McKinney Makes Media; An Origin Story
It has been a long hard road but McKinney Makes Media has officially moved from its original home in Kansas City, Missouri to McCarthy, Alaska.
In May of 2015, I purchased five acres of undeveloped wilderness in hopes of starting a new life, and a new base of operations, in remote Alaska. I loved the idea of being able to walk right out of my front door and instantly be in the largest national park in the United States. My need to create could be met with little distraction or resistance while maintaining a simpler way of life.
I started by setting up camp; a little two–man backpacker’s tent placed upon a beautiful knife ridge. Then I started cutting trail that a steep trail that would eventually switch-back 1,000 feet up the side of my mountain. Two pads were dug. One with an amazing view to relax and enjoy my property. The other to house the tarp tent that would function as my first office/ studio.Next, a kitchen. I had officially moved into a bear corridor without solid structures, so bear-proofing was of the utmost priority.. Nestled in the trees there was a platform suspended twelve feet off the ground, the remnants of a tree house built by the local kids twenty years prior. With the addition of a suspended log ladder, a countertop, stove, coolers and a pulley with a bucket as a dumbwaiter, my kitchen was nearly complete. After reinforcing the support trees with a few hundred feet of barbed wire, my kitchen was safe and secure. My property was my wonderland, my private paradise. I focused on adventuring, taking photos, clearing brush and enjoying the views. I lived peacefully until the bears started coming back.
One day, I woke with something rubbing my head. I sat up in a panic to discover a cinnamon black bear peering in my vestibule and realized it was his butt rubbing against me through the tent. With a warning shot from my pistol, and some stern words, he sauntered off. Many people have considered what it would be like to be mauled by a bear but I was afraid he had something more twisted in mind.
A few days later, another bear sniffed me while I slept but it was without incident since several choice words were enough to send it off. A week later I wasn’t so lucky. Since I was getting used to waking up to the bear alarm, I woke up already shouting my normal cadence. Only this time, that cadence marched a cub right up the tree over my tent. Between the cries of the cub and the warning sounds from the sow, I was startled instantly awake. I sat up in a panic, readied my Ruger .45, unzipped both vestibules, and saw what I had feared. About forty feet up the ridge there was a very angry momma bear standing on the trail, her front claws ripping into a tree stump as she snapped her jaws, alerting me that I was a threat to her and her cub. I shot the stump beneath her feet in an attempt to create a little more space between us. Instead, she moved behind another tree so I couldn’t be sure of her position. I found her cub a few feet over the door of my tent. The combination of the cubs cries and the mother’s warnings were the commotion that sent a shiver of sheer terror down my spine. I wasn’t prepared to shoot the mother or her cub so I just needed to escape. I tend to sleep naked. Never had I been so disadvantaged by this fact.
As I held my pistol ready for the worst, I took my time getting dressed without dropping my guard. My right hand continued to give Don Knots a run at his money for “The Shakiest Gun in the West,” while my left hand collected the things I needed into my pack. I backed out of the vestibule away from the bears and continued down the ridgeline. The whole ordeal lasted an hour, from the time I work up until I was down to the safety of the road, where my friend was waiting for me in his truck to deliver me from the terror he could see in my face.
The next time I returned to my tent it had been destroyed. The angry sow had pulled both of my sleeping pads and my sleeping bag through a slit she made in the floor of my tent and left them taco-ed there. The door I exited through had been torn off and a bite mark was left in the roof. I cleared my belongings out and moved down to the tarp shed.Life in the tarp shed was generally good. I could stand to get dressed. I didn’t have to walk as far up the mountain to get home. I had power and water both accessible 24 hours a day (well, I had my solar bank and my creek was 30 feet away.) The only problem was that I was stuck sleeping on the gravel floor since the bear had destroyed my air pad. Thirty days had come and gone before it was replaced. In that time one neighbor had loaned me his 12 gauge, and a another had loaned me her dog, which was an experienced bear handler. Life was great on the hill again, well, aside from the 40 days of straight rain we encountered.
By the time I was sleeping on air again instead of gravel, there was mold growing on my dirty clothes and rocks had started to fall out of the hill above my shed. My trail had flooded out and waterfalls sprouted where only wildflowers had before. This was all more of an inconvenience than a concern until a boulder three times the size of a basketball fell out of the hill and rolled into my tent, knocking over my desk with all of my camera equipment. I picked up, moved things around and got settled back in. I applied 409 Mold and Mildew to any cloth I didn’t care if it got discolored and life moved on. The rain finally quit but the winds picked up.
The rain had loosened the soil, which meant the trees were not as rooted as they had been. For three days, winds roared across the hillside, knocking down trees like pins at a bowling alley. Inevitably, one landed square over my sleeping pad in the tarp shed. Time to move again. I spent the duration of the windstorm sleeping in a field down the road from my land. On day three of the storm, I returned to the tarp shed to check on my studio/office/home. The wind had lifted it, and thrown it, along with all of my belongings, across the hill. I was persistent and set everything back up. I walked the property to see if there was any more damage and when I came back to the shed it had all been tossed again. I cleaned everything up again, only this time it was to move out. Trip after trip, up and down the mountain, I carried the belongings it had taken me months to get up the mountain back down to the road. I had pallets waiting there, where I would stage my life until I could decide on a safe place to live. I had started in the dreamiest location above the road and mother nature had beat me back down the hill. I felt defeated.Yet again, my neighbors came to my aide. A local restaurant, The Potato, had some old buildings they needed removed from their previous location. They offered me their old storage shack for free as long as I got it off of their property. Four days later, the shack was reconstructed on my property. Finally, there was a roof and solid walls housing my life and my gear. For the next couple of months I worked on moving in and remodeling this humble abode to house the new McKinney Makes Media studio. I’ve never been happier, more inspired or motivated toward the fulfillment of my dream and pursuits.