be started remotely if needed. It is housed in an insulated shed near the home.
Although Cathy admits she has tried to talk Doug into using an indoor compost toilet, the couple has an outhouse. Doug admits it can get difficult to have to “shovel your way” to the outhouse in the winter.
The couple raises chickens for meat and for eggs, and their coop is situated close to their large fenced garden to make for easy composting and feeding. Cathy says moose are the main unwanted visitors to keep out of their vegetable garden. “They can jump, but they haven’t gotten in yet,” she says.
Between what extra produce Cathy obtains through her job at a local greenhouse and what they grow in their own garden, Doug and Cathy are largely self-sufficient when it comes to food.
When asked for advice for people considering a similar lifestyle, Doug says, “It really helps if you want to live off grid in Alaska if you’re a handyman.” He adds that he has five different battery-operated hand drills. He also lists a shovel, a rake, a sander, a circular saw and a chainsaw as some of his most important tools.
“It’s hard for me to explain,” says Doug when asked how he feels about his off-grid lifestyle. “As much as we miss family, since I first set foot here, (I have felt) this is where I am supposed to be…We’re here. We’re staying.”
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