Lake Crystal native Ashley Selden and her husband, Tyler, live off the grid during a good chunk of each year. The young couple has a cabin in an isolated part of Alaska.
The day-to-day routines of the young couple’s non-conformist lifestyle were filmed by a TV crew last fall and winter for an eight-part series that premieres this week on “Animal Planet.”
It will probably be a while before the Seldens see the show. They do not own a television.
“We shun a lot of technology,” Ashley said in a telephone interview from Fairbanks. Added Tyler, “We don’t bother with the Internet.”
The Seldens don’t have cellphones. Their cabin is without running water, but that doesn’t bother Ashley. She collects rain in barrels for use in the couple’s solar-powered shower.
Living simple takes lots of work, she admits. Daily tasks are difficult when the temperature goes below zero or on days with more hours of darkness then sunlight.
It’s hard to push me out of my comfort zone,” Ashley said.
An adaptable personality was an asset last fall and winter when cameras were following them around as they prepared for winter on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Only a small number of people are allowed to live in the refuge. Located above the Arctic Circle in the northeastern corner of Alaska, it is a protected area that is home to thousands of native animals. Its pristine terrain spans an area roughly the size of South Carolina.
In 1980, the U.S. government banned new human occupation in the refuge. Currently, only a handful of people are allowed to remain. The seven permitted cabins are more than 100 miles from each other. Four sets of permit-holders for these isolated cabins, including the Seldens, agreed to have their daily rituals chronicled by “Animal Planet” crews.
It’s wasn’t easy to find an “in” so the couple could live on the refuge, Ashley said. Luckily, the Seldens were able to obtain rights to an abandoned trap line.
“It’s the cabin permits that are so hard to come by,” Ashley said. “They have pretty strict regulations about who can have use. It’s important for us, keeping our permit in good standing ... (so that) if we have children, we could hand it down to them.”
The exact location of the cabins are not revealed during the show.
The Seldens, now veterans at living on the refuge, freely admit they survived by trial and error. They learned to “mush” — use sleds pulled by dogs to travel the hundreds of miles along their trap line — and how to net salmon and how to build racks for drying the fish.
On the other hand, they were not flying blind when they chose to live within the refuge. Before their first trip inside, she went to a doctor who helped pack their emergency kit with all the essentials.
“We also made sure we had enough food and a chainsaw,” Ashely said. “We did not go in unprepared.”
“Tyler and I both have solid heads on our shoulders,” Ashley said.
Tyler said the couple’s decision to be filmed for a television show was not based on cravings for national attention. Rather, it was an opportunity to supplement their income.
“We didn’t go out of our way (to be on the show). Our lives are meaningful and we enjoy our time alone,” Tyler said.
“Trapping is a hard way of life. Those years when you break even, you say you are having a helluva good year.”
A local tannery tipped off the film crew to the young couple. After meeting with representatives from the crew, the Seldens agreed to the presence of two cameramen, an on-site producer and wilderness guides.
Dozens of reality TV shows have been made in Alaska since 2005, when the state first developed a tax incentive program for film companies. The hope then was more jobs for Alaskans. However, most of the crews hired were from the Lower 48.
Tyler’s opinion about the quality of many of these shows is they aren’t realistic portrayals. That’s not how he feels about “The Last Alaskans.”
“‘Animal Planet’ is quality. It’s a pretty accurate depiction and I’m not ashamed to be part of that,” Tyler said.
Drones were used to shoot aerial shots of refuge life. That approach allowed an authentic and organic feel to the documentary.
After about six months of their refuge lifestyle, the Seldens packed up for a 250-mile trek to Fairbanks. That’s where they live until it’s time to return to the cabin. Their trapping permit states they cannot live there year-around.
Tyler, a Nebraskan, and Ashley met when they were in college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. They moved to Alaska a couple of days after their wedding.
Ashley, whose parents David and Theresa Laidig now live in Madelia, described her Lake Crystal childhood as comfortable and normal. Her family spent time outdoors on weekends or vacations.
Some relatives have visited the Seldens in Alaska.
“We try to come home (to Minnesota) every year or so.” Ashley said.
The Seldens do not spend their long winter nights fantasizing about moving to a new home that’s warm or metropolitan.
“I can’t even picture myself living anywhere else,” Ashley said. “I’ve seen the Northern lights countless times. One of the coolest parts of living in the woods is the chance sightings. When you are out there, things tend to move slowly. Then all of a sudden, something happens. Eight caribou pass by. Maybe you see a bear or an unspeakably-beautiful landscape. Those are the moments you live for.”
The network that filmed “The Last Alaskans” is available in more than 94 million U.S. Homes, according to Jared Albert, senior publicist for “Animal Planet.”
Ashley has found it hard to comprehend the number of viewers who could be watching them in the documentary.
“It’s hard to believe it was actually real,” Ashley said.
“I do hope the show shines the light on what its like to live on the frontier,” Tyler said.
The series premiere is 9 p.m. CST Monday and its subsequent episodes will air at 7 p.m. Sunday evenings, beginning May 31.
For more details, go to: www.animalplanet.com.