Remote Homes Far From City Craziness Residents Like The Isolation That Comes With Winter Along Shores Of Lake
Residents here drag sleds behind snowmobiles to pack in groceries. Their mail is delivered by boat.
They give their names - and maps of landing sites near their homes - to a Spokane helicopter service in case of a medical emergency.
They’ve had phone service only three years, and some still communicate by CB radio.
It’s routine winter living on the remote shores of Lake Pend Oreille, where a dozen residents choose to remain year-round.
“It takes a certain breed of person to live in an isolated area like this. Not everyone can handle it,” said Jill Hawkins, a 42-year-old retired truck driver. She lives alone as one of two permanent residents in Kilroy Bay, relishing the solitude.
The hardy bunch inhabit 12 miles of shoreline on the southeast end of the lake. Their homes are perched on the mountainside in the tiny burgs of Granite Creek, Cedar Creek, Kilroy Bay, Whiskey Rock and Lakeview.
“I’ll go months without going into town,” Hawkins said. “It can get kind of lonely every now and then, but I have my pets to keep me company.”
She befriended six raccoons. They scratch on her door every day at 5 a.m. for a ration of homemade oatmeal cookies. It’s the highlight of her day, along with meeting the mail boat, which ferried wine and cigarettes to her last week.
Lakeview and the other towns are accessible in the summer by Bunco Road, a 25-mile drive from U.S. Highway 95. The road is closed in the winter and groomed for snowmobiles. That makes a six-mile boat ride from Bayview the only other way in or out.
“My parents think I’m crazy,” said 33-year-old Stacci Gresham-Stack, her voice dripping a Texas accent.
She and husband Roland Stack bought the Happy Hermit Lodge in Lakeview last month.
They wanted to escape the crime and crowds of Fort Collins, Colo., and raise their four kids - ages 9, 12, 13 and 15 - in “God’s country.”
“I’ve run dairies most of my life where I was up to my eyeballs in cow (poop) and up in the middle of the night pulling stillborn calves out of cows,” she said. “Compared to that, this kind of livin’ is a piece of cake, darlin’.”
She plans to home-school her kids. It’s either that or boat them to Bayview every day to catch a bus for a 35-minute ride into Sandpoint.
“This is the kind of place where you learn to do without or make do,” she said. “If you forget something you can’t just drive back into town to get it.”
Harold Standley , 63, and his wife have lived 10 years at Cedar Creek. His wife once spent five months at the house without going to town.
“There’s no reason to go. It’s beautiful here,” he said. “We buy food supplies in summer and by October we are ready for winter. We don’t have any problems.”
Residents have electricity, but most of them burn wood to stay warm and cut down on electric bills. Some cook and heat with propane and draw water from wells. Just before Bunco Road closes, Bonner County hauls in extra Dumpsters for garbage. Crews return in the spring to haul the metal boxes to the landfill.
Most residents prefer snowmobiles over boats for transportation. Boats don’t survive long moored in the icy, wind-whipped winter water.
The boat Shirley Williams and her husband, Clyde, had at Whiskey Rock sank in a storm a few years ago. Shirley Williams, 65, now rides a snowmobile or hitches a ride on the mail boat.
Postal worker John Phaxter pilots the 22-foot craft to the remote towns six days a week. He delivers packages, groceries and shuttles residents to their cars parked in Bayview.
“He’s our lifeline in the winter,” said Shirley Williams.
The couple moved to Whiskey Rock from Spokane six years ago. They have 117 acres and are the only yearround residents there.
“Our friends don’t understand it because I’ve always been a people person,” she said. “They wonder how we do it.”
Cliff Gentry, 50, and his wife Gwen, 43, discovered Lakeview 16 years ago. They left Hawaii to raise two boys and run two resorts.
“It’s been a different lifestyle, but we looked all over the country for a place like this.”
The Gentry home is so chock-full of supplies it could pass for a grocery and hardware store.
“You stock up all summer for winter. If you have to go into town it’s an all-day affair.” said Gwen Gentry.
She freezes milk instead of using a powdered mix, has commercial-sized refrigerators and two walk-in pantries to store canned goods.
Cliff Gentry drives a snowmobile down Bunco Road once a week to get groceries for the resorts, which cater to snowmobilers and hunters.
“If it wasn’t for work, I would stay here all winter without going to town,” he said. “Winter is the best time. It’s when all the people leave and the animals come down.”
Deer, elk, bears, bald eagles and turkeys show up in their back yard, which overlooks the lake.
Living so close to Mother Nature can bring on cabin fever.
Debbie McKinney, 45, and her husband, Richard, have weathered eight years at Lakeview. To escape the isolation, Debbie visits her daughter, a model in New York, once a year.
“She treats me to a Broadway play or the opera, then she comes here for Christmas,” Debbie McKinney said.
Most of the residents are retired. They while away the hours writing letters, hiking, cutting wood and trying to stay warm.
“You really see things for what they are here. But I think what most of us cherish is the privacy and natural beauty,” Hawkins added. “If you get bored it’s your own fault.”
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