Blog To Book

I’m publishing a book of our adventures. This is the last chapter:

 

Out of all of the milestones of the past two and a half years since we left western Washington, the night we packed up the trailer and truck in a downpour at Tinkham Campground is the most emotional to me.

It was the night we said goodbye to our family, friends, our old home and our memories (bad and good) and left it all behind.

Over the summer of 2017, we inched our way across the state while we looked for land to buy and that time on the road was only the beginning of a grand adventure.

From the day we first pulled into our driveway until tonight, as I write this last chapter, our experiences have been vivid and memorable, harsh and rewarding. These stories are as much about our emotional journey as they are about our experiences.

From the coldest days of our first winter here when we had to walk through drifts of snow from our truck to our property pulling a wagon converted into a sled to the hottest days of summer we spent melting because we weren’t used to the climate, so much has occurred that could only happen in a place like this.

Everything we previously took for granted like water and electricity, we learned to appreciate as we had to work for them. We had to think every project through and we learned as we went. How to drive in the snow, keep warm in an RV, install and repair appliances, use propane (safely), and how to survive on our own – are obstacles we overcame although we sometimes threw up our hands and walked away.

Today we wake up to see the sun coming up over the mountains across the valley, framed by the massive Ponderosa Pines that populate our hillside. We rise to the sound of pheasant calling and turkeys lined up for breakfast outside our sliding doors. From the other side of our RV, the Huckleberry Mountain Range slopes up into the distance, carpeted with trees and capped with low-lying clouds.

The skies are unobstructed by light pollution and we’ve seen things up there that we can’t explain. On a super-moon event (when the moon is closest to the earth), it sets over the distant treeline, seemingly gargantuan as it slips out of sight over the horizon. The cover photo is one I took at three o: clock in the morning during one of these occurrences.

The spring we dug has provided life and convenience to us and is the centerpiece of our property. It’s where I go to meditate, think, and to cry. It’s the part of our land that draws me the most. There was no sign of water when we moved here. Now there is a series of pools and a trough going down the hillside that we use for all of our needs, including water for our garden. It’s all gravity. If we need water, we just turn on the spigot like a garden hose. I am grateful.

None of us can imagine living back in “civilization” again. We like it out here with the deer, turkeys, skunks, pheasants, occasional bear, cougar, one white rabbit, and, of course, two cats.

We’ve adapted to our new home and are prepared when winter approaches. I recently bought a pool in anticipation of summer. I set it up a couple of weeks ago on a ninety-degree day and it’s been thunderstorms ever since.

Although we still don’t have a house, we’re comfortable in our fifth wheel and we have the shed for projects and hobbies. We installed the solar power system (and boy hasn’t that been an adventure). All the delivery drivers that come up here are impressed.

We paid off our property a few months ago and when we’re outside, my husband sometimes gestures at the landscape and points out that “we own this place”. It’s a nice feeling. The trees, the rocks, the dirt below our feet belong to us – or do they, really?

I wrote about our adventures because I wanted them preserved for my own benefit and perhaps for family members in the future. I recently read an account of my Grandfather’s life and found it fascinating. What is everyday existence for us can take on a whole new meaning for someone down the road.

Our every day lives changed forever that night we packed up and headed east in the fall of 2017. It took a turn for adventure and I hope you have enjoyed the ride.

 

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.

 

 

We’re Human

We are the family with the un-mowed grass at the end of the block.

I’ve been comparing my blog with that of others who write about the subject of living off grid – perhaps unfairly. Most blogs offer accurate information and how-tos, informed by education and experience. People like blogs that offer useful information.

Mine is stories.

When we left our old world for our new, the adventures began and I felt compelled to record them, and maybe share them with others. I hope to turn our tales into a book.

Neither me nor my husband or super go-getters so almost nothing we do is top-notch although we try. We end up stumbling along in a human rather than super-human manner and the results of our efforts are often just-enough and not pleasing to the eye.

When I take pictures, I avoid the trashy looking parts of the property. My husband says I worry too much about appearances.

We do all of our own repairs so half of them don’t get done if we can’t find instructions of the internet. That would include our central heat which stopped working when we attempted to install a propane fridge which is now sitting in the shed getting dusty.

I built our generator shed out of pallets and it looks like shit. I also built all of the shelving in our shed from pallets. They aren’t Pinterest-worthy but they hold stuff.

Our garden fence was constructed from trees and old barbed-wire fencing left on the property seventy years ago. Our solar panels were mounted on plywood for the first six months we had them.

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We are experts at nothing but the journey seems to be what is worth writing about. I wonder how many people are like us – that just do their best which is far from perfect but they still live a rich life despite themselves.

Although we’ve struggled financially for the past two years, we haven’t been sitting around doing nothing. We were working on something that has finally come to fruition and the rewards are just beginning.

Now we can pay someone else to fix things or just buy new ones. We paid off our current property and are now in the market for a larger chunk of land with a house.

I’ve thrown some money at my blog hosting site and hope to reach more people in the coming months.

In the meantime, you won’t find hacks here – just stories of how we fudged this or that. I hope that revealing our humanity is enough to keep someone coming back.

 

 

 

Two Years Ago Today

We left western Washington; destined for our new home on the range.

The morning we neared our new home driving up Highway 395, the song Runnin’ Down A Dream played on the radio as the first hint of daylight tinted the eastern sky. We were pulling our Jayco Lite travel trailer with our 1986 Ford F-250 my husband lovingly called Bridgette.

That was two years ago today.

The space between then and now has been packed with memories a person cannot make up.

Survival trumped all else the first year while we carved out a place for ourselves among the Ponderosa Pines on the iron-rich bedrock.

We still get our water from a spring we dug and our energy from two gas generators and a solar power system. I’ll be so glad when a glass of water and a shower no longer involves moving mountains.

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We put up a huge portable shed but haven’t done much else because we haven’t had the  money. We’re still living in a fifth wheel but plan on building a small log home when money permits.

I’m not looking forward to another winter as the fall equinox approaches although my husband’s learned how to drive fairly well in the snow and we now have a fireplace to keep us warm.

We’ve learned to live with the wildlife for the most part and our garden is two years old and full of half-eaten tomatoes (deer like them) and squash. I’m growing a gigantic pumpkin that I’m proud of and we introduced morel mushroom spores to the side of our property where we hadn’t previously seen any grow so we can harvest them in the future.

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We’ve learned a lot about living off-grid and are a lot wiser but we remain humble as a precaution. Never take anything for granted and never get overconfident.

We’ve spent the past two years planting some financial seeds that are beginning to produce with big plans going forward.

Perhaps most remarkable is that we’re even starting to get along with the neighbors. That’s true progress.

 

“Are You Sure That’s The Cat”?

Nowadays, I never know what to expect.

One night when we were still living in our first travel trailer, our cat jumped onto the top of the canvas canopy over our bed and collapsed it on top of me. As I was holding the animal up off of myself and screeching about the damned thing, my half asleep husband mumbled “are you sure that’s the cat”?

This story is similar.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard one of our two cats munching in our dining room and for some reason, I decided to get up. I stumbled out of bed, put my robe on and made my way out into the kitchen.

We’d just installed a cat door so we wouldn’t have to let the felines in and out of the house fifty thousand times a day. They could now come and go as they pleased.

I sleepily shambled down the stairs and flipped on the light to see a skunk in the dining room. I shouted something and the poor thing ran into a corner then out the “cat” door which was now officially a skunk door.

To my relief,  it hadn’t sprayed. I wondered if it was the same one I’d dumped out of a cage in the middle of the night a couple of months earlier.

I went back to bed. Tomorrow, the cat door comes out.

Two Idiots, A Water Heater and a Hero

Most people probably don’t give a second thought to their water heaters but ours came with a story.

When we bought our RV, it had been refitted for use with city hookups rather than for it’s original purpose of boon docking. The electric water heater that had been installed was gobbling our energy so we ordered a propane model.

When the UPS guy dropped off it off, we eyeballed it with suspicion as we’d recently been implanted with wild ideas after watching an episode of the TV show Mythbusters featuring an experiment with hot water heaters.

They had disabled all of the safety measures on several tanks then set the temperature dials to maximum. Upon overheating to the point of exploding, they blew open at their weakest points – the bottoms – launching them hundreds of feet into the air.

We wondered how high our mini-rocket might be capable of traveling under the wrong circumstances as we wrestled it into its compartment on the side of our RV and hooked up the gas and water. We checked for leaks then lit it up.

We turned the water on to check the temperature but it got hotter and hotter then stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing blast-off, we called it a night.

Our luck was no better the next day so we decided to call a professional.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We made an appointment for them to come out and for two weeks we waited – without hot water.

By the time he arrived, the repairman had become a hero in our minds.

Armed only with a notepad and a toolbox, he listened with concern as we told him our plight. Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as he stole sideways glances at the beast that waited behind the access panel that said “hot”.

Finally, he adjusted his collar, turned, and approached his foe with a swagger that would have made John Wayne proud. He opened the hatch, squinted into the darkness and went to work.

We stood back and watched nervously. What if he couldn’t fix it? What if we had to send it back for another? What if this cost us an arm and a leg?

Finally, we heard the rocket-like swoosh of propane igniting as the man cocked his head and made his final adjustments. We tried in vain to read his poker face as he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

Suppressing a grin, he told us “I turned the heat down.”

Oh My – My Underthings Are Showing

Melting snow reveals a disaster area.

Nature’s petticoat of snow has finally lifted to reveal 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! The snow is gone, the snow is gone, the snow is gone, the snow is gone! 🙂

That means mushrooming, gardening, gold panning, huckleberry picking, trash hauling, and spring cleaning – yay!

A sense of renewal and expectations for the coming year are at the tops of our minds. No more frozen hoses, frozen batteries and frozen asses. The sun will now take over the task of keeping things warm.

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.

Spring fever is upon us and thank God! We have a bog that used to be a driveway but I’ll take that in lieu of four-foot snow drifts.

Today I am grateful as I pull on my rain boots to slog through the mud to pick up trash.

Happy Spring!

 

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.

The Winter Garden

A poem.

The Winter Garden

Silent and still, the garden sleeps.
Crooked fence posts stand sentry, starkly contrasted against the brilliant landscape.
A single glass totem sits, tilted and topped with snow. Temporarily forgotten.
Barbed wire sags lazily, resting in wait of it’s required vigilance.
Remnants of ragged twine dangle loosely, motionless.
Brittle and greyed corn husks defy the authority of the commanding white mantel, escaping it’s grip by inches, in denial of their demise, unaware of the life they shield at their feet.
Folding topography of ripples and mounds an intimation of the graves of last year’s remains.
Tatters of tomato vines and pea plants leech nutrients into the soil, preparing a bed for their progeny.
Seeds slumber under the shimmering arm of winter, sheltered from harm.
Life quietly awaits instruction from the Almighty God to resume.

Tinkham Campground

The last stop on our journey to a new life.

The summer we lived in a travel trailer between homes was memorable.

We spent the first month up the Middle Fork county road outside of North Bend Washington but there’s a two-week limit on how much time you can stay in the national forest. As a result, we were under pressure to keep moving. The county Sheriff patrolled the area regularly and didn’t hesitate to tell people to move on if they exceed their limit. It was tricky to keep two paces ahead of them and we became forest outlaws for overstaying.

One day the sheriff told us to move so we had to spend a week at a hotel at the pass to burn up the prescribed amount of time before we could go back. It cost us an arm and a leg but it was nice to be able to shower and the beds were comfortable.

When we returned, we opted for a pay campground to take off the heat. Denny Creek near Snoqualmie Pass was a nice place but the caretaker was anything but.  He was an older gentleman who took his job way too seriously. He would literally look at his watch when we came to pay.

After that, we camped in an undesignated area before checking into Tinkham Campground – another pay site. We lived there for almost a month before we closed on our property and left for our new home.

Tinkham was a breath of fresh air. The hosts were super friendly and didn’t run the place an internment facility. It was located halfway between North Bend and the pass. As we were still living and working near our old home, we could commute back and forth to Snoqualmie with relative ease. It was a beautiful drive.

Our spot was on the river side of the campground with our own semi-private trail to the river. Denny Creek fed into it a mile or two up the road and was known for having gold.

I spent a lot of time at the beach. We got our water there, prospected, or just played around. The leg-breaking terrain was littered with giant rocks that were difficult to walk on but someone had begun to build a trail from the tree line to the river’s edge.

I seized upon the idea and spent many hours over the following weeks adding to the trail. It was like building a patio. I would find the flattest rocks, dig shallow holes for them, lay them in, dump sand between them and pack it down. It looked pretty cool in the end.

Working on “my” trail became one of my favorite pastimes. It was symbolic to me. The flattened walkway that threaded its way to the water might save someone a broken ankle and was an invitation to enjoy the river. I hoped people would use it for months –  maybe years ahead. I wondered if others would help to maintain it. I’d like to go back someday and see if it’s still there.

The great solar eclipse happened while we were at Tinkham. When the sun fell into darkness, the shadows on the ground deepened in a surreal fashion. The light dimmed, and we headed to the beach. I took my camera and my husband brought three pairs of sunglasses to watch. I teased him about it.

I couldn’t get a good shot with my camera but the multiple pairs of sunglasses my husband brought allowed us to see it clearly. Go figure.

We went prospecting at Denny Creek but had the usual bad luck in finding any gold. By that time, I was beginning to realize gold is heavy.  It sinks to the bottom of the gravel and sand till it hits either bedrock or clay. You have to have the right equipment and experience to know how to get to it. Lesson learned.

We were able to stay for the rest of our time in the mountains at Tinkham because the hosts were cool. Being an older couple, they suggested we clean up the fire pits in exchange for some extra time. We spent three days cleaning up fifty or so campsites.

In mid-September, we closed on our property. Winter was approaching and we now had somewhere to go – somewhere to call home. It was time to go.

On the evening of September 17th of the year 2017, we loaded up the trailer and hitched it up to the truck in the pouring rain. We pulled out of our spot and stopped on our way out to say goodbye and thank you to our hosts.

We pulled onto I-90 knowing western Washington was now a part of our pasts, most likely for the remainder of our lives – but a new adventure awaited us ahead.