Following are the stories of my family’s journey from a place of manicured lawns and HOA’s to a land of yellow jackets, ticks, mud, frozen pipes, wild animals, roof-crushing snow loads, neighbors that almost shot us, a driveway from hell – and the best adventures of our lives.
After we sold our house in suburbia in the Spring of 2017 and pulled onto the road towing our twenty foot Jayco Lite travel trailer, we didn’t know where we would end up by the end of that summer but we figured (rightly) that adventure awaited us on the open road and beyond.
Here’s our story.
We are a married couple with a sixteen-year-old son and two cats. The increasingly frenetic atmosphere of the Puget Sound region was getting to us so we sold our house in the spring of 2017, bought a travel trailer, and headed east in search of wide-open spaces more compatible with our nature.
The national forest and anywhere else we were allowed to camp became our home for three months as we cruised the real estate websites for a property. In September we found a few acres of raw land in eastern Washington near the Idaho and Canadian borders that was just right. It was three and a half miles away from the closest town, was far far away from any major metropolitan area – and had no utilities.
Moving onto undeveloped land means you’re on your own. You become the chief engineer, contractor, and if something breaks, repair person for everything you depend on to live. We had to figure some things out.
We got our water from the city standpipe then found out they close it in the winter. Luckily, we had discovered natural springs on our property which we dug by hand. For power we used a gas generator. The following autumn, we installed solar but couldn’t use it until the next summer.
We initially used a WiFi hotspot for the Internet but it became us vs the Google data pig. The neighbors let us use their connection until we got into a fight and they changed their password. We could only connect from my husband’s spot in our bed anyway, and only if it wasn’t raining. It took a year and felling three huge trees to get a line of sight to a tower for a good Internet connection.
Cultural adjustments were inevitable with such a big move. Hardiness is respected here and a local government pamphlet opens with the words “Welcome to the Wild West” and urges the reader to “get used to it”. We were from King County and afraid to touch a gas-powered chainsaw let alone make a go of living amongst the trees and the turkeys. What had we gotten ourselves into? Two years later we purchased an electric chainsaw.
Differences aside, as of mid-September of 2017 we were officially landowners and we spent a lot of time exploring but then winter hit fierce and with a seriousness that slapped all thoughts of anything but survival out of our consciousnesses.
Our water pipes froze and our worldly possessions disappeared under three feet of snow. Some things we didn’t find until the spring melt. Zero degree temperatures forced us to make the decision to relocate my son and I to an emergency shelter while my husband hunkered down at the property with our cats.
Three months later we moved back while it was still frigid. We were low on money and propane. Keeping warm was always a challenge with frost and ice gaining a foothold inside our trailer by the day. I would grab whatever I could find and obsessively fill small crevices and holes where cold air was entering. At least we now had a small heater.
We sometimes cooked or made coffee over a fire. I would hunch over a rocket stove in the cold and wet while my husband built a pit-style type. I remember feeling miserable and hopeless as I struggled to get my stove lit. The harsh winter had taken a toll and my outlook had become very bleak by that time. There would be many challenges ahead before the days began to warm.
Spring, then summer came along with a billion new bug species. I took up slingshot while trying to shoot down yellow jacket nests and we discovered ticks. The heat and an oppressively hot summer made it one of the longest I’ve ever experienced but we had things in the works.
We tilled rock-hard soil and planted a garden. We dug the spring and a trough going down the hill to a catch hole. We used antiques we found buried on our land to construct things we needed such as the fence to our garden. We did whatever we could to pass the time and keep our chins up.
Thank you to my husband for helping me to get through it all. When I was at my worst, he would hold my face in his hands, look at me and say “Good things Baby, good things”.
As fall arrived, our efforts began to pay off and we were finally able to make some improvements. We have a solar power system, generators, a large shed, an upgraded RV (until we finally build a home), and other necessities. We have a fireplace to sit by, a woodpile, larger propane tanks and other means for which to stay comfortable and dry for the winter.
This life requires sturdiness and ingenuity. I often feel overwhelmed at the amount of work that goes into living “off-grid” but in those moments, I remind myself these memories will be some of the most remarkable of my life.
Welcome again and I hope you will enjoy the stories and poems that follow. 🙂