You’re Invited! Hut Raisin’ 2.0 & Campout 1.0

Who: you1
What: Help me build another hut. Come hangout2.
When: August 20-23
Where: Serenity Valley (an hour and a half from Redding, CA)
How: Post a comment to this post (make sure to post the comment on the blog, not on Facebook, and to leave an email address).

The Small Print:
1 – Specifically, anyone who knows me, or reads this blog. Though, depending on various factors, it might not be possible to accommodate everybody (this time).
2 – If there’s sufficient interest, the date for Campout 1.0 may change.

Quick Update

I’m parked outside a pizza parlor in town, mooching their internet connection. In the back of my car is my purpose for this trip into town: 8 big bags of soil and fertilizer, along with 23 gallons of water. So this update’ll be quick…

First, my excuse for the long silence on this blog. I was in Japan for the last half of May visiting my parents, and then the first week of this month, I spontaneously went to Beijing for several days. Awesome times were had, though that’s a whole ‘nother post, and for now, I’ll simply refer your to the copious photographs I took.

Now, I’m back on Serenity Valley. It’s finally warmed up, and you wouldn’t think that it had snowed just 2-3 weeks ago. The temperature’s up in the 80s (in the shade) during the day, with lows comfortably in the 40s or so. It’s great to be back outside in the sun, getting my creaky old body going again. I’ve been helping my neighbor smooth out the dirt (erm, and rock) road, which is only fair since he bought a few truck loads of gravel to cover it all up.

I’ve also been working on my garden bed, which is a lot of hard work. There’s a hard clay layer about 16-20″ down (and about 3-6 inches thick), and I’ve had to get down on my knees to pound in my spading fork with a mini-sledge hammer to break it up (I guess a pickaxe would’ve also worked, but I don’t have one of those). Fortunately, unlike last time, the plants I brought with me have not died, so I’m hopeful. I’m starting to realize that the soil is probably too nutrient poor, hence this trip to buy soil and compost (I did get the organic stuff, at least). Keeping the garden watered is going to be a challenge, but I found a free source of water in town, so for now, I’ll probably continue to just truck wanter onto my property.

I’ve also been thinking about the next iteration of my hut. The big question on my mind is whether to expand/improve my current hut, or to start on an entirely new one and do it right (or at least, better) from the beginning. But that’s a whole other post too… For now, I’m actually back to sleeping in my car, because it has more windows, more headroom, and better ventilation than the loft-cot in my hut. Until my hut improvements are done, I might go back to sleeping in a tent, though, maybe I’ll at least get a cot this time. In a few weeks, it might even be warm enough to sleep outside in a hammock, though there’s always the risk of getting eaten alive (by mosquitos, or bigger things)…

Anyway, the adventures continue. I’ll try to post more in coming weeks.

NFSV Episode 8: Chores

Latest news from Serenity Valley. In this episode: cleaning in and around the hut, picking up trash left by other people, putting up signs, and clearing dead branches in preparation for fire season. View in HD on YouTube.

NFSV Episode 7: Inside the hut…

I shot this inside my hut last week. It’s a little dark, but you can get a sense of what it looks like inside at night. Watch it on YouTube in HD, if you want to see my grainy underexposed face fill your screen. I also uploaded photos I took last week to Flickr, so check those out too, if you haven’t already.

I’m heading back up there tomorrow, hopefully to start a garden, so expect more interesting news next week…

Breakdown of Hut Costs

The original plan had been to build a hut for under $300. That quickly proved to be unrealistic, but now that I’m done with the initial iteration, I thought I’d break down the costs so far. I’d like to note that the prices are approximate and/or rounded, and don’t include taxes. Some items I bought from different stores, so prices might’ve varied; I picked the higher price, or the average, in such cases. I also bought tools, which aren’t included here, neither are excess materials I purchased and didn’t use. So, yes, the actual cost has been much higher ($600+).

Item

Qty

Price

Total

cement blocks

6

$2.50

$15

2x4x8

12

$2

$24

2x4x92.5″ GDF

26

$1.50

$39

2x6x8

4

$3

$12

2x2x8

8

$3

$24

1x3x8

8

$2

$16

.451″ thick 4’x8′ OSB

6

$9

$54

.451″ thick pine 4’x8′ ply

6

$14

$86

nails + screws

$25

paint

1 gal.

$16

$16

painting supplies

$10

caulk

10

$2.50

$25

mylar 52″x100′

1 roll

$40

$40

bubblewrap 1’x175′

1 roll

$20

$20

asphalt saturated paper

1 roll

$27

$27

.220″ thick 18″ x 24″ plexiglas

3 sheets

$14

$42

door hardware

$20

weather proofing

$15

glue

1 tube

$4

$4

Total: $514

For the most part, I think I hit a decent price-performance point, even though I went way over my original budget. I’m pretty happy with the quality and durability of what I have, though I could use more/better insulation, and I’m a little concerned about the long-term durability of the plywood exterior. When I started, it made sense to set a lower initial budget since I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to build something that wouldn’t collapse immediately. But now that I have something that seems viable, it makes sense to invest more money into it for improvements.

Start small, iterate. The lesson I learned in software engineering applies to huts too.

Tiny Stoves!

I found an article over on the Tiny House Blog about tiny heaters, exactly the kind that I need for my hut! I think one of the cute, tiny wood stoves would be perfect for my tiny hut…

Journal: November 13th, 2009

Yesterday morning, I woke up in winter wonder land. There was a fine silvery coat of snow on everything when I burst out of the hut at 9 in the morning, after one quick peek out the window. I love snow, especially in the woods. It was absolutely gorgeous, and almost made the cold worthwhile. Before long, the sun came up, and the snow melted away. I’m sure there will be more. I did manage to build a small snow ET using snow off of the food tent roof…

I spent the rest of the day working on the front windows. It’s a traditional looking two-pane window, with a wooden frame, and fills up most of the right half of the front of the hut. Now that the window is there, my hut basically looks like a platonic house; the kind that I used to draw in kindergarden. Pitched roof, a door, a window. I guess all I need now is a chimney.

As good as it looks from the outside, it didn’t take me long to realize my mistake. The plexiglas I use for my windows provide less insulation than plywood. Which means I actually managed to make my hut less insulated than before. I tried to make up for it by putting up bubble-wrap and mylar on sections of the interior, but I’m not sure it really makes a difference. Mylar reflects radiant heat, but I’m losing most of my heat to conduction, and I don’t think mylar prevents conductive heat loss.

Since today was my last full day here (assuming I actually manage to get out tomorrow), I did a bunch of small tasks to finish up the hut. The first was to build a table-type thing under the window, so I can put my stove on an elevated surface. With the stove there, it made sense to hammer in a couple of nails on the wall to hang my pots and skillet. Then it made sense to line up my spices on the windowsill too, and with the oil lamp that was already there, that corner suddenly looked really homely.

Another minor task I did today was to frame the door. To be honest, this was almost entirely cosmetic, though, it does help seal the door somewhat. I also put in some molding (I think that’s what they’re called –pieces of wood that go where the walls and floor meet), and stapled roofing paper all around the hut, to cover up the “foundation.” The exterior has remained surprisingly dry through the last week of rain and snow, but I think that’s mostly because it hasn’t been very windy. Hopefully the tar paper skirt will help keep things relatively dry.

Tomorrow, I’m packing up camp, and heading out. I’m working under the assumption that I might not come back until Spring. I do hope I can come back for a couple of short stays in between, but it’s going to start snowing for real soon, and the roads might get a little too treacherous for the little Ryomobile.

To be honest, I’m ready to get out of here. That’s not to say that I’m unhappy with the state of the hut, or my camp. I’ve managed to stay on my property well into November, and have stayed relatively comfortable despite rain, snow, and freezing temperatures. If I hadn’t built this hut, this past week would’ve been unbearable. And I’m rather proud of the fact that I’ve broken my endurance record despite the weather; I came here Tuesday the 3rd, and will be leaving on the 14th, which means I will have spent 11 nights here. My previous longest continuous stay was 6 or 7 nights, and that was when it was much warmer too.

The reality, though, is that life’s not quite comfortable enough here yet to be able to stay indefinitely. For me to stay longer, I’d need more/better heating in the hut. I’d also need to figure out a way to bathe, even when there isn’t enough sun to warm up my solar shower (probably a gas powered shower will do). I’ve also been having issues keeping my laptop charged/running, though I mostly only use it to play music.

And, I’ll admit, I miss civilization, and its creature comforts; the warm showers, the warm beds, being able to get up at night to pee without freezing. I also miss my friends. I miss the feeling of being connected, to people and to the world.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about solitude, and my isolation. It’s clear to me that I’m not a true hermit. No doubt, I’m introverted, and I enjoy solitude and isolation. In fact, I need it. But I miss the touch, the embrace, the smile, the voice of a loved one. It’s the kind of warmth that is lacking out here, no matter how warm my hut may be. I realized that as the days went by, I spent more and more time thinking about people I care about, and thinking about time I’ve spent with them.

Over the last two weeks, I found that while I set out to build a hut, a temporary shelter, I was actually building myself a home. I’m almost there. In the sense that this is a place I can always return to, this is a home. It may be the only home in the world that I have. But there’s another kind of home; a home that you share with someone you love, regardless of its physical shape, form or location. That is the home I need to seek now, now that I have a place that I can call home.

Journal: November 10th, 2009

Yesterday, I got up in the morning, and decided I needed to get away. It was a cloudy morning, and I felt miserable. I wanted to be dry and warm. I also didn’t have much work I could do on the hut, because I was out of lumber (again) and with the clouds threatening rain, I couldn’t paint either. So I went to Redding.

I got there around lunch time, and gorged myself on some Chinese buffet, then waddled over to the hardware store and gorged myself on lumber. Since I had a bunch of photos to upload, I headed to a Starbucks near the hardware store to use the wifi connection. Dressed the way I am, I didn’t feel particularly out of place at the hardware store, but I definitely felt weird at Starbucks, especially in contrast to the clean-looking cute barista who took my order. She had dark wavy hair, and a dimple in her radiant smile. It made me realize how isolated I’ve been. Waiting for my tall decaf mocha, I felt uncomfortably warm, so I took off the outer most layer: a Google hoodie, polka dotted with caulk and paint, and bleached reddish by some mysterious substance in the woods. The next layer wasn’t much of an improvement: a long sleeve flannel shirt. I considered taking that off, but underneath that was a long sleeve orange t-shirt, a size too large. I gave up, and since there weren’t any seats open with power outlets anyway, I left after picking up my coffee, and headed across the parking lot to the Safeway, where there’s also wifi and power, but fewer laptop users.

As I went about doing internet things, I realized that I was actually running a slight fever. My head felt fuzzy, and I felt clammy. This was rather inconvenient, since I was an hour and a half away from my land. I can’t honestly say that going back to my cold hut and spending another night in my 24″ wide loft, constrained in my sleeping bag, probably with freezing toes, particularly seemed appealing to me. But I knew that’s exactly what I would do. I chose to do this. It would take more than a slight fever to make me give up.

I decided to try the old family remedy for mild illnesses: tons of food. Chinese buffet for lunch was a good start. I decided to top it off with a burrito for dinner, downed with a bottle of vitamin water. It was around 8:30 or 9 by the time I got back to my hut, but fortunately, it was much, much warmer than on previous nights. The thermometers registered around 32F outside, 46F inside, with my kerosene lamp and new propane lamp I’d picked up in Redding providing some additional heat.

I have a wide variety of lighting devices in my hut. The most basic form of lighting is candles. I have 3 of them lit right now, and I like the soft warm glow they give off. A few days ago, I got an oil lamp at the local hardware store. It’s only about as bright as a candle, but probably much cheaper in the long run, since a $8 bottle of oil will probably last a month or so. Then, there’s the propane lamp I got yesterday. Even at its lowest setting, it gives off tons of light, but propane canisters are heavy and bulky, so I’m a little weary of burning through them too quickly. Lastly, I have an assortment of electric lamps that run off of AA or AAA batteries. Since I charge AA and AAA batteries from my deep cycle battery that in turn is charged by my solar panels, electricity is by far the greenest form of energy on my land. I have a virtually infinite supply, generated on my property. But, truth be told, keeping all these batteries recharged is an annoying chore.

I felt about as miserable this morning, as I did yesterday morning, despite the sunny weather. I felt lonely and isolated. My fever seemed to have gone away, but I was still cold and felt oddly empty. I got up briefly at 8:30 to pee (which, for me, means climbing down from my loft and going outside to the nearest tree), then climbed back into my sleeping bag. I didn’t come out again until 10:30, and just puttered around my camp in a daze. At one point, I found myself mindlessly eating honey roasted peanuts from a can I’d bought at a Girl Scout sale at the local grocery store.

Oddly enough, taking a dump made me feel better. There’s something about crouching in the open field, in the sun, with my pants off, boots on, over a shallow hole, that gives me perspective. I have a hut in the woods. Sure, there are things I don’t have that I long for, but I have a lot that other people don’t have. Most importantly, I have freedom. I focused on that, and thought about all the adventures I could go on. It made me feel much better.

I decided to utilize the good weather to do some painting, before bad weather returned. I spent most of the afternoon applying a second coat of paint, focusing particularly on the lower parts, where it was more likely to get wet. I then duct taped the paint roller to an 8-foot section of two-by-two to get the gables, which I’d missed the first time around. By the time the sun set, my hut was, for the first time, fully painted.

Using what little light I had, I gathered firewood for the evening, then headed down to the car to bring up some of the lumber I bought yesterday, in case I decided to do some work after dark. On the way down to the car, I thought about what work I had left. I decided to just leave the tarp over the roof until I could get some help putting on the roofing paper. I’ve also been concerned about how weather proof the plywood exterior would be. The cheap crappy ply I got is already starting to warp and crack in places. Would it survive the winter? Other than paint, what can I do to make it more weatherproof? A couple of weeks ago, I tacked on some of the roofing tar paper around the bottom half of the hut, sort of like a skirt, as a temporary measure. Perhaps I could do that, more permanently. But then I started thinking, why not use tar paper as siding? Why not cover up the whole hut in that stuff? I certainly had enough, and if I wasn’t going to use it for the roof, I might as well use it for something. And if I’m going to wrap up the whole thing in tar paper, why not also put my mylar-bubbewrap insulation on the exterior too, underneath the tar paper? Putting insulation on the outside is easier because all the columns and studs won’t get in the way, and it’ll also help protect the plywood. I also happen to like the exposed wood on the interior. Thoreau says “New ideas for new people, old ideas for old people.”

I ended up taking the evening off. I cooked myself a nice dinner of grilled chicken seasoned with salt, pepper and thyme, with a side of saute’d onions and rice. The rest of the evening was spent sitting by the fire, occasionally reading some Walden. It seems like it’ll be another reasonably warm evening. Last I checked, it was right around 32F outside. Inside, it is a balmy 46F.

Journal: November 9th, 2009

I got a lot done today, almost all of it after dark. My plan for the day was to finish the first coat of paint, install a window, and build the loft/cot thing. After installing a support column for the loft, I moved on to the window, which, being underneath the loft, I needed to do first. But after drilling holes for the corners, I realized I had the wrong blades for the jigsaw. I even asked someone at Lowes for help, but I still got the wrong ones. Figures. I decided to make a run to the local hardware store, but before what would inevitably become a 2 hour trip (it takes about an hour just to get there and back), I decided to finish painting. But when I went to retrieve my roller and brush, I found them solidly frozen into the tray of water I left them to soak in last night. With my painting supplies frozen (the paint was also frozen), my jigsaw inoperable, I did the only thing I could: I caulked. Every seam in the hut needs to be caulked, and there are lots of seams…

After an hour or so of caulking, I made myself a sandwich, using up all the alfalfa sprouts, which had also frozen over night, and headed down to the car. At the hardware store I got a gallon of “ruby slippers” red (the color card looked like the kind of red barns are painted in, but I doubt the actual barn red color would be called “ruby slippers”) and a couple of thermometers. For once, I didn’t spend too much time online; I stayed only long enough to check my email and post yesterday’s journal entry.

It was 3:30pm by the time I got back to the camp, and the sun was starting to set. I had just enough sun to finish painting, then I gathered some firewood and got a fire going outside the hut. This gave me enough warmth and light, and energy to do work inside the hut.

It’s 12:22am as I write this. The fire is dying, but I’m going to try sleeping in the hut tonight. Since sun down, I’ve managed to install a window, and build the loft. I broke a screw driver bit, no doubt the freezing temperature contributed to the bit’s brittleness, and ran down both cordless drill batteries, so I had to resort to hammering nails at the end. I still have some big gaps I need to try and seal up, but the loft is done and hopefully good enough to sleep on. I guess we’ll see. I’m tired. The thermometer outside reads 20F. The one inside was hovering at right around 32F, but is now down to 30F. I’m not sure the hut will be warmer than the tent. But we’ll see.

Journal: November 7th, 2009

It snowed last night. I spent most of the evening in my hut because it was too wet to start a fire, which is the only tolerable way to be outside after dark these days. Some time in the evening, when I went out to pee, I noticed swirly white flakes dancing in the air. It was too warm to stick, but it was snow alright.

This morning, when I got up, everything was all frosty and frozen. Drops of water from yesterday’s rain had frozen in place. Droplets hanging from pine needles. Puddles on my trailer roof. A pool of water on a plastic bin. Condensation on a sheet of plexiglas. All frozen, and glittering in the clear sunny morning. It was quite beautiful, and added to the joy of seeing the sun again, after a couple of cloudy and wet days.

It’s cold again tonight. I wanted to do more work inside the hut after dark, but the cold just numbed my mind. I took a couple of measurements, but just couldn’t muster the energy to chop a piece of two-by-four. The dark seems to affect me more than it did before. Maybe it’s the cold, or maybe it’s the hut. I’m not sure what, but the darkness seems unsettling to me in a way that it wasn’t before.

Having given up on productivity, I got a fire going using wood I’d gathered earlier in the day. I tried to read, but found that I had to move around constantly to keep some body part or another from getting uncomfortably cold. After a little while, I got hungry, so I warmed up a can of chili by putting it by the fire, and ate it with a slice of toast. I was hoping to do some cooking, but my gas stove was in the hut, and I didn’t feel like leaving the fire. I think tomorrow I’ll build a fire in front of the hut, instead of in front of the trailer, which is 20 yards or so from the hut. In absolute terms, it’s not far, but when you don’t want to wander farther than 6ft from the fire, it’s far enough.

I could tell it’s going to be cold tonight because a pool of water on top of my plastic bin had frozen solid, and it wasn’t yet 8:30. In the absence of ice, liquid water doesn’t actually freeze until something like -5C IIRC, so, yeah, it’s cold. I got a couple of hand warmers on my supply run yesterday, just in case I need some extra heat. I put one of them in my tent for tonight.

By 9, I’d burned most of the wood I’d gathered, and with a steady cold breeze blowing from the south, I decided to retreat to the hut. The hut isn’t very well insulated, but it does block the wind. I boiled some water with the gas stove, and lit a couple of candles for warmth and light. Between the candles, a hot cup of tea, and the laptop, I’m reasonably warm, though my toes are freezing. I might need to double up on socks, if it gets much colder.

I noticed that I eat a lot these days. When it was warmer, I didn’t eat much when I was here, and lost a lot of weight every time I came out for a longer stay. But these days, I seem to be eating constantly. Today, for instance, I had a couple of packets of instant oat meal for breakfast, a can of fish a little before noon, a scrambled egg & cheese sandwich for lunch, a can of turkey chili for dinner, with snacks of grapes, almonds, and cups of hot beverages scattered in between. I guess it makes sense, though. I’m doing a fair amount of physical labor, and on top of that, my body is burning calories to produce more heat, even when I’m just sitting around. I also wonder if my body is instinctively preparing for the winter. A little more fat may very well keep me warmer in these climates…

Earlier, I was thinking about how cold it was, and realized that even though I was cold, I wasn’t miserable. If I had to pick, I’d say I’m happy. Though, I’m in a weird mind state, similar to one I was in when Nikki and I went backpacking in Joshua Tree a couple of years ago. It was either too cold or too warm, our packs were heavy. We were lost half the time. We focused on the basics. Set up camp, eat, sleep, wake up, eat, strike camp, walk, eat, repeat. I was too busy staying alive to worry about whether or not I was happy. I wonder if happiness, and for that matter, the lack thereof (depression), is a luxury of the idle mind to some extent. But then, it’s not like I’m in a survival situation. Yes, if I were stubborn or stupid, I could probably die of hypothermia. But my car is a 10 minute walk away. I can walk out any time I want, night or day. Get to my car, crank up the heater, and I can be warm in inside of 30 minutes. Yet, here I am. I’m still here. If I had to describe how I felt, I’d probably say: I feel alive.