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 were 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 land of yellow jackets, ticks, mud, frozen pipes, wild animals, roof-crushing snow loads, neighbors that almost shot us, 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 Jayco Lite 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.

……………………….

 

We are a married couple with a sixteen-year-old son and two cats. The increasingly frenetic atmosphere of the Puget Sound region was getting to us so we sold our house in the spring of 2017, bought a travel trailer, and headed east in search of wide-open spaces more compatible with our nature.

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 a 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 and a half miles away from the closest town, was far far away from any major metropolitan area – and had no utilities.

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

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 use it until the next summer.

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 connect from my husband’s spot in our bed anyway, and only if it wasn’t raining. It took a year and felling three huge trees to get a line of sight to a tower for a good Internet connection.

 Cultural adjustments were inevitable with such a big move. Hardiness is respected here and a local government pamphlet opens with the words “Welcome to the Wild West” and urges the reader to “get used to it”. We were from King County and afraid to touch a gas-powered chainsaw let alone make a go of living amongst the trees and the turkeys. What had we gotten ourselves into? Two years later we purchased an electric chainsaw.

Differences aside, as of mid-September of 2017 we were officially landowners and we spent a lot of time exploring but then winter hit 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 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 while it was still frigid. We were low on money and propane. Keeping warm was always 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. At least we now had a small heater.

We sometimes cooked or made coffee over a fire. I would hunch over a rocket stove in the cold and wet while my husband built a pit-style type. I remember feeling miserable and hopeless as I struggled to get my stove lit. The harsh winter had taken a toll and my outlook had become very bleak by that time.  There would be many challenges ahead before the days began to warm.

Spring, then summer came along with a billion new bug species. I took up slingshot while trying to shoot down yellow jacket nests and we discovered ticks. 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 efforts began to pay off and we were finally able to make some improvements. We have a solar power system, generators, a large shed, an upgraded RV (until we finally build a home), and other necessities. We have a fireplace to sit by, a woodpile, larger propane tanks and other means for which to stay comfortable and dry for the winter.

This life requires sturdiness and ingenuity. I often feel overwhelmed at the amount of work that goes into living “off-grid” but in those moments, I remind myself these memories will be some of the most remarkable of my life.

Welcome again and I hope you will enjoy the stories and poems that follow. 🙂