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There have been improvements. A 26-foot landing craft for dropping parties in remote areas is a new acquisition, as is a second lodge in Larsen Bay, a small village on Kodiak Island, Alaska.
The six-bedroom, two-bath purchase gives guests at Driftwood Wilderness Lodge (DWL) a choice: hunt or fish from a location that’s either on the grid or off.
Proprietor Nick Blanco still offers the wilderness experience of his original camp, reported on these pages over the last few years. The first DWL is a remote outpost across the bay that offers a more rustic stay, as in it lacks modern conveniences like indoor plumbing and WiFi.
“Some like being off the grid and some don’t,” said Blanco, so he bought the alternative lodge for those who prefer Internet and flush toilets.
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If you’ve got even an ounce of adventure in your bones, you’ve probably dreamt of dropping everything and surviving in the wilderness. That’s exactly what Nick Blanco, 27, did after graduating St. John’s University and beginning his career as a teacher. The Alaskan adventurer took a year off of teaching to live in a canvas tent with hardly anything besides a cell phone and an ATV. Now, the remote Alaskan wilderness is his backyard.
Blanco’s building the Driftwood Wilderness Lodge (built entirely of salvaged driftwood he has collected), an outpost in Larsen Bay on Alaska’s southern edge, so he can share his wild homestead with the rest of the world. His adventure is being documented on the DIY Network show Building Alaska, which kicked off on Sunday. We caught up with Blanco during some of his downtime to talk about Building Alaska and what it takes to forge your own way in the Last Frontier.
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When some people look for an adventure or challenge, they go for a walk in the woods. Or do a puzzle with a bunch of small pieces. But Nick Blanco isn’t just some person. During his college days at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., Blanco scored a summer gig as a deckhand on a charter fishing boat in Alaska. Then he graduated, looked toward the future, and decided he wasn’t done with the adventure of the Alaskan wilds.
Blanco wasn’t making much money out of college, so he applied for an airline credit card that, upon approval, provided 25,000 miles. “I got those miles and bought a round-trip ticket to Anchorage for a teaching job fair,” said Blanco, 28, who grew up in south Minneapolis and graduated from Southwest High School. “Within about 15 minutes of being at the job fair, I had signed a contract to teach in Shishmaref (Alaska, which is a village just north of the Bering Strait). That was the craziest day of my life, but I was so excited to be moving up there.”
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…“This place is off the grid,” she emphasized. “Our cell phones didn’t work, so there were few distractions. You may give up some hygiene and comfort, but you learn what’s important. There is a healing power to the wilderness. It made me want more.”
Nelson believes there is a market for eco-tourists, too, looking for a true Alaskan experience. “This is such a unique place for the right people.”
A college buddy, Tyler Johnson, agrees. “Alaska gets in your blood. What Nick has put together there is nothing short of incredible.”
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…His dream of opening an affordable wilderness lodge in Alaska is not daunted by a life without electricity or indoor plumbing. “I’m making good progress up there,” Blanco said on a visit home over the holidays. “I’ve made a lot of improvements on my charter boat and cleanup after his fire.”
Back in 2017, his labor-intensive project was featured on the DIY Network show “Building Alaska.” Nelson said re-runs are showing this winter and people from around the world are getting touch with Blanco after seeing the episodes.
…One thing Blanco misses is Domino’s Pizza. It’s always the first thing he eats after arriving in White Bear Lake….Blanco quickly adds that his home on Larsen Bay is also nice. “It’s peaceful. I love the wilderness.”
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Life in the bush has taught Blanco to appreciate all he has, including the modern conveniences of life.
“Out here you are forced to work very hard for what you have,” he said. “Time must not be wasted and you have to turn every experience into a learning experience to make your life easier and safer.”
The young builder shared a recent experience that re-enforced that observation.
“The other day I was on my way to the lodge when my outboard motor fell off my boat,” he recalled. “I was lucky that I had tied it off for just that reason so I was able to retrieve it. Some people may have been ticked off, but I was truly thankful that it happened then and not in the future during a big storm or bad seas.
A sentiment on the lodge website pretty much sums up Blanco’s attitude about his adventures these past two years: “Where no roads go, your path begins.”
“Nick knows the power of the wilderness to heal the soul,” said his mother, who wonders if the TV show will change his life, at least in the romance department. “We should be ready for anything,” she declared, with just a hint of hope in her voice.
WHITE BEAR PRESS | NORTH TO ALASKA: TEACHER USING SALVAGED DRIFTWOOD TO BUILD WILDERNESS LODGE
Old-growth timber that likely floated on ocean currents from California to Alaska is getting repurposed on a remote building site on Kodiak Island.
The ancient wood is tied and towed by boat 8 miles from a beach on the Shelikof Strait to Larsen Bay, where a teacher with White Bear ties is fulfilling his dream to own a fishing lodge.
With help from friends and family, Nick Blanco is literally building his business from scratch. His material comes from driftwood that washed ashore maybe a century or more ago. After the huge logs arrive, the wood is laboriously cut and milled to provide the floors and walls for two structures under construction: a mess hall and bunkhouse.