Thursday, September 1, 2016

Farewell and Thanks for the Fish!

With a heavy heart, I'm informing the few remaining die-hard fans that we're leaving Alaska and returning to Washington. Off-grid bush life posed some insurmountable problems and threatened to cause a shotgun divorce, so we decided to call it quits on the AK dream and try to save our marriage.

G-man has been in UK since June with his ailing parents and is expected to remain there until after Christmas before returning to Seattle to job hunt. I'll be beginning Farm 2.0 project in Deming WA (in the Mt Baker area a half-hour south of the border). We'll see if separate weekday domiciles while he brings in income and I bust my butt mostly alone (my sister, BIL, & Dad helping) alleviates the majority of interpersonal difficulties.

While he's been away, I packed up the cabin and sold all our crap (including the cabin -- just have the three vacant lots left). I'm in Fairbanks this week tying up loose ends, and will be leaving tomorrow (Fri 9/2) with Ripley and Jackson to catch the Ferry to Bellingham in Haines on Monday 9/5 in the 14' box van Dad bought me to move.

In parting, I'd like to share some of our lessons learned to aid anyone dreaming of going entirely off-grid in the wilderness.
  1. Make sure you both are firmly aware and agree to the same level of rough living conditions and the work/finances involved -- as well as agreeing on concessions if necessary in advance!
  2. Make sure you both work similarly and have the same plans, ideas, and priorities! 
  3. Make sure you stay a year ahead with firewood! We started our first year without enough and never caught up -- collecting wood daily in the winter was our greatest pain point and the primary cause of most of our arguments.
  4. Access is key and worth the money! Budget for a good, solid driveway first and make sure whatever contractors and resources required are available before you select your home site. This is especially important if other people will be sharing some/all of your roadway/trail. We were fine in our off-road truck when only we were driving the main trail and stayed off of it during breakup, but access became hairy-scary-dicey with more traffic. 
  5. PLOW and hard-pack/groom the snow on your driveway religiously! We didn't venture out often in winter and allowed the snow to accumulate, which got us mired in snow more than once and led to major problems with our dirt trail during breakup when we mired in mud as well.
  6. If you're on muskeg or iffy bearing soil, over-engineer your foundation and budget for a thick gravel pad no matter how much of an expense/PITA it ends up being! We got the math wrong on our pads (too thin) which caused them to break during freeze/thaw and the cabin began sinking the third year to the point where simple leveling with the timber jacks wasn't enough. Jacking up and shoring the foundation was a major undertaking and extremely dangerous -- DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME!! Gravel and continuous/wide base!!!
  7. Get water and adequate fuel storage onsite as soon as possible. 75% of our trips into town were for water from the community well and fuel for the generator and cooking. Mail was incidental and consisted primarily of online orders.
  8. If you do not have onsite water and an easy way to heat it:
    1. PAPER PLATES, BOWLS, & TOWELS and PLASTIC UTENSILS!! Doing dishes is a major PITA and ends up costing you way more fuel, time, and effort than you think! Paper products are made from junk trees (or post-consumer recycled resources) and ends up being more environmentally-friendly in the long run.
    2. Same goes for cleaning -- plan on using throwaway cleaning wipes and absorb-n-toss mops.
    3. And laundry -- plan to wear dirty clothes until you rag or burn them or budget for an EASY four-season washing/drying system and the fuel to run it. Do NOT depend on municipal/commercial laundry facilities! They will inevitably be crowded or out of service when you need them (and $5 a load to wash and dry is painful). 
    4. And bathing -- get used to being stinky/grimy and taking lukewarm bucket baths unless you budget resources for better facilities (baby wipes and hand sanitizer!). You'll run into the same problem with public bathing facilities as you do with laundry.
  9. Manufacturer longevity figures provided are given for pristine conditions -- which bush life rarely is. Your equipment will NOT last as long as anticipated without continuous or major maintenance and/or replacement. Several of our projects were sidelined because we had to spend the money/time fixing or buying replacement stuff!
  10. Protect your equipment/materials! In fact, I'd say building a sturdy weatherproof garage/shop/shed is even more important than building the cabin!! We lost so much stuff to rain and snow when tarps rotted/ripped/blew away and totes & buckets cracked/unsealed.
  11. Unless you have a tractor -- if you live in mud country get an ATV before a second truck. If you live in snow country, get a snow machine before a second truck unless you plow/throw/groom your drive religiously! Seriously! If we'd gotten a snow machine early, we'd have had much less problems with the trucks on the trail.
  12. If you don't have easy water, don't rely on dried food! If you must, get freeze-dried at higher cost over dehydrated -- FD uses less water than DH in most cases. Canned food (either commercial cans or your own cans/jars) is the better deal in this case, as long as you can keep it from freezing and your pantry is built for the extra weight!
  13. Spend a little extra to get the right size food! A #10 can of cheese spread might be cheaper per ounce, but if you can't finish it before it gets funky you just wasted that food and your money! Consider how much you can reasonably finish in one sitting/meal or at least in one day if you don't have refrigeration! Using several 12oz cans of veg for stew means you end up a gallon of stew that has to be eaten within 2 days or it goes to compost or the dog -- consider using 3 to 6oz "pony" cans or a single can of mixed veg.
  14. Communications are important -- no matter how crappy mobile service is, or if you have to drive a few miles to get reception -- GET IT! Things would have been much easier when our satellite went out (continually!!) if we'd had the local cell service in the village for phone and 3g internet rather than having to drive all the way into town to use our big provider cell service. 
  15. Fixing things yourself might save you money, but only if you actually know what you're doing and are willing/able to do yourself promptly -- I sold replacement parts with much of our equipment because we hadn't gotten around to fixing it them yet! Mr. Mechanic in town might charge $100/hr for labor, but it's done immediately :D
Hopefully that will give fans and dreamers something to consider.

I'll TRY to blog the WA project, but I can't promise anything.

Cheers and best wishes,

Monday, January 5, 2015

Goodbye 2014, Hello 2015

Hello Faithful Followers!

Yes, we are still alive, still in Alaska, and still at our homestead. The cabin is still standing (knock wood), both trucks and the ATV are running (knock wood, throw salt, and pray), and Ripley and Jackson are fine and dandy (St Francis protect them). Thanks for being worried about us.

To be perfectly honest, 2014 sucked! It sucked so much that Dyson wants to patent it for a new model vacuum cleaner; because, damn, sucking for a whole year straight without interruption is mighty impressive.

I shan't bore you with the details because I'm not one for pity parties unless there is cake and ice cream, some of those cool hats, and those noisemaker things. And maybe some sparklers. Or a pinata.

I'm not even going to postulate what's in store for 2015 or make any plans. There is just too much up in the air right now to figure what's going to land or when. We can only hope it falls where we want it to and doesn't land on anything important. If we catch a break or do something interesting, we'll post.

Happy New Year to everyone (including Gungnir, since I lost track of time again)

Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy Summer Solstice 2014!

I know, I know, we've been horrible about posting this year... but we are still alive and are still here on our homestead.

To be honest, this has really not been our year(s) -- mechanical issues, hydrologic issues, meterologic issues, fiscal issues, injury issues and family health issues abound.  Bad luck and hard circumstances are so pervasive that I'm almost to the point of watching for swarms of locusts, raining frogs, rivers of blood and similar Apocalyptic portents. I have no idea what Karmic balance we're paying off, but it must have been a doozie.

So, we've been having some issues with the diff case leaking on the big truck for a while. We replaced the seals, but it still seems to be leaking somewhere. The driveshaft fell out of her in the middle of winter, but we did eventually get that fixed. Unfortunately, with the diff case issues, we're leary of driving her long distances or hauling/towing anything heavy... so that puts a major kink in all our projects. Of course, she's now stuck hub-deep in a bog in our driveway that is too deep and wide to safely extract her, so she's really out of commission until it STOPS RAINING and the ground dries out a bit.

We still have the little truck, but we're being very careful not to get her stuck anywhere, etc etc. And she's only a 1/2 ton short-bed so it's not like we can do any major hauling/towing with her anyway. She's almost too small to make it worth the gas and extra maintenance taking her into Fairbanks for supplies.

One of the rear driveshafts went out on the ATV and it took forever to get the right parts and tools by mail to actually get her fixed. I seriously HATE manufacturers who have little proprietary bits that require their little special tools that they only sell to their licensed mechanics & dealers... requires some creativity, but we worked around that problem, so HA!  But, that left us having to transport stuff by hand/foot in the sled from the little truck at the top of the driveway, nearly a half-mile back to house since the little truck can't handle bad trail and the big truck is stuck blocking the driveway anyway. Dragging 5-gallon jugs of water and fuel in a sled through the boggy mud in the rain really sucks... a week's worth of supplies ends up being a 5-mile trudge with a 100+ lbs in the sled.

And all this leads to many many injuries... wrenched knees, twisted ankles, and seized backs. Add that to me falling down the stairs in the dark and breaking my foot and G falling down several times and messing up his back & knee on the ice this winter... OUCH!  We could handle the physical labor or the sucking quagmire, but not the physical labor in/through the sucking quagmire!!

We also determined that a wet spot we thought was just boggy is actually a seasonal creek after trying to cut the trail around the mud pit it's causing. There is actually moving/running water on both sides of the bog as far as our property line... so we're going to need to figure out some way for the driveway to cross it, either with a bridge or culvert system. Great.

Large portions of the turf are floating again this spring, including all around the cabin. I don't know what changed with the geology/hydrology, but it was major enough to crack & sink a couple of piers frost heaving this winter and with the water issues this spring it's causing major foundation problems. Looks like we're going to have to replace the concrete pads & piers (evidentally NOT able to provide adequate tensile strength at our extreme temps) with stacked railroad ties in a skid/pier combo that are even wider to help displace even more weight. Jacking up and blocking the cabin to do pier replacement is going to be so much fun... of course it has to STOP RAINING and dry out first since the whole yard is a bouyant carpet that we can't risk punching through.

And, the evil insects... the evil evil evil evil insects. Despite treating for mosquitoes and carpenter ants, both are out in full glory again this year. I've evidentally had some sort of critical exposure to the mosquitoes, because I know have a total allergic/histamine reaction after being eaten alive and have to come in and take Benadryl... which knocks me on my ass for the rest of the day. So, yeah, even with Bt and mega-DEET, I'm usually only good for 10-20 minutes outside before I'm withering like a spooked horse and unable to breathe. We're going to have to put more drastic (i.e. expensive) mosquito control measures in soon. The carpenter ants are really bad, and we found them trying to nest in the cabin walls... so it looks like I'm forced to use the seriously deadly poisons even though I'd really like to avoid using those whenever possible.

So, there you go. We really haven't gotten anything done because we're delayed by either lack of materials, malfunctioning vehicle, weather, geology, or the similar delay of a project that needs to get done before we can do others... ARG!!!!  And the stress of the breakages, delays, financial pinch, our injuries/health issues, and our family's health and personal problems is really taking it's toll. My insomnia and panic attacks are back in a major way, and G's not doing much better. Unless we want to spend the summer/year medicated (or in the nuthatch) we'll have to figure something out to solve/alleviate some of the issues that fits time, money and physical/technical constraints. Maybe if we just focus all our efforts on one single thing.....

Well, I'm really not much for whining and being negative; but I figured you guys might be worried about us. Plus, maybe someone will benefit from a little wisdom/insight about the kinds of things that can go wrong at all once and the major kinks it can put in the plans :D

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013

Merry Christmas and Best Wishes for the Holidays!

Yes, we're still alive and well up here in the frigid Far North. It's a balmy -44F today, which I think is a record for our location and is certainly the coldest Christmas since we've been here. The weather this winter has been crazy -- warm and windy then cold and bracing then back again for some more of the up and down. It's kept us on our toes, for sure.

I know we haven't posted in a long while, and truthfully it's because there hasn't really been much to post about. We were kind of de-motivated this year, having spent most of our time and money on repairs/replacements than on anything new or interesting. Not being able to make much progress sort of took some wind out of sails, and seriously triggered my Aspie frustration (i.e. OCD backlash) which left me stressed out and less than communicative.

Meanwhile, we're hoping to have both trucks fixed and all equipment in working order in time for spring chores. Hopefully, we'll also have enough money saved up to get a few new projects started and a bunch of old ones finished this coming year. If the weather cooperates as well, maybe we'll start making progress again and have more to post.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

I thought I'd share this because it's cool.

Here's your own official Alaskan Ice Bucket...

It's totally natural with zero intention to create it, the crack in the back of it is because I got it out by kicking over a bucket, in fact this one...

However even with that flaw, it's still pretty cool, I particularly like the nice flat top edge and it's symmetry.

How was it done you ask? Easy, have a bucket sitting outside full of rainwater, and live in Alaska in September.

Anyway while taking this, this is the first attempt of the photo of the ice bucket.
Yep the dog saw the camera and just had to stick her head in the way. However I know people like dogs, and she's looking cute in this shot, so I thought it would be nice to post anyway.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Peeves and Rants

The Weather

I guess summer must have decided to go for broke and get itself all in during July & August's heatwave. It's been cold and rainy for the last week or so, the trees are all turning and the fireweed has blown its top. We didn't really even get a normal temp sunny day without mosquitoes this year.  [[[SIGH]]]

Road "Improvements"

We did an up-and-back supply trip into Fairbanks today despite the rain. First bit of nightmarish Hell was on our gravel portion of the Elliott where DoT has taken it upon itself to "improve" a 25 mile section of the road. I don't know what they were planning to do or why, but what they've managed to accomplish is a quagmire of hazardous mud right in one of the steepest, bendiest parts.

The second bit of nightmarish Hell was on the paved portion just outside of Fairbanks. They blocked the entire right lanes of traffic in both directions AND hung everyone up with a pilot car... just so they could sweep the shoulders.  I mean, REALLY!?!?! Closing lanes for several miles in both directions when the sweeper is only running on one side is just retarded. Why even close the lane!?! The sweeper barely edges over the line! And why, why, why have a pilot car directing a huge line of traffic in one direction at a time when both left lanes are still completely open and viable?!?


OK, I must admit, this one is really chapping my ass... so prepare for a rant.

There are turnouts (scenic overlook and mountain chain-up areas) all along the gravel portion of the Elliott Highway, and most of them are at the top or bottom of the really steep squirrely parts. Every bleeding fall when moose season opens, we get droves of urban commandos from the city down here tailgate hunting because their Game Management Unit is pretty much hunted out for moose. Anyway, these nimrods in their multi-$K sport-trucks & RVs with their toy haulers set up tent villages (complete with campfires and kegs) in EVERY  SINGLE turn out and park RIGHT IN THE ROAD to glass for moose.

Seriously?!?  It's dense boreal forest, people, what the hell do you think you're going to see from the road? I can't even see a moose in the trees on my own damed property less 100 ft away. And do you really think you're going to get through the trees on your decked out ATVs? Sorry to say, but you're going to have to hike your ass in there, and you should be humping your tent and gear out there as well instead of blocking the road and being a nuisance! And you certainly better not expect me to stop or wait for you to get your shit out of the road and your act together... I live here and I've got shit to do, I'm not on the road for fantastical funsies.  (And, YES, my husband did flip you the bird when you were waving us to slow down so you could back your trailer that's bigger than our cabin into that emergency turn out... he called you a lot of interesting epithets as he drove by without slowing down, too... deal with it)

Oh yeah, and BTW, half you fidjits are glassing in the wrong direction -- there's no general moose hunt on tribal land south of the road! ADF&G publishes a comprehensive book of regs with maps and everything -- so why don't you RTFM and learn some nav skills!?

So, hey better yet, why don't you take your digital camo & misc. hunter-porn crap and go hunt caribou from the Forty-Mile herd back in your own damned GMU, and let us have our moose because we actually hunt to survive out here!  If you wanted to park your vehicle in the turn out so it was safe while you hike out for a proper hunt, that's one thing... but this Hunter-palooza crap is an insult.

There has been a crazy amount of bears this year, blacks and grizz, and the salmon are running &  blueberries are popping nice and sweet right now. Not saying I truly wish anyone ill, but it would be poetic if one of these set-ups gets a close encounter!

ETA: P.S.  Ripley and Jackson are getting along much better, although there is still some sibling rivalry... and all food is apparently Jax's now LOL.  We also stocked up on soil & amendments on this trip during the end-of-season sales (had to fight somenoe for the last bale of peat moss -- I'm a scrapper when I need to be!), so we should be able to get at least some of our garden started next spring.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

OK this is getting ridiculous...

Yes, that's not a kick off the ass of 110F on our deck

I said it was Alaska... Not Arizona...