Note: Ticks carry disease. My suggestion of playing a game involving them is a joke.
Ticks and Sticks is the name of a game I came up with one spring day as my family and I were looking for something creative to do outside. I imagine the rules would have involved something like going up to a bush and whacking it with a stick. In the spring, the bushes are loaded with ticks.
We played kickball instead.
Ticks are nasty spidery looking parasites that cling to branches in underbrush while they wait for an animal (or human) to latch onto. They flourish in the spring and can infect a human with Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other dangerous diseases if they burrow into your skin to feed on your blood.
We eat garlic during tick season as it repels them according to what I’ve read but don’t take my word for it – do some research and protect yourself if they live in your part of the world. If you have animals such as dogs and cats, be sure to treat them appropriately. They will bring ticks into your house – believe me.
I never saw one until we moved to eastern Washington and then I saw way too many. I found several on myself the first spring we lived here. They would appear at the most inopportune times.
There is nothing like the look on someone’s face when they see a tick crawl out of your hair. Imagine this happening on a first date? Once, a guy I was talking to deftly snatched one off of my forehead as if it was nothing and crushed it. He obviously had experience with these things.
I have a theory that they don’t like fluorescent light because they would almost always come out in the library or other public building.
What purpose could such ugly, dangerous pests have in the scheme of things? I’m sure they have their place – just not on my head.
The evening we picked up our temporary home – our new/used travel trailer – I hadn’t pulled one in years.
We had closed on our home were headed out of town and into the foothills of the Cascade mountain range where we would live until we found a place to set down anchor.
After a final inspection to make sure everything was buttoned up tight, I climbed behind the wheel and pushed on the gas. With a gentle lurch, we pulled forward and were on our way.
I was a little nervous hauling a rig for the first time in quite a while so both me and my son kept looking out the back window to make sure the trailer was still behind us. It became a joke to say “it’s still there”.
Out and away from town and into the foothills we drove – trailer still behind us.
There was a truck stop near the entrance to the county road that led to where we were camping. It had showers for only fourteen dollars a pop, a laundry, and a gift shop with everything a trucker might want to ease their travels – or us, ours.
We stopped to fill the water tanks then pulled out for the last leg of our day’s journey. It was getting dark and we wanted to get to the campground before late.
The county happened to be paving the dirt road out and had placed a billion red cones smack in the middle for the entire length of the narrow road. I had to maneuver the trailer carefully around every single one of them. We took a couple of them out – on accident, of course.
Then we came to the bridge.
It was also under construction and had been temporarily made into one lane. I slowly rolled up to it, sizing the situation up in my head. It looked like I would have about five or six inches to spare on each side of the trailer. Some skill would be needed – or stupidity.
What if we got the rig stuck halfway over the bridge? I didn’t want to think about it and rolled forward, my son cheering me on. Gritting my teeth, my fingers practically breaking the steering wheel, we moved forward at a moderate speed. I figured a little momentum would help if things got too tight.
Yes, speed would help us in a jam.
We “narrowly” made it through the tight squeeze without losing any exterior trailer parts and continued on to our destination. One more challenge awaited: backing the trailer up into the parking pad.
I’ve never been good at that. Turning the steering wheel right makes the trailer go left, or right, or something. The next thing you know, you have completed a two-mile per-hour jackknife.
Tonight, we got lucky. I didn’t take out any trees or picnic tables and we settled in without incident for our first night on the open road.
She waited proudly for her turn at the mechanic. There was only one problem….
We saw her in town yesterday; tucked in among the other vehicles being serviced at the auto mechanic. Only her tail end sticking out, we could tell she was feeling fine with her nose in the oats while they fixed her innards. I swear she has a personality and that she was standing up especially tall; her bed crammed and bulging with a huge load of stinking garbage.
My husband and I were on our way to the dump with a half year’s trash when she started acting up. We had to turn around immediately and get her back home. My husband made an appointment with a shop right away but rather than empty the carefully compacted and piled-high garbage, he decided to take her in just as she was.
It was summertime and she sat at the shop for two weeks with that garbage baking away in one-hundred degree weather, waiting for her turn. They had her on the cancellation list so she waited at the curb across the street but then they moved her closer to the shop. Every time my husband would see her in town, he would cringe and mutter something about how “I couldn’t help it, I was on my way to the dump when she got sick”. I just point and laugh.
She’s supposed to be ready today. I’m popping the popcorn and grabbing my soda. I’ll be hunched in a dark corner of our car, eyes darting back and forth, watching the doings as my husband picks her up. I want to know the obvious; how bad was the stench and are they going to give him grief about it? Will we ever be able to get the smell out?
Bridgette is a 1986 Ford F-250 pickup with a 460 engine and some Edelbrock under the hood. She is my husband’s other woman. He says she is sexy. I sometimes slip up and call her Gertrude or Gidget or whatever comes to mind but I always apologize to her immediately. She’s a good girl and has done us well. I don’t want to be on her bad side.
My husband acquired her as part of a deal where we helped a guy move out of his house. The man no longer had room for her and was in a pinch so Bridgette was offered as part of payment for the job.
She was covered in green moss and her back was full of refuse when we first saw her. My husband took soap and a toothbrush to her lines and hosed out her backside. A friend of ours gave her a once over with a tuneup and took her for a nice blast down the street, burning rubber. Man that engine is tough! I’m a chick and I even think she’s bad-ass.
She has also been indispensable.
She steadfastly delivered us and our trailer over the mountains from our temporary summer home near Snoqualmie Pass over the nights of September 17th and 18th, 2017 and they were memorable.
The moment we decided it was time to hit the road, it started raining. We packed her and the trailer up in a deluge. It was evening when we finally hit I-90 and headed up the fairly steep grade toward the pass. Then her headlights suddenly began to flicker on and off and panic ensued.
We had to pull over on the side of a major interstate. Thank God traffic was light. We popped the hood and messed around with the various wires, looking for something obvious that may have come lose. We found a wire coming out of the battery and tightened it and got the wagon train moving again. Everything was fine until I turned on the brights. That was the problem; the brights wouldn’t stay on.
We stopped at the pass for gas and messed around with the wires some more without any luck . I had to role up my driver’s side window which meant breaking into the door panel of the truck and manually pushing the window up. The decision was made to drive the rest of the trip over the night with only the low beams. I was driving and I couldn’t see much past the short strip of light so our trip turned from about a 7 hour to an 11 hour voyage because I had to drive slowly.
I was so relieved when I saw the first rays of morning light coming from the east. We were almost to Colville at that point and tired and grouchy. We just had to find our home as we had only been there once. Long story short; we couldn’t find our place on Google maps but our son found it. We were almost there…going up a long hill when we realized a previous washout had dead ended the road.
My nerves were frayed beyond frayed at that point and I had to back up the rig on a hill into a dirt area on an incline, pray that the tires would hold going forward again (thank GOD they did), and we turned around and chugged back down the hill. Luckily we managed to find another way up the hill to our new home.
Bridgette had done it. She was the hero of the day.
I could go into to multitude of stories about Gidget, I mean, Bridgette. She also got a flat tire whilst pulling the rig up a one lane road near a place where we had been camping. It was just my son and I that day and we had to limp her up the hill to a safe spot to pull over. We unhooked the trailer and AAA came and picked her up. The tow truck driver recognized her. Apparently, she already had a reputation in the area.
Seven-hundred dollars later in new rear wheels and an extra rim, she was back but we spent two days in our rig on the side of the road just outside of town. Interesting.
So today we pick her up. Oil changed, engine purring like a kitten and reeking of garbage that has percolated for six months. We’ll probably drive straight to the dump.
When we first saw the property, it was late August and everything in eastern Washington was very dry. Knowing this, we were trying to decide how we would get access to water. We considered a large tank and delivery. We asked our agent about a well and she said maybe a few hundred feet down we might find water.
I found water at about two feet.
The day we arrived, I explored every square inch of our newly acquired 3.7 acres and looked for likely spots for water. I had been online getting tips so I looked for green among the brown and signs of winter run off ditches. I found one spot on a hill on the property that actually had some green grass growing at that time of year. I decided to dig there.
I can’t remember how long it took; just a couple of hours I think, as there was solid rock right at the surface, but I chipped and dug away and to my disbelief, the soil turned damp and then… there was actual standing water.
I had found a spring.
It could have been runoff but all signs pointed to spring water as I continued to go a little deeper. It turned out that the whole hillside was either one massive spring with a multitude of outlets or tons of springs all over. Some sources were larger than others but you could almost dig anywhere up there and find water coming up out of clay tubes and cracks between rocks.
We dug a tiny trench down the hillside to a larger holding hole we had made. We used our pump to get the water into the trailer, adding a touch of bleach for safety. It’s been a wonderful source of water since then.
All through the winter we got a pretty good flow but it almost dried up over summer. I ended up pick axing my way down through bedrock and heavily compacted rocks and dirt to carve the spring deeper during the summer months but we had water all year long.
Come fall, we called contractor after contractor to dig a shallow well to make things official but they were all booked months ahead. Faced with another winter with an amateur setup, we added a sediment filter to run the water through before going into the trailer. We had to deal with frozen hoses too.
While I was chipping away at the bottom of the spring, I discovered something interesting.
I began to notice slightly hot spots in places at the bottom. It was coming up through a crack between the bedrock and the looser material. I felt around day after day with my fingers trying to decide if this might be geothermal activity.
Just a month or two earlier, while looking at geological maps for prospecting purposes, we discovered that not only were we situated in the middle of a series of faults but that, by the look of things, we might be sitting right on top of one! That would explain the springs – and possibly geothermal activity.
I called WSU’s (Washington State University) geology department and spoke with a geologist there. He seemed to think it might be runoff but trust me, I have a hunch something else is going on down there.
We hope to have someone take a closer look when we have an official water sourced constructed.
We watered our garden all summer by siphoning through hundreds of feet of garden hose to the holding hole, then pumping it out to the sprinkler. Pretty nifty huh? When we dug the garden, we routed the water into the area and created a temporary mud pit to soften the clay rich soil to a point where it was easier (bit still almost impossible to turn).
Our spring is the heart of our property. It represents life and hope for us and it’s the place I go when I need to think or just cry. It’s my place – and the yellow jacket’s. I had to share the hole with them all summer long.
We managed to get along, somehow, and everyone got their water.
It was cold and it was solid and it wasn’t letting our dishes go.
It lasted for months; the block of ice that held most of our dishes captive.
I remember the day I was able to wrest the last utensil free of the icy tomb that had encased our pans, forks, spoons, spatulas, glasses, bowls and plates – almost everything we ate off of – in one huge chunk of ice.
We had recently moved to eastern Washington and were living in a trailer on raw land when it happened. As we were settling in, we met our neighbors and stories were told of winters in eastern Washington – temperatures of minus forty-degrees with snow drifts up to the eaves of your house.
When we mentioned we were from west of the mountains, we got the all-knowing nod of someone who has just learned you are from The Coast and they must break the news to you of the impending doom that is winter in Stevens County.
Incidentally, you are from The Coast if you are from anywhere west of the Cascade mountain range. It doesn’t matter how far from the ocean you live; you are from The Coast and are referred to as a Coasty.
The stories were almost true. We weren’t prepared and me and our son went to live in an emergency shelter for three months while my husband stayed in our trailer with the cat.
Occasionally, I’d come to take a load of dishes to the shelter to wash because the trailer’s pipes were frozen. One day I piled them up in a large Tupperware container to get them out of the way and put it outside. For some reason, it sat there for a couple of days filling with water. Before long the whole container froze solid.
The mass was heavy and there was no breaking it up because there were plastic and glass items embedded in it. It sat for a couple of months before it finally began to thaw. I remember when it melted enough to break into smaller pieces I could bring inside and run hot water over and by the end of March, we finally had all of our dishes back.
Now if we could only find the coffee pot lid I lost in the snow in February.
We’ve been debating over how to best insulate the travel trailers we’re living in.
The small trailer our son is living in is much easier because it’s small. Our fifth wheel, however, is like a barn on wheels. We’ll have to locate and seal all the cracks, skirt around the outside to keep wind from blowing through, and find a way to keep the “basement” warm (that’s what they call the lower storage compartment of a fifth wheel)
I’ve had my head crammed in the online RV forums and on Youtube for weeks trying to figure out the best way to do this. For skirting: foam board vs RV cloth skirting vs straw bales vs snap-on panels. For the basement where all of the water tanks and lines are, what kind of heater and where?
When I told someone what we were planning, they asked if we were anticipating minus forty-degree weather for weeks. I told them “yes, we were – and snow up to the roof”. No repeats of last winter when our trailer turned into an ice cube and half of us had to live in town.
Bubble wrap will go on the windows, the door needs to be sealed around the edges, and cupboard doors will get the treatment also. We have a digital thermometer to get readings on the surfaces to find air leaks through temperature changes.
Last year, I tried to use spray foam insulation on the bottom of the small trailer. It wouldn’t stick – accept on my hair. It works great for sealing up cracks and holes though. Insulated sleeves go around the water pipes and we’ll use regular house insulation to fill up some of the empty space in the basement. It’s super hard to get in to lay it out so I’m the one that goes in for those jobs.
As we over-prepare for freezing temperatures, I think about the story of The Ants and the Grasshopper. I want to play the role of the ants this time around.
No more calls from my husband saying “I’m stuck in the trailer. The door is frozen shut!”
Posted To Local Facebook Group on Febrary 3rd, 2018……
“Goose on the loose on Gold Creek Loop.
“Neighbors big white goose followed me and my husband up Gold Creek Loop about a mile from Corbett Creek road couple of weeks ago. He’s missing now. We thought he’d have the sense to return the whole half a block home but no, he seems to have upped and runned. We couldn’t turn back at the time and feel terrible. He might come to the name “Honkers” or message me if you know any thing.”
We met Honkers the first week after we moved in. He was a hefty white domestic goose with a lot of character. He seemed quirky like us and we quickly “adopted” him as the security system and gate guard.
He belonged to the neighbors who lived on the road going onto our property. We had to drive past Honkers to get to our gate and he started to intercept our truck. We had to start figuring in extra time when we left to get past him. He came to know us and the sound of our truck and we were soon obligated to stop and say hello to him.
Sometimes my husband would have to get out and he and the goose would waddle up the dirt road together (the goose would waddle – not my husband). They looked adorable together.
Then one winter day, me and my husband were frantically trying to push our truck up the slick road during a snow storm when Honkers meandered out after us. We were dismayed to see him but we had our hands too full to usher him back home.
We thought he would have the sense to turn around and go back – but he didn’t.
We haven’t seen him since.
We’d like to think that Honkers found some other geese to fly away with but no one really knows.
How we came to live in the wild (three-and-a-half miles from the nearest town).
When I was a child, I would stand on the side porch of our suburban home and look down the hill past the developments to the expanses of farmland that stretched out beyond. I wished I could be there where I could be with the animals and roam.
My Aunt would occasionally throw us into the back of her station wagon and haul us off to go to for a hike, explore a mine, or camp. These adventures instilled in me a love of nature.
I went on to spend most of my life living in the suburbs, the idea of having a home in the mountains or country always in the back of my mind.
Then I met a person who shared my dreams – my husband. Together we made them come true.
Following are the stories of my family’s journey from a temperate place of perpetual rain, manicured lawns and HOA’s to a land of baking summers, frigid winters, wild animals, wild neighbors, 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 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. We want a dog but for now we have the neighbor’s.
Life in the Puget Sound region where we were living was getting frenetic and overcrowded so we sold our house in the spring of 2017, bought a travel trailer, and hit the road. We felt squeezed out like too much jelly on a sandwich so we set out to find a new slice of paradise in the rural regions of Washington state.
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 property. In September we found a few acres of land near the Idaho and Canadian borders in eastern Washington that was just right.
It was three and a half miles from the nearest Walmart and tucked into the foothills of the Huckleberry Mountain Range. At the time, there was one neighbor nearby with nothing else between us and the surrounding mountains. The property was undeveloped and had been unoccupied for seventy years.
Moving onto raw land means you’re on your own. You become the engineer, contractor, electrician (yeah, sure), and if something breaks, repairman for everything you depend on to live. We had to figure some things out.
At first, we got our water from the city standpipe then found out they close it in the winter. Luckily, by that time, we’d discovered natural springs on our property. 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 get online from my husband’s spot in our bed anyway, and only if it wasn’t raining. We eventually had three huge trees cut down to get a line of sight to a tower for Internet.
A New Way Of Life
In addition to the logistics of setting up “shop”, we had to adjust to a different mindset. Hardiness is respected in these parts and the local government pamphlet opens with the words “Welcome to the Wild West” and urges the reader to “get used to it”.
We were fresh from a lifetime of living in the suburbs and afraid to touch a gas-powered chainsaw let alone make a go of living amongst the trees and the turkeys. We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into but we were too excited to be new landowners to let any reservations get in our way.
Our First Year
After the honeymoon period, winter barreled in with a seriousness that slapped all thoughts of anything but survival out of our consciousnesses. The neighbors had warned us of sub-zero temperatures and snow drifts as high as the eves on a house. It wasn’t far from the truth.
The weather turned cold and wet and we found ourselves ill-prepared for reality. Our water pipes froze and our worldly possessions disappeared under three feet of snow. Some things we didn’t find until the spring melt.
As the temperatures plummeted toward zero, my son and I went to stay in an emergency shelter while my husband hunkered down at the property with our cats. I worried constantly about him but we visited often. I would take dishes back with me to the shelter to clean and straighten things out while I was at our property.
Three months later we moved back while it was still frigid. We were low on money and propane. Keeping warm was 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 to cut the chill. Our central heating system was inefficient so we used a small indoor heater to keep us comfortable until spring.
We sometimes cooked or made coffee over a fire. I would hunch over my homemade rocket stove in the cold and wet while my husband built his pit fire. I remember feeling miserable and hopeless as I struggled to get the stove lit in the freezing rain and snow.
The harsh winter had taken a toll and my outlook had become very bleak like the weather. There would be many challenges ahead before the days began to warm.
Spring, then summer arrived and we discovered a billion new bug species. I took up slingshot while trying to shoot down yellow jacket nests and we discovered ticks, or rather – they discovered us. Ticks and Sticks.
The grass grew up to our waists with stickers everywhere. They would lodge themselves into our clothes and our cats fur like tiny barbed arrows and we had to push them through rather than pull them back out or risk destroying the cloth in the process. We had to carefully cut them out of the cats fur when it got badly matted (better to have a veterinarian do this).
Sweltering heat made that 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 using old barbed-wire left behind on the property for a fence. We put a handle on a pickax head we found and used it to chip away at the bedrock underlying the spring. I cleaned up a seventy-year-old can opener when ours broke and it worked fine.
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”.
It’s a year later and we have a solar power system, generators, a large shed, and a nicer RV (until we finally build a home). We have a fireplace to warm ourselves by and we have each other.
The following stories and poems aren’t meant to show others how to live off-grid: they are simply an account of our family’s journey through this unique chapter in our lives.