When I was a child, I would stand on the side porch of our suburban home and look down the hill past the developing landscape to the expanses of farmland that stretched out beyond.
I wished I had been born in a barn.
My Aunt would occasionally throw us into the back of her station wagon and haul us off to go for a hike, explore a mine, or go camping. 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 four 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, 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 and it’s been a love/hate relationship ever since.
We initially used a WiFi hot spot 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 person once suggested that having an Internet connection disqualified us as living off grid. Nonsense. Show me a person who lives off-grid who doesn’t rely on some sort of technology such as solar and I’ll show you an exception.
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 spring.
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 there.
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 in the farmer’s dump on our hillside 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 the 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 as we still don’t know how but welcome and enjoy. 🙂