Surviving Winter In An RV

How To Stay Warm

We currently live year round in a fifth wheel trailer. They are notoriously under-insulated for winter because they are just that: recreational vehicles designed mainly for summer camping. We have plans to build a real house but for now, staying comfortable in frigid weather requires a lot of effort.

We broke the central heater in our fifth wheel when we tried to install a propane fridge a couple of months ago (don’t ask) so we’re left with space heaters and the fireplace we installed last year to keep warm.

Earlier this month, an arctic front dipped into the northern United States from Canada. Next thing you know, it’s zero degrees and our pipes are freezing despite our anti-freezing protocol.

The area under and near the front of a fifth wheel is often referred to as “the basement”. It took me a while to figure that one out when I couldn’t find the stairs going down (ha ha). It’s the compartment where all of the water tanks, the pump, and the water pipes reside. You have to keep the vulnerable complex of Pex pipes that wind throughout from freezing. Most people add extra insulation and incorporate some sort of auxiliary heating system. The central heating ducts go into this compartment in our “home” but that’s out for now.

We put a couple of small desk-sized heater fans near the water pump and we use a heat hose to go between our 400 gallon external water tank and the trailer to keep the lines clear. Unless it’s ten degrees below. In that case, we have to remove the heat hose and bring it inside to thaw before hooking it back up. Coffee water comes from dipping the pot directly into the tank on those mornings.

We also leave the cupboard doors open between the living space and the basement to equalize the temperatures. It’s all about strategy out here. Thick dark curtains and/or shrink-wrapped plastic on windows help cut drafts.

Skirting is a standard protection used to keep wind out and stabilize the air temperature beneath a trailer. It’s a barrier running the circumference of the rig from the ground to the body. Everything from expensive kits to straw bails can be used for the purpose.

We installed a fireplace last year. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We used the correct components and installed it to the letter of the instructions for safety. We got a fan that is activated by the heat on top of the fireplace which blows air throughout the living space quite effectively. A bellows is mandatory for getting fires started.

We couldn’t afford a cord of wood this winter so we’ve been harvesting it from around the property. Storms have brought branches down and there are three huge trees laying on a hillside that we had to have felled in order to get an internet signal. Those have provided us with a seemingly endless supply of wood but the work: chopping, cutting, sawing the stuff to fit the fireplace – its exhausting.

We also pick up wood pallets from around town when we go down the hill. Most of them fit comfortably into the back of our SUV and they are free and plentiful.

The first thing I do every cold morning is make the fire in the fireplace and it’s the last thing I do at night. Keeping warm is so much work. I’m glad we are on our way towards spring and summer so I can complain about the heat.

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.

December In March

Really?

I wake up at three in the morning, open the door to the RV and what am I greeted by? Spring crocuses? Nope. The sound of songbirds (although not likely at this hour?) Nope.

Try a foot of new snow on the doorstep. It’s March, for Gods sake.

Did spring lose it’s way and accidentally pass our driveway? Nope. I can see that the city down the hill is coated in fresh white. The county too. As a matter of fact, large sections of the country are experiencing an identity crisis of seasons.

I don’t know if it’s global warming or the natural long-term patterns of the planet but the thermometer reads zero-degrees and our pipes are frozen again. No water for coffee until we thaw them.

We managed to stay above twenty degrees for most of the winter until March – and more snow is forecast for Monday through Wednesday coming up.

The cats and I went to scrounge for some catnip in the garden this morning but it’s buried under four feet of snow. I dug a trench to the last remembered location of the wilted heap and began to dig. This should be easier this time of year.

I scooped out a bit of the magical kitty herb and excavated my way back to the driveway, cats in trance behind me. For a half a second, I considered shoveling the whole garden then wondered “what was I thinking?”

The wilted mass that is catnip.

Water’s been mission-impossible for the last week in the below-normal temperatures. Needing to refill out water tank, we’d drag the frozen hoses inside, filling up our RV with loop after loop of frozen rubber to melt the ice, then drag the thousand-feet of tangled, anaconda-like mess outside only to have them freeze up again by the time we had them strung out and ready to siphon water.

The water pump is freezing at night again and no water means no coffee unless we go outside and dip the coffee pot directly into the water tank.

We got the car stuck in the snow trying to back out of the driveway. I made things worse when I jumped into the driver’s seat and confidently backed into a tree. Our tires are really worn so it’s off to Walmart to have new ones put on or we won’t be able to get back home.

At least they have coffee.

Nothing’s Easy In The Snow

We are officially not thrilled about it any more.

Snow – two to three feet of it – blankets the region we now live in.  We used to pray for it – now we just want it gone.

Snow was a major event back where we used to live. Highways would turn into skating rinks, school would be cancelled, and twenty-four-hour news coverage would begin with reporters positioned around the region for the latest coverage.

Snow was a happening – an event. It was cause for socializing and celebration. Cul-de-sacs would become snowball-fight war zones and snowman central. It brought people out of their houses – back in western Washington.

Now we just want it to go away.

Here, snow is simply a fact of life; something you deal with. It’s regarded as inevitable and celebrations happen indoors in crowded kitchens or close to the nearest fireplace.

Four wheel drive is mandatory, especially if you have unmaintained road. You make sure you have a chord of firewood and someone in mind to plow your driveway if you don’t do it yourself. Snow shovels are dug out of the shed and snow tires go on the truck.

People adapt – we have adapted, socially and logistically, to their climates. But still; no matter where you live, nothing’s easy in the snow.

 

The Hill Of Death Revisited

My husband and I went down the road of peril again today. It’s steep and windy, has a very precipitous drop-off (much like a cliff), gets icy during the winter months – and has no guard rails.

After we had a terrifying experience going up the road a while back, we swore off of it but as the weather conditions improved, we began to use it again.

The bad weather’s back but we decided to venture down the Hill Of Death again today, thinking it would be well sanded. Instead, the road renewed it’s title.

I started to record on my phone as we approached because of our prior experiences.

Sure enough, we began to slide about halfway down and I had a heart attack. My husband remained remarkably calm.

I posted it to the local discussion/classifieds Facebook page calling for the installation of a guard rail and all hell broke loose. A cultural debate has arisen out of it.

Some locals swear you should just stay home if you don’t know how to drive in the snow or don’t move to the country.  Others maintain the government has a duty to provide reasonably safe roadways to the public. I agree with the latter as others have had close calls too.

At the end of the day, no amount of local rhetoric about “staying home” or “bucking-up” is going to keep an accident or death from happening because the county won’t install a guard rail.

No amount of “get some chains, idiot” talk is going to bring the dead back to life.

On Facebook, one gentleman replied to my post “it’s Winter”.

That sums it up, I guess – it’s friggin’ Winter. That explains everything.

Here’s my response:

Winter the dis-qualifier

Why sand roads or put out fires

For that matter who needs seat belts

Hunker down wait till the sleet melts

Groceries gas are overrated

Don’t complain or you’ll be hated

It’s winter that makes perfect sense

Fits most every circumstance

If you’re not a seasoned expert

It’s on you deserve what you get

Having standards is for sissies

Center lines, stop lights are prissy

We don’t need no traffic laws

Cause we have hydraulic jaws

Summer fall just pick a season

Don’t need logic or good reason

It’s wintertime yup that explains it

No one should have to maintain it

I believe in common sense

Use your brain in self defense

But we don’t all drive the same

Let’s be clear on who’s to blame

It’s winter – lower expectations

Don’t deserve safe transportation

Its winter after all why bother

That guy who died he ain’t my father

Crash and burn on your own time

Just don’t do it on my dime

If you die don’t take me with you

Safety for the whole’s no issue

Dog eat dog philosophy

Winter means its you not me

Public safety how absurd

No one cares be rest assured

Wait that guardrail they left out

Car went over hit my house

Now who pays who is at fault

Wish they’d sanded put down salt

Suddenly its now my problem

County pay my bills all of ’em

Gubment should have done much more

Car parts on my kitchen floor

Group responsibility

Applies to you but not to me

Its winter that is my excuse

Backfired badly now I lose

 

Wood Gathering: A Poem

At night in the woods.

Disclaimer: This is kind of a cliché poem but I had fun writing it.

Air sharp as glass, ice scraping flesh

Breath escaping in frosty plumes

Feet frozen, struggling up hill to the place where the wood lies

Snow glows bluish, dark shapes fracturing it’s crust, frozen in escape

Stillness, snow holding tightly to all sound but the travelers

Constellations assume their poses, looking back through time with patient curiosity, eyes extinguished for millenia

Flashlights swing right to left and back, searching

Pausing, putting down the wood bag; catching breath

One stands watch while the other sets to work

Listening; sharp crack, blade falling

Wood rending under blows

Load bundled, nervous glances; fears better left unvoiced

Back to light, too far away

Not too quick, not wanting to look behind

Home close, steps quicken in urgency

Silent reassurances; nothing is there

A sound from the darkness, wood flung aside, clattering

All thoughts of fire forgotten

In flight, flashlights abandoned

Stairs, porch, door flung open, in

Dawn brings light, safety promised

Door opens, cautious glance

Long shadows cast by an early sun reveal clawed tracks in the snow

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A track my husband found right outside of our trailer last winter after hearing howls “like out of a movie” nearby.

Overwhelmed

Trying to keep up.

I feel so overwhelmed right now.

We got our shed about a week ago and I expected to have it up in one day but there it sits. We’ve been working on it but there isn’t enough time in one day and dark coming earlier hasn’t helped.

The matter with the neighbor over the cul-de-sac derailed us for a day and a half. We left a succinct letter for him and his wife on one of his fence posts and are waiting for a response – if any. He’d previously gone onto our property (past well marked posts), and spray painted survey marks on the ground for the cul-de-sac he was planning – for all of us.

We had wood delivered the other day and you’d think we never get visitors by the way we spent an hour showing the guys around the property. We traded some antique ax heads for a discount. One of the guys does handy work so we may have some help with the work around here. The shed might be his first project if he’s game.

I insulated the battery bank tonight. I got a plastic container and we hefted the batteries and about two-million wires and cables into it. It’s now lined on all sides with foam board insulation.

The fire wood is mostly stacked thanks to my husband and son. We’ve been trying to involve him more in chores for the benefits those things offer a young person.

Work in progress photos:

Our sizable new water tank needed to be refilled but alas, the freeze snuck up on us and the hoses froze with water in them. It took us an hour yesterday to drag them all downhill from the spring and get them into a tub of hot water. After soaking them, my husband had to use the pump to force all the ice out. It was exhausting and we’re emptying them after each use from now on.

I moved the ever-growing pile of tools, fasteners, parts, and the propane fridge we got a month ago out of the trailer. We want to put it all in the shed but it still needs to be built!

We need to clean up the messes from all of  our projects too. It never ends around here.

I also have a million administrative tasks to do. I’ve been grouchy from the sheer volume of items. I drew a big mind-map on some card stock and filled it with every item to be done – complete with sub categories. I hope to dispel some stress by getting the morass out of my mind and onto paper.

Writing also helps me to cope when I feel overwhelmed. It’s a little like talking to someone only they don’t talk back. 🙂

 

 

 

On The Brink

Our near death experience on the road last night.

We had our first snow yesterday. We were sitting in our truck ready to go to town and there they were; the first few flakes of the year.

Here it comes – Snowmaggedon – and slippery-as-hell roads.

The county and city road clearing crews are, for the most part, prepared but some things you just can’t fix…or can you?

We were headed back from town at about 5:30pm last evening when we started up the main road that goes to our intersection. This section of road is part of a big loop and the side we were traversing was washed out completely about a year and a half ago. We had to go the long way around to get to our turn near the washed-out side.

It seemed like forever before the county cleaned up the mess left by the landslide and finished the repairs. We were so happy! After it was completed, I can’t tell you how many times we turned the wrong way to go the long way to town before we remembered “our side” was now open. The new route saved us about five miles one way.

The road is a fairly steep winding grade up the hillside with a very steep slope dropping off hundreds of feet to the side before ending at a creek. A few months ago, someone stole a vehicle and pushed it over the edge where it careened to the bottom, leaving it smashed in the front, it’s doors wide open. Imagine if someone had been inside?

drop off 1

Yesterday, we drove up the road slowly and I cringed when I saw the ice ahead. Sure enough, as soon as we hit it, we began to slide.

I covered my eyes and my heart began to pound. My husband continued to maneuver the truck slowly up the grade but we lost traction one more time and started to slide toward the edge. I completely freaked out and just prayed we would stop before we went over.

It seemed like forever after we regained traction and slowly crept up the remaining length of the road to the top.

We’ll never go that way again until spring or until they put guard rails up.

Did I mention – there are no guardrails!

As we topped the hill, my husband pulled over to put the truck into four wheel drive for the trip up our driveway and we noticed another vehicle across the street pulled over with a woman outside of it. My husband told her what had happened then told me she had just had the same experience as us while driving up the hill.

When we got home, I called the city, not understanding it was a county matter. I wanted to warn someone right away of the treacherous condition of the road. Someone was bound to go over the edge sooner or later. I had my husband call 911 too as I was only able to leave a message.

I posted about our experience on Facebook and asked the question “Does anyone else think this road should have a guard rail?”. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. The general sentiment was that the people wanted one but the engineer who designed the new road had left enough extra space in the shoulder on the drop-off side to negate the necessity of having a guard rail.

Insane. The so-called shoulder is nothing but a steep slope that is in no way safe to pull over onto under any conditions let alone stop you after you’ve lost control of your vehicle and are sliding towards the edge.

Someone will die on that road.

My son rides the school bus that way and I’m calling the school to warn them and urge them to change the route. In the meantime, we’re going to have to pick him up from school every day and give him a ride home.

I wrote the county an email also. My husband and I will not be going in that direction until something is done. I just hope the county takes this seriously and either closes the road or puts up a guard rail before it’s too late.

If we want to plunge down a slope at breakneck speed, we want to be on a sled.

What Happened To Our Dishes Last Winter

It was cold and it was solid and it wasn’t letting our dishes go.

25231901698.pngIt lasted for months; the block of ice that held most of our dishes captive.

I remember the day I was able to wrest the last utensil free of the icy tomb that had encased our pans, forks, spoons, spatulas, glasses, bowls and plates – almost everything we ate off of – in one huge chunk of ice.

The Dishberg.

We had recently moved to eastern Washington and were living in a trailer on raw land when it happened. As we were settling in, we met our neighbors and stories were told of winters in eastern Washington – temperatures of minus forty-degrees with snow drifts up to the eaves of your house.

When we mentioned we were from west of the mountains, we got the all-knowing nod of someone who has just learned you are from The Coast and they must break the news to you of the impending doom that is winter in Stevens County.

Incidentally, you are from The Coast if you are from anywhere west of the Cascade mountain range. It doesn’t matter how far from the ocean you live; you are from The Coast and are referred to as a Coasty.

The stories were almost true. We weren’t prepared and me and our son went to live in an emergency shelter for three months while my husband stayed in our trailer with the cat.

Occasionally, I’d come to take a load of dishes to the shelter to wash because the trailer’s pipes were frozen. One day I piled them up in a large Tupperware container to get them  out of the way and put it outside.  For some reason, it sat there for a couple of days filling with water. Before long the whole container froze solid.

The mass was heavy and there was no breaking it up because there were plastic and glass items embedded in it. It sat for a couple of months before it finally began to thaw. I remember when it melted enough to break into smaller pieces I could bring inside and run hot water over and by the end of March, we finally had all of our dishes back.

Now if we could only find the coffee pot lid I lost in the snow in February.