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Commuting by snowshoe

How long does Hughes, a New Orleans native, plan to live among these gold rush artifacts, in the restored ruins of a turn-of-the-century mining camp?

This article appeared in the November 25 issue of The Juneau Empire.

by Amy Condra

Photo by Michael Penn/Juneau Empire Gary Gillette and Renee Hughes at the Last Chance Mining Museum where they have lived for twenty years.

On those Juneau mornings when the snow falls with a denser-than-usual determination, slipping out of the seductive comfort of our sheets and stepping onto a cold floor, into a frosty day, can be a daunting proposition.

For Renee Hughes, the task is especially tough; while many of us dread the short walk from our house to the driveway, she gamely straps on her snowshoes, flicks on her headlamp and braves a 60-minute trek to reach her car.

“When I worked at Gastineau School, people would laugh when I would show up looking haggard,” said Hughes, who works as a substitute teacher at several local schools. “But I’d say, ‘Do you realize that I just spent an hour snowshoeing through the woods, in the dark, so I can get to school?’”

Hughes says that, luckily, some of the work she does for the school district she can do at home.

And when home is an apartment above the Last Chance Mining Museum, situated in the Last Chance Basin at the end of Basin Road, “working remotely” doesn’t just involve a flexible employment schedule; it often entails a geographic reality.

To reach downtown Juneau, Hughes and her husband, Port Engineer Gary Gillette, must hike down Basin Road and across the Basin Road Trestle Bridge.

But during winter storms, they are often snowed in.

“We have enough gear that we know how to get out,” said Hughes. “But it can be hard!”

And even when and if the road is clear this winter, Hughes still won’t be able to drive directly into town: The Basin Road Trestle, which was built in 1936, is undergoing a rehabilitation that began in October and won’t be finished until spring.

In the meantime, no cars are allowed on the bridge.

“They’re totally rebuilding the trestle,” Hughes said. “We’ll be out of commission until May, so basically what we’re going to do is to have a car on one side, and a car on the other. Gary brought in 12 cases of cat food, and a couple hundred pounds of dog food — we stocked up on everything to get wintered in.”

“Everything else we need,” she said, “we’ll drag from one side to the other!”

This isn’t the first time Hughes and Gillette have had to navigate a difficult journey home —when she first moved out to the museum about 20 years ago, they had to cross Gold Creek by boat.


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