In what will now be known as the Year of Covid 19, lots of not-great things happened in the world. But there were fabulous parts, too. In fact, one of our long-held dreams came to fruition. If you’ve followed along here for a while, you know that we have been yapping about a “cabin” for years. With each move to a new home, we’ve paused during packing to say, “This would be great for the cabin.” You know, the imaginary cabin of our dreams that we did not actually possess. Vacations we spent at charming rentals gave us ideas for our own future space. We stored boxes marked “CABIN” in our garage and in our storage unit for years. I’ve long had a Pinterest board named “Cabin” and even got onto an email list with a realtor that specializes in cabins in a river canyon near Park City. Every now and then, I’d get a notification that there was a new listing in our price range, and it was fun to daydream. Someday.
I think that’s how it started. Scrolling through my emails, I saw one from the Weber River cabin guy. This time, there was an interesting-looking fixer-upper that was newly listed under our target price range, and we casually reached out to our own realtor to see if she could get any more details. That place didn’t check our wish list boxes, but our realtor did a quick search in another desirable area and came up with a few listings. Hmmm. I specifically had my eye on a ramshackle A-frame. The paved road to this area, up over a mountain pass, is closed with a gate in winter. But it’s a gorgeous area near Wasatch State Park, and real estate goes quickly up there. So we decided we would bundle up and take a snow hike over the hill to see the places in person. Just to see.
That day, we quickly moved on from a half-finished modern place that was way too close to a neighbor and over twice our budget. We checked out the A-frame I initially thought could be “the one.” On further inspection, it became clear that it probably needed to be torn down and rebuilt altogether. Still, John really loved that piece of property and its view, and it had a cute little A-frame outbuilding that seemed like a cute guest cottage option. Open mind, right? There were possibilities.
We walked past another A-frame that needed love, but it was too small for our family, right on the dirt road, and had power lines and poles obstructing the views. As much as we wanted to find a cabin, we knew it needed to really be RIGHT. We hadn’t planned on shopping for real estate at this stage in life; we were about to embark on a major kitchen renovation! It wasn’t like our cabin daydreams were going anywhere if the time wasn’t right.
On that note, I’d already dismissed the last place we looked at before we even got there. I’d already seen photos online. It seemed too big, and it looked like it had been remodeled already in a way that wasn’t interesting to me. Still, we checked it out.
This place was in worse shape than the photos had shown. It was practically buried in snow, which freaked me out. Originally built in the 70s, the house had been updated maybe 15 years ago, but had also been abandoned for over a decade. The exterior was rough, with faded paint and possibly rotten siding in some areas. Trees falling had damaged the roof, which was now under a couple of feet of ice and snow, creating years of leaks. Some updates that had been started had never been completed. There were pieces of the ceiling that were crumbling and rotten, and the carpet had been stained from water coming in. There was plenty of evidence of rodent inhabitants and there holes in the interior siding. We wandered around the house and property for quite a while before hiking back up over the hill. For those snowy miles, I huffed and puffed through the aspens and my mind was working overtime. When we got home, I scrolled through the listing photos again online. By that evening, I’d decided it was the one for us.
There were a few factors that played into my change of heart. First, the photos had made it look larger than it really is, but once we’d been inside, the size actually felt great for our family of 4. The cabin included 2 lots adding up to over 2 acres in a stunning aspen grove. There were neighbors close by, but not too close, and no one could build near the cabin. The appliances in the kitchen were brand-new and the layout was open. It had electricity and plumbing, access to a well and water rights (a big deal up there), a huge covered deck, a funky old wood stove, and loads of potential. Plus, we learned that the tear-down A-frame was already under contract. It wasn’t long until John agreed that we should learn more about what the repairs would entail and what kind of negotiating we could do.
Guys, we lucked out. The cabin on Lost Moose Lane needed a lot of time, love, and repairs, but my business-savvy husband negotiated a comfortable price on this family investment. We bought a cabin! We had no idea what we’d truly gotten ourselves into, since it was part of an estate sale after the owner passed away. No repairs would be made before we took possession. The cabin was ours “as-is.” Our inspection revealed plenty of necessary and obvious repairs, plus some less obvious ones, but nothing was a game-changer. As the snow thawed, we visited more and more often. We got a better idea what we were in for. When the road opened, we brought the boys to see it. Before the repairs really got started, we brought our trailer up and camped out in the driveway. We started living the cabin life of our dreams before we could even use the cabin properly!
The first projects we did at the cabin were very necessary repairs. We needed a new water heater (the current one’s pipes had frozen at some point) and some plumbing tweaks. We needed to fix the damaged and leaky roof panels. We had some very tall and very dead aspens taken down before they fell on the house and caused more damage, and had a big junk pile/critter condo removed. We also decided to smooth out the driveway and create a flat RV pad for family/friends to park or camp out. John and I took on a little DIY project and dug a proper, more permanent fire pit in the clearing below the cabin. That’s about the extent of the changes we made through the summer…and by fall, I knew this was the best thing we’d done for our family yet.
What a gift this place has been! As the world shut down, we had a place to escape to. It’s close enough to home that we can head up for just an overnight, but feels so different than home that it’s a vacation. Knowing we had a lot of repairs and renovating to do, but that it would take time, I did my best to make it comfortable in the meantime. We dug out old family furniture from storage. I hung art and invested in a good vacuum. In a milestone moment, we lugged those dusty boxes marked “CABIN” up there and rediscovered what was inside! We slept on the floor in sleeping bags or in the trailer. We used the kitchen in the cabin and the toilet in the trailer until the water heater/plumbing was repaired. We used the fire pit for grilling and ate a lot of s’mores! Like, A LOT.
We loved seeing the high altitude landscape come to life, later than it did in our own yard at home. We counted wildflowers and welcomed local birds and other critters. I added lots of potted flowers to the porch and loved watching mountain hummingbirds visit the blooms in the mornings. We hiked and explored the neighborhood, which is more populated than I thought (at least in the summer). We met friendly neighbors, some of whom live up there full-time. We added our new puppy Quincy to the mix. We invited friends and family to camp overnight or just to roast marshmallows. I watched my boys get (quite) dirty and play in nature all day long and knew that this wasn’t just a nearby vacation spot for us. This was a place we’d pass on to them and their own families. This is the childhood I wish for them! It’s a magical place to make memories, and I won’t forget our special first summer at the cabin.
It wasn’t until October that we started a true renovation. Some of the external siding needed replacing and the paint was a mess. So we took the opportunity to choose a different color for the cabin- the same color of a lovely A-frame we’d visited. We also sanded and stained the wood/log trim. I was a little worried that the dark blue we selected was too dark, but it ended up being perfect. The old girl cleaned up nicely!
Aside from the ceiling and drywall repairs needed inside, we also had to rip up the carpet upstairs and down due to water damage. Having to replace the flooring gave us the opportunity to choose something different, and we opted for a wood-grain laminate that would be durable and easier to clean. We also chose a squishy carpet for bedrooms for our cozy winter visits. After spending some time in the cabin, we knew we had some structural changes we wanted to make. There’s a bathroom with a small shower downstairs. We decided to turn a closet upstairs into a second little bathroom, just toilet and vanity, to avoid little boys (and their MOM) tumbling down the steep staircase at night. We enclosed the unfinished upper patio off of one of the little bedrooms and made that the bedroom, which left the old bedroom area as free space for a family area or play room. The last big structural change we made was to enclose the strangely situated entry porch, move the front door, and create a mudroom. With two dogs, three dirty boys, and lots of gear, we knew we needed a “dump” zone! Some smaller projects we added included a storage space next to the new powder room upstairs, finishing the ceiling above the deck with lighting and soffits, and a built-in storage banquette for the dining area. A last-minute change was to put in some corrugated metal behind the stove pipe to protect the wall from the heat and it’s one of my favorite features.
The challenge now would be to get the work done before the property was buried in many feet of snow! At 8,500 feet, winter starts early and the gate would close for the season. The first snow happened at the end of October. The first snow that stuck around came in mid-November. We visited the cabin often to check on the progress. John also spent a ton of time chopping wood from the property to use through the winter. Thankfully, our contractors were willing to keep working to finish the job before Christmas. They used our owner’s key to access the gate, and would ride snowmobiles to the cabin to work. Mountain living!
Oh, yes… how could I neglect to mention the snowmobiles? I like to joke that what really got me the cabin of my dreams was the fact that John would need a snowmobile as part of the deal. The county closes the gate at the top of the pass sometime in late fall. Owners of property in our neighborhood have a key to the gate, and for a while, we can still drive to and from the cabin. But after a few good snowstorms, we go through the gate, over the pass, and park our vehicles at a little makeshift parking lot where everyone parks their snow vehicles. There are all sorts of different snowmobiles and even a few incredibly beefy snow cats. In winter, it’s a whole thing to get to the cabin. Luggage, groceries, and kids have to be toted on or behind the snowmobile! The dogs run beside us. It’s definitely an adventure and a different way of life! Spoiler alert: the boys LOVE it.
Just before Thanksgiving, the interior of the cabin was ready for paint. I chose a warm white for all of the walls and paneling. The last item on the list would be carpeting in the tiny guest room downstairs and the space upstairs, which happened right after Turkey Day. Bit by bit, load by load, John toted furniture behind the snowmobile to the shed in the cabin’s driveway so that we’d be ready to move in. We asked our nanny to stay overnight with the boys so that John and I could go up to move in furniture, assemble and make beds, and generally unpack. Waking up in our new cabin bedroom for the first time was so special! Our goal was to have the place be comfortable by Christmas week so that Santa could find us there. And it happened! I’ll save our magical cabin Christmas for another post.
Since the cabin renovation has been completed, we’ve visited multiple times. The boys have an understanding of the car-to-snowmobile transfer situation. All four of us fit on the snowmobile with our belongings in a sled behind us. Oden and Morrison are adjusting to sharing a room, and Mo is learning to sleep in a big boy bed. We know where the cold spots are in the house. We know how HOT that wood stove can make it, too! Oden loves helping make a fire. There are special toys that live up at the cabin, and I love having family heirlooms furnishing the place- stuff from John’s house growing up, elk antlers from my great grandpa on the wall, as well as the rocking chair my mom used when I was a baby. The natural sledding zones have been established and the mudroom has proven to be a very smart idea! We’ve gotten to know our fun neighbors who have two dogs, also. The dogs go back and forth between our cabins and have a blast with their buddies. We keep adding personal touches, artwork, books, throw blankets, etc. to make our space feel like US. Our little cabin will evolve as our family does!
Now and then, we’ll meet someone at the snowmobile lot or on a walk and they’ll welcome us to the neighborhood. They’ll compliment the new paint color or other updates we made that are visible from the outside. They also often say a version of, “It’s so wonderful to see that cabin being used so much!” The poor house had been empty and deteriorating for years, and I love knowing we gave her a new life. I love knowing our boys will have this cabin as a backdrop for years full of adventure. Bring on the memory-making on Lost Moose Lane!
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