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.

 

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.

We are afraid of it as we’re unfamiliar with it’s inner workings and are concerned it may blow up at any moment. It’s not the heater’s fault nor that of anyone involved with it’s design or installation; they’re just suspicious-seeming by nature. It doesn’t help that we’re ignorant of such things despite over a year of living off-grid in an RV.

When we first got the thing, we had recently seen an episode of Mythbusters wherein the guys purposely removed all of the fail-safe measures on some water heaters and cranked the heat up. The tanks shot hundreds of feet into the air after smashing through mock ceilings without effort, giving my husband and I pause as to what our own rocket/heater might be capable of. But let’s back up.

When we came by our fifth wheeler it had been gutted and refitted for use with city hookups such as electricity 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. It arrived promptly and we managed to get it nestled into the side of our RV without much ado. We carefully hooked up the gas, checked for leaks and lit her up.

Everything went fine as we turned the bathtub spigot on and off to check the rising temperature but the water got hotter and hotter and stopped flowing altogether. Clueless and sure the heater was nearing ignition, we turned it off and called it a night.

The next day we exchanged the old faucet for a new one and the water ran fine but continued to overheat. We shut it down for a second time to save our very lives lest we recreate that episode of Mythbusters.

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

We needed a professional. Enter Norstar Heating and Cooling, Inc.

We gave them a call and explained the strange behavior of our water heater and made an appointment. Although they didn’t normally deal with RV type systems, they were willing to come take a look. We kept the unit shut off while we waited for our savior- his elevated status growing every day we went without the ability to shower.

Then the day arrived and “he” showed up. He didn’t have six-shooters on his side but he came with a notepad and a toolbox.  Wringing our now filthy hands, we recounted our misadventures as the repairman stole sideways glances at the beast waiting silently in it’s hole on the side of the fifth wheel.

Finally, our man adjusted his collar and approached the offender with a swagger and a coolness that would make John Wayne jealous. He stared at his foe for a moment or two then reached out confidently and began to manipulate the dials with the authority of a….well…appliance repairman. We stood a good ways back and watched with mixed fear and excitement at the prospect of being able to resume our personal hygiene routines.

Then we heard it; the rocket-like flame of the gas feed shot to life as the man cocked his head and squinted suspiciously at the device while he made his final adjustments. With a satisfied nod he turned and walked back our way to give us the news.

His words will haunt us forever; “I turned the heat down.”

 

 

 

Out of the Pot and Into the Frying Pan

How we got here.

My counselor told me to write a book so I’m writing a blog instead. I meant to start it a year ago but being at the bottom of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs delayed things a bit.

The following stories chronicle our family’s journey from suburbia to the edge of the frontier where we settled on raw land. We are a married couple with a fifteen year old son and two cats and we were growing tired of the increasingly frenetic atmosphere of the Puget Sound region.

The decision was made to head east in search of wide open spaces more compatible with our nature. We sold our house in the spring of 2017, bought a twenty foot travel trailer and hit the road.

We camped in the national forest and began to cruise the online real estate websites for land. The RV had canvas pullouts and was supposed to be our home for only the summer but we ended up living in it for an entire year. It hit me one night that there would be nothing but cloth walls between us and the snow come winter. I was right to be nervous. More details in future posts.

We bought a few acres of raw land in eastern Washington near the Idaho and Canadian borders and set about making a new home for ourselves. Moving onto undeveloped land meant we had to do without things such as electricity and water from the city. We learned this is called living off-grid and it necessitates using stand alone systems.

For the first few months we hauled city water from a standpipe home in a barrel in the back of our truck. Then we discovered natural springs on our property. How lucky is that? For power we used a gas generator and installed solar power. It was tricky to set up and we learned from our experiences but I highly recommend it.

We initially used WiFi for Internet but it became us vs the Google data pig.  The neighbors let us use their WiFi until we got into a fight and they changed their password.  We could only connect from my husband’s spot in our bed and only if it wasn’t raining. It eventually took downing three gargantuan trees to get Internet service to the property.

 

 Emotional and social adjustments were inevitable with such a big move.  Like the new extremes in the weather in eastern Washington as opposed to those of the moderate rain belt we moved from, the emotional highs and lows have been more extreme.

Hotter summers and colder winters came with newfound happiness that gave way to days and weeks of depression. I hope the hardest times are behind us. I’m ready for the kiddie rides after the roller coaster that was our first year.

It was autumn when we moved in and we were very low on our budget. Still, it was new and fun and I repeatedly thought to myself “this might make for some good reading” and I made plans to start a blog.

Then winter came on fierce and with a seriousness that slapped all thoughts of anything but survival out of our consciousnesses. We experienced a reality smack-down like no other and any ideas I had of the self actualization of “artfully” documenting our adventures disappeared under the snow along with most of our worldly possessions.  I was too busy crying to write.

Zero degree temperatures forced us to make the decision to relocate my son and I to an emergency shelter while my husband hunkered down at the property with our cat.

Three months later, we came back to the property  and picked up where we left off; still struggling financially and with very little to work with. Spring, then summer came with new challenges. We got a crash course on ticks and dealt with hordes of Yellow Jackets. The heat, and a continuing feeling of oppression made 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. We dug the spring and water delivery system. We used antiques we found buried on our land to construct things we needed such as the fence to our garden.  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”.

As fall arrived, our “eggs” began to hatch and we were finally able to make some huge changes to our living conditions and begin to build, literally and figuratively, the quality of our lives. We could stop trying to just survive and begin to live. 

It was time to take up that blog again…..

We’ve accomplished a lot since fall. We now have a solar power system, generators, a large shed, an upgraded RV (we decided to put off building until spring), and other necessities. We have a fireplace to  sit by, a wood pile, larger propane tanks and other means for which to stay comfortable and dry for the winter. So far, so good as of January 2019.

We have lot’s of plans going forward. We are excited and ready.

I’ve edited this first post several times and didn’t want to give up my original bullet list outline so though it may be a little redundant, here it is:

  • We are a husband and wife with a teenager who sold their house in western Washington and moved to eastern Washington.
  • We have two cats and want a dog but not before we put up a fence.
  • We are not perfect. Far from it.
  • We don’t care that we are not perfect and we are known to swear but we are nice people (although one neighbor said we are evil).
  • We sold our house in May 2017
  • We lived in a trailer all summer while we looked for property
  • We found property we liked. It “spoke to” my husband 🙂
  • We moved onto the property and continued to live in the trailer
  • We had a major reality check as fall progressed
  • We weren’t very well prepared financially and some things happened that made it worse but things are better now 🙂
  • We made the best of things but winter sucked
  • Summer then sucked
  • Fall is here and we’re doing WAY better but some things still suck but most things DON’T suck anymore

I love humor and aspire to write in the style of Jean Sheppard of A Christmas Story fame. I try to write poetry and you’ll find some in these pages although of a somewhat unconventional nature.

Now that I’ve acquainted you with our story, I hope you’ll enjoy those that follow.