How about we sell everything, buy a travel trailer, and see where God leads us? The Sundog story began after we (Joe & Cathy) left Troy, Idaho – not only to seek out an adventure, but to also renew our focus on our Christian faith.
It is hard to believe that this was so many years and five boys ago! Grab a good cup of coffee and read our story below.
Like any good story, it is best to start in the beginning… when my world was small and my family was even smaller. My wife, Cathy, and I were living in Troy, Idaho – a small northern town not far from where we met, attending the University of Idaho. Moscow, Idaho had been my home since I was 12. Cathy was working for the Washington State Auditor’s Office and I was bouncing around between house painting, and artwork, and spending a lot of time as a volunteer fireman and EMT with the local volunteer department.
Neither of us was satisfied with the life we were living – both from a spiritual and relational standpoint. Although we did have good times, we knew we were not living Christlike lives. In addition, like many others, we were up to ears in debt. What looked like a good life on the outside was truly just a face for the world and didn’t reflect the truth.
Anyway, one weekend, Cathy’s employer sent her to Seattle for a training seminar focused on helping people make a plan for their career – sort of a vision session. The speaker challenged Cathy to look at her dreams. I had traveled with her, so we talked about our dreams as a couple. As we discussed the speaker’s challenge, we realized we weren’t fulfilled because we had too small a vision for who we were and what our purpose in life was. We find it rather ironic that Cathy’s office sent her to a conference that was pivotal in her resignation shortly thereafter.
While we weren’t sure of the details, we knew we needed a life change and an adventure. We also knew that Alaska would be a part of that adventure, so we got started raising some money for the move.
The brand new house we had built. and lived in for less than a year. sold in just 3 days. We had a garage sale and sold 90% of our possessions. We had no plan, but we were traveling light! In hindsight, I wish we would have simply biked up the Alcan. However, we used our money to purchase a used Ford F-250 and a 26-foot Cobra Sierra trailer and headed out. We received varied responses from those we shared our dreaming with. Most commented. “You What?!!!” And of course, very few said, “Good for you. Go, live an adventure. I wish I was coming with you.” It was a time of fear, excitement, and a sense of the unknown. It was just what we needed.
Although I am not a preacher, our story is not complete if I don’t include this: a big part of our adventure and life change was connected with a renewed desire to follow Christ and to depend on Him in a more real, day-to-day manner. I often find people are surprised to find that God is not some huge Cosmic Kill Joy. He actually cares about our dreams and, in fact, Jesus Himself said that “He came so that we might have life and to have it fully.” John 10:10
We staged our trip at Cathy’s parent’s farm in northern Washington, spending a week preparing our trailer and our hearts for the adventure North. I cannot describe how monumental this trip was for us. At the time, driving 80 miles to Spokane, WA seemed like a massive road trip, and our one vacation to Yellowstone seemed like an African Safari! We had lived most of our lives in small, sleepy towns with smooth roads.
Our original thought was to travel the whole U.S. and end in Alaska. However, as we planned our journey, we both felt that Alaska was the most important and finances demanded we start with the priority. We calculated(Cathy is an accountant!) we had about 2-4 months of money before we would have to sell the trailer or get a job so that we could make ends meet. That settled it – Alaska, here we come!
If you have never traveled the Alaska Highway, it is a lifetime must do! There are amazing stretches of forest and mountains without the usual markings of roads and clear cuts. You will be blessed with a constant change in wildlife and scenery. As we traveled each mile closer to Alaska, we realized that the goal of reaching Alaska was now a big deal. We sensed a little of what the early explorers must have felt when they traveled to Alaska in search of gold, furs, and land.
“You’ve never caught a salmon?!,” the owner of Talaheim Lodge asked with an incredulous expression on his face. He assessed this new detail. Nope, but I had caught a lot of rainbow and brook trout with worms and hooks back in the small streams of Idaho…..
3 weeks earlier I had responded to a newspaper ad as we sat eating a burger in Palmer, newly converted Alaskans. It read: ‘Looking for for a couple to work at a remote fishing and hunting lodge on the Talachulitna River.’
After a quick and cordial phone call, we were invited to lunch to meet the owner. That evening we had dinner at his house so his wife could meet us and they could make their decision. Over a few glasses of wine, we were offered the job. I was to meet Mark at Lake Hood in 2 weeks to fly out to prepare the Lodge for guests. Cathy and our 2 English Springer Spaniels, “Outlaw” and “Rainy”, would come out a week later by a Beaver on floats. The next day I met Mark at the airport to help him for the day – working on his helicopter. He took me up for a test run. At the time, I didn’t realize he was testing to see if I got airsick; which explained the crazy maneuvers he was doing. Later he told me he had a guide that was constantly sick in the air. He finally had to just send the guide home and didn’t want to go through that again.
So, when I answered ‘No’ to catching a salmon, he added another interview question to his extensive list. To remedy the problem we jumped in his Cessna 180 and flew down to the Skwentna River where the kings were starting to come into the Tal. We spent the entire day fishing together. I ended up catching 2 Kings, my first Alaskan Salmon, and by golly, one week later I was an official Alaskan Fishing Guide entertaining a group of fishing clients flown in by DeHavilland Beaver.
It was a summer of adventure and learning for both of us. I guided from early in the morning until late every evening. As a guide, I shared a wonderful full course 5-star meal each evening with clients. Cathy learned to cook Alaska-style and cleaned cabins. She now knows that she does not want to run a lodge. She did, however, keep a wonderful attitude and grew quite a bit in the experience. I received most of my training from a then baby-faced Luke Miller, the boss’ 14-year-old son, who truly was a master at running jet boats, rafts, and fishing – and is now a full-time Beaver pilot. Clients would want to ride with me because of my perceived experience but the reality was this 14-year-old was twice the guide. He was gracious and willingly trained me. I humbly accepted.
Many amazing experiences came from that summer – A brown bear almost ate one of my older clients, I almost shook hands with a black bear, and many amazing and majestic images still flood my mind and soul as I reflect back on the experience. Some people come to Alaska and never really see it. Here I was, 80 miles from town, working at a fly-in-only lodge, and exploring new places by helicopter, float planes, jet boats, and rafts each week.
Although we were invited to come back the following summer we both knew that the guide life was not one that fit our skills and abilities. We headed back to Anchorage to see what the next adventure would be.
In the fall of 1996, Cathy was working as an accountant and I started using my college art degree to make a living. My 1st few Alaska art career years were spent designing and publishing a weekly real estate newspaper. Our business name, “Alaskan Freelance Graphics,” was ridiculously long so we took a motor home to tour the state with the goal of coming up with a better company name. On the trip, I woke up in a cold sweat with the name Sundog Media on my mind and we’ve been Sundog Media ever since. I say ‘we’ because by this time Cathy had started to work with me for less pay, no benefits, and a considerable amount of typical boss harassment.
What is a sundog? — A sundog forms when incoming sunlight is refracted through ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, creating the image of two brilliant spots on either side of the sun (thus our logo). We often liken the 3 brilliant lights forming one Sundog with a spiritual interpretation reflecting the relationship of God, the Father, Son & Holy Spirit as well.
Along with growing our business, we were also growing our family. We were blessed with 2 sons, Caleb Hunter Law, and Joshua Fisher Law. For our 20th wedding anniversary, we were surprised with Triplets. Yep, you hear that correctly TRIPLETS, Daniel Boone, Gabriel Gunner, and Josiah Trapper. So now multiples run in our family and we have 5 boys; truly the biggest blessing in life.
I digressed… As our business stabilized, we were once again ready to spend as much time as we could exploring. Feeling we’d done about as much as we could from Alaska’s road system, we bought a boat to see what remote Alaska had to offer from the water. Our first boat was a 16-foot Achilles inflatable with a 48 hp Johnson and in it, we spent many enjoyable hours exploring Prince William Sound, Resurrection Bay and Kachemak Bay, and an occasional interior lake. Once our eldest was born, however, we wanted the comfort and protection that a cabin boat had to offer. The search lead us to a C-dory cabin cruiser; a 22-foot boat with room for all of us to sleep and it was love at first sight. Of course, the only sensible name was the “Sundog”. Thus started our many Sundog Voyages. Since 2002, we have spent hundreds of days on the water. Caleb spent more than a year of his first 9 years out in Prince William Sound which probably accounts for some of his swimming skills. We still make it a goal to spend 45 days each year exploring God’s handiwork and sharing our experiences. Many of the photos we have taken over the years can be viewed on our Flickr account.
Since 1996, we have seen our business in Alaska grow as well as our family. We feel blessed to be able to live, work, and play right here in Alaska.
Joe, Cathy, Caleb, Joshua, Daniel, Gabriel, Josiah