“Mama said there’ll be days like this…”
This year has been a roller coaster in so many ways and I’m not sure the ride is going to stop anytime soon. Since June I’ve been on the move, first in my truck, then at a friend’s guesthouse, then finally in my Airstream, saving every penny to make my dream of land ownership come true.
When I finally settled onto my own land at the end of October, Mother Nature sure didn’t give me much of a break. I had to quickly prep for a snow storm and spent an adventurous few days surviving a little taste of winter. At first, sitting in my Airstream watching the snow fall all around me was pretty idyllic, but the experience quickly turned into a cold lesson in the reality of winter RV living.
In the end though?
I survived! And became a little more experienced and a lot more wise.
A much needed rest.
Keeping warm in an RV takes a lot of effort and energy. When the temperatures slowly trended back up I was relieved. There’s no denying that RV living is much, much easier in warm favorable weather, that’s for sure! Once the brunt of the cold had passed I realized I was really exhausted. It wasn’t a bad kind of exhausted, but more that I desperately needed a break to recharge.
The long few months of bouncing around, doing side work, and learning how to live in an RV all while working my day job, solving new challenges every day, and trying hard to make this land purchase happen had been really draining.
I made a quick checklist of everything I needed to do to better insulate the Airstream but instead of acting on any of them, I spent several days going to bed every night at 8pm and sleeping for 12 hours. I settled into a new work routine, went for local walks and runs, and cozied up to my propane heater every evening to get to know my property, enjoy spectacular sunsets, and watch a glorious Halloween full moon. The time to relax was heavenly.
I was still nervous about the thought of staying in the RV all winter, especially if I chose to stay on my own undeveloped land. Sure, I survived a long weekend of cold, but if I stayed the course I’d have way more than a few cold days to endure. I wasn’t at all confident in my ability to do so. After a few days rest though, I felt a renewed sense of energy and confidence that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to stick it out and make it work. I was determined.
It didn’t take long for that renewed confidence to be shattered.
Mother Nature strikes again.
The Friday after the snow, as I was wrapping up a work call, a strong gust of wind blew seemingly out of nowhere, shaking the Airstream and sending a few pieces of my rigid foam insulation flying.
I ran outside to grab my foam, which had luckily blown against the sides of the pole barn. The wind was howling out of the north. Uncharacteristically for me, I had been so busy relaxing all week I hadn’t paid attention to the forecast of 25-35mph winds.
One I moved onto the property one of the first things I noticed was a loose piece of metal roofing on the northwest side of the pole barn. I noticed because the first day I was here there were some light north winds that flapped the metal up and down on the roof. The noise sounded like someone hitting metal with a sledgehammer.
The pole barn was at least 40′ tall. “How in the hell am I going to fix that!?” I thought. I had two contractors come out and take a look but no one had a ladder tall enough to get up there.
Luckily those north winds hadn’t yet returned so the roof had been quiet for over a week. Of course now they were back, howling ferociously. Not only was the wind blowing away all of my RV insulation, it was also flapping that loose metal corner of the roof louder than I had ever heard.
My work lunch break was rapidly coming to an end so I quick ran around and removed all the foam insulation from my RV before the wind did it for me. Some of the foam was 6′ long and comedically tough to wrangle in strong wind. I stuffed it into my truck and grain silo and laughed about the absurdity of it all, even taking a video to capture the moment.
Not 30 seconds after I stopped recording this, I heard a loud crash from the front of the Airsteam. Perplexed, I walked around to look and saw my solar panel had been blown 10-20 feet away by the wind.
“Nooooooooooo!” I yelled.
My heart sank instantly as I ran over to check for damage. I was relieved to see the panels looked ok but the bracket attaching the charge controller was completely bent. Even worse, the wire connecting the batteries to the solar panels had been severed at the controller.
I sat there in the dirt, the metal pole barn roof banging loudly over my head, trying to fully grasp what had just happened. Everything had just gone to hell in a handbasket. In an instant, I was suddenly back to square one with my RV insulation and my primary, reliable, efficient source of power was now gone.
The wind had instantly deflated every confidence I had. I felt completely overwhelmed and defeated.
Failing some more.
I had to jump back into a work meeting so I put the solar panel in my truck and sent a few photos to some friends. Though everyone said it should be an easy fix to cut the wire, reattach new terminals, and get it reconnected, I was completely out of DIY energy. Electricity and batteries are my least favorite things to futz with and I couldn’t even fathom trying to tackle yet another project.
Sadly though, I had no choice, so I rolled down to the Twisp Hardware store at the end of my work day and they helped me find some terminals and a wire cutter/stripper/crimper tool. I had no idea what I was doing.
I spent my Friday evening listening to the never-ending nerve-wracking banging of my roof while googling “how to repair a wire”. I made three trips back to the hardware store to get different sized terminals, electrical tape, and other things. I couldn’t meet the $5 minimum credit card purchase so I kept buying Twix. It became a joke between me and the hardware store worker and by the end of the evening I had stockpiled a lot of Twix.
Sure, it’s easy for people to tell you “oh that’s an easy fix!” when they’re not the ones who have to do it. I tried to patch the wires multiple times but every time I plugged the panel back into my batteries, the controller failed to detect them. I sat down outside in the dirt at nearly sunset, feeling completely defeated.
“What in the hell were you thinking trying to do all this on your own? What did you think would happen!?”
I called my dad, telling him it was the lowest I’d ever felt since embarking on this crazy journey. Sure, I had a generator, but I had lost my main power source that had been efficiently charging my batteries since day one. It was a big deal. Power is everything when you’re off-grid. I was seriously bummed out and told him I didn’t think I’d be able to do this much longer.
That night I gave up on the solar panel, fired up my generator for a while, and crankily went to bed. It might have been easier without the pole barn roof banging loudly all night long. I got little sleep.
Try, try again.
Saturday morning I woke up and decided I’d try one more time to fix the solar panel. Alas, my third try to fix the panel still didn’t work. Friends kept telling me “it should be an easy fix!” I knew they meant well but I swear I was going to kill the next person who told me that.
I needed someone way more qualified so in my desperation, I texted a Valley friend asking for an electrician referral. My friend texted an electrician he had worked with and who ironically, I had talked with after buying my property. Unbelievably, he was in the area looking at a job and said he’d come by and give my panel a look. What luck.
He did some testing and determined that the solar panel was still generating power to the charge controller, very good news! It was; however, completely dead at the battery connection. We checked for blown fuses but found nothing. We could only conclude that when the wire was severed, the controller somehow shorted out or was damaged.
He commended my repair job, which at least made me feel like I wasn’t completely crazy. I ordered a new charge controller online from ZAMP, hoping it would arrive quickly and fix the issue. Of course the forecast was for sunny blue skies the entire next week and I had to accept that I’d be without solar power. No doubt Mother Nature was taunting me.
Clearing my head.
I knew I hadn’t been moving nearly enough lately so I grabbed Hudson, got in the truck, and got away from everything for a run. Even though I don’t run as far or as fast as I used to, a run always helps me clear my mind and put things in perspective. Sure enough, when I got back to the truck, I felt immensely better. After all, the whole reason I did all of this was to be able to live more simply and enjoy the nature around me. If I wasn’t getting out to enjoy it, what was the point!?
I’m always a geek when it comes to reading my horoscope and I have a favorite source that is eerily spot on most of the time. I hadn’t read my horoscope in so long that I was way overdue. I pulled it up on my phone.
We live in an “automatic” world. Doors open for us. Lights come on when it gets dark. We can connect with a world at our fingertips via devices we can carry in our pockets. It’s no wonder that we sometimes assume that everything will be easy – but sometimes the best things in life take more planning, more time, and more patience, Aquarius. If you were expecting something you worked for to work out instantaneously, you have to be patient. Savor the moments in between your efforts and the outcome. Those moments can be just as satisfying as what you are waiting for.
Well, damn. I guess that hit it on the nose now didn’t it?
Controlling the things I can.
I promised myself long ago that if I ever became a landowner I would do everything in my power to be a good steward of my land before anything else. With that thought in mind, on the drive home I stopped by the hardware store and picked up bolt cutters and fence pliers. I decided to enjoy what was left of the beautiful sunny weekend by taking control of something I knew I could do and would make me feel like I was making progress.
That Saturday afternoon I went to work removing barbed wire from the property and cleaning up old pipes, junk, and hay bale strings. As soon as I started working in the warm sun I forgot about everything else and focused on the task at hand. It was almost like the meditation of gardening.
By Sunday evening I had a huge pile of barbed wire and other junk. I removed all the wire around the pole barn, opening up the north side so I could drive my truck under it and clearing out the sides in anticipation of installing a wind break. I put the rigid foam back on my RV but this time with a lot more tape.
I sat down Sunday evening with a beer, in front of my outdoor propane heater, with my generator going in the background. The last 48 hours sucked. I also knew though, that this would not be the first time things weren’t turning out exactly how I planned. I felt like I’d been locked in a battle with Mother Nature since I got here.
As I watched the sunset, I thought that perhaps I needed to reframe my perspective. It’s easy to take a lot of things for granted in our traditional living—easy access to water, power, connectivity—just as my horoscope said. Finding a new path to these things is a big learning experience.
Maybe Mother Nature wasn’t really out to get me. Maybe she was just giving me challenges in small doses to prepare for the bigger challenges ahead. The short winter blast taught me a lot, as did the brief blast of wind.
I remembered that fitting horoscope again:
“Savor the moments in between your efforts and the outcome. Those moments can be just as satisfying as what you are waiting for.”
And so I did.
I savored the moment, sitting in front of my heater, learning how to live alongside nature more closely than ever before. I feel more free and self-reliant than ever before, yet at the same time, I’ve been humbled and so very grateful for the support of an amazing community of local and non-local friends around me. Thank you all of you!
I have no idea if I’ll stay here on my land all winter, if I’ll hook up and head to the RV park in town, or if I’ll winterize my Airstream and bail. I have no idea how long it will take to make progress on my building plans or what else will go right and wrong along the way. I will; however, take it day by day and savor every single moment, good and bad. After all, it’s the sour that makes the sweet taste sweeter and it also makes for great stories and adventure, right!?
And I’m damn glad I bought that 3000 watt generator!