Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wonderland Here We Come!

Though we will be renovating from next weekend till what seems to be the end of time, we are not willing to spend the entire summer without at least one long distance hike. The Wonderland trail was picked for a couple of reasons:

1) It is reasonably close: The Wonderland encircles Mount Rainer which is less than a day's drive North of us. With rising gas prices, the proximity allows us to drive up and back without annihilating any kind of budget.

The red trail is the 93 mile Wonderland Trail. It stays well below what would be considered a need to rope up, but is often still covered in snow through much of July when we will be going.

2) It is a short one: Though considered one of the most beautiful long distance trails in America, the Wonderland is only going to take us 9 days to complete. If we want a zero day we can take it, but we probably won't unless the side trails are just too alluring. We can drive up, pick up permits, hike, and head home all in less than 2 weeks. The short time line means both the trip and the renovations this summer can be successful.

Since the entire trail is located with Mt. Rainer National Park, it is highly monitored wilderness area and kept as pristine as possible. Though not forest primordial, it is relatively unchanged since the trail was put in almost 100 years ago.

3)Oh and Ah Factor: The Wonderland Trail crosses up and down over the glacier carved ridgelines and alpine meadows creating incredible views both from high and from the valley. There are 2 suspension bridges, many raging river crossings where you only get a log to walk along, and you are within 500 feet of the lowest glacier in the Continental US (Carbon Creek). From canyons to waterfalls to being in the high Cascades, it is high interest every day while still maintaining an entirely wilderness status. In many places, that is hard to do.

The wildflowers supposedly come out in July and are well known to light up the alpine and sub alpine meadows. If the cold, wet weather keeps up, we are set to miss them and get much more snow.

4) It's a Hike: Though are days are only about 9-10 miles each, the elevation gain and loss is an average 3500 feet. You are literally climbing or falling almost the entire time with a total elevation gain of 22,000 feet. This is the sort of hike which keeps our family interested.

Part of this is also to feel small and at the mercy of the natural world. So much of the time it seems that we tend to forget that it isn't about us, we don't really have much control, and that isn't a bad thing.

5) Homeschooling: If we are going to say that we homeschool our child, we need to do it! Walking around Rainer will hopefully be a great intro to circumnavigating many more mountains (Timberline, Loowit, Three Sisters Loop, etc). The views of rainshadow, the ecosystem changes, the 25 glaciers, all of it shows the very direct effects of today's environment. If we have the freedom to not have to actually be "in school" we better live it up!

With three separate summits, the mountain looks different from every angle. Such is the life of a stratovolcano and part of the fun of circumnavigation.

6)Why Not?!: This is the biggest reason of all. If we can't take 2 weeks of our life to show our son this National Park, that is just pathetic. None of us have seen it, it is critically acclaimed, and we don't need any gear since we have all of it. We can all do it without much training and it won't cost us anything but 20 dollars for the reservation and gas. It seemed like an extreme no-brainer.
Note: Since crampons or micro-spikes should only be used when it is deadly to proceed otherwise, we won't be taking them. The chances of hurting yourself to the point of needing immediate hospital attention are just too high. Even when highly trained, people often panic and stupidly put their feet down instead of properly self arresting or glassading. We will carry ice axes as The Barracuda has been trained how to use one and will rope up if necessary. He will most likely not be using crampons until he is at least 14, ice climbing, and been through years of professional training. I'm just not willing to permanently kill my son's feet.

Confirmation of our reservation came today. Mid July we are heading up North. As of now Jules, myself, The Barracuda, and (oddly) my brother have decided to take it on. I don't know exactly how well my brother will fare (hopefully well), but we have been alpine training for quite a stint and don't plan on stopping anytime soon. The Barracuda wants to begin running with me every other day and has decided to trail run with Jules as well. Once his form really takes hold, we will apply some weight. He's pretty darn good to go!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

All's Well That Ends Well

We received confirmation yesterday. After 6 months of negotiations, one fall through, and a bit of some rocky territory with a lease, we have been approved to purchase a cabin. Neither Jules nor I really know how to feel about this. We have been keeping ourselves optimistically reserved due to all the negotiations and high/low moments of this whole ordeal. The possibilities make us excited though.

I use the term "cabin" lightly. We are basically moving into an old fishing shack. It doesn't have any rooms. It doesn't have any heat. It doesn't have any insulation. It doesn't have any septic system. It doesn't have an address which exists on any map.

That's basically all of it...other than the plywood bathroom through the door on the far right. The kitchen is a sink off to the near right where you see the bar-like box which are supposed to be cabinets only they don't close correctly.

At this point we seem a bit crazy. Why would we leave our current house 2 blocks from the park, one block from the fire station, in a great neighborhood, with still decent property values? Our current house has such luxuries as a bathtub, lighting, and a stove.

Because what it does have is an incredible deck, a private dock, and is bordered on all 4 sides by federally protected land. One mile to our South is a National Scenic area. Flanked on both sides are National Forests. Directly out front is now a lake, but soon to be a wild and scenic river. They are taking down the last dam (which makes our lake) in the Fall of 2011. Salmon will spawn out our backyard.

Think Walden Pond.
(Thoreau was 480 square feet; we are whopping 496.)

It has been increasingly important for Jules and I to live deliberately. Each of our decisions is not only influencing our son, but each decision that we don't make also sends a strong message. With the purchase of this house and our move we hope to show our son that sort-of doing things doesn't work. You need to be all in. It isn't about doing alpine training once a week; it is spending a week backpacking around a mountain. It isn't about eating locally or being part of a farm share; it is about catching dinner from the backyard and walking down the street to the farm to pick it and process it yourself. It isn't about lowering your credit card; it is about being completely debt free (we are 5 years out including our mortgage). It is important not to half-ass your life. Figure out your priorities and then go at them full throttle.

Our Priorities
Knowing Your Space
We wish to live somewhere we know intimately. In the last three years we have gotten to the point I know exactly how much water it takes to run our house and how long it has to rain to get there. I know how the floor is supported, the pipes run, and the electricity flows from spending hours under the house digging out a cellar with a 5 gallon bucket. I know the line where the sun turns to shade at each time of day and throughout the seasons. But I don't know the walls. I don't know roof. I don't know the relationship of power input and output. Most importantly, I don't know the stories of my space. It is all well and good to make memories in your spaces, but we wish to know their memories as well.

This summer we are going to be rebuilding the house from the floorboards up (because you can actually see through the floor to the dirt below in a couple of places). Wall by wall we will be learning from our space. From crawling in the dirt under it, to establishing a gray water filtration system outside, we can honestly say it is our house and not just a dwelling we purchased.

Nurturing the Land
It is all well and good for us to be going as carbon neutral as possible here in our current house, but most any city has limitations on what is legal. We have yet to find any place in a U.S. city which does not outlaw off the grid living. As much as I realize the reasons, I also know we cannot turn off our water in favor of gray water systems without the fear the city will take our son away, or have more than three solar panels, or any solar panels which aren't grid tied for that matter. We actually know people who have been evicted from their personal property due to off the grid living and our city is championed for its sustainable efforts. By the sheer nature of where we will be living, there is very little choice but to be off the grid. Secondly, there isn't anyone to either report us or to report to if someone had an issue.

Getting permits for a place that is surrounded by Endangered Species land and large numbers of federal protections is something which I don't even want to attempt. After about 3 hours of phone calls, I was informed it would take a minimum of 6 months for our composting toilet application to be fully approved. That isn't any infrastructure, just a large fancy plastic box. I can't imagine what it takes to get a building permit! We basically get to work with what we have and we have to do it personally. That means the ability to expand out the established deck to create bedrooms and maximize our house at just over 800 square feet.

It also means we need to be able to run most all of our house by ourselves with full knowledge of repairs. Solar panels to need to run 95% our electric since power can go out for over a month in the winter. A cistern has to be put in for our water because the city water pipes tend freeze solid by October and don't thaw till May. Propane appliances are necessary and as a backup heating source since there are no Natural Gas lines. Lastly, any pollution we create is going to go directly into an endangered species waterway or protected wilderness areas so we need to be darn sure we are as closed a system as possible. My job as homemaker just got kicked up a notch.

Simplicity seems to be all the rage these days. It is quite the buzzword around our city and creates quite the bumper sticker lifestyle. Somewhere along the line, people have forgotten the actual meaning of the word. Though we aren't going as far as the Amish, we truly want our son to realize what a luxury is. Light is a luxury. Heat is a luxury. Plowed roads and paved roads are luxuries. These are not things that people really need, but just make life a whole lot nicer. If you have to think about turning on the light because you might exhaust your battery bank, you think about it differently. If you have to build the fire by 5:30 am in order for the house to warm up enough during the day, you experience warmth differently. If your dad has to cross country ski to meet up with the carpool so he can go to work, you consider transportation differently.

We wish to actually live simply. House only big enough to eat and sleep in. Fun coming from exploring the nature around us. Food you have to personally handle from alive to your plate or you don't eat.


I had a friend from Hawaii who was baffled about how peopled talked about life here on the mainland. She explained that in Hawaii when someone asked, "What do you do?" the answer would be something like surfing, snorkeling, hiking, or the like. What do you do meant how to you choose to spend your time. People only worked to possess enough capital to continue their passions. On the mainland "What do you do?" directly refers to whatever job you hold regardless of whether you like it. Your personal identity was somehow wound up in your employer and life was spent working rather than really living anything. She couldn't understand why anyone would want to focus more on their occupation than on their passion. What is more, very few people in Hawaii turned their passion into work. The point wasn't to turn something you loved into something you had to work on. You were to love it for the sake of the love and to work on whatever you could easily put away after you had made the money. The concept that people would turn something they loved into something which became an obligation further confused her.

We wish to have our passions be the center of our lives, rather than our bills. When Jules and I look at the people we have begun gravitating to in the last few years we find a common thread: these people are all in about what they care about. They eat it, sleep it, and breathe it. Most all of them have had to take some fairly drastic measures to make their passions the center of their lives. When we honestly looked at it, the place we lived was our limiting factor. Rather than continue to be posers who merely talk about changing, we needed to do it. We also want our son to see people who live this way whether they be crag rats, river rats, artist bums, commune hippies, or what have you.

Looking Forward
A little over a year ago we revamped the look of our humble little blog to include the pages across the top and a bit more focus to my ramblings. With this move, the hope is to become even more refined as we discuss living in our natural world, pulling the "house" off the grid, and training for some extreme recreation.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Monkey Boy

So what do we do without television? We teach our child to Prusik himself way up in a tree...

And then we encourage him to swing around like a monkey....

Because a tree, a harness, and knowledge of knots is a terrible thing to waste....

And we don't have a tire swing.

So how did you spend your REI refund this year?