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,