What it’s like living off the grid

The family is learning how to take the good with the bad and to rely on each other for support

by Trish Drinkle

Photo of two people standing by eachother and looking out into the wilderness.
Living off the grid is both rewarding and challenging for the Drinkle/Evans family. photo courtesy Trish Drinkle

A bed of roses—our life is not. Living off the grid has proven to be extremely rewarding, yet challenging.

It was silent in the truck as I waited patiently for my daughter, Brook, to return from her volleyball game one evening. My son, Leo, chose to come to town with me, to keep me company while we waited. He strummed a melodic tune on his acoustic guitar. The children are extremely athletic, so I have tried my hardest to give them the luxury of participating in the athletic teams at their schools in Salmo, B.C.—a house of four jocks, living up the mountain. It’s a trying combination to say the least.

On an average day, the kids get off the bus in Ymir and ride the dirt bike or ATV up to our mountain property. When they have a game, a practice, or work, it takes more creativity. Tonight was an epic failure. It was approaching 7:30 p.m. and there was still no sign of Brook. I had thought the bus was to arrive at 6:30 p.m. What to do? I still had to get back up the mountain and feed the rest of the family. She wasn’t answering her phone and I had no other choice—I had to leave for home. With a heavy heart and tears of frustration in my eyes, I drove up the mountain.

Questions arise

Leo, my 14-year-old, is an analytical scientist, as we call him. We often bug him about being “Steven” from our favourite family movie, Nacho Libre. He is a thinker. He has been asking, “Why? Why are we living way up here? Why are we living off the grid?” He asked those questions again that night as we sat in our driveway and I started crying. I said, “Leo, I love our life up here. I love our family time. It wasn’t the first choice we had. I tried to find us other places to live. They were either out of our budget, wouldn’t allow pets or didn’t want kids.”

One home we could’ve rented was on a beautiful acreage on the river in town. The owner didn’t want any dirt bikes or ATVs on the property though. Pets were a definite no and children seemed iffy. Through the past year, money had been tight. I admitted to Leo we had very limited options, and that I felt like such a failure. I work so hard every day, but trying to squirrel away a down payment for a home felt like a losing battle.

Laying it on the line

Something snapped—something within me snapped right open, and I laid it on the line for Leo. I owed it to my sweet and wonderful son to be honest about everything. I said, “Son, I believe this is a wonderful opportunity but I know, from the bottom of my heart, it is hard (to save our septic system, we have a little garbage can in which we put our used toilet paper after us girls pee—fancy, I am a princess). “I haven’t shaved my legs in—well, I have no idea when the last time was. I think I forgot to put mascara on one of my eyes today and I am pretty sure I’m wearing your sister’s underwear. Yesterday, I think I wore yours. Rats—well, rats freak me out.”

I was in near hysterics, crying and laughing like a madwoman at that point.

I added, “I try so hard to make it seem like Disneyland—our own private Disneyland with dirt biking, fishing, sledding and snowboarding. We even have our own Mickey Mouse—well, actually Mickey Pack Rat.”

At this point, Leo burst out laughing—laughing like I had never heard before, laughing till he was crying. When he stopped laughing, he said, “Mom, we love it here. It is harder, but better. I just wanted to know what the alternatives were. I want to be here. We want to be here. Life is harder in some ways, but it is better. We aren’t really living off the grid like some people. I have friends, who have lived off the grid before and they didn’t have our comforts. They didn’t have power like our Honda Inverter, let alone Internet. They didn’t have indoor plumbing, they didn’t have warmth and they didn’t have comfort like we have. We have a home out in the boonies that is epic. Our life, Mom, is epic! We will work harder to organize and make things flow better. It can’t all be on your shoulders. I think you may be a little nuts right now. Stop keeping it together—we got this.”

Leaning on each other

As we walked into the house, my raccoon eyes gave away my tears. My husband, Kevan, knew something was up. Through the wonders of Facebook, we discovered Brook was on her way to Ymir. Kevan offered to go down the mountain to pick her up and life went on. The kids took the big pot of hot water off the stove, filled the tub full for me, handed me a Sleeman’s Honey Brown and I let it all go.

Somehow, some way, we are doing this. It isn’t always easy but it is so worth it. We are working together as a family and we are a strong, resourceful family. I would choose to live here. If I had a million dollars, I’d choose to live where we are living—I’d just have a little more time to enjoy the awesomeness that awesomeland brings to our life.

Celebrating Thanksgiving

This year, we had the most interesting Thanksgiving I’ve ever experienced. Living off the grid was not going to stop our family from enjoying all the festivities everyone else enjoys. We do have an oven. It’s a propane oven, but I wasn’t sure how much propane it would actually take to cook a turkey, so we improvised. The cast-iron Dutch oven is my new best friend. Plop it on top of the wood stove and you have an awesome meal in a pot. It cooks perfectly, preserving flavour and tenderizing even the toughest of meat. Our turkey—well, it was a net of white and dark meat, with four wings (the kids' favourite) packed in along the sides.

We had our meal like any other family and it was followed by an adventure. With our dirt bike and quad, Brook and I headed off to explore awesomeland.

Because it was the site of the old Ymir mine back in the day, there are many overgrown roads and paths to explore. When I say overgrown, I mean almost impassable. I was on the dirt bike and several times, the overgrown poplars and alders grabbed my brake or clutch handles and catapulted me over my bars. The rock slides proved interesting as well.

When I am nervous I sing—but it is not always rated PG. What goes up, must come down and, holy, was it steep. I thought about my friend, Rick Lane, and his words of wisdom to me: “Back brake, Trish, back brake." So my song went something like this (sung to the tune of “She’ll be comin’ around the mountain”):

“She’ll be comin’ down the %@#%#%#$%@@ mountain when she @#@@%%@# feels like it. Back brake, back brake. She’ll be comin’ down the @#$%@#@%!%@%@% mountain,” and so on.

By the time I caught Brook, she was laughing and I was completely exhausted from the ride. That was the hardest, most epic ride of my life. We encountered obstacles and something we thought was either a grizzly bear cave, or a sasquatch cave—either way, it was a big cave. Please don’t fall over or stall was all I could think as we rode by.

But we made it! While riding, we saw a few grouse, our friendly neighbourhood brook trout, and we heard the sound of elk in the distance. Awesomeland has our heart, fully and completely.

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