Off the beaten track in November

The daily routine, dealing with the first snowfall, finding time for romance and what the author has learned from living off the grid

by Trish Drinkle

A lady sitting on an old sled in the snow.
Trish Drinkle took the family’s 1985 Ski-Doo Safari for a spin; it was her first ride of the season. photo courtesy Trish Drinkle

The most memorable moment of our time up here on the mountain so far brought great peace to my heart. A mom always wonders if she is doing the right thing. My son, Leo, asked if he could take the dirt bike down to the bus stop one morning. He was ready half an hour before everyone else, so I said, “Sure, why not.”

When the kids and I arrived down in Ymir, I noticed Leo standing in the middle of the road gazing at the morning sky. Immediately, I wondered if something was wrong. He laughed, and said “Shhh mom. Look at the sky.” As I zoned in, I realized the sky was the most amazing purple, blue and pink I had ever seen. I took a deep breath. He was watching me with a cute little smile on his face.

Then he said, “Mom, guess what I saw?” I shrugged my shoulders, watching him with anticipation. “As I was riding down, a lynx ran beside me.” He almost had tears of joy in his eyes.

“How many kids get to see that on the way to school?” he added.

I waved goodbye to my children who were sitting on the picnic table waiting for their bus to pick them up. Each one had their helmet in hand, completely prepared for their journey back up the mountain once school was over. This is normal to them—we are in the groove, and finding our rhythm. 

Rhythm—that is something needed to survive up here for sure. Everyone has to work together in perfect harmony, the same rhythm. 

My husband had bruised his ribs (you’ll read about that later), so firewood was not on his “honey do” list at all. The kids and I worked together to split and pile an entire load of wood in under two hours. Leo and I chopped, then we formed an assembly line into the workshop inside the house. We were preparing for extreme times. This was emergency wood. The I-don’t-want-to-go-out-in-the blizzard-to-get-wood-to-heat-the-house stash.

Rhythm and working together gets things done. Petty delegation has no room here in Awesomeland. Everyone has to do what they can, not keep tabs on what others are not doing. The kids get it. Bickering is subsiding, and co-operation is prevailing.

It is important not to get too far ahead in thought. You will make yourself nuts if you think about the worst-case scenarios. Work with what you have, and do the best you can. If it can’t be done, you don’t need it—that is our philosophy now. 

Off-the-grid thoughts

Things that I thought would be harder:

Laundry. Once we got the hang of turning off the hot water on demand, and balancing the water coming in to the machine, the Honda EU3000 powers the washing machine just fine. During the start of the spin cycle, nothing else can be going, as the initial power consumption to get that cycle going utilizes all of the juice that the EU3000 can give.

Not using a dryer is actually good. We hang all of our clothes to dry on hangers, or on a drying rack in the living room, then use the heat from the wood stove and a regular fan to dry the clothes. It’s faster than you’d think, plus our clothes are in better shape. When it comes time to put the clothes away, there isn’t a tedious mountain of laundry in clothes baskets. The kids simply grab the clothes that are on the hangers and hang them up.  No wrinkles and no shrinkage.

Dishes. Because we are washing as we go, there are no piles of unwashed dishes with caked-on stuff. The dishwasher we used to have actually doesn’t clean the dishes as well as we do by hand. If we get an assembly line going, the dishes are done and put away in about five minutes. There is no fighting about whose turn it is to wash the dishes.  Everyone, even my husband, has to wash his plate after supper. While we eat, I fill the pans that I used to cook the supper with water and a bit of detergent. By the time we’re done, the water in the pan has completely soaked the supper stuff, and they come clean, easy-peasy. 

Cooking. The cast iron Dutch oven given to us by Kev’s family has been a lifesaver. I used to rely upon a slow cooker to do the meals. When the kids get home from school, they’ll throw our meat, potatoes and other veggies into the Dutch oven, and set it on the wood stove to simmer.  By the time they are done their chores and homework, I’ll have arrived home to a wonderful meal. I really enjoy doing beef barley or lentil soup this way. It seems the Dutch oven really brings out the taste of the food. Meat is tender, with a wonderful flavour. We don’t miss the microwave one iota. I was never really a fan of them, but my husband had insisted we have a microwave. Now everything is cooked either on the wood stove, or on the propane stove. The kids make delicious popcorn at night, so microwave—adios! You are not missed.

Warm baths. I thought I had to forgo my nightly ritual of warm baths before bed—something I have done since I was a child—but nope, we can do this. We always have a big canning pot full of water on the wood stove. It’s used for dishes and for washing, and it also adds much needed humidity to the air, since wood heat can be drying at times. We do have a hot water-on-demand system, so what we do is fill the tub up with water, which is warm, not bathwater warm, but warmish. Then, one pot of that wood stove hot water and I’m in a steamy paradise for my bath time. Now it may not be a completely full tub, like I was used to, but somehow these five inches of water are appreciated more than any bath I’ve taken before. Note: it is wayyyy better to have three inches of hot water, than five inches of lukewarm water. 

Things that are harder than I thought:

Balancing time. I was blessed with four amazing children—four children who are all athletic superstars (insert stress here). How do we balance games, practices and getting up the mountain? It takes compromise and balance. Usually, Tatum’s and Leo’s practices are on the same day, so everyone stays in town, and after work I will pick up all the children in town.

Games are a bit trickier. Tatum had a tournament in a neighbouring town so one of the other parents graciously reached out to our family. They knew how hard it was balancing everything, and they insisted upon driving Tatum home. She tried to explain that we live up a mountain, but to them it was no problem. Until the plans changed somewhat, or I should say, drivers changed. I looked at Tatum’s face when she walked through the door and all she said was, “Mom, I tried to tell her we live up a mountain.” Apparently, as Mason’s little grandma was driving Tatum home, it got a little tense as she navigated the switchbacks, drainage ditches and washouts up to our little Awesomeland homestead. Mason’s grandma kept saying, “Tatum, are you sure you live up here? Where are we going? Who could live up here!” Needless to say, the coach asked me if I would pick Tatum up in town from now on. He said to me, “You live up a mountain, like literally up a mountain.” Yup, we do.

The kids have been great. They try hard to make it easier on us as we balance our life up here in Awesomeland by organizing their own schedules. Salmo School has been great too. They will ask the bus driver to drop the kids off in Ymir after out-of-town games, so I can meet them and take them back up the mountain. I am thankful for the days I get to watch the kids play volleyball and basketball. Trying to make it as easy on them as possible can become heart-wrenching sometimes. Am I a good enough mom? Am I doing the right thing? So far, so good. Balancing vehicle usage and the kids' activities is not easy, but we are doing it.

Relationship time. This is one of the hardest. There is so much work to do, there is hardly any time left for fun or romance. Something that we have learned is that there is always work to be done here at Awesomeland. To try to do the whole work-before-play thing doesn’t work out at all. You must take the time to play; take the time to enjoy; and most of all, take the time to love. A wonderful day of cuddling and watching movies, even when there is firewood to be done, gives you the strength inside to keep on keepin’ on. Even one day of chillaxin’ seems to be all we need to bring back the whole “hey, how you doin’ hot stuff” feelings back into our marriage.

Things we have learned:

Firewood. Birch bark is the most amazing fire starter. Pine is a wonderful wood for heat, and larch and fir offer a nice long burn. Birch is a long burner too, but dry birch is few and far between. Most of the time, the dead standing wood is punky, and it just goes poof when you light it. Balancing all your wood makes for a long-lasting fire, and a warm home that stays warm all night. 

The consequences. There are far greater consequences up here when things go wrong. There is a heck of a lot of physical work, so you absolutely cannot skimp on safety—ever. I’d just like to add, I did not run over my husband, or drop the truck on him. It was close, but missed him. Phew! He did, however, end up with bruised ribs from landing on the axe and chainsaw. Every safety tip there is we abide by now. Stuff can go south very, very quickly, and what you don’t want is disaster. A few trips to the doctor have already been a result of our lack of knowing. We are very blessed to have great friends here up the Wildhorse.

Our buddy, Marcus, surprised us one Sunday morning with a whole load of firewood (apparently, he had heard of our Abbot and Costello antics with firewood, and me almost running over my husband). That firewood was like a million dollars to us. We cannot thank the people who have reached out to us enough for their help and guidance on this journey. 

Things that go bump in the night. Once the first snowfall hit, we became acutely aware of all of the big predatory creatures that live amongst us. Cougar, wolf, coyote, lynx and bear are our local residents. There are a heck of a lot of creatures out here but our saviour is Diesel. I will admit that I did not want Diesel, but he came with the place. In reality, he kind of freaked me out. I had visions of a psycho Irish wolfhound eating my kids as we sleep. My husband insisted we keep him, and calmed my overactive mind.

Diesel, from having lived the past few years up here, knows all of the creatures, and he makes sure they stay far, far away. We’ve actually kind of pansy-fied him. What was once this big regal mean crazy dude who instilled fear in every visitor who ventured on this property is now a cuddly fuzzy house dog, who crawls in bed with the kids when I’m not looking. This guy has taught our dogs how to stay home, and I’m certain he’s the reason our chihuahua, (who thinks she’s 10 feet tall) is doing so well up here. We call him Shrek the Ogre.

First snowfall. Talk about a reality check. I had a day off, and I had promised Grandma that I would take her to lunch. It had been quite some time since I had seen this wonderful woman. Between moving, work and having a humungous cold, I hadn’t seen Grandma for about two months! It was the first real snowfall of the year and Kev was off running around, so I planned on taking my old GMC down the mountain. Holy, weeee—not a good idea. The road was like a luge run—I slid into a place I could turn around, and booked it back up the mountain to our yard. There was no way for me to contact Grandma and it was still snowing so the Internet was not working. What happened next made me laugh sooo hard, though.

The kids came to my rescue. Busting out in a cloud of two-stroke smoke came my daughter, Brook, and her 1985 Ski-Doo Safari, complete with mods—including a milk crate, kitchen chair back and LED lights wired by an extension cord. So I hopped on “Chuckie” and met Grandma at the Ymir Store for lunch.

Plan B—there must always be a plan B, and C, because Plan A is usually just a fantasy. Which is an important point to make: in order to survive up here, your ego must let go of Plan A and you gotta’ go with the flow, and roll with it.

Is it worth it? Yup, you bet yer babkas! Is it easy? No way José Jalapeño on a steeek! 

Peace out.

—Momma Bear 

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