Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Q & A: Living Off Grid (Part II)

Q & A:  Living Off Grid (Part II)

Copyright 2012 by Lori-Ann Willey

When contacted by the “outside world”, we are asked many questions about our lifestyle.  I always try to answer those questions to the best of my ability, but sometimes, the questions can be rather difficult to answer without going into our childhood history a bit, so I try to be vague and encourage them to ask their questions, so it is more of a conversation than a lecture.


Many find our lifestyle rather intriguing, while others are rather mind boggled at the thought of it all.  Often times they will grin and shake their head at some of our answers to their questions, as they seemingly “just don’t get it”.  This action always provokes a chuckle from me, because I know there is no way for some to fathom “why” we enjoy living as we do. 


Often we are asked why we choose to live in the woods, especially knowing, or learning that Paul is disabled.  Why would we do such a thing?  Why would we risk such a thing?  One man, upon learning that we were going to spend our first winter into camp quite literally just stood there looking at us in total awe.  It was almost as if he were asking if we knew what we were doing and all but short of calling us crazy…maybe he did say it, but if he did, he didn’t have to, as it was written all over his face and seemingly frozen vocal chords.  When he finally “came to”, he asked how we dared to do such a thing, and obviously felt the need to remind us that Paul is disabled even.  To that, we had to chuckle without becoming impolite in doing so.


There are not many campers around our parts, but the news of us spending that first upcoming winter at camp spread like wildfire, and soon, we were approached by yet another man who had to come and hear it for himself.  Upon confirming that we indeed were spending the winter, he asked many questions to make sure we had thought of everything possible, and we thought we had.  Later, as in weeks later, this man approached us again, or maybe he called us on the cell phone.  I can’t remember which  now, but he told us that he had contacted the nearest EMS (Emergency Medical Service) and told them about our plans, Paul’s health as he knew it, directions on how to get to our location, our phone number, and not sure what other information he gave.  Our hearts got warm and fuzzy to know this man did what he could do to help us out in that “just in case” situation.  He wanted to make sure that we could get help if needed; that was one thing we had not yet considered.  We were thankful this man was concerned enough for our wellbeing that he went ahead and did that on his own.


What is the hardest part about living where we do is probably the most asked question overall, and that is a tough question to answer to be honest with you.  It is all a lot, a lot, a lot of work, and it is not for everyone.  Hell, it is not even for most.  It takes a special kind of determination and a special kind of want for that lifestyle, and to be honest with you, it is not the lifestyle that is most intriguing for me; it is the seclusion of our location that I love more than anything else.  All the hard work that goes along with it makes it all worthwhile.  Like with everything in life, you have to work for what you want.  The question becomes, “How bad do you want it?”


Therefore, to answer that question, I would say the hardest part is getting emergency service into us in a timely manner.  Luckily, we have yet to need emergency rescue, however, several years ago, my father had passed away, and family could not get in contact with us due to poor cell phone service at the time.  We had a signal repeater and Paul was actually working on installing that when the call finally came through from my sister as she delivered the sad news to Paul.  Dad’s health was poor, so I had prepared for the news, and was not surprised.  My sister, after two hours of trying to contact us, finally contacted the police station in the closest town, told them of the situation and of our locality the best she could.  They were going to send someone out via snowmobile to our location and deliver the news themselves.  Luckily, my sister was able to get through to us, and then quickly called up the local police station to cancel the call.  I remember being thankful that my sister was able to get a hold of us, because I could not imagine a stranger having to deliver such news.  It was hard enough for my sister to do it, let alone a stranger.


Many wonder why we chose to live in the woods. My typical response is, “Because we love it, and I personally can’t be secluded enough”.  I grew up camping deep in the woods and those memories were very fond to me.  Sometimes, I simply reply by saying, “Because we can.”


Despite the Internet and corresponding to the outside world via modern technology, people view us in a broad spectrum.  Some really think we cleared the land, shaved the trees, and built a log cabin out of logs, pegs whittled from hardwood, and collected mud and moss to fill in the cracks between the logs.  Some view us as a Grizzly Adams type people, others living as they do on the show Little House on the Prairie.  All of those assume that we are hunters and gatherers and totally live off the land without taking two seconds to stop and think that we have vehicles, boats, the Internet, solar panels, etc.  We do hunt, fish, and I do gather berries, etc. in the wild, but we greatly rely upon modern conveniences.  I mean really, we are not cave dwellers, but it goes to show just how so many people just do not “get” how we live. 


Then, there are others who think we live in a lake house with electricity, running water, a shower, a bathtub, a washer/dryer, mail delivery, etc.  When I tell them we do not have such things, dead silence happens as they try to grasp the concept of us “not having” such everyday things, and then you can see the word “work” all over their faces.  It is actually somewhat comical.


Those who have more understanding of our lifestyle still get mind boggled over the fact that our main mode of transportation during the winter months are by snowmobile only.  They think it is rather neat, and talk about how nice it must be to jump on a snowmobile and take long trips up around the mountain, or anywhere we want to go, and normally, they would be right, but in our case, they are wrong.  Because snowmobiles are our only mode of transportation, it rather takes the fun out of going on long trips with them.  The novelty wears out rather quickly, and there are many that cannot grasp that concept, or fathom the reality of us depending upon snowmobile transportation 10 of 17 months once.


It is fun to be asked questions like, “What is the longest span between seeing another human being?”, but it is more fun to see their expression when I tell them, “Not long enough”.  There are few camps around us, and most of those owners do not venture to them during the snowy months.  Some camp owners have owned their camps for 30 years and had never seen snow upon them before.  For many, it is almost taboo to go to camp when there is snow upon the ground.  Most camps are used during the summer time so they are not insulated, and if they have a wood stove, it is to burn scraps of wood to get out a summer chill when they so seldom do get to camp.  In asking that question to my husband, we both shrug our shoulders, and honestly do not have a clue how long the longest span has been without seeing another human being.  The span is measured in weeks and weeks, and only if we go to town, but we do hear snowmobiles off in the distance, and we do see a few snowmobilers from time to time zip across the lake while out ice fishing.  Nevertheless, usually, we see people mostly if they get lost.  They simply say they followed our tracks, found us, and hoped we could direct them.  We are always happy to direct people away from camp.  Take that as you may. 

Previous blogs of interest

Find us on FACEBOOK.



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Q & A - Living Off Grid (Part I)

Q & A -  Living Off Grid (Part I)
Copyright 2012 by Lori-Ann  Willey

We get alot of questions about our lifestyle, so a few weeks ago, I decided to publically ask our "Followers" on our Willey's Dam Camp Facebook Page to "ask away", and I would answer their questions in a series of blog entries.  If I did not cover your question, please read the list of previous blog entries at the bottom.  If you have more questions, feel free to ask, and I will answer them in another blog entry under that topic or below your question here or at the Facebook link above.  Thank you.
In April of 2004, we purchased our camp in which we quickly named, Willey’s Dam Camp due to its location between an old now submerged dam and a hydro dam below us.  We are a privately owned camp on leased land in unorganized territory in the northern Maine wilderness.  That means, our camp is located by coordinates and land plot references only, and that we do not actually own the land, but lease the rights to use three lots, while owning all structures upon those plots of land.

Our land plot name is T1R8, which stands for Township 1, Range 8.  Our camp sits on a clear, beautiful, and cold Millinocket Lake, and our view is of picturesque Mount Katahdin, Maine’s tallest peak.  The beginnings of it rest in the depths of the lake, and the summit is approximately 13 miles from our camp (as the crow flies).  There are other camps, but the lake averages about one camp for each mile of shoreline.  

Because our camp is “off the grid”, we have no power lines, LAN lines, or mail delivery services of any type, so we greatly rely on natural resources for our “electrical” needs.  I will get into our alternative power sources in another blog.

We chose to purchase this camp due to its seclusion.  Initially, we had no intentions of going to camp during the winter months simply because we did not own snowmobiles to get in that far.  Paul and I both grew up hunting and fishing, so we knew we wanted to be as secluded as possible, in the woods, yet able to fish.  This camp would provide both lake and stream fishing, and lots of wilderness.  We still are not as secluded as we would like to be, but with our aging bodies, Paul is disabled, and I am nothing short of a klutz, so we figure we are in far enough when all factors figured into the equation.  However, in our minds and hearts we would love nothing better than be deeply embedded in “no man’s land”. 

Because there are no mail services, we have a Post Office Box in the nearest Town of Millinocket.  We go there for our gas, groceries, supplies, etc.  Due to our location, needed supplies can be hard to come by.  Often, when we venture to town, we try to get everything we can in one trip, but that means visiting several different stores, and often not being able to find a needed item, so it is easier for Paul to order it online and have it shipped to our friends in town, or to our daughters house two hours south.  We usually chose to send shipments to our daughters, but sometimes necessities cannot wait and that is when we rely on our friends in Millinocket and Medway.  These friends are very good to us, and we are always thankful. 

We do get covered by emergency services, if they can find our location, but it often takes a minimum of two hours for them to reach us, and  sometimes several calls along the way for further instructions or clarification that they are on the right “path”, they finally arrive at camp.  Sometimes, however, we simply get a callback over 21 hours later.  Therefore, any real emergency and we are pretty much “shit out of luck”.  I have been hurt a few times where I needed medical assistance, but I am too stubborn and prideful to call that 911 number due to an injury that is not life threatening.  I do not consider a broken leg or ribs a 911 call despite being the only driver.  Stubborn, maybe, but I feel that if I do not call 911, then I also do not need to seek medical assistance for those breaks on my own either.  I am pridefully stubborn, I know.  I have been told that all my life.  At some point, one would think I would learn a lesson or two along the way, but I do not.  Some of my injuries were covered in previous blogs.

Due to our off grid location, we were “forced” to live a somewhat “green” lifestyle.   As mentioned above, we do not have electrical lines coming into camp from the nearest town, thus we have to provide ourselves with our own means of electricity.  We do have 10 large solar panels dispersed in groups of twos or fours to gather as much solar power as we can throughout the four seasons.  We also have a generator, and a windmill, but I will get more into that stuff in another blog later.  I will need hubby’s help in explaining it so it makes sense.  I know the basics, but not the intricates by far.

The roads to camp from the nearest town are owned by logging companies from which we lease our land.  Our leaseholder is Katahdin Paper so they not only manage our lease; they maintain the roads, somewhat, so the logging trucks can travel more efficiently and safely for the logging crew.  This is a huge area of woods up in these parts, so they only work on the roads that they use at the time.  When I say, “maintain”, I simply mean they may grade the road with a machine 1-2 times a year in the area they are working in.  Otherwise, they go unattended and the driving is often slow and tedious.  I cannot blame them any.  We live in the woods; what more can we ask for other than access into our camps?  We are off grid so I for one do not expect the landowners to spend large amounts of money on road maintenance.  We are the ones that purchased a camp way in here.  If I wanted a well l maintained road into it, I would have purchased a camp elsewhere.

With that being said, our camp is “only” about eight miles in from “pavement”.  To me, that is a short distance.  Our winter travel is rather unique.  Because the logging company works in different areas, the roads into camp are not plowed during the winter months.  This means that our only mode of transportation during those long winter months is via snowmobile.  Because our winter travel is reduced to snowmobiles, we cannot drive our truck in and out from camp, thus we have to park it eight miles away and then snowmobile in from that location making for a 16 mile round trip via snowmobile just to get from camp to our truck.  From there, we have to clean snow off the truck and shovel away the snow so we can drive to town from there.  The process is not bad, but we make sure our trips to town are worth it so they are not frequent.  I would be very happy if I went to town once a month, but it does not work out that way.  We also have a Polaris Ranger with tracks.  I will talk more about winter and winter travel in another blog. 

We are often asked if we have a house elsewhere, and we do.  It is two hours south of camp, and in the Town of Palmyra.  For the most part, our families live in that area, and we have businesses there as well, but I personally feel as if camp is my “home”.  It is where I truly love to be and I literally do not like leaving it even for a day.  They say, “Home is where the heart is.” And I believe that.  Camp is my home.

Later in this blog series, I will talk about living “green”, the advantages and disadvantages of living off grid in the Maine wilderness, and last and certainly not least, what it is like living here during the long, cold winter months. 

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask here or on our Willey’s Dam Camp Facebook page.   Below are some previously written blogs that may help you understand the above a little better.  Some are a bit compare-contrast type blogs with my odd humor thrown around a bit.