ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Charles Baird is going off the grid for a year.
The 40-year-old oil company employee and filmmaker from Anchorage, Alaska, plans to move to the mostly uninhabited Latouche Island in Alaska’s Prince William Sound at the end of May, completing a dream he’s been contemplating for 17 years.
Baird will build a 12-by-12 shed to shelter him from the elements, and he plans to hunt and fish and fend off an occasional black bear during his sojourn to the Alaska wilderness.
He’ll be incommunicado, only allowing himself to send short messages out via a satellite uplink to Facebook and no way to receive any in. He won’t even know who won the November presidential election for six months. He calls his experiment more modern-day homesteading than a survival game, but he’s heading into the adventure well-armed.
He said he’s worked with psychologists from the University of Chicago and Harvard, talking through the things he can expect, like nightmares.
“I think I’ll be OK, I’ve done a lot of work on my own, and I’ll also have a dog, which probably will help keep things stabilized,” he said.
Latouche Island is a narrow strip of land – 12 miles long and three miles wide – about 100 miles southwest of the port city of Valdez. Like many islands in Prince William Sound, people digging into the beach there can still find oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
The now-abandoned Latouche city site once was home to 4,000 people, thanks to copper mining. The mine closed in 1930, and now the island is dotted with occasional seasonal cabins and not much else. The island is mostly used for subsistence hunting.
The challenges of Latouche Island are numerous, and foremost is the weather – from 80 to 120 inches of snow in a typical winter, along with 70 inches of rain a year.
There’s also a large population of black bears on the island.
Baird said he’ll be safe from the bears. He’ll carry a .44 with him at all times, has a shotgun “and a few other weapons, as well.” His dog will also alert him to any predators.
There are building restrictions on the uninhabited island, Baird said, so he will have to construct his makeshift cabin without digging into the ground for a foundation.
He plans to have lumber delivered to build his cabin, which will be located about a third of a mile from the beach, about 150 feet up a hill.
The challenges don’t faze Baird, who is ex-military – except perhaps for one.
“Probably the biggest challenge is the isolation,” he said, adding it was an issue for some of his classmates in an Air Force Academy survival training course.
Some “did experience hallucinations and even group delusions, just minor things. But it is kind of a concern, being alone that long.”
He plans to keep busy by reading, taking a couple thousand books on an electronic reader. He’ll keep it charged with wind and solar systems he’s bringing with him.
Baird is planning to keep a diary, which might be turned into a book. He’s also thinking of writing an instructional book of how to live in the remote wilderness.
Then, there’s also the filming, day in and day out, of his experiences alone on the Alaska island. Once he returns to civilization, he’ll edit the video and try to sell it as a documentary series.
Baird isn’t the first to make or film such an odyssey. Dick Proenneke lived alone in a remote cabin and kept journals published as the classic Alaska memoir “One Man’s Wilderness.” He moved to his cabin in 1968 at the age of 52. Proenneke lived alone until 1998 in what’s now Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. He also filmed his adventures, which have been turned into DVDs and were aired on PBS. He died in 2003.