Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part story about the life and philosophy of Charlie MacInnes and his wife, Kit, two Alaskans who embraced a life of outdoor activities. Last week, Part One detailed some of their many accomplishments. This week, Part Two provides more of their personal background and examines their philosophies on life.
By Clark Fair
When they first arrived in Anchorage in 1946, Charlie and Kit MacInnes lived inside a large packing crate in the Mountain View area. Charlie constructed a wooden yoke for Kit so that she could carry two buckets and haul fresh water to their home each day.
Such living wasn’t easy, but fortunately for the MacInneses, it was brief.
Soon, they were in the undeveloped Tudor area, building their first house together on a 20-acre homesite in the woods. Their new place, a wood-frame, two-story building with a chimney and fireplace handmade from boulders hauled in from distant Granite Creek, would be their home for nearly the next 30 years.
There — before moving to the Kenai Peninsula for their retirement years — they would raise their daughter, Ann, and son, Scott, and firmly entrench themselves in the outdoor-based, active lifestyle that would
become their trademark.
Charles Ernest MacInnes was born in 1913 and raised in Philadelphia. He attended college to earn a business degree, and he entered the Navy in 1941, serving until just after the end of World War II. Catherine (“Kit”) Chambers MacInnes was born in 1919 and also raised in Philadelphia. She, too, attended college, earning a degree in physical therapy.
Charlie and Kit, who were enjoying running and other outdoor activities in their 20s, well after many of their contemporaries were settling into more sedentary lifestyles, married in 1946 and headed for a honeymoon in Alaska, fulfilling a long-held dream of Charlie’s to visit the north country.
They never looked back.
In Anchorage, Charlie found employment behind the ticket counter at Pacific Northern Airlines. PNA would eventually merge with Western Airlines, which would later merge with Delta Airlines, and during all that time Charlie would work behind the counter, despite having the intellect and the acumen to enter into a management position, according to his friend, Alan Boraas.
“He specifically chose that job for two reasons,” Boraas said. “It was a 9-to-5 job. He did not want a job that he could take home with
him, where he could lie awake at night worrying about whatever. He wanted a job that allowed him freedom to have the active outdoor lifestyle he embraced. And because he worked for an airline, he got essentially free travel. He loved to travel, and travel usually involved some sort of exercise, bicycling or skiing or whatever.”
While others might have succumbed to the social pressures to keep climbing a ladder of success, Charlie remained content. He worked for the airline until he retired in 1975.
Meanwhile, Kit put her physical therapy degree to use, becoming the first physical therapist ever hired by the original Alaska Native Medical Center. Like Charlie, she rarely carried her work home with her, allowing the growing MacInnes family time and energy to ski, run, bike, mush sled dogs, and hunt together. She retired a few years earlier than Charlie, and was ready for their big move to the peninsula when it came.
Before they moved out of town, however, the MacInneses firmly entrenched themselves as pioneers in a growing community of outdoor enthusiasts. They did alpine skiing in the mountains, mushed dogs in the Fur Rendezvous sprint races and in other races around the state, biked along the road systems, and
skied and ran cross-country for fun and competition.
The year Charlie retired, they purchased a parcel of land just off Mackey Lake Road in Soldotna, and they left Anchorage behind.
On their new property, they initially settled for a small cabin and a large outbuilding for their canoes, skis and other outdoor gear, and the requirements for their livestock and pets — mainly horses, chickens and dogs.
Boraas, an outdoor enthusiast who had arrived on the peninsula only a few years earlier, first encountered the pair at a meeting of the Kalifonsky Nordic Ski Club.
“They both had a huge impact on me, reaffirming what we were all trying to do,” Boraas said.
From their Soldotna home, the MacInneses continued to travel and to embrace vigorous outdoor exercise into their 80s. In his 60s, Charlie began making long bicycling treks, once traveling to the Texas coast to do some birding, and another time riding more than 1,100 miles from San Diego to the tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula.
Often, Boraas said, Charlie would write about his trips after he had completed them, and his writing revealed both his environmental
ethos and his careful eye for detail. On the Baja trip, which comprised his Christmas vacation, he wrote:
“I sat by my cheery fire and thought of my wife this Christmas Eve. There was a fat waxing sickle moon in the zenith whose silvery light made facile moving about my tiny camp. I leave only a few boot prints. No debris to defile Mother Earth.”
On Dec. 28 in Cabo San Lucas, the endpoint of the trek, he made the following entry:
“The climax of the trip was quite colorful. The paved road made a left turn in the middle of the small town. There, just beyond the plaza, were about 20 touring bikes all parked along a stone wall on the sidewalk, colorful with the rainbow assortment of numerous bike banners. Twenty cyclists sat on the curb, busy quaffing pop, eating fruit and cookies, and talking. I think everyone reveled in a deep sense of accomplishment.”
Kit and Charlie were also integral to the growing outdoor-recreation scene on the central peninsula. They could be seen running and biking and skiing throughout each year, and they were involved in the early stages of the Tsalteshi Trails.
Of his father — and, by extension, his mother, too — Scott MacInnes said, “He just enjoyed staying active. And he was determined to stay active.
It was just part of his lifestyle.”
After a brief bout with cancer, Charlie passed away in 1995 at the age of 81. Kit, who suffered a stroke several years later, died in 2003 at the age of 83.
About a week before he died, Charlie was still on his bicycle. He came home from his last ride, Scott said, and told the family that he didn’t feel well.
During that ride, or one about that same time, Charlie was pedaling along the flats beyond Sterling when Boraas drove by.
“I was going to Seward, or to Anchorage, and there was Charlie on his bike. And his bike wheel was going so slow that he was barely moving, but he was out there. He kept going till the end — I just wanted to stop and give him a hug, but, you know — that’s the significance of Charlie,” Boraas said.