Life on the Anvik River for almost three decades – part 1 – by Cheryl Hickson

As we sit here getting ready for summer 2023 we think to ourselves, it’s almost impossible to believe that we – the Hickson family have been running Alaska’s Anvik River Lodge for close to three decades. As Cliff & I are inching our way to retirement it’s really mind-boggling to think that we’ve been here for almost 28 seasons. When we first started out we knew NOTHING about running Alaska’s most remote fishing lodge. We knew about living in bush Alaska and how to get things done out here since we’d already been living in western Alaska for almost 20 years before we got into the lodge business. Cliff, as many folks know is like the MacGiver of bush Alaska and I am a close equivalent of what would be the Betty Crocker of bush Alaska. So I guess we figured that combination along with a vision to turn the Anvik River Lodge into something more than a fishing camp was enough to make us give up our solid careers and dive head-first into the crazy world of being a sportfishing lodge owner. What a ride it’s been and over the next few weeks I plan to share some of our adventures through these blog posts, just to give everyone a bit of insight, at least from a woman’s point of view, of what it’s been like and why we love this lifestyle sooooo much.

Our first family photo at Anvik River Lodge 1996

A lot of our guests have heard our story and know that we aren’t exaggerating when we say we knew nothing about running this type of operation. We had no idea what guests expected when they got here. But we did know that if we were going to raise our two small children, daughter Alyson 8yrs & son Blair 6yrs at the time, in this business we wanted all of our guests to be treated like they were guests in our home. We wanted our kids as well as staff members to truly enjoy this amazing opportunity to visit with folks from all over the world, all walks of life, and the diversity they brought to us each week. Many times we refer to Anvik River Lodge as being like an adult summer camp – we’re sad to see our guests and new friends leave but at the same time anxious for the new group to show up.

Now I hope you caught the part about doing this with two youngsters in tow. I look back now and think I must have been either crazy or just plain off in LaLa Land thinking that would be a great idea. It was definitely a challenge but I wouldn’t change a thing. Entertaining the kids was a lot of work in itself. I couldn’t just let them go outside and play by themselves like most kids do in the summertime. Why not you ask? Bears folks, lots of bears. When we first started out we didn’t have the electric fencing around the trash/burn pit that we do now because we ran strictly on generator power that had to be shut off at night. So there wasn’t a lot to deter the bears from showing up in the yard anytime they felt like it. Many a day we’d go outside to play only to be turned around the minute we’d gotten out the door because there’d be a bear or two in the yard. We could usually shoo them away by blasting a shotgun in the air – these bears were not at all used to humans like the ones in Katmai are. But, it’s never a guarantee that they’ll be scared off. We didn’t have much for internet access back in the day either. In fact, we had dial-up that ran through our triangulated repeater telephone system and we’d get charged long-distance rates for every minute we were online (if we could get online). There was no television – just a few VHS tapes. So our kids made do with cardboard boxes, duct tape, pieces of PVC pipe, string, and anything else they could turn into a toy to entertain themselves with.
While Cliff was on the river guiding guests I was doing almost all the cooking and a good bit of the housekeeping, as well as hosting a nice sit-down dinner each evening. Needless to say in the beginning life at the lodge kept us both running. Cliff & I would go to bed at night and feel like we were just laying down for a nap before our day would start again. When we first started we’d done the usual 6 am breakfast, out on the river by 7 am. But not too far into this routine, we realized that since we were the only lodge on the entire river and we weren’t competing with anyone else for the fishing spots, I decided on a more civilized breakfast at 8 am and out on the river by 9 am would work just fine. And it has for decades now.
As you can imagine we’ve got lots of stories to tell so stay tuned.

Our family is now celebrating our 28th season at Alaska’s Anvik River Lodge