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 full of ideas from an episode of Mythbusters we’d recently seen where all of the fail-safe measures were removed on some water heaters and the heat cranked up. The tanks became rockets, shooting hundreds of feet into the air, 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 came to live in the wild (three and a half miles from the nearest town).

Introduction

  Following are the stories of my family’s journey from a place of manicured lawns and HOA’s to a place of yellow jackets, ticks, stickers, mud, frozen pipes, colorful neighbors, openly worn MAGA hats, a driveway from hell; and the best adventures of our lives.

I am not a formally educated writer. I go on gut but I love humor and it’s a great way to gloss over the underlying financial and emotional struggles we’ve faced since we left our previous lives behind hauling nothing but a 20′ travel trailer. When we pulled onto the road to find our destiny in the Spring of 2017, we literally 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.

……………………….

 

We are a married couple with a sixteen year old son and two cats. We were growing tired of the increasingly frenetic atmosphere of the Puget Sound region so we sold our house and headed east in search of wide open spaces more compatible with our nature. In the spring of 2017, we sold our house, bought the travel trailer and hit the road.

We camped in the national forest and anywhere else we were allowed for over three months as we cruised the real estate websites for property. In September we found a few acres of raw land in eastern Washington near the Idaho and Canadian borders that was just right. It was three miles away from the closest town and far far away from any major metropolitan area and came with no utilities.

Moving onto undeveloped land means you’re on your own. Amenities, heck, the things you need to survive are no longer a matter of pushing a button or paying a bill. You have to figure it all out for yourself. You become the chief engineer, contractor, and if something breaks, repair person for every project . Everything we used to take for granted is often missed sorely but we’ve grown in ways it’s hard to put into words.

We kind of scrambled for lack of preparation for the first few months. We got our water from the city standpipe then found out they close it in the winter. Luckily, we had discovered natural springs on our property which we dug by hand. For power we used a gas generator.  The following autumn, we installed solar but couldn’t really use it until the next summer.

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 anyway, 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 were more extreme. Hotter summers and colder winters gave rise to newfound happiness and adventure which gave way to days and weeks of depression but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Our first weeks at our new home were fantastic. We were officially land owners and there was exploring to do but then winter came on fierce and with a seriousness that slapped all thoughts of anything but survival out of our consciousnesses. Our water pipes froze and our worldly possessions disappeared under three or four feet of snow. Some things we didn’t find until the spring melt.

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 cats. Three months later, we moved 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 bugs and I took up slingshot while trying to shoot down yellow jacket nests. The heat, and an oppressively hot summer made it 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 a trough going down the hill to a catch hole. 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. 

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.

Although better prepared, this life is not for the faint of heart. It requires sturdiness and ingenuity. More money wouldn’t hurt but we have plans in place for that.

Welcome again and I hope you will enjoy the stories (and some of my eccentric poems), that follow. 🙂