ELY (AP) -- Northern Minnesota's boundary waters wilderness, with its fragrant pines, pristine lakes, bountiful wildlife and serene remoteness, casts a spell on visitors.
Thousands flock to the area each year from all over the country, seeking a respite from hectic, high-pressure lives and to soothe their souls in the wilderness. Most, however, have to be content with visiting for a week or two.
But some stubbornly find ways to live and work in a place where others can only dream of living.
Steve Lampman and his wife, Liz Schendel, have done that. They commute on logging roads and portages instead of freeways and view wolves and deer instead of skyscrapers out their office window. The Ely couple has carved a life -- and a lifestyle -- out of the woods on the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness by building and renting remote log cabins to city folks seeking a taste of a simpler life.
The hand-crafted log cabins are rustic and cozy, with a wood stove, propane lights, gas-fired range and gas-powered refrigerator. There is no running water, just a simple outhouse and a sauna. Fresh water is hauled in. There is no electricity. No computer. No phone. Not even a clock on the log walls.
"We had a woman from Paris who couldn't sleep -- it was too quiet," Lampman said. "She had a hard time adapting -- there were no sirens, no honking, no lights, it was dark outside."
The isolation and lack of indoor plumbing make it a visit quite different from a fancy resort. But that's what many are seeking.
"When I tell customers that the cabins don't have electricity or running water, they say, 'Good, that's what we want,' " Schendel said.
Said Lampman: "After staying here, they always talk about two things: the stars and the styrofoam toilet seats."
City dwellers are unaccustomed to the array of stars in the night sky, and styrofoam seats in the outhouses provide unexpected comfort, even on cold winter visits.
For those who don't want to leave a toasty cabin when nature beckons, there's an old-fashioned metal chamber pot. Unfortunately, such novelties from the past are lost on some modern-day visitors.
"I found one group cooking pasta in it," Lampman said, chuckling.
"The outhouse is a big deal, especially for a lot of women," he said. "It determines whether they will come."
Some won't, but plenty of others do.
"We get a lot of professionals, people with hectic jobs and under a fair amount of stress," Lampman said. "You pick them up a week later and you can see the difference. They're different people. It's pretty amazing."
Lampman, 55, is a Rochester, Minn., native. Schendel, 50, grew up in St. Louis Park, Minn. Their paths crossed during visits to the Ely area. Both were captivated by the boundary waters wilderness and tiny Ely, a town of 3,700 on the edge of that wilderness.
They fell in love with the place -- and eventually each other -- and stayed.
"We decided to get a piece of land and build our own log cabin. We wanted to live in the woods," Lampman said.
A lot of people have those dreams, but few are able or willing to make them come true. It wasn't easy for Lampman and Schendel.
"I never had a tool in my hand ever," Lampman said. "My dad didn't even own a hammer."
He attended a log cabin-building course, read some books and built a 14-by-16-foot log cabin. The couple lived a spartan life. They had no running water, no electricity, no phone -- for a dozen years.
"We wanted to live simply," Lampman said. "My time was important to me. We didn't want to incur bills and be forced to take jobs. When you're young, you can get by. We gardened a lot and spent a lot of time outdoors."
There were no rush-hour commutes or high-stress jobs, but living the simple life wasn't easy.
"It was a lot of work," Lampman said of pumping and hauling water, cutting and splitting wood, growing and stockpiling food.
But over the years, the couple realized that others envied their simple lifestyle and rustic cabin in the woods. And an idea was born.
"Everyone has a dream to have a log cabin in the woods," Lampman said.
But not everyone can. Would city-dwellers pay for the opportunity to experience that solitude and simple life in a remote wilderness setting? Some, including the local bank, didn't think so. Lampman and Schendel figured they would.
In 1989, the couple bought a remote chunk of land with no road access and no electric power and built a small cabin. Access was by canoe or boat in the summer, ski or snowmobile in the winter.
"People thought we were crazy," Lampman said. "We just thought, 'Build it and they will come.' And if they didn't, we'd sell it or do something else."
"Our first summer, the cabin was 80 to 90 percent booked," he said.
The little business, dubbed Log Cabin Hideaways, flourished. They built more cabins, most accessible only by water, and now have seven. All are nestled alone in the woods.
The success means that the simple life they once enjoyed is a bit more hectic. They haul guests in and out of the woods. There are reservations, phone calls, paperwork and maintenance.
But it is a good life. Daughter Zoe, 11, was born just as they were launching their business. The family still lives in the woods, but their enlarged cabin now has running water, electricity, a personal computer, a phone -- even a satellite-dish TV. And they can afford to take an annual winter vacation to Mexico.
Neither would trade life in the woods for the fast lane in the cities.
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