Modern Day Pioneers

Simple daily tasks made complicated.

Clean clothes don’t come easily nor does most anything else when you live on raw land.   Here, there’s no sticking the clothes into the washer and pushing a button.

Utilities are even more complicated. We have a solar power system and a gas generator. Which one we use depends on what we want to do, how much electricity it’s going to take, the time of day, what’s broken, and what we have on hand that day.

Want some coffee? If you’re like us and are out of propane in the dead of winter and need some caffeine, you’ll need either a blow torch or some firewood and fire building skills.

You want a bath? This is going to take some time. Put the pot on the stove and turn it on high and you’ll have your bath in about an hour. A shower? Maybe, if you can take one in less than five minutes and the generator has gas and the water pipes aren’t frozen. Oh, and if the trailer’s water tank is full enough after dishes.

But you need water for some of these things. To get water meant weeks of digging and breaking rock to get to it. We were really lucky to have natural springs on our property. Before that, we depended on city water and the neighbors.

All summer we drove our truck to the city water department to fill our 55 gallon drum every third day or so then one day in fall, the standpipe closed for the winter. Our neighbors came to the rescue for a few weeks and let us fill up at their outdoor faucet but it was incredibly laborious.

Eventually we built a trench down the hill from our spring to the hole we dug to act as a holding tank near our trailer. Surprisingly, the spring produced water all winter in plenty.

We still had to get the water into the trailer which we did by pumping it through a hose and adding a touch of bleach in the process.

As for the laundry, we’d have to decide whether or not we wanted to load everything up and drive into town to the laundry mat or do it at the property. More often than not, we did it by hand at home.

That meant getting the water into a tub or the bathtub, depending on whether it was summer or winter. We used a water pump for that then we’d pile the clothes in and add the detergent. A clean plunger came in handy for sloshing the mix up. I’d then turn the container over to drain it and fill it up again with fresh water for the rinse. The water would still be pretty much black but my standards were pretty low at that time.

For the wringing out, I’d drilled a bunch of holes in one of those Home Depot all purpose buckets and I’d put the clothes in, take my shoes off, and mash grapes; that is, climb on top and mush the water out of the holes with my feet. Then we’d hang the mess of still sopping wet clothes on a line we’d strung up between two trees. There they would most likely get rained on.

The clothes would be stiff and wrinkled by the time I pulled them down and took them into the trailer. But hey, they were mostly clean and better than they were before. They would then sit on the couch in our cramped trailer for another week before I grudgingly sorted them and put them away.

When we were still living in the small trailer, taking a bath or shower was tricky because the hot water heater was broken. I tried to fix it many times with no luck so we’d have to time it once we activated the heater and then you’d have to be ready to jump into the shower at exactly twelve minutes in order to catch the window between the water being ice cold still and the water heater boiling over outside.  The heater is still messed up but we have one that works in the new fifth wheel.

For electricity, we run on solar mainly at night and in the mornings as we don’t have enough panels to generate the power we need. We ordered our third set of solar panels this morning and added a new charge controller to the existing eight this afternoon.

At this point, we can’t run our electric refrigerator on solar so we unplug it and keep the door closed until we start the generator. If it’s plugged in when we plug in the solar, we lose our internet. That’s where the protocol comes in. Many things we do here involve following a set order of tasks to keep things running smoothly.

When the generator goes on, we plug the fridge back in. Then we can do laundry and use the microwave. When that’s reversed, we unplug the fridge and so on. Just be sure the laundry and anything you want to microwave is done. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve turned off the generator only to realize we wanted to nuke something.

We ordered a propane fridge today – finally.

If the solar has flopped in the middle of the night and you want to use the internet or your computer needs juice, turn on the inverter that’s plugged into the RV batteries and plug the modem into that extension cord.

Does this all sound exhausting? It is.

At least we have hot water for the kitchen now! The repairman came today and turned the temperature dial to cooler. That was the only thing wrong with it! Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

So you see that simple daily tasks are not so simple for us. We went from being fully automated to fully dysfunctional.

Modern day pioneers we ain’t.

The Great Outdoors: A People Magnet

Settling into our new life on the road and the people we met.

All kinds of people are drawn to the woods. There’s something for everyone there:

  • The simple beauty and serenity
  • A brisk thirty mile hike to some peak starting at 5am while training for the decathlon (super achievers)
  • To get stoned and totally enjoy nature (screw the decathlon)
  • A place to forage for wild mushrooms to sell at the city market
  • To ditch and burn a stolen vehicle (I’ve seen that)
  • A place to get naked and go swimming or soak in a hot spring
  • To hide a body (Gary Ridgeway or Ted Bundy)
  • A place to live when you’re homeless
  • A place for target practice with your antique musket and your rifle
  • To take the dogs out for a nice romp
  • A simple camping trip or picnic
  • For gold prospecting or to hunt for gems
  • A teenage barf fest wherein someone’s soiled tent or sleeping bag is inevitably left behind.

For us it was a mixture of some of the above (minus the body dumping, car burning and decathlon training), and it was a place to live for the summer between homes. Wherever we parked the rig was our home for the months ahead.

We had the trailer parked at the Taylor River campground along the Snoqualmie River for our first few weeks on the road and were just settling in to our new routine when one day, I saw a limousine driving down the seriously pot-holed road. There was a particular spot going over a bridge near us where you had to maneuver through carefully at an angle in order to avoid bottoming out on the edge of an especially deep pothole.

I cringed as the long black vehicle approached the “hole” and to my surprise it glided through unscathed. It was the end of the navigable road however and it slowly pulled to a stop.

A stretch limousine fifteen miles down a narrow dirt road, forty five miles from the nearest city. Weird. I tried to look busy and watched out of the corners of my eyes.

It pulled over and a man got out, then another. The second man was dressed in what looked to me like yachting attire. The first man appeared to be his help of some sort. The man in the boat clothes just walked around for a few minutes and had a look around then they got back into the limo, turned around, and drove off, back up the road the way they came.

What?

Then one day the motor home pulled in.

It was kind of junky looking but nothing unusual for out there in the woods. Every kind of people came out here from the city folk with their Subarus to the teenagers from the burbs out for a wild night of partying. Some people lived out here (like us) but I don’t think they had any choice. We saw people out there who were clearly living there. It felt sad to me.

The people in the motor home turned out to be colorful folk. It was an older gentleman, probably in his sixties, his wife, and their daughter and her boyfriend and kids. One dog too. I didn’t get the impression they were out for a weekend camping trip. The motor home had a definite lived-in look.

One or more of them liked the bottle. Colorful became vivid when they drank. I don’t remember what it was about but the first time they had at it, they had at it. Yelling, throwing things, slamming things, and at some point, the younger couple got the boot. They sped off down the road leaving a plume of dust, rocks spitting out from under their tires.

That was the first time. It became a pattern. We began to dread the now expected daily skirmish. We moved to the other side of the road then across the bridge to get away from them. Then one day they were gone. Thank God.

Back to the usual city dwellers with their pooches, Birkenstocks, and ergonomically designed hiking poles mixed in with the pickup truck-driving, gun-toting types and their mystery mixed breed dogs.

All was well again as the ear-shattering sounds of gunfire rang through the air.

The Great Leveling

Jammed door syndrome.

Our house is crooked. Rather, it isn’t level.

It’s a fifth wheel and being a recreational vehicle meant for travel on the road, every time you park it and unhitch, you have to level it; that is, try to distribute the weight of the rig as evenly as possible all around as well as getting it on an even plane.

If you don’t do it properly, everything will be slightly twisted and the doors and access panels will not open and shut.

It doesn’t help that one of our hydraulic landing jacks isn’t moving up or down. I think it’s a damaged sheer pin and I’m not sure we can fix it by ourselves.

We had to dig ruts in the uneven ground before we had the RV delivered to compensate. The ground slopes up quite a bit on the front end side so we’re having to dig an extra deep hole for the tripod that stabilizes the bedroom portion.

We almost had the most difficult portion in the front done when the jack broke. We could only adjust so far by digging so if you put a marble (or anything else that will roll) on the bathroom counter – off it goes towards the rear of the place.

I’ll try to get used to it but my internal level screams “off-kilter” whenever I walk through the bathroom.

Too bad I can’t adjust my own inner bubble.

 

 

We’re Not All Electricians

A drawing of what the wiring in my RV looks like to me.

I didn’t know how to install a water pump so I went to see the local RV repairman last week. In my estimation, he’s been doing this for over a hundred years and stopped caring about customer service in the seventies.

When I asked him how to hook up the wiring, he barked at me in an irritated voice while gesturing violently at the water pump “red is red and black is black”!

Well, I made this picture for him to show him what the wiring in my RV looks like to me. No, he hasn’t seen it nor will he ever. 🙂

wiring3

Out of the Pot and Into the Frying Pan

How we came to live in the wild (three-and-a-half miles from the nearest town).

Introduction

When I was a child, I would stand on the side porch of our suburban home and look down the hill past the developments to the expanses of farmland that stretched out beyond. I wished I could be there where I could be with the animals and roam.

My Aunt would occasionally throw us into the back of her station wagon and haul us off to go for a hike, explore a mine, or camp. These adventures instilled in me a love of nature.

I went on to spend most of my life living in the suburbs, the idea of having a home in the mountains or country always in the back of my mind.

Then I met a person who shared my dreams – my husband. Together we made  them come true.

  Following are the stories of my family’s journey from a temperate place of perpetual rain, manicured lawns and HOA’s to a land of baking summers, frigid winters, wild animals, wild neighbors, 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 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.

……………………….

The Road

We are a married couple with a sixteen-year-old son and two cats. We want a dog but for now we have the neighbor’s.

Life in the Puget Sound region where we were living was getting frenetic and overcrowded so we sold our house in the spring of 2017, bought a travel trailer, and hit the road. We felt squeezed out like too much jelly on a sandwich so we set out to find a new slice of paradise in the rural regions of Washington state.

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 property. In September we found a few acres of land near the Idaho and Canadian borders in eastern Washington that was just right.

It was three and a half miles from the nearest Walmart and tucked into the foothills of the Huckleberry Mountain Range. At the time, there was one neighbor nearby with nothing else between us and the surrounding mountains. The property was undeveloped and had been unoccupied for seventy years.

Settling In

Moving onto raw land means you’re on your own. You become the engineer, contractor, electrician, and if something breaks, repairman for everything you depend on to live. We had to figure some things out.

At first, we got our water from the city standpipe then found out they close it in the winter. Luckily, by that time, we’d discovered natural springs on our property. For power we used a gas generator.  The following autumn, we installed solar and it’s been a love/hate relationship ever since.

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 get online from my husband’s spot in our bed anyway, and only if it wasn’t raining. We eventually had three huge trees cut down to get a line of sight to a tower for Internet.

A New Way Of Life

In addition to the logistics of setting up “shop”, we had to adjust to a different mindset. Hardiness is respected in these parts and the local government pamphlet opens with the words “Welcome to the Wild West” and urges the reader to “get used to it”.

We were fresh from a lifetime of living in the suburbs and afraid to touch a gas-powered chainsaw let alone make a go of living amongst the trees and the turkeys. We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into but we were too excited to be new landowners to let any reservations get in our way.

Our First Year

After the honeymoon period, winter barreled in with a seriousness that slapped all thoughts of anything but survival out of our consciousnesses. The neighbors had warned us of sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts as high as the eves on a house. It wasn’t far from the truth.

The weather turned cold and wet and we found ourselves ill-prepared for reality. Our water pipes froze and our worldly possessions disappeared under three feet of snow. Some things we didn’t find until the spring melt.

As the temperatures plummeted toward zero, my son and I went to stay in an emergency shelter while my husband hunkered down at the property with our cats. I worried constantly about him but we visited often. I would take dishes back with me to the shelter to clean and straighten things out while I was at our property.

Three months later we moved back while it was still frigid. We were low on money and propane. Keeping warm was 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 to cut the chill. Our central heating system was inefficient so we used a small indoor heater to keep us comfortable until spring.

We sometimes cooked or made coffee over a fire. I would hunch over my homemade rocket stove in the cold and wet while my husband built his pit fire. I remember feeling miserable and hopeless as I struggled to get the stove lit in the freezing rain and snow.

The harsh winter had taken a toll and my outlook had become very bleak like the weather.  There would be many challenges ahead before the days began to warm.

Spring, then summer arrived and we discovered a billion new bug species. I took up slingshot while trying to shoot down yellow jacket nests and we discovered ticks, or rather – they discovered us.  Ticks and Sticks.

The grass grew up to our waists with stickers everywhere. They would lodge themselves into our clothes and our cats fur like tiny barbed arrows and we had to push them through rather than pull them back out or risk destroying the cloth in the process. We had to carefully cut them out of the cats fur when it got badly matted (better to have a veterinarian do this).

Sweltering heat made that summer one of the longest I’ve ever experienced but we had things in the works.

We tilled rock-hard soil and planted a garden using old barbed-wire left behind on the property for a fence. We put a handle on a pickax head we found and used it to chip away at the bedrock underlying the spring. I cleaned up a seventy-year-old can opener when ours broke and it worked fine.

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”.

Moving Forward

It’s a year later and we have the solar power system, generators, a large shed, and a nicer RV (until we finally build a home). We have a fireplace to warm ourselves by and we have each other.

The following stories and poems aren’t meant to show others how to live off-grid: we still don’t know how. 

Welcome and I hope you will enjoy. 🙂