Roughin’ it

RV in 'Ksan village

RV in ‘Ksan village

New acquaintances along the way are likely to say something like, “Wow! Nine months living in your RV sounds rough!”  (And I’m guessing that plenty of have friends and family back home are thinking the same thing.) But the stories of two Alaskan artists, Francine Long and Sue Hemmer, who I met at the Great Alaskan Plein Air Retreat, help to put it all in perspective.

It really is a stretch to think of us as “roughing it” when we travel in a 33′ motorhome. We have a bathroom with a shower, a double-door frig, a convection microwave, a gas stove and oven, a ten-gallon hot water heater, a comfy queen-size bed, a sofa that folds out into a bed for guests, and Dave’s computer command center with dual monitors and a LAN connection to my laptop. If this is roughing it, I can’t begin to imagine what luxury might be!

Francine Long

Francine Long

Now meet Francine Long, a watercolorist who lives in Palmer, Alaska. A full-time math teacher who began painting seven years ago, this humble, sweet woman was surprised and elated when she won Best of Show and Artist’s Choice, especially since this is one of the first events she has ever attended or competitions ever entered.

One day during lunch, Francine, who owns two horses and finds precious little time to paint after work and their care, told me of her plans to paint en plein air while on a 10-day 150-mile horse-packing trip later in July. “The only way I can do this is with the help of the other people in the group”, she stated. Eight of them will share 12 horses to ride and pack, 2 to 3 four-wheelers, and enough tents to accommodate the people, food, horse gear, and dogs. They plan to cover 15 to 25 miles each day.

Of course, her favorite painting subject is her horses! She will ride her Appaloosa mare and let her Arabian carry the load. She admitted that’s a little unusual for those breeds, saying, “My Appaloosa is the definite “alpha” of the two and couldn’t stand being a pack horse!” An experienced hiker, Francine has backpacked the 33-mile Chilkoot trail, one of two main routes used during the Klondike gold rush. A young woman of many interests, it will be interesting to see how the affirmation from this retreat impacts her art in the future.

Sue Hemmer

Sue Hemmer

Now, let me introduce Sue Hemmer. Many years ago, she and her husband purchased a lakeside cottage on a 40-acre plot from which she can paint the lake, Denali, and the whole valley beyond it. The only problem is getting there. After driving two hours from their home, they either take a float plane in the summer or snowmobiles in the winter to cover the last 75 miles.

“We haven’t been going there as frequently these past few years because the cost of plane fuel has gotten so high, now over $350 each way!” Sue exclaimed. “But, I hate to think about selling it because there are beautiful views in every direction.”

Due to the isolation, safety is a real concern—especially with bears in the area. Sue said that they have loaded rifles by the front and back doors, in the outhouse, in the sauna, and in the garage. “Once,” she laughed, “I was in the outhouse and had a bear bang on the door!”

“We have to rely on ourselves if we get injured, say from chopping wood, or whatever, because we’d have to call on the short wave radio to be life-flighted out or somehow go the 75 miles to our car.”

How amazingly easy our lives seem in comparison! We punch buttons to pull in the slides and lift the hydraulic jacks, hook our car to the back, and drive off to enjoy the next destination. With the additional perspective of these wonderful people’s stories, we are more thankful than ever for our good fortune to enjoy this plein air odyssey in style!

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