Other Adventures

Today I changed the description of Stories From Off The Grid to include other adventures.

There’s only so much that can happen to or that a family can do on 3.74 acres.

The garden is growing (peas and cabbage only this year and we planted way late), we moved the raspberry bushes closer to the RV so I could tend to them better, I still slingshot, the appliances are constantly breaking or now getting lost or damaged in the mail, and the pool is still halfway brown, still freezing, and largely unused.

The turkey’s are still turkeying along with this year’s batch of goblets,  I’m still obsessively looking for gold on our property although I’ve expanded my search to beyond the perimeters, Lawnmower man now drives a small backhoe and insists on creating a park-like setting here in the semi-wild, and we are dreading winter.

All is quiet on the western front with the neighbors, thankfully, and I’m running out of off-grid subjects. We don’t have livestock and I don’t make soap: wait, I did a couple of months ago but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and certainly couldn’t write a how-to post on the subject. I cook, but lately, dinner has more often than not, been microwaved chicken patties and store-bought cookies. No how-to-cook posts here.

The solar power system is on the fritz. Nothing new.

Things have been pretty quiet here actually. So, in the spirit of trying to keep things interesting, this blog covers about anything that happens in our lives or that we make happen (I hope we’re still behind the wheel) that might be funny, informative, or humorous.

Other than the propane fridge we’ve long needed getting damaged in transit so we’re still short an LP fridge and me dredging the well, camping for gold is the order of the day this summer. There have been lot’s of adventures at Sheep Creek where we’ve been prospecting. We’re heading out again this afternoon and I’ll take lots of pictures because we might be onto something!

Whether it be the ongoing mess inside our car from packing or stays at motels from hell, its now all free game. The motel featured photo is not the motel from hell . 🙂

 

The Great Outdoors: Getting Through The Packing

Packing for camping or a vacation is like cutting through twenty steel walls to get to the safe or licking a Tootsie Pop to get the to the chocolate center without chewing. The prize is there but you have to earn it.

Its 3:15 PM and we’re finally on the road to go camping and prospecting again.  We’ve been up since 7:30am. What took so long? I swear I was packing while I was watching YouTube. 

Now I’m too tired to go camping. I need a nap. Thank goodness I’m the copilot. It doesn’t help that I had to take an antihistamine for a localized allergic reaction to a bee sting. I’ll be ready to sleep when we get to camp – or before. 

I hate packing so much, I have to be forced to do it. I can’t go shopping for clothes or dishes when we get to the campground. I put it off until I can no longer ignore the fact that it must be done.

gold panning road
On the way. The weird white object is our skull.

Its a grueling obstacle that must be overcome before the fun begins. Too much staging and organizing. I wish I could hire a professional packer: Merry Packers.

As much as I despise packing to go camping there’s one thing worse: packing up to go home – and worse – in the rain. I guess that’s two.

There’s a lot of dirt in the woods and cleaning up sopping wet, muddy tents and clothes and shoving them into the back of a vehicle when everyone’s exhausted and bummed out because its Sunday – well, you get the idea.

How many of us want to unpack the entire car when we get home? We never really finished unpacking from the trip we took two weeks ago. It made it a tad easier to get ready yesterday. Only a tad.

We’re considering leaving the car packed for outings but that would still require some organization or risk finding the hotdogs we lost on the last trip two weeks later under the wet clothes we forgot to take into the house.

That reminds me of the time I brought home something extra from a camping trip. I was driving the car down the freeway and had to get something out of the glove box. I opened it up to see a mouse peering out at me. I closed the box and kept driving.

I suppose in the end, a little work is a decent trade off for the rewards of vacations and camping. The job can seem overwhelming but the payoff of spending some time in the outdoors is worth every scoop of sand in the washer – and some.

gold panning road back
The mighty Columbia River near the Canadian border.

Gold Is Where You Find It

Listening to the experts.

If you can’t find the gold where you are, go to the gold.

In addition to willing gold into existence on our own property, I’ve decided to drive to it; about sixty miles to a place called Sheep Creek. This in response to a phone call last week from a fellow prospector who suggested we camp and pan for the weekend.

I’m not giving up on my thought experiment of materializing gold out of dirt and rock here at home but I figured it was about time to increase our odds of finding the shiny and holy substance. The caller is a guy we met about a year ago who shares this mental illness called Gold Fever.

The fever causes one to become irrational and obsessed with either conjuring up the elusive metal through the use of chemical processes to spending hour after backbreaking hour in the sun sifting through bucket after bucket of gravel in search of even one tiny morsel of goodness.

Stricken with this disease, my husband and I gladly crammed the back of our Dodge Durango with every manner of implement designed to aid in the finding of the noble metal.

Classifiers of every size, sluices, buckets, shovels, picks, hammers, and as many containers as one can fit as you can never have too many. All of this plus everything but our cookware (my husband recalled later, putting it away on a shelf in the shed) went into the hatch and off we went.

After an unsuccessful exploratory expedition to find a new spot, we turned around  about five-hundred feet shy of the Canadian border and headed for the sure-fire place for gold: Sheep Creek.

The creek is in the Colville National Forest and we found a good campsite for the first night. There wasn’t much time for panning so we set up and planned on heading out in the morning.

Several Sloppy Joes, ten cigarettes, and two UFO’s later we called it a night.

Worth mentioning is that on our way to find a suitable spot, we found a mine, or hole dug into solid rock along the road. It went about twenty feet in before dead-ending. We scraped some samples into some buckets (never enough containers), before continuing on.

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The mine.

The next morning we found a great spot near a rapids, moved camp downstream, and set to work. This is where all of those tools come in handy. Gold is heavy and you have to dig for it under very large rocks and in low-pressure zones in the water or where the water was at the high mark.

You have to ask yourself where gold would logically travel and fall out when being tumbled downstream. It tends to move along with the big stuff and settle with the heavy stuff so you look for those kinds of things and those locations and dig.

We are all amateurs but three sets of hands and brains is better than one. I jumped all over the place digging and sampling while the men found a good spot and kept at it for most of the time. They were rewarded for their efforts.

We spent the better part of the day and half of the next moving large boulders, scooping up buckets-full of sand and gravel and either running it through our sluices or hand-panning.

Our friend had the best of the luck, finding a nice wafer-shaped “picker” about three millimeters in diameter. My husband found some good ones and I managed to eek out a couple of specs with my fishing magnet.

If you throw a powerful magnet into the river, it picks up iron which in turn sometimes picks up gold with it. You separate it later.

By the last day, the fatigue was setting in and it was time to pack up and go. Our treasures were stored in one of the many many containers we’d brought to be separated from the black sands once we got home.

That night, our friend put away all of his camping and prospecting gear and sifted through his black sands to reveal his trophies.

Our car is still mostly loaded and we at least began the process of recovering our gold today. We got home day before yesterday.

 

Gold Is Where It Is

That means it’s on our property – right?

If you can’t find gold in your back yard, look again and again and again.

I’m finally coming to grips with the idea that we may not have a mother-lode on our property.  I’ve spent the last two years searching and coming up with nothing so I finally sent three rocks in for an assay to settle the matter.

An assay is a test to see how many ounces per ton of any given precious metal such as gold is, in the sample. It’s a pretty exacting process that I believe requires smelting the crushed ore to separate the good stuff from the crap and calculating the results.

We have about fourteen grams of gold per ton of rock – at least in the three I sent in. If ours was a major mining operation that wouldn’t be a bad number but for the weekend prospector – not so good. I called the assayer and he said that it is the nature of prospecting to discover a gold vein seven feet under and to the side of where the specimen came from – or not.

I twisted his words into the hope that I could still find that mother-lode. I suddenly found myself power-washing one of our quartz outcroppings today to get a closer look at the parts previously concealed by vegetation.

I’ve taken my metal detector to every square inch of the property in search of anything that sounds like gold – to no avail. Maybe another few sweeps will turn up something different.

With my hopes and behavior, I’m breaking one of the first rules of prospecting: look for gold where others have found it first. And a second rule: if you don’t find gold, don’t waste your time and keep digging.

In my desperation, I’ve come to believe I can will it into existence with the power of my mind.  Just wait.

Road Trip And Motel Hell

You can’t make this stuff up.

I hit the road about six days ago due to pressing family matters and I needed a place to stay for a good price. I headed to Hotwire.com for a Hot Rate deal.

The website offers a list of hotels near your destination but doesn’t tell you the name of the place until you’ve booked. The trade-off for the missing info is a great price.

Like Hotwire, I won’t disclose the name of the hotel I picked but it was in South Tacoma, Washington. Probably not the best neighborhood I thought, but why not give it a chance for forty-nine dollars a night?

I booked it for seven days. We left after one. Here are eleven reasons why:

  1. While you’re waiting in the lobby, the conversation turns to a car prowling – by one of the hotel employees.
  2. Your son, who stayed in the car, has already turned down three drug deals by the time you get the room key.
  3. You have to pay your deposit in cash and don’t plan on picking it up before seven a.m.
  4. The hotel is next to the freeway.
  5. Someone across the freeway launches leftover fireworks mortars directly over the hotel: really big ones.
  6. Someone has taken the parking spot in front of your door leaving you with the space at the dark end of the lot.
  7. There are signs of a past forced entry into your room.
  8. You hear rap music at three in the morning and open the door to discover the source is the person who took your parking space.
  9. You wake up at eight to the same rap music – and a dog barking – right outside your door. The mortars are still coming.
  10. You meet your hotel neighbor who is the source of the barking – her dogs that is – all three of them. She tells you how she inherited one from the guy who died in the room next to yours and how that is somehow connected to the car prowling story you heard in the lobby the night before.
  11. You decide the hot rate isn’t hot enough and head to the lobby to cancel when you hear there’s been yet another car prowling; this time with the windows smashed and the tires slashed.

A Little Cabin In The Woods

Had someone been squatting on a neighbor’s land?

We’ve been looking at land for a few months and we often check Google Earth for a closer look from a couple of miles above the earth. There are two parcels for sale adjacent to us and up the hill towards the mountains that we’ve been interested in.

I noticed what looked like a shack on the property in the latest satellite imagery and rolled back the timeline a couple of decades. Someone had built whatever it was after 1998 and it had a roof as late as 2016 – the last captured image date.

Was the object a shelter with someone living in it? I got permission to walk the property for a closer look and I told the real estate agent I’d check for a possible squatter.

I use the My Tracks app when I go for hikes to keep my bearings so I started to record my movement as I crossed the property line and continued up toward the mysterious – whatever it was.

I climbed up the steep hill and through some almost impenetrable thickets toward the structure until the app told me it was almost directly in front of me. I peered through the brush – and there it was.

A cabin!

I wasn’t expecting to see such a well-made and picturesque abode. It was minus a roof and a chimney but someone had taken the time to craft this little building and had been living in it.

Anticipating the possibility of surprising someone, I had made my approach noisy – like I was out hiking but it was immediately apparent the tiny house had been abandoned for some time.

No squatters.

There was debris from the once-household scattered about outside, including parts of the fireplace and chimney but I wanted to see inside first. I called my husband and told him I had found the place as I crept through the doorway and into the little space.

The sunlight shone directly into the interior and onto the floorboards which were still sturdy. Some kitchen items had been left behind but the place had been cleaned up well, before whoever it was left – aside from what was outside.

The stovepipe remained attached to the wall while the rest lay in a heap with some other rubbish near the shell. I looked out a window in the rear to see what “they” saw when they looked out. I imagined seeing snow or maybe wolves through that window on a dark night.

They’d left behind a wooden wind chime and a couple of fish shaped dishes they’d used as ashtrays; a match and some ashes were still in them. I put the little trays in my pocket; no one was coming back for them.

I picked my way to the back of the shelter and found an animal cage. For a split second I considered whether it might have been used for a human (my vivid imagination). There were a couple of saws, a cup and an empty toolbox strewn about.

My curiosity satisfied and my mission complete, I stood and looked out at the view the mystery people would have enjoyed. It was spectacular but how did they get up here? There were no roads nearby. They must have cut the logs for the cabin on the spot.

I used my Tracks app to navigate down the hill to “safety” – across our property line. I breathed a sigh of relief although I had really enjoyed the afternoon’s adventure.

I don’t know if we’ll end up buying the two parcels next to us but someone had built a house with their own skills and a few tools and lived there for some time.

I wonder who they were?

The Pool

If only I could use it.

I bought an Intex above-ground pool a few weeks ago.

After two summers here I knew I had to have something to sit in when the temperatures reached two-hundred degrees. The pool is twelve feet in diameter and four-feet deep; plenty to immerse myself in and maybe float around in on a raft.

I have yet to use it. We’ve had nothing but thunderstorms and cooler than normal temperatures since I set it up.

If you want rain – buy a pool.

Intex self-supporting pools are designed to be set up on a level surface or else the weight of the water will cause it to become unstable. I had to find a level spot on our property or end up like the neighbors. Last year, they erected a massive pool on top of a hill that must have been slightly off-level. A few days later, all that was left was blue plastic debris and fencing.

I found a spot behind our shed among some trees. I now needed several hundred-thousand gallons of water to fill the pool up.

I had the pump in our drinking water well as opposed to the old one that has mud on the bottom and I had to wait for it to refill several times before the pool was full. Then I tested the waters; it was frigid – I mean leg-numbingly cold.

I had to find a way to heat it.

The place where I was forced to put the pool was in partial shade which meant little sunlight. I realized the ground was probably soaking up every molecule of warmth so I decided to put leftover insulated foam board underneath it. That meant draining all two-hundred thousand gallons of water and starting over.

I taped several pieces of the Styrofoam together and spread the pool out for a second time. I put the hose in and left it for the night.

The next morning I excitedly checked on the status of the refill: the water was brown. The pump was back in the original spring with the mud bottom and now my pool also had a mud bottom.

Last night I pulled the drain plug again after a day of filtering the water with the pump that came with the pool yielded less than spectacular results. Third time’s a charm.

Today I move the pump back to the drinking water hole and start again.

That’s OK because thunderclouds are forming on the horizon.

Blog To Book

The night we packed up the trailer and truck in a downpour near Snoqualmie Pass was emotional. It was September of 2017 and we were headed east to our new home.

Family, friends, our old home, and our memories (bad and good), would soon be nothing but a reflection in a rear view mirror.

After we sold our house in the spring, we inched our way across the state looking for land to buy and that time on the road was only the beginning of a grand adventure. Since the day we first pulled into our driveway to today, life has been vivid both in experience and emotion.

Our first year was hell. We didn’t have a lot of money and had to deal with the realities of living on raw land in any way we could. We walked through snow, dragging a sled loaded with groceries and propane because our four wheel drive was broken.

Our pipes froze and we froze while we scrambled to find everything we’d left outside under three feet of snow. Our trailer had canvas walls that we had to insulate while at night we listened to animals just feet beyond the material. Spring was short and summer brought a scourge of insects we didn’t know existed, along with temperatures we weren’t used to.

I wondered often, if we’d done the right thing. In my head, life involved literally making it from one moment to the next, knowing we had things in the works financially. The patience required was infinite.

In our time here, we’ve learned how to drive in the snow, keep warm in an RV, install and repair appliances and use propane for just about everything. We no longer take water and electricity for granted. We’ve overcome a lot of challenges and walked away from the rest.

Today we live in what’s still an uneasy standoff between our choices and their consequences. I’d be lying if I said I was perfectly happy living like this but I wouldn’t trade this past three years for anything.

What makes it all worth it is stepping outside to see the early morning sun coming up over the mountains across the valley, framed by massive Ponderosa Pines. Looking the other way, the Huckleberry Mountain Range slopes up into the distance, carpeted with trees and capped with low-lying clouds.

The skies are big and full of strange things out here. We’ve seen stuff we still can’t explain.

Our spring is the centerpiece of our property. It’s where I go to meditate, think, and to cry. This place was dry when we moved here but a lot of digging later, we have all the water we need. Thanks to gravity, it’s the turn of a spigot away.

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, our cats.

We decided not to build for a lot of reasons but we’re comfortable in our fifth wheel for the time being and we have the shed for projects and hobbies.

The place is paid off and when we’re outside, my husband sometimes gestures broadly with his arm and reminds me 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 these stories to preserve our memories of this time and place. I recently read an account of my Grandfather’s life and found it fascinating. What is everyday existence for us can take on new meaning for someone down the road.

Our lives changed forever that night we packed up and headed east in the fall of 2017. I hope you’ve lived, if just a little bit, with us, through these pages.

Metal Detecting – A Rhyme

Got myself a gold detector
Precious metals a collector
Up and down the hills I’ll go
If it’s summer or it’s snow
Digging here and digging there
Garbage buried everywhere
Beeps all sound the same to me
Have to shovel just to see
Is it treasure is it trash
Maybe someone’s secret stash
Fifty bullets rusty nails
Takes the wind out of my sails
Maybe someday I’ll find gold
But for now it’s something old

Hermits

Hiding from the neighbors.

Today, my husband and I took turns peeking suspiciously out our closed curtains to see if the neighbors had fixed their broken-down truck which stood near the entrance to our property.

Neither of us wanted to go outside and expose ourselves to the perceived scrutiny of one of the men who stood around the vehicle with its lid propped open. You see, we’d had this place to ourselves until “they” moved in about a year ago and to this day, we are about as anti-social as they come.

Why didn’t they tow the truck the rest of the way up the hill to their property where all the tools were? Why leave the truck out in the “open” where we could watch every move they made? Didn’t it bother them? Is this a cultural thing?

I hope you get that I’m talking tongue-in-cheek

We understand the psychology of social anxiety. Some of us are more introverted than others and have the perception that we are different and might somehow be unliked by others; in this case – the locals.

We get that it’s our own insecurities and we joke about it freely.

The truth is, however, that we want to be left alone. We want our privacy and if a seven-foot tall fence was in our budget, you better believe we’d have one by now.

Human relationships are the most important part of life but every time our neighbor (Lawnmower Man) starts up his Sears Special, we find ourselves halfway hoping he’ll run over a really big branch that will stop the machine in its tracks – at least temporarily. Although I’ve chatted with him a few times, I’ve always left the conversation wanting to run away as fast as I can.

He has a lot of plans for his property but his property is smack next to ours and every time we hear the chainsaw start up, we cringe and hit the real estate ads. I want to be in control of when I socialize and watching my neighbor cut the grass right up to my property line thirty feet away every other day unnerves me.

We moved to the country for solitude.

Where we came from, our neighbor’s doorstep was two-hundred feet from our own and I was not allowed to plant a single bush for privacy because the HOA said we couldn’t.

One day I set up a carnival-like play area for my then youngster with bean bag throwing, an alien bubble-making tub, and other fun stuff. The power-hungry president of the HOA showed up on my doorstep to point out that the driveways were not designated for such use.

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I took the matter into my own hands and ended up uncovering so much corruption the whole organization had to be overturned.

This history is, in part, why we are so reclusive.

Hemmed in and getting panicky, we are carefully planning ahead to ensure we have a buffer around our new home when the time comes – lots of acreage surrounding ground zero – our front door.

This evening, we finally heard the thunderous rumbling of our neighbor’s V-8 and we rushed to the blackout curtains to take a peek. The hood was down – this was good. All tools were put away. Almost time to skulk out from beneath our rock and sprint to the car for the pop.

But alas, the man and his accomplices decided to gather around the truck to chew the straw for another hour.

Cornhole and the alien bubble-making booth will have to wait until tomorrow 🙂