Journal: December 9th, 2010

I got all four windows up on the south-facing wall over the past few days, so Hut 2.1 is almost entirely enclosed. Once I put up one more window on the western side, it’ll be completely enclosed. There’s actually still one more window to put up, but where that’s supposed to go (the eastern side) is currently covered up in OSB, and I’ll need to cut out the opening (there was a last minute change in window locations). Few of my windows actually match, but that’s what happens when you go cheap. Of the 7 windows in the lower level, only 2 were bought new. Two more were bought in like-new condition from a salvage shop, but didn’t come with installation instructions, which would’ve been useful seeing how they don’t have tabs, unlike all the other vinyl windows I’ve seen. The remaining 3 windows I got from a friends’ dad, who’d rescued them from the dumper at a construction site. They’re actually really nice Low-E, double-paned argon-filled tempered glass that must cost a lot new, but only cost me a six pack of beer. They’re also unframed panes, but I improvised a frame, so we’ll see how that goes (yes, lots of weather proofing strips, caulk, and foam were involved).

Okay, boys and girls, I gotta get going, so that’s it for today. More in a few days…

Journal: December 7th, 2010

As I’d feared in my previous post, I did indeed get stuck on my dirt road on my way back to my property that day. Actually, I got stuck 3 times, and instead of getting the hint after the first time, or the second time, I barged on, undeterred, like a fool. In my defense, things didn’t get too bad until the 3rd time I got stuck. The first time, I reversed a few feet and gave myself some extra momentum to overcome a slick patch. The second time, I remembered to engage the differential lock, and muscled my way up an icy incline. The 3rd time, though, I got stuck on a particularly rough section of the road, where there’s a tight corner, steep grade, and some big boulders. I kept backing up, but not regaining any ground, until I was up against a bush. Eventually, I walked up to my camp, grabbed a shovel, and started shoveling compacted icy snow out from ahead of the tires. Fortunately, that did the trick. (By the way, if you were following my new Twitter account,@laptopandarifle, you would’ve gotten a real-time blow-by-blow of that incident…).

Other than that, life’s chugging along. Here’s something I wrote in my journal last night:

December 6th, 2010
I may be living a dream, but not every day is exactly rosy. I hit a rough patch today, when, for a while, it seemed like nothing was going right. I was already feeling frustrated with the slow progress, when I slipped and drove my cordless drill into my finger. It’s just a flesh wound, but combined with the crack on my thumb, I felt like I was slowly losing use of my hands, one finger at a time. Then, I screwed up installing a window. My feet are still constantly cold. I realized that I couldn’t put the chimney where I thought I could after all. I noticed that the door wasn’t hung square, and it was too late to fix. I worried about whether I’d be able to get my car back down the dirt road, and if I could, whether I’d be able to come back up. If I had to leave my car farther down the road, I may have to walk a quarter mile in the cold to go to bed. I suddenly wasn’t sure I’d finish Hut 2.1 before conditions forced me off my property. Dark clouds rolled in. A chilly gust blew through the open walls of my cabin, numbing my fingers as I tried to mark my next cut.

I wondered to myself why I couldn’t just be like everybody else, and be content working in a warm office, going home to a wife and kids. I thought about how crazy it is that I’m building my own house, alone, in the middle of nowhere, in the cold, without any training in carpentry, construction, or architecture, on a shoe-string budget, in defiance of god knows how many building codes. I felt like I was doing everything wrong. Imperfections glared back at me. Unfinished tasks loomed in my mind, overwhelmingly. Doubts flashed through my mind — maybe I should let other people do the building, and just pay a mortgage, like everybody else.

But, eventually, I pulled myself together, and had a productive day. Out here, alone, I am the source of all my problems, but I am also the solution to all my problems. At least, I have to be, if I don’t want to get stuck. In the city, things that stress people out are the things they can’t control. Whether it’s their job, the cable company, the plumber or mechanic, or their noisy neighbors, peoples’ lives are so deeply intertwined with –and dependent on– others that they often have little control over the problems they face. Out here, nobody causes any of my problems, but I also can’t expect anyone else to solve my problems for me either. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, but at the end of the day, I overcome those challenges and feel better for it.

Indeed, I found solutions to my problems. I bandaged my fingers, and got back to work. I found a new place to put the chimney. I tore out the window and installed it satisfactorily. I ignored the pain in my toes — actual risks of frostbite are negligible. I devised a workaround for the door problem. I warmed up my fingers with a hot mug of coffee, picked up my saw, and kept cutting. After dark, I walked down the dirt road, shovel in hand, breaking up the ice along the way so that I could get out the next morning. And I got my bedding out of the car, heaved it up the makeshift ladder, into the loft of Hut 2.1. Last night, I slept in my new unfinished cabin for the first time. It was a bit draftier than the car, but if I want to get warmer, I’ll just have to finish the damn walls.

News Flash! Sales of my super amazing calendars have been lackluster. Maybe you guys don’t like me as much as I thought, or the calendar isn’t as awesome as I think, but maybe it was just too damn expensive for these lean times. Well, to see which of these is true, I’ve marked down the price by 15% to a more reasonable $24.79. That’s a whopping $4.38 off the original price! And remember, the more people buy a calendar, the sooner I can afford a warm pair of boots 😉 My toes thank you in advance. (If you’re convinced, here’s the link again.)

Journal: December 4th, 2010

Wow, it’s December already? Crazy. But, hey, it’s December and I’m still here! Last year, I only stayed until late November, so at least I’ve lasted longer this year. We’ll see how much longer I can keep going though…

I continue to make slow but steady progress on Hut 2.1. When I resumed work on Wednesday, the first order of business was to clear up the interior so I have space to work. Then, I spent at least a couple of hours mulling over the Chimney Issue.

Yes, the Chimney Issue. As I read the instructions that came with the chimney mounting kit, I realized that there were significant issues with putting the chimney where I had planned to put it. I was hoping to put it on the gable side exterior wall of the structure, and since the roof overhangs by about 6″ on that side, I assumed the chimney would clear it without a problem. Well, as it turns out, the instructions on the mounting kit explicitly prohibit such offsets, and judging by the big bold letters and the number of exclamation marks, I’m inclined to begrudgingly abide by this one. But, if instead of clearing the overhang by offsetting the chimney, I do as the manual says, and poke a hole in the overhang, that creates a whole other set of issues since now I’ll have a hole in the roof, half way up.

So, I decided that it would be easier to just put the chimney elsewhere. But where? I knew the chimney had to stick out the eaves side, or, I could use a different chimney kit and go through the roof, instead of out the wall and up. If I were to go through the roof, it’d make sense to stick it out the extension, since the roof there isn’t done yet. (Also, the kit doesn’t support steeply sloped roofs such as the one I have over the main section of my cabin, while the extension roof has a much shallower slope.) But the extension was supposed to house the bathroom and the kitchen, and if a stove were to go in there, the bathroom would have to go where the stove originally was supposed to go. On the other hand if the stove went on the Northern eaves side in the main section of the cabin (not the extension), the chimney would be dangerously close to an oak tree, thus creating a fire hazard.

At the end, I found the one logical (and safe) place the chimney (and therefore, the stove) could go: on the Southern side in the main section, with the chimney going up through the eves. I then decided it still made sense to move the bathroom to where the stove would’ve gone, which leaves the entirety of the extension available to be used as a kitchen. I’ve always wanted a nice big kitchen in my house, so I’m quite pleased with that change. Unfortunately, moving the bathroom meant I had to swap a couple of window frames, because the bathroom must have an opening window, and the window frame in the new location had been sized for one of my non-opening windows.

Long story short, I spent the better part of Wednesday evening cutting out window frames and putting up new ones, so that the right windows would be in the right places given the new layout. Overall, though, I’m quite happy with where things will end up being. Thursday night, I put up some horizontal crosspieces in vertical spaces between studs, posts and window frames. These pieces will add considerable strength to the walls, but really, I put them there to use as shelves (and it’s easier to nail those pieces in now, before the walls are covered). Last night, I got some more OSB sheathing up, and I should be done with that in another day or two. Then, the windows will go up, and at that point, the structure should be fully enclosed. Insulation will then go on the outside, and hopefully I’ll have a reasonably comfortable place to live.

My biggest concern is still the weather. This week’s been reasonably warm, with temperatures staying within a narrow range above and below freezing. It snowed about 5 inches a couple of nights ago, but much of it melted away the next day, when the temperatures climbed back up above freezing. The main concern is the dirt road that leads in and out of my property. It was pretty slick coming out today, and I lost control when my car slid down hill a few feet, but fortunately it stopped before hitting any trees. Other than that, I myself am keeping warm, though my feet are almost constantly cold, thanks to my leaky boots that are constantly wet from slushing through melting snow, and my double-layered wool socks have been soaking through. It’s impossible to keep my socks dry, so instead, I’ve just been wearing wet socks whenever I need to go outside, and switching to dry socks when I’m inside. Obviously, this could be a losing strategy for my toes if it gets much colder, but seems to be an ok short term solution. In the long run, I’ll apply a liberal coating of water proofing spray onto my boots the next time I’m in the city and they’ve had a chance to dry. Or maybe Santa will bring me nice winter boots… Overall, though, despite cold feet, my spirits are high, and I am happy to be doing what I’m doing. It’s beautiful up here, and working on my cabin at night, after dark, when all is silent but for the hissing of my propane lamp, engulfed by its warm radiance — it is a divine experience, worthy in and of itself.

News flash! I setup a new Twitter account: @laptopandarifle. This one’s linked to my Verizon phone, which gets coverage up on my property, so I’ll be able to post updates via SMS. So, go ahead and follow that, if you want up-to-the-minute updates from Serenity Valley.

Journal: November 30th, 2010

I got back to Serenity Valley after being away for over a week. Returning to my property after a long-ish absence is always exciting, because I never know what to expect. I knew there was a winter storm that passed through the area a week ago, so my biggest concern was snow covering the dirt road and making it impassable.

Indeed, when I arrived at the dirt road, the thick layer of snow did concern me somewhat, but aside from a little slippage, my car was able to make it up without problems. In fact, with the snow smoothing over the bumps and muffling all sounds, it almost felt like I was in a magical self-powered sled, gliding through a winter wonder woodland. The biggest obstacles I faced were a couple of padlocks that had frozen shut, though heating them up with a lighter seemed to do the trick.

My camp seemed to be ok, other than the fluffy blanket of snow. Though, upon closer examination, I noticed that my tent had collapsed. My ladder, which had been propped up against Hut 2.1, just yards away from my tent, had toppled over, possibly squishing the tent. Though, the tent was also under a lot of heavy snow, some of which might’ve fallen off the roof of Hut 2.1, so who knows what happened there. I had all my bedding in the tent, but fortunately it was all still dry.

The temperature got down into the single digits (Fahrenheit) and below last week, so basically all my liquids have frozen solid. My 7 gallon water containers have turned into big balls of ice. My olive oil is a solid, and even the vegetable oil turned into sludge. A bottle of cranberry juice I’d left in my hut also froze, and since sugar water has a much lower freezing point than pure water, that gives you an idea of how cold it got. To make liquid water, I had to pull out my “emergency” stash of bottled water I keep in my car, and boil it, then pour it into my frozen water containers to thaw some of it. Last night, I put some hot water in an empty plastic water bottle and stuck it in my bed, partially to help heat up my blankets, but mostly to ensure I had liquid water in the morning since, otherwise, all my liquid water would freeze overnight. I considered melting snow, but who knows what kind of contaminants are in there. Electronics aren’t impervious to cold either. Batteries tend to not work as effectively in the cold, and chargers often will refuse to charge batteries that are cold. My power tool batteries will also be sleeping with me at night.

I have plenty of warm clothes, and a high metabolism that generates ample body heat, so I generally don’t mind the cold. In fact, I feel livelier in the cold than in oppressive heat, and I just love snow. After I had my morning coffee, I went for a walk through the snow, following deer and rabbit tracks all over the woods. When I was a kid, I noticed how grown-ups seemed to think of snow as an inconvenience and hazard, while kids universally loved snow. I promised myself that I would never be the kind of boring and joyless grown-up who didn’t appreciate snow. I think I’ve done ok so far.

Temperatures this week are supposed to be warmer, with highs above freezing (albeit by only a few degrees), and lows of around 20F. But it’s supposed to snow for the next several days, so I decided to come back out to town to stock up on supplies, just in case I get snowed in. I’ve got 2-3 weeks worth of propane, and ample food, so I should be fine. I’ll just keep working on Hut 2.0, which is sufficiently covered at this point, that I can keep working on it through snow.