What Is Off-Grid?

Does it have to be an ideology or could it just be circumstantial?

When I first contemplated starting a blog about our adventures living off the beaten path, I considered calling it Stories From Almost Off The Grid.

To be honest, we didn’t originally choose a lifestyle of independence.

We kind of fell into it.

After we sold our house and hit the road looking for property, our priorities were nature and seclusion – not necessarily living off-grid. The stories naturally followed, however, and I started my blog with that theme.

I once posted on Facebook that we lived off-the-grid and the town troll suggested that I couldn’t be considered off-grid because I had the Internet. Another person once suggested the same applies because I have a phone.

Ridiculous.

One could argue till the end-of-time as to what qualifies as “true” off-the-grid status. It varies for everyone.

Our family happens to live this way for a lot of reasons but I feel the adaptations we’ve made and the hardships we’ve overcome help to define what it is to live off-grid. When we bought undeveloped land we had to change our paradigm and we had to get busy.

We installed a solar power system and dug a spring through breccia and bedrock with our own hands. We planted a garden and learned to install and repair our own appliances. Having to provide for ourselves taught us how to be more resourceful.

We like not having to pay someone else for our power although only through the summer (until we tweak our solar power system). My husband wants ducks and geese for their eggs. We want our own dog – not the neighbor’s. We’re planning on farming truffles but to pull it off we’re having to think outside the box because it’s too cold here.

We have been inspired.

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Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on Pexels.com

At the end of the day, this idea of living independently has caught on with us regardless of how we came into it. I believe that however or why a person comes to live off the beaten path isn’t so much the point – it’s the experience.

Besides, you can’t make this shit up. The stuff that has happened to us since we left the suburbs makes for one hell of a story.

 

 

Chasing Bridgette

She was finally on her way to the truck doctor – but they were closed.

Bridgette is my husband’s other woman.

I’m not even jealous because she’s a part of our family. She’s heavier than me but stronger and she’s willing to take the garbage out. Unfortunately she’s been sitting in one spot for over a year now.

You might say she’s lazy but Bridgette is our 1986 Ford F-250 pickup truck and my husband is very sentimental about her. She might need a new engine. We’ll see.

My husband acquired her in a moving-out deal and she pulled us and our trailer from our old to our new home and throughout our three-month journey in-between in 2017. Bridgette The Truck

To me she has a personality – she reminds me of a horse.

That summer, she threw a shoe (got a flat), leaving us to camp on the side of the road for three days while the tire store put seven hundred dollars into matching replacements and a rim . She lost her brights right after we pulled onto the freeway in torrential rain on our final journey over the mountains and across the state to our new home. I had to drive the whole night with the low-beams on.

Her driver’s side window wouldn’t roll up that night and we had to pull out the door panel in order to manually push the glass up so I wouldn’t freeze for the drive.

We were told by her owner that she had a hole in her front gas tank and to not fill it up too much or it would leak. Her defrost was broken, and her four-wheel drive mechanism busted the first winter we lived here leaving us to walk and/or push her through the slightest of slippery conditions.

But we love her. Especially my husband.

That’s why we’re contemplating putting so much cash into replacing the engine.  We had the other repairs done last year before catastrophe hit and we limped her home for the wait.

Our driveway recently dried up enough for someone to come and get her so we called the repair shop a couple of days ago and made arrangements for an inspection. This morning we called the tow company.

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When he arrived, I told the driver I was writing about it so he took the time to describe how a vehicle is secured as he hooked her up. He backed up and slid brackets under the tires before hoisting the rear end up then wrapped two chains around both axels to keep the truck from “jumping” out on the bumps.

Bridgette has a manual four-wheel drive lock so he disengaged it from the drive train so as not to drag her to town. He wrapped the driver’s seatbelt around the steering wheel at the top and locked it into place to keep the wheels facing forward. He stuck red lights onto Bridgette’s hood that complimented her running lights quite nicely.

The driver asked us if they were expected in town, we said “yes”, and off he went with our beloved beast.

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Then we called and found out the shop was closed. What if there was no place to park the truck? What about the keys?

We freaked out and jumped into our car and sped after Bridgette.

Down the hill we went and sure enough, we could see the white speck that is Bridgette about a mile ahead of us on the straightaway towards town. Trying not to speed, we caught up to her at a railroad crossing a couple of blocks away from her destination.

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The driver was positioning Bridgette in a vacant spot behind the shop by the time we’d parked and I hurried over to explain but there was a key drop-box and it really wasn’t a big deal after all. I thanked him for putting up with my incessant talking and picture taking and we left her to wait for her turn on the lift.

What we do depends on the estimated grand total – repair or not?

I’m willing to have another woman around as long as she sleeps outside.

The Patriot

A suburban solution to a rural challenge.

I found it at a garage sale about a month ago. It cost us twenty dollars and is probably twenty years old. Its housing is made of ugly green plastic with Stars and Stripes and the word Patriot on its side.

It’s an electric chain saw. Had I known such a thing existed, I wouldn’t have squandered two years of wood-cutting.

Everyone around here uses gas-powered chainsaws to cut timber down for firewood. I won’t ever use one because they seem too dangerous. Whether or not that’s true I’ve made up my mind. My husband seems neutral. Either way, we have some wood cutting to catch up on now that we’re not afraid of removing a limb while we’re removing a limb.

We had three huge trees cut down that have been laying on our hillside for a couple of years. We hacked and sawed off all of the branches and removed the bark for firewood but we couldn’t cut the giant trunks. They were just too big.

Enter the Patriot. the patriot

It probably has half the power of a gas chainsaw but that’s what makes it so great: less probability of bouncing off a knot and wreaking havoc with the human body. I feel I can use this thing safely.

The day we acquired our new gadget, I ran a couple of extension cords down the hillside and commenced to “bucking” one of the humongous logs. To my surprise, the chainsaw works really well for being electric.

Now we can cut the giant trunks into small sections that my husband splits into firewood. All of that wood that’s been sitting around taunting us is now thinking twice.ax1

I feel accomplished. I can slingshot and I can buck lumber.

If there was a merit badge for rural living, I think learning how to use a chainsaw would be one of the requirements. A Carhartt jacket would be the badge, but I cheated – I bought one for myself just last week.

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Blast From The Past

About a year ago, I found a broken and rusty bracelet in the farmer’s dump on our hillside. It’s embossed with a boy’s name.

Bottles and jars are cool to find intact but whenever I’ve uncovered something personal, it’s always gotten me to thinking about the person to whom it belonged to and what life was like when they lived here so long ago.

Our property had not been occupied since about 1957 until we moved in. Back then, people threw their trash in dumps right on their land. Their trash is now my fascination – but back to that bracelet.

I wondered who this kid was and I figured there was a chance he might still be alive so I looked through the list of previous owners and did some additional detective work on the Internet and found him! He is 80 years old and still lives in the state.

I prepared a script before I dialed his number and he actually answered the phone. I felt a bit awkward but I asked him if he had lived where we are now and he confirmed it. I told him we had bought his family’s old property and I explained how I’d sifted through the old garbage heap on the hillside and found many items that were most likely deposited there by his family.

I told him about the bracelet with his name on it and asked him if he remembered it. He hadn’t, to my slight disappointment, but he was friendly and open to conversation.

I described the horseshoes, TV dinner containers, bottles, toys, and marbles we’d unearthed and questioned him as to whether or not he remembered them. He mentioned he had two older brothers who might have been the marble’s owners.

I told him I was using what may have been his Mother’s can openers and how what might have been her egg beaters were now growing into the side of a tree. He laughed and told me he was nine when his family moved here.

The call was very pleasant although, for him, it had come out of the blue. I said goodbye and thanked him for his time. Although he didn’t recall everything, I’m hoping he’d hung up the phone with some old memories rekindled.

It felt nice to make a connection with someone who had shared the history of this property with us. It once was his own.

I forgot to ask him if they had a well and where it was located. The privy too. Those are supposed to be treasure troves!

Wild Turkey Anyone?

My husband calls them The Horde.

They are the collection of wild turkeys that cruise the area searching for food and doing whatever else turkeys do. They seem to live in loose groups and there’s no shortage of them here in eastern Washington.

We often wake up in the morning to the sounds of hungry fowl outside our windows. They surround the RV (have you seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds?) making their expectations plain – it’s breakfast time.

My husband knows his job: He roles out of bed, throws on some clothes, grabs the thirty-pound bag of food with the cup and steps outside to feed “his” flock. They chitter, pip, pop, peep and sometimes gobble loudly in unison while they skirmish over the offerings.

They nip at each other, driving away their competitors for every bit of seed. Some are scraggly, some look a little sick and it makes me sad. Nature is nature though. I throw food to the ones who look like they need it the most. The rest look pretty healthy aside from the wind-tunnel look.

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We started feeding them a couple of months ago. When we pull into our driveway they make a bee-line to our RV. Most are hens but the males are standing out this time of year.

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It’s the beginning of the mating season and the Toms are dressing up in full window display. To make themselves look most presentable to the females, they “fluff up” with an audible swish of their feathers. Their heads flush with color and somehow they manage to cause their plumage to stand upright.

They angle their tale swag from side to side, as if tuning in a radar array. They tuck their chins in and glide across the ground as if on wheels. Or they stand stock still while the hens ignore them. Somehow, despite the rejection, little hordes inevitably appear in the following weeks. We call them gobblets.
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The Muddy Season

You people with your sidewalks and your manicured lawns – I envy you right now. We moved onto raw land on purpose but I didn’t anticipate having to train for a cross-country event just to get to the car.

At this time of year, when the snow melts and the ground is still frozen, our property becomes a quagmire.

Imagine plopping down somewhere in the woods to live. Wherever you walk, you trample the grass down leaving only dirt, then mud, when it rains. Everywhere you drive, the same. Without driveways and sidewalks – mud is what happens.

To get to the car we have to zigzag between patches of snow, muck, and the boards we put down to prevent us from leaving our boots behind.

We’d be stuck here without four-wheel drive and we meet in the war room to strategize our route out before we hop in the car The Long Long Long Driveway.

It’s almost spring and water from the melting snow is trapped on the surface by an under-layer of permafrost. It has nowhere to go and mixes with the trampled or driven-upon topsoil to create a real mess.

Where pools of standing water form, we discovered that hammering holes through the frozen ground to the unfrozen earth below allows the water to drain. Where that doesn’t work we cover the goo with boards or fill it in with rocks.

The place looks classy.

Until the thaw is complete and all of the snow melts, I put on my rain boots no matter the outfit. At least I fit in here in rural America.

Preparing For Coronavirus

I don’t scare easily but the coronavirus outbreak is a little bit different.

I have asthma so I am one of those people with an underlying condition and am theoretically at higher risk for complications or death. I have significant problems breathing some mornings and a little bit of exacerbation would not be a good thing.

I’m glad we’re out here away from town and not in close contact with other people. Our plan is to stay put for as long as possible when the crap hits the fan – which it will. I don’t know what the life cycle of this virus is so perhaps we aren’t being realistic. Still, minimizing our exposure to others seems prudent.

Today we stocked up on things that would help us stay comfortable for longer on our own. We grabbed a bunch of canned dinner-type items such as spaghetti and meatballs – things that provide protein but will keep indefinitely. A bag of potatoes and sweet potatoes seemed like a solid idea also.

We meant to buy some hand sanitizer but it was already sold out. Instead, we grabbed a few bottles of alcohol and some wipes so we could make our own version of sanitizing wipes – one for the car and one for home.

My husband grabbed the extra gas cans and propane cylinders to fill up.  Other than that, I’m not sure what else we can do. Our solar isn’t running at full strength but we can run most of our appliances and charge our batteries during the day.

We have plenty of wood on the property for heat and if it came down to it, for cooking over a fire. We have an unlimited water supply.

I looked up some natural antivirals and none are proven to be effective in warding off this virus but no proof doesn’t mean they don’t work. There simply isn’t evidence either way so we eat lots of garlic and I add coconut oil to my coffee for now – just in case.

Our entire school district closed this morning and some individuals are awaiting test results. The high school our son attends is being sanitized. I hope he isn’t sick.

If it wasn’t for my asthma, I wouldn’t worry as much but because I’m at a higher risk,  I’m ready to call the number that is listed in the local health department press release at the first sign of symptoms.

Being able to sustain ourselves for a good month is reassuring to me. But can we outlast the outbreak?

 

The Long Long Long Driveway

7/10’s of a mile of hell.

It is a buffer between us and anyone who isn’t hell bent on visiting us.

The postal service won’t drive up after that one time they dared and left us a note saying “never again”.

The UPS driver delivers but only in summer. The first few times he drove up the easement, we could hear the overhanging branches scraping along the sheet metal shell of the box truck. He finally asked us to cut the trees back but we still know he’s coming before we see him because of the rivet-busting potholes.

The route is dusty in the summer, clogged with heavy snow and slush in the winter and becomes a bog in the spring. It hasn’t been graded and graveled in God knows how long and has a very steep incline towards the end.

It is our driveway – seven-tenths of a mile of natural disaster area. It is our only way in and out and it is the bane of my existence. We have been within eyesight of our front door and had to abandon the vehicle with our groceries to go get the shovels and salt.

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When the thick layer of snow and ice begin to melt and the ground is still frozen, crevasses open up and torrents of water with no place to go converge to form streams in the ruts. When the ground thaws, driving through the mud displaces giant slabs of Play Doh-like ooze. On subsequent passes, we drive on the tops of those and squish them down until the road is finally flat and dry again. We lay down rocks in the worst places.

We had the gauntlet to ourselves until the neighbors moved in. One of them drives a little sedan that isn’t suited for the terrain. I occasionally see them make a run for the last portion of road – speed helps. I can hear the wrenching sounds of the suspension as they lurch along, bouncing violently over the uneven ground. The scraping of oil pan against bedrock sends shivers down my spine as the car careens up the last fifty feet of hill to safety.

A couple of weeks ago we spotted what is still left of it abandoned halfway up the grade, with it’s wheels frozen solid in knee-deep mud. I don’t know how they got it out.

The sheriff once drove all the way up over an issue about a dog. We found part of a bumper near the gate the next day. The Washington State Patrol once stopped us because chunks of our driveway were calving off the underside of our car onto the freeway.

Someday we will have our little slice of heaven repaired. Until then, I shut my eyes tight and pray every time we back out of our parking spot.

A Beautiful Pain In The Ass

Winter is making up for lost time.

After missing its first cue and being upstaged by warm, wet conditions, it has rushed the stage and stolen the show. Determined to make an impression, it has commanded our attention to the tune of four feet of snow in as many days.

With the advent of the first falling flakes,there was the mad dash to move anything smallish undercover lest we not see it until spring. Electrical cords, water hoses, tools, small animals such as cats; everything in danger of disappearing for months went into the RV or shed. We learned the hard way our first winter here.

Our almost mile of easement has gratefully been plowed several times over by the neighbors with another methodically mowing the drifts with his newly purchased Sears snow blower.

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Me? I’m out there with our trusty Walmart Backbreaker Deluxe hand-powered snow shovel with an ergonomically designed handle that only allows you to throw snow to the left comfortably.

Roofs, panels; anything prone to collapse from a snow load ( which means everything), we’ve cleared off multiple times. I’ve seen enough collapsed structures around to motivate me to keep on top of this chore.

Our SUV is older and used and is a supreme mountain goat. Although every drive to town is a nail biter to me, she’s carried us steadfastly and surely every time.

Speaking of the car, a sizable branch, overloaded with the weight of snow came down off a tree right onto her windshield the other day. Could easily have cracked the glass but didn’t. The culprit was promptly dispatched into bite-sized pieces for our fireplace.

The heavy snowfall clung to the trees bringing them down everywhere in the region. It made our last drive home from town nerve wracking and kept the utility companies busy with downed lines and evergreens. Snowplowing is a thriving industry in this part of the country also.

Despite all the difficulties caused by the heavy dump, the winter storms of the past week have left a magical white wonderland behind. This place is beautiful in the winter.

As far as theatrical metaphors go, I’m keeping that stage hook close by.

The Never Ending Repair Cycle

I keep reminding myself I asked for this. I entered into this adventure willingly but I’m reminded daily that it comes with a price.

Living out here away from the cities with no utilities is exhausting and I’m pretty sure my blog will someday morph into “Stories Formerly From Off The Grid”.

I’m up in the middle of the night again unable to sleep. There’s either an air or water leak in our RV fresh water system and the pump keeps cycling on and off about three times a minute. It’s driving me nuts.

I could disconnect it but that would mean putting my boots and coat on and going outside in the rain to disconnect the pump from the battery – which might wake my husband.

If an RV water pump is turning on and off by itself, it’s either an air pressure or water leak or the pump is bad.

We’ve tried to track down the cause without success. I’ve listened carefully for the sound of running water inside the RV but haven’t heard anything. I looked underneath the trailer for drips but have only spotted a small one coming from one of the holding tanks.

My next step is to replace the heat hose going into the pump to see if the system is losing pressure there.

On top of the leak problem, our furnace stopped working. I browsed the online RV forums for clues but we’ll have to open an outside access panel that’s sealed shut in order to check the fan reset switch, if there IS one.

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We accidentally put bad gas in our small generator and broke it.. Then I accidentally stripped a bolt inside the carburetor while I was trying to repair it. JB Weld didn’t work so now it has to go to the shop. Thankfully we have another larger generator but it’s a gas hog.

We tried to install a propane refrigerator to replace the electric one that was using seventy percent of our electricity but after a month of trying we couldn’t get it to work. The extra fridge sat in our living room for a month but now it’s tucked back into it’s spot. The RV seems suddenly spacious.

It seems like after we fix one problem, another one pops up or we cause another one until we’re back at the beginning. Like a wheel, it goes round and round – never to end.

Update: We bought a new water pump – problem solved.

 

Featured Image by  Christopher Burns on Unsplash.