Alaska Interview: Sue Aikens

Lodge owner, Reality TV show personality, and one of the toughest Alaskans you'll probably ever meet.

SueAikens

If you've watched National Geographic's Life Below Zero, you probably already know that Sue Aikens, the 50 year-old proprietor of Kavik River Lodge, is tough. Aikens lives 500 miles North of Fairbanks. The nearest town, 81 miles away, is Dead Horse, which has a population of 50. Aikens lives in a 16' X 24' tent on her property where she hosts guests each summer in what she calls, "a unique and twisted bed and breakfast." What you may not know about Aikens is that she has a working knowledge of seven languages and spends each winter devoting herself to a different math or quantum physics theorem.

—As told to Joe Jackson

How did you end up in such a remote place?

When I was five years old, sitting there in kindergarten, and they asked me, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" I always said I wanted to be a lighthouse keeper. I have always craved extreme isolation—that is where I blossom and where I feel the happiest.

Is there a reason you wanted extreme privacy or do you think you were just born prone to it?

The question why is not one that I really pursue. The way that I live my life and the way I view life, is don't ask the question, "why?" Enjoy life for what it is, take it for what it is, and work with it.

A lot of focus of the coverage of your life is on the harshness. Is there joy in it? Are there beautiful things that come from living where you are?

When I look to the east and the sun starts coming back I have an entire series of mountain ranges that are 12-miles away, and you can't paint a palate like that. When all of a sudden, you know, its vermillion and it's peach, and just the feeling of awe. You can give me all of the mineral ingredients that make up a butterfly, but I can't put it together and have it take off out of my hand, but something does, and I am out here to witness it.

It seems like you are very much a part of the ecosystem there.

I feel like I am a guest in this ecosystem. I am definitely not top of the food chain here. I think if you come in trying to command the area, you are going to have a really limited engagement out here. Mother nature and the beasts themselves will remind you that that's not gonna fly.

You've said you don't allow yourself to feel fear and you mentioned not allowing yourself to feel lonely?

When you spend this amount of time, possibly up to nine months out of the year totally alone, if you allow yourself to dwell on negative issues—I'm lonely, I'm sad, I'm mad—we call it going bushy. Whatever your character flaws are, something blossoms and it becomes a much larger issue. Really, brought to the surface more than it would everywhere else. To help control this—you don't want to walk around all depressed out here for nine or 10 months, you'd be miserable...even living with myself, I wouldn't want to do it—I don't get sad, I just register that I am not particularly happy. I am not angry; I am just not really pleased.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Alaska magazine.

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