Digging in My Heels

Time certainly flies and it’s hard to believe that in only a few days I’ll have already spent a month living on my land. I’m also nearing 3 months of Airstream living, more than half of which has been completely off-grid.

I admit that although I have no water, power, or septic on my land, I’m not in the middle of nowhere miles from services. I have a local septic company that comes out every few weeks to service my tanks. I’ve been able to fill water containers thanks to a number of local friends and I get all the power I need from a solar panel and backup generator. I have great cell service here, I’m close to town, and I have only what I need and nothing more. 

Even though I’m in a tiny 19′ Airstream that does indeed get pretty small it still feels very comfortable. It’s kind of amazing how little you actually need when you boil things down to the basics, right!? 

Living this way has required a lot of challenging preparation and planning but has also been a deeply rewarding adventure. Whether I make it all winter or not, I’ll certainly always remember this time and won’t have a single regret. I hope….

Making big winter decisions. 

At the end of last week the weather forecast made it clear that a good dose of real winter weather was on its way and would certainly last longer than a weekend. This was the big decision point I knew would come: do I stay on my land or hook up and head to the town RV park?

I’ve spent many winters in the Methow—some mild, some brutal—so I had no illusions about what I was getting into. Many people told me I was crazy to consider living off-grid through the winter. If you read any online RV forums, the general conversation about winter living in an RV, let alone off-grid, goes something like:

“Can you spend a winter in your Airstream? Yes. Do people do it? Yes. Would I want to? No.”

“With a few exceptions RVs are not designed for use in serious winter conditions.”

“You must be with Full Hookups… otherwise you will not last very long Full Timing.”

It was clear the RV forums thought I would die. And probably some friends too. I won’t deny, the RV park would certainly be easier. I’d have full power, water, and septic with laundry and showers on site. I could plug into 30 amps of power for anything I wanted and would probably save myself a lot of worry over all the things that could go wrong.

But….where’s the adventure in that?

So far I have a system that’s working. Colder days tend to be clear and sunny, which means my solar keeps everything running. Cloudier days tend to be warmer, which requires a little less power for heat and I can run my generator for supplemental power when needed. I have lots of portable battery banks powering my electronics. Although the pole barn is huge, it’s still been a great cover for both the Airstream and my truck. I’m also in a part of the Valley that tends to get a lot more sun and a lot less snow. 

The real deciding factor though? The freedom to step outside every morning on my own beautiful 10.5 acre backyard, to play frisbee with Hudson, revel in the views, and get to know this amazing place. That’s such a big deal to me, especially in the winter, when dark days can feel very claustrophobic, and especially during this crazy year of Covid.

I couldn’t bring myself to leave my land. Not yet.

Digging in for winter.

After mulling over many, many things and weighing a lot of pros and cons, I made the decision to dig in my heels and stay. Not a surprise to most who know me I’m sure. I can hitch up and move anytime if things go south or the weather becomes really bad. While I’m not particularly fond of the idea of towing an Airstream on snowy roads I’m sure I could wait for a favorable window of weather and road conditions and make a break for it. I can also winterize the Airstream and head elsewhere. I have a lot of options.

With winter looming and contractors busy, progress on any type of land development has been pretty much zero. I decided to instead invest in getting some kind of wind break up on the pole barn. After getting blasted by north-northwest winds, I figured a small wind wall along the west side might go a long way to protecting me this winter. Granted, the pole barn is so big that it’s virtually impossible to build any kind of effective weather protection, but being under here has still helped immensely during rain and snow.

A good friend of mine in Seattle who does finish carpentry and construction work signed on to come out and help construct a plywood wind break for me. He was able to sneak out last week for two days in between snow storms impacting pass travel. I spent my Monday and Tuesday before his arrival doubling down to get the rest of the barbed wire and fencing cleared off the west side of the pole barn in preparation.

I was never so happy to see my friend pull in on last Tuesday afternoon! With a short timeline to complete the work, we got busy immediately measuring and planning. My friend suggested an 8′ wall but I still wanted to enjoy the views so we compromised at 6′. 

Pole barn revelations.

As we were measuring for materials, a truck drove onto my property, a neighbor from up the street who previously owned the land and stopped by to say hello. He asked about our plans and when we told him we were installing a wind wall along the west side of the pole barn he frowned.

“You don’t want to wind load this structure.” he said, “The posts are only 2 feet in the ground.”

My friend and I were both dumbstruck. 

2 feet!!!!!

Yes, this enormous structure is only anchored 2 feet into the ground.

Oh. My. Word.

But, the neighbor assured us that’s why the pole barn had diagonal wire bracing with turnbuckles. Though as he inspected them, all woefully slack, he frowned again. “You need to tighten these up.”

Nothing like finding out everything of value to me—my Airstream, my truck, myself, my dog—were parked under a 30-40′ tall pole barn sunk only 2 feet into the ground with loose stabilizing cables.

As the neighbor waved goodbye my friend and I both looked at each other. We still couldn’t get over the fact the supporting beams for this pole barn were only 2 feet deep. Luckily the contractor who was out previously to fix the loose roof had left that tall 40′ ladder on my property. My friend graciously offered to get up there and tighten all the cables.

We also decided to play it safe and build only a 4′ wind wall.

Signs of progress.

By the time my friend left Thursday ahead of incoming weather, I had a beautiful plywood wind break installed along the west side of the barn, the diagonal and roof supports were all tightened, and I had managed to clear out the remaining east side of the pole barn from barbed wire and fencing. My junk pile was now huge but the property was looking decidedly cleaner and tidier! I knew the wind wall wouldn’t fully protect me but hoped it might give me a little break.

That Thursday I also received a visit from NCI, the local broadband company. They came out to install a satellite on the pole barn so I could hopefully at some point stop using my expensive hotspot and start using a faster, cheaper internet service. 

The only problem? The technician showed up, saw my Airstream, and shook his head. “Oh boy, you have an Airstream. Those things are sealed up tight.” He had rather hoped he’d be able to run the cord from the satellite into my RV but there was no way either of us were going to drill a hole to do so.

We agreed to run the cord underneath the front rug of the Airstream. My plan was to buy an insulated cooler, put a battery in it that could hopefully run both the satellite and a router, hook it up to yet another small solar panel, and store everything outside under the RV inside the cooler. Hopefully the cooler would keep things from freezing.

Hey, it seemed like a good idea, right!? I ordered a cheap disposable router, just in case, and another battery. Once they get here we’ll see if this idea works. In the meantime, I can sit outside if I want, in front of my propane heater, with my laptop hard-lined into my internet connection.

Welcoming the snow.

True to forecast, the snow came in overnight on Thursday and I woke up Friday morning to a stunning winter scene. Hudson and I wasted no time getting out and playing in the snow. By Friday afternoon the clouds parted and I sat outside in the sunshine soaking up the beauty all around me. My solar panels wasted no time recharging the batteries.

This, I told myself, is why I chose to stay. This was pure magic, sitting here on my own land enjoying the sunshine, soaking up the stunning views, and reveling in the blissful silence and beautiful winter wonderland. It was great to see this land under a blanket of snow. By the time I do eventually build, I’ll have seen the land in every season, which is a fantastic gift.

With a lot of big projects complete I finally felt like I was getting ahead of the 8 ball for a change. Hudson and I grabbed the Hoks and spent most of our Saturday and Sunday out and about, skiing and taking full advantage of all the fresh snow. After many weeks of learning new skills, preparing for winter, working on the property, dealing with challenges from Mother Nature, and getting settled in, it felt so awfully good to get out and play without thinking about all the things I had to get done. It was a welcome break.

Sunday afternoon I took advantage of the clear, sunny weather to wrap up one more task: completing the clean out of the grain silo. I picked up a Shop-Vac at the hardware store and thanks to the generator, vacuumed out the rest of the dirt and grain dust. 

Sunday evening I threw my yoga mat into the silo and stretched out in a 14′ diameter space much bigger than a 19′ Airstream. I laughed at the idea that I felt like I was living large and luxurious in my grain silo, on my yoga mat, in front of a Mr. Buddy propane heater.

A 14′ diameter grain silo hot yoga studio! This was luxury.

I took a few minutes to reflect on the past week and all the wins. I had completed clean up of the pole barn, installed a wind break, set up high speed internet, and survived my first real winter storm. It felt like things were falling into place.

The beautiful simplicity of winter. 

I know many people lament winter and call it their least favorite season but being back in the Methow again, I have no words for how much I love the winter. When I left in 2015 it was the winter I missed the most. For me, winter has always been an introspective time for rest and therapeutic self care. Yes, I get out to ski, but winter is a great excuse to unwind and relax. It’s never been more relevant in such a crazy year as this one. Sitting here in my Airstream, watching the snow fall all around me, has been absolutely magical. Chicken soup for the soul.

People told me back in 2012 that most don’t survive more than a winter in the Valley. Well, I stayed for several more, enjoying each one more than the last. This year people told me I wouldn’t last a whole winter in an RV let alone off-grid. Well, perhaps I will! Although I don’t know that I’d want to do it more than once 😉