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.

Here It Comes Again

Winter.

Forget fall. Autumn and spring seem fleeting in this part of the country. Blistering heat, wildfires, and drought suddenly give way to moderate temperatures with some sprinkles. That lasts about a day and fall is done. The only other sure sign that the changing of the guard is occurring is junior’s empty bed. School has begun.

As Winter cannonballs itself onto the scene, it gives me the impression of being alive.  It’s a supernatural being that changes not only the landscape but your frame of mind. For us, living in the rough, winter grabs hold of your thought processes and emotions and dominates. You can’t not think about it as you have to rearrange your entire life around it. It won’t be ignored.

The first year we were here Winter seemed to wage a battle against us. Being invasive by nature, it crept into our trailer and froze our water pipes as I systematically hunted down each draft and cold spot and crammed whatever material I could find into crevices and holes.

Since we couldn’t wash our dishes inside due to the frozen pipes, I piled them all in a big tub to take to the shelter we were temporarily staying in to wash. They were forgotten and the whole lot froze into a huge dishburg that didn’t thaw until spring What Happened To Our Dishes Last Winter.

One morning I was inspired to write a poem when I noticed frost creeping up the inside trim of the door: Cold. Giving it a name and acknowledging it as a sentient being helped me to deal with it.

Cold

 I’m not looking forward to all of the work ahead of us.  The what-ifs have begun to play over and over in my mind: What if the car gets stuck again. What if the water pipes freeze. What if we run out of wood. What if.

I compiled a never-ending to-do list last week. Everything from insulating the windows and doors, skirt the RV, take down the tent we never used after I set it up last summer, hang all of the extension cords, chop and stockpile the wood. Today we bought an ax to dispatch the trees on the hillside for firewood. I personally don’t like chainsaws due to lack of experience and being from King County.

I try to temper my snowmageddon anxiety by reminding myself that if the car gets stuck we have shovels, portable pads to place under the tires for traction, and salt. We developed a protocol for dealing with the rest of the issues like keeping the hoses in the basement of the fifth wheel between uses. We run a heater fan in that space 24/7 to keep those and the water pipes thawed.

I buffer my anxiety with thoughts of sledding, creating snow sculptures and of course, Christmas. We wanted four seasons and we got two and two quarters. It’s better than the 365 days of rain in the Puget Sound region we left behind.

Writing also helps stave off winter worries. I’m looking forward to sitting by the crackling fireplace making blog posts while I thaw out. The construction of the fireplace is the single best improvement we made regarding winter and it has a story of its own.

The Small Small Trailer

An essay in inadequacy.

I’ve been wanting to write more about the vehicle that was our home for over a year after we sold our house back west as it deserves honorable mention. We’ll never forget the time we spent safely tucked behind it’s half-inch walls. The trailer is a 20′ Jayco Lite with canvas pullouts on each end. It was designed as a camper trailer … the kind you take the family for a weekend campout in, not live in for a year. That was not our plan, I assure you.. it just happened as some things do.

When I spotted it in an ad, I was sucked in by the extra amenities and the price. Plenty of room for the job as I saw it at the time. It came with a TV, radio, almost a wood stove (renovations had been started for the project), an air conditioner, central heating and something else so appealing I’ve forgotten what it was. It also came with a badly rotted floor which I didn’t know about at the time. The rest was standard.

We spent a summer living in the thing expecting to find a property with a house. We didn’t, and ended up tubed in for a year too long. The single table inside was only big enough for my son and his computer so I spent a lot of time doing whatever in our bunk at the rear or in the shed we half-built. My husband even moved his TV and Xbox outside during the summer. Just too cramped.

The sink was too small, the bathroom was too small and the hot water heater was glitchy and it became an art form to pull a shower off in the approximately six minutes available if the water didn’t boil over first. The pipes froze solid during the winter and imagine doing dishes outside in zero degree weather at a makeshift table. It happened.

We managed to break not one but two windows and had to tape them up and when the freezing temperatures hit, we had a major problem on our hands what with the canvas walls of the pullouts. We were clearly unprepared. That seems to be the story of our lives.

We ended up putting rigid sheet insulation and plywood around the walls and over the roofs of the pullouts but zero degrees doesn’t care. The rain had a tendency of finding a way through all the tarp we put over it too. Wet mattress pads, sheets and pillows were the order of the day. I don’t know how we survived but we did.

Some time during the summer the rotten floor made itself apparent and we crawled under the contraption to shore up the floor with two by fours to prevent a “yard sale” while driving down the freeway at sixty-five miles an hour.

There isn’t much between the outdoors and the humans either in a canvas pullout. One night the roof caved in on my face. I could feel paws on top of me as my husband half slept. When I screeched at the cat, he said “are you sure it’s the cat?” Helpful. One night shortly after we’d set up camp on our new property, we heard something that sounded big scrape up against a trash barrel outside just feet from our heads. My husband continued to take the outside position in the bed.

Last fall we got a fifth wheel for a temporary upgrade, not knowing for sure when we’d be able to build a real house but our fifteen year old insisted that he didn’t want to see the Jayco go to waste. He’s a teenager and still occupies it’s space.

We were quite happy to say goodbye and move next door forty feet away. At least we no longer have to worry about Mr. Foot reaching his hand under the canvas wall and making away with my husband.

 

Does Sasquatch Exist?

My husband and I went on our first outing since the snow melt a few weeks ago. We drove up a nearby road just into DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land. We didn’t get far as the snow still had a hold on the road just past the boundary gate.

We decided to walk up the snow covered road then pick our way back to our car over the fallen logs and debris winter had deposited next to the creek paralleling the road. It hadn’t snowed for at least a week and we ran into tracks along the waterway that were fairly large along with the usual and obviously human tracks.

The prints were in the snow and had been distorted a little by the spring melt. They could have been an animal’s prints that combined it’s hind and forefeet to create the illusion of one track but they were unusual enough for me to take some photos.

We also saw some vegetables dumped out on the side of the road near the site. I’ve heard of people leaving “treats” for Sasquatch. Maybe they were just someone’s unwanted lunch. Who knows?

I took at look at YouTube and found a video on the subject about knockings and other sounds heard in our county Bigfoot Of Stevens County Reports 11. Apparently there is activity here.

I had to enhance the pictures on my computer for them to be visible in the snow. Below is what came out. Opinions?

filtered-footprint1-576x1024filtered-footprint-5-300x169

 

Itching To Get Out

The advent of Spring has left us dying to get out; maybe go on a hike on solid soil. My husband and I love the outdoors and we live in the woods but we’d like to see some different trees.

Morel season is quickly approaching but not fast enough so we settled for a drive up the road to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) land near us the other day. The DNR owns a ton of land that they manage for recreation and various other commercial and governmental type uses.

This area is well laid out with dirt roads threading through forested hillsides and mountains. There are a couple of silver mines, plentiful sources of wood that some hardy locals take advantage of to make a living (they are a special breed), and hidden huckleberry patches known only to some inhabitants. We’ve been promised to be taken out to pick but have been warned that the bears love huckleberries also. We’ll be sure to bring our bear spray as we always do The Man, the Bear and the Truck.

While in town the other day I stopped by the Colville station of the Colville National Forest for some advice as my husband has been chomping at the bit to go on some overnight backpacking trips. I asked if there were really Grizzly bear in Washington state and in Stevens County and the answer was “yes”. The ranger said they hung out closer to the Canadian border and at higher elevations so I think we’ll stick to the lower. I was instructed to spray our bear spray in a half-moon pattern horizontally to create a sort of wall in front of us before the animal gets close if we are unfortunate enough to have an encounter with a predater. Good advice. I would have just sprayed straight ahead.

I asked about Morel hunting in previously burned areas of the forest. The staff warned of hidden holes and falling trees as dangers so I think we’ll stick to safer places. There’s plenty out there as it is.

When I asked about road conditions the ranger recommended a phone app called Avenza which is free but you can download road and recreation maps of various sections of the national forest in addition to being able to navigate off-line. We could have used that a couple of years ago when we got lost in the Snoqualmie National Forest Lost In The Woods; Twice In One Day.

There is wild asparagus coming up although I have yet to find a single sprig, and crawfish waiting for my pot although I have yet to learn the spots they like here locally. We knew the other side of the mountains fairly well (except the time we got lost) but here is a new story. We’re still plying the locals for their secrets; more like begging.

Lastly, I have gold fever again and have been all over our property crushing and breaking promising looking rocks and I dug a hole right into what, to the best of my knowledge, is a geological fault. Our own private one. How’s that for a selling point? Our property has the perfect geology for possible gold and comes with natural springs . Couldn’t get any better for a geology/nature fanatic! Take a look at the map I found showing the fault. The photo is crummy but you get the point.

The back of our SUV is crammed with gold panning/prospecting stuff just in case; classifiers, my pan, my sluice, a shovel, the Fish and Gold Pamphlet required by the state to have in our possession so there are no excuses should we be caught out in the field breaking the law. 🙂

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

The petticoat of snow has quickly abated and revealed an unkempt, half-awake landscape; much like my husband’s face in the morning when he first wakes up.

We are officially in the “before the pretty green things begin to grow” and the “cover your blemishes with snow and forget about it until Spring” phase. In other words, the place looks like shit.

Little bits of garbage that strayed from trash bags are all over the place, mud has replaced snow, and everything’s a general brownish color. But you know what? I love it! Snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone, snow is gone…:)!

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, re-grading the road, spring cleaning the property, yay!

All in all, a sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries, frozen this and that. A lot of energy goes into keeping things thawed and now Mother Nature is taking the helm.

One of the upper springs.

We’re using our solar panels again. We missed the height of the sunny season when we installed them last year so we’re very pleased to see we can run most things all day on sunshine alone. And that’s before the proposed upgrades.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a road that we may need to hire someone to come in and fix but aside from that, the rest seems doable.

Today we are thankful after an especially trying month previous to this. Putting the sloggers on….

Happy Spring!

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

You’ll never know to whom I’m referring but I need someone to talk to right now, if not someone sitting across from me.

I’m upset and depressed.

I’ve mentioned before, that we have some interesting neighbors but do any of you live next to The Neighbors From Hell? When confronted with conflict with them have you asked yourself repeatedly, “have I somehow caused this or attracted this conflict into my life”?

I have been, but I also feel it is clear that we didn’t “start” this nor have we continued this.

Here’s the story.

About a month after purchasing and moving onto our land, our “nice” neighbors moved into town as they were elderly. They had a house and some acreage just over the hill above the lower part of the parcel that our shared driveway easement passes through. The lower property is not theirs, nor is the easement for their use.

The new neighbors then moved in and almost shot us right away when they shot over our property with a gun, ricocheting off of one of our trees. I hit the deck and yelled at them that there were people there.

Then they let their dogs lose and accused us of killing one. Of course we didn’t but we put up with them pooping on our property and chasing our cats without escalating as well as we could.

Last year, they decided to trespass across that section of land with their snowmobiles, riding up and down the hillsides and across the easement and tearing up the road. We complained second hand to the realtor who had just sold them the property rather than confront them face to face.

Whether or not that was the right thing to do; that’s what we did. They were given a warning not to trespass again, and, aside from hearing their twenty or so dogs barking twenty four seven, we’ve gone out of our way to have nothing to do with them. Until now.

We suspect a friend of theirs bought the upper parcel to the property that was divided into three and, to our best guess, their friend has invited them to use that lot upon which to ride their snowmobiles.

Here’s the problem. For the last two evenings, the non-owners of that property; our “interesting” neighbors, have brought it upon themselves to ride their snowmobiles from their house, through the upper property, and down through the shared easement (that we have plowed at our own expense all winter), and are circling back up to their property. Like a race track; through our property.

I think anyone in our shoes would be incensed so I left a second note in their (open) mailbox this afternoon telling them to stop.

Not fifteen minutes later after we’d returned home, we heard her yelling at the top of her lungs to stop messing with her mailbox. It was all I could do not to yell back to “stay off our f***ing property.

I know we are in the right and we are already planning on using law enforcement as the go-between from here on out now that we’ve notified them for a second time. My issue is that I feel like crap emotionally and we’re scared of them because we know they have guns.

I simply need someone to talk to. Would you feel the same had this happened to you? Their dogs have repeatedly gotten lose also and their pit bull charged me and my son on several occasions. We lost the phone videos we shot, unfortunately.

Have any of you been in this situation? Did it help to know you weren’t alone; just in need some moral support? We have a plan of action thought out and the evidence captured. It’s just the emotional stuff. I don’t like this personal second-guessing.

Thank you for listening.

December In March

 

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 Godsake.

Did spring lose it’s way and pass our driveway by? Nope. I can see that the city down the hill is coated in fresh white. County too. As a matter of fact, BIG 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 a planet but the thermometer reads zero degrees and our pipes are frozen again. No water for coffee until we thaw them.

I’m tired of this. I’m whining at full volume and full speed ahead. No apologies here. You can tough it out all you want. I’m done.

Just when we thought we had this tiger by the tail, it’s whipped us. 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 Winter garden this morning but it’s just that……buried under four feet of snow. I dug a trench to the last remembered location of the wilted heap and began to dig. I knew I was getting close when the felines suddenly began to dig alongside me.

I scooped out a bit of the magical kitty herb and half trudged, half excavated my way back to the driveway, cats in trance behind me. I quickly dismissed a half-second thought of clearing the whole garden patch. Didn’t take too much effort.

The wilted mass that is catnip.

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

Although we’ve done our best to keep the pump and heated hose clear, the zero temps are still having their way with us.  No water until they thaw with the help of a small heater fan every morning.  The cold and snow have also been having their way with our driveway. Already got stuck and shook hands with a small tree last week due to worn tires.

Off to Walmart to have new tires put on so we can get back up our driveway.

At least they have coffee.

Nothing’s Easy In The Snow

Snow……………two to three feet of it as far as the eye can see blankets the region we now live in and it has become like the annoying guest who has overstayed their visit. We used to pray for it but it’s different now that we’ve moved.

I have come to the new conclusion that snow is an entity and it doesn’t want you mobile. Period. It’s heavy and slippery and it’s somewhat evil. That’s my theory. Nothing’s easy in the snow and there is a lot of it here as opposed to where we used to live. Our attitudes have changed.

In all fairness we asked for this. We chose to move here partly because we disliked the constant grey and drizzle of the Puget Sound region surrounding Seattle. Throughout our childhoods, both my husband and I would pray for just an inch or two; please God, so school would be cancelled and everyone and their Aunt could go sledding and make snowmen.

Now we just want it to go away.

Snow was a major event back where we lived. 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 up-to-the-minute coverage of the event. An old standby was the intersections at the base of Queen Anne hill in Seattle, where, inevitably, action was sure to be caught on camera as car after car would lose control on the incline.

Cul-de-sacs would become central meeting places or snowball-fight war zones, depending. Snow was a happening; an event. It was cause for socializing. It brought people out of their houses to come together – back in western Washington.

Here, snow is simply a fact of life; something you deal with, not celebrate. Four wheel drive is mandatory, especially if you have unmaintained road which our almost half mile driveway is. Too many times we’ve had to mine our way through the last precipitous  section of road after having gotten stuck within one-hundred feet of our front door. Groceries be damned.

For several months a year, the very idea of wading from the house to the car becomes an adventure in itself. Once, my husband slipped on the ice and spun into an out-of-control sort of falling dance that lasted for a good fifteen seconds. As he flailed around wildly, I thought he was joking until he desperately pawed at me before he finally hit the ground.

Slogging back and forth to chop and carry wood to the house is plain tiring.

The snow gets so deep here even the wildlife shares the trails once they’re blazed.

Don’t leave that ax on the ground or you might not find it till Spring. Last year I lost a coffee pot lid and never found it. Our hatchet disappeared beneath the ice and we couldn’t find it for a good month. Bets were placed on it’s whereabouts among other items that had come up missing.

The other day we had to exhume two hundred feet of category five Ethernet cable from beneath it. The top foot or so was light and fluffy but the lower layer was solid ice. We had to carefully chip away at the ice with a pick ax for a good half hour in order to free it. God knows where the garden hoses are.

Here in eastern Washington snow is regarded as inevitable; something to be dealt with. Celebrations are considered best to be had indoors in crowded kitchens or within the proximity of a baking fireplace. The weather is met with a sense of resolve and a big sigh in knowing you’re going to have to have your driveway plowed again when you had it done two days before and the roofs are going to have to be cleared for the fifth time in a month.

Here, winter means it’s time to put snow tires on and make sure you have a chord or two of wood for the fireplace. People adapt; socially and logistically to their climates. But still; no matter where you live, nothing’s easy in the snow.

I want Spring.