The following appears in the November issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY CHRIS COCOLES
When she’s working to help up struggling off-the-grid families from rock bottom, Misty Raney usually finds a connection with the matriarch of the house.
And that makes sense; Raney is a strong, tough, relentless and stubborn woman after growing up in an unforgiving Alaskan environment in a family of hearty outdoorsmen and -women. As one of three Raneys – with dad Marty (Alaska Sporting Journal, July 2016) and brother Matt – taking on the toughest of living crises on the Discovery Channel series Homestead Rescue, which broadcasts its season premiere tonight, Misty can’t help but get attached.
“People are patting me on the back and giving me props, telling me, ‘It’s amazing what you’ve done.’ But actually, I say to look at these women and how they’re living their lives,” she says. “They are made of a material that doesn’t exist, because any normal woman would have given up years ago.”
But Misty, 36, won’t let them throw in the towel and abandon the choice they made to trade city life for the wilderness and all the challenges that go with such a drastic change. Underneath the tough love the Raneys must dish out as their subjects deteriorate into desperation territory, there is also unfiltered affection and admiration. Misty, now a wife and mom herself, can relate to what’s going on.
“I get incredibly emotionally attached. I’m not just blowing smoke; they truly are an inspiration to me. Some of them are older than me, right?” she says. “So there is that bigger sister effect, and I’m in awe. I want to be that woman when I get older.”
“I just wanted to make it easier on them, because this lifestyle is not easy. Let’s not forget about the hard work for a second; it can be really taxing on you. But you’ve really got to have your head on straight, because every day is a challenge; every day is an inconvenience. Women like convenience and we like nice things and to be taken care of. But this lifestyle is not going to give you those things.”
But it’s also the lifestyle that’s made Raney’s life such a thrilling ride, one that she wouldn’t have traded for any luxury downtown penthouse or suburban mansion.
IF YOU WERE TO use one word to describe Misty Raney’s childhood in the Alaskan bush, don’t let it be the “T” word.
“I don’t like the word tomboy because I’m not a certain type of person. I’m just Misty. But it was normal for me to do all the boy things. You had to have that edge,” she says.
And in Marty and Mollee Raney’s isolated home, you got to play hard, but only after you worked hard. Misty, who besides fellow Homestead Rescue sibling Matt also has a sister (Melanee, the owner of a Girdwood, Alaska rafting company) and brother (Miles, a mountain biker and adventure traveler), was sometimes wondering what her friends did when the kids were helping with the building materials of their dad’s Wasilla-based business, Alaska Stone and Log.
“When I was a kid, our buddies, they’d go out and do who knows what. But we were working all the time. My whole childhood we worked – all the time – and I look back at how important those expectations we had at a really young age,” Misty Raney says.
“The older I got I really enjoyed building. In the early days I would say, ‘I don’t want to use a chainsaw or chop wood.’ But then it became my favorite thing to do when I was like 12.”
And there was a trade-off to the sweat equity the Raney kids built up making their contributions. The Alaskan backdrop provided quite the playground to explore.
All the kids learned their dad’s survival skills after Marty was attracted to the wide-open spaces of the Last Frontier. Misty’s forever pastime became fishing, whether for fun or subsistence reasons (not like there was much of a difference between the two).
But since these were the Raneys, it wasn’t like many of the fishing trips lacked thrills and chills. She, Marty and Matt once were dropped off along the silty, fast-moving waters of the Chitina River to dipnet for Copper River sockeye.
“My dad and me and Matt had to sleep on this side of the cliff for a couple hours, with no tent, of course, and we only had one sleeping bag,” she says. “And we had to think about it really logically. We’d say, ‘OK, Dad, you’re the biggest and you go on the bottom, because you’re going to roll down on top of us.’ Matt was in the middle and I was on top, and we were just sandwiched in. I don’t what the point was because you don’t sleep; you just close your eyes for a second.”
But these were the days that made her home so special.
“Alaska is a very challenging place; it’s very harsh and cold. Maybe we don’t know any better but it’s the best place on Earth; it’s paradise. Even now when you do know better it’s still a special place. No place for the weak, that’s for sure. It takes a special type of person to love it in their hearts,” Raney says. “I love Alaska. It’s your home. It was really challenging. It’s a challenging place that expects a lot out of you. Growing up in Alaska I think I was destined to have a good time.”
GAME NIGHT AT THE Raney house was always a hotly contested matchup that pitted stubborn, independent kids and stubborn, independent parents.
“Yelling and fighting and shouts of ‘I’m not talking to you for the rest of my life!’” Misty recalls with a laugh. “We’re all so competitive. But I think it’s good to be competitive. It really makes you try harder; you see something and say, ‘I can do that.’”
Then again, in an interview last year, Marty Raney said his is as close-knit of a family as he and Mollee could have hoped for.
“I don’t know if we hold the patent on a nice, close Alaskan working family, but I will say this: If anybody did a little research on my wife and I and our four kids, they would be blown away,” Marty said.
“Everyone gets along and I’ve never seen my kids fight. We’re just not that type of people and everyone’s pretty mellow and easy going. But when it comes to adventure or a task, they’re incredibly intense and some are fierce competitors.”
Misty’s older sister Melanee left home at a young age to get married, leaving Misty to spend a lot of time with her younger and older brothers.
But it’s her parents who’ve had the biggest impact.
“My mom is the toughest person that I know, and a lot of us think she’s the toughest one in our family. She’s this beautiful, soft-spoken woman and she’s made of nails,” Misty says. “She’ll be the last one fishing and she’s out there hunting the longest. I don’t know, man. Everybody knows my dad; he’s very tough. To have those two be our parents … I was raised (to be) incredibly independent and to problem solve and figure things out on your own.”
Of her dad, Misty says, “I’m still learning from him. I think, ‘How did I not know that?’ And there are some episodes that have aired and some to come where he has so much up that pirate shirt sleeve – you are just shocked at how many tricks he has up that sleeve.”
Misty and Marty have incredible chemistry together on Homestead Rescue, which is anything but a surprise to either one, nor to those who are close to both.
Count Misty’s husband Maciah Bilodeau among the believers (Maciah, Misty and their 6-year-old son, Gauge, split time between Alaska and Maciah’s home in Hawaii).
“My husband, in a not so weird way – or maybe it is weird – calls me ‘Little Marty,’ which is painful to hear,” Misty says with a laugh. “It’s such a compliment at the same time. I don’t know what your relationship is with your dad, but it’s so important. That’s from who you learn how to do everything – how to love everything. He’s an all-in type of guy and he’s the hardest worker you’ll ever meet and he has really high values and morals. He loves the outdoors and the mountains. He just takes so much joy at working really, really hard.”
WANT TO KNOW WHAT puts the Mist in Misty? Ask her about the families her family has visited on Homestead Rescue. One such case seen earlier this year were the Crums, a couple overwhelmed by their new home in the Montana wilderness and the medical condition of the husband, Jay.
“I remember having to say goodbye to Pattie Crum. I loved her … I was the first one to talk and just burst into tears,” Misty says. “You spend so much time with them – side by side – in these crazy places. You become so incredibly attached to them.”
And given her family’s swashbuckling lifestyle and personal choices to live off the grid, the heartbreaking reality of Homestead Rescue is this: Not everyone is as steadfast and prepared to handle the harsh environment of the wild.
“One of the biggest things people who watch our show say to me, they’re really hard on these families. I think it sounds easier than it actually is,” Misty says. “A lot of people think, ‘I can do that. Why would they do that?’”
“This is their last chance. All their money, all their this and all their that, is crammed into this measly, broken little homestead. And they’re just doing their absolute best with what they have. For me to enter that world, I try to work as possibly hard as I can … We have this crazy job where we help people fix their homesteads. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of.” ASJ
Editor’s note: New episodes of Homestead Rescue can be seen on the Discovery Channel starting tonight (check your local listings). For more, go to discovery.com/tv-shows/
GO CLIMB A MOUNTAIN
Marty Raney’s biggest passion is mountain climbing. As a guide and otherwise he’s summited Alaska’s mighty Denali multiple times. But one ascent was memorable for both Marty and daughter Misty a few years back. Here’s how she described her first climb of the tallest peak in North America:
“There were nine Japanese people, my dad and me. The craziest part is my dad ended up getting altitude sickness and we stayed at 14,000 (feet) for like 10 days. The weather cleared and we moved, but then my dad ended up getting sick.” (Editor’s note: The ordeal was made into a documentary back in Japan.)
“We had this crazy conversation where he said, ‘I want you to come back with me.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘I’m not going any further and I don’t want you going up; the mountain will always be here. You’ll have the rest of your life to climb it. ‘I’m not going back, Dad’ … We were all roped together, and to unclip from my dad was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
“It meant more than just unclipping and climbing this mountain. It was really just letting go. I think later it blew his mind; he said, ‘You really are an independent person.’ When I unclipped I was fighting back the tears. He’s had so much experience having grown up mountaineering. And I just had a handful of experiences and I’d never been on Denali …”
“I knew I was old enough to make my own decisions, but I rely on my dad still. And all of that experience I had to let go and totally believe in myself and my own abilities … I’m still surprised that I unclipped and told myself, ‘I’m going to do this. I want to see what I’m made of.’ And we ended up getting caught at 17,000 (feet). But we ended up summiting and we ended up getting separated for five-plus days … So he watched and waited and waited, and finally I strolled in and he was so stoked and pumped. I’ve never seen my dad so happy.” ASJ