Although neither of our families owned a cabin, my husband and I both shared fond memories of spending time in the great outdoors at friends’ places throughout the years. We love nature, and longed for a hideaway of our own on some distant lake in the North Woods.

Our dream started to materialize in 1999 when we found a plot of land on a pristine lake in northern Minnesota, not too far from Itasca State Park. The site wasn’t a typical version of lake cabins, with gradual grassy turf down to a sandy beach. Instead, it was densely forested with a steep grade down to the lake and a rocky shoreline. Still, to us, it looked heavenly. We bought it.

We had no extra money to build any type of shelter, so we camped on the property for two years. The first major improvement was a driveway. It was a huge help getting our gear through the dense forest to our campsite, especially during torrential rainstorms. However, in order to put in a driveway, we had to clear many trees ourselves. We bought and learned how to use a chain saw. Practice made perfect, and we spent most of the summer clearing the way. We could pull into our campsite by fall. It was fantastic.

In 2000, with the help of family and friends, we got busy and built a garage with a sleeping loft. It was an unforgettable summer of hard work and incredible memories. We also put in a dock that summer — that made us truly feel a part of the lake experience. We would sit at the end of the dock every evening, after a hard day of work, and watch the amazing sunsets and listen to the loons. Getting a good night’s sleep, even in a tent, was never a problem.

We hired a contractor two years later to frame-in the cabin for us since it was not something we could have tackled. It was just an unfinished shell, and we have been finishing it off since. It has been an amazing process over a span of 18 years that has enriched our lives in countless ways. We love the forest, the lake, the wildlife and the adventures, while spending time with family and friends year-round. Being close to Itasca State Park is an added perk. We hike, cross-country ski and cycle. Our cabin continues to provide a place for us to make memories with friends and family.

Mary Olson, St. Paul