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Character Building

by Going Slowly

It's January in Vermont, and we're smack dab in the middle of a major learning curve. Once again, we're settling into a more rustic lifestyle, and once again, the transition is more intense than we anticipated. Emotions run high, silly little things are more irksome than usual (Gahhh! Why must the table cloth bunch up!?), and life is both exciting and exhausting.

As we get our bearings, living in a 16' off-grid camper, these are the things that are currently challenging us:

Lack of ideal storage systems

This is exasperating, mostly because we both like things neat and tidy, and our camper gets messy so easily. We adjusted to the same challenge on our last big adventure, and eventually came up with systems and homes for each and every thing we owned. We're not quite there yet with this project—we don't have the right shelves and storage solutions to keep everything in its place, but we're working on it every day.

Camper Mess

Being constantly dirty

The other day Tyler absentmindedly tried to turn on the faucet. An exasperated sigh came out when he remembered that we're not using the camper's built-in plumbing yet. After he grumbled about never being able to keep his hands clean, we had a good laugh, remembering that he had this same pet peeve at the beginning of our bicycle tour. Our standards of cleanliness simply have to be lower here.

Spending so much money

Our spending will settle down eventually, once we've purchased everything we need to live on a day to day basis. Until then, hoo boy, it feels like our wallets are on fire.

Living without a western bathroom

We've been following the advice in The Humanure Handbook, going to the bathroom in a bucket, and using sawdust for cover (eventually, we'll be using this for compost). It isn't really a big deal, and it doesn't smell a bit, but it did seem weird the first day! It reminded Tyler of his humbling first-crap-in-the-woods experience.


Heating water on the stove and swishing it around in our dishes with biodegradable dish-soap is really annoying. Our grey water gets poured down the sink, which empties into a bucket that we empty in the woods when we're through (eventually, this will go on our garden). We don't have a working well yet, so all of our water is coming from gallon jugs. Basically everything about washing dishes right now sucks.

Navigating our heating and power situation

Our primary source of power is currently a Honda EU2000i generator and a marine battery (for use when the generator isn't running). Our camper is heated by a propane furnace which requires electricity to run a blower fan. So far, we fail to manage these two things correctly at least once a day. The situation is usually easy to remedy, but living in a tiny insulation-free camper that may or may not have heat and power in the middle of winter is a pretty dramatic shift from living in a modern house.

Tyler Changing the Oil in Our Generator

Being cold (Tara)

It's not like I'm freezing to death or anything, but I have been, on average, much colder than I find comfortable. I've been bundling up, wearing about four layers of wool and fleece to bed, complete with hat and neck gaiter, and still I sometimes have what I call "butt-sicles" or "thighsicles" or "toesicles." These frozen bodyparts take hours to thaw, and often can't even be remedied by Tyler's warm, nuclear-reactor of a body. I can't wait to go sweater shopping for my birthday!

Eventually, our comfort zones will stretch enough to encompass the above challenges. In the meantime, we're finding comfort in the fact that we've encountered all of these feelings before. Once upon a time we uprooted our entire lives, and learned that we were capable much more than we ever could have imagined.

Every day I am feeling happier and happier about our trip. During our first month, the sheer amount of new new things to deal with was sometimes overwhelming. At times just the biking alone felt like it was more than I could handle. I remember thinking while we were planning that we would have tons of free time on our trip, and yet every day seemed completely full. Without fail I would collapse in a tired heap and fall instantly asleep at the end of each day. I was pretty worried that our supposedly adventurous and enjoyable new life would wind up being hectic and exhausting instead.

Tara, on May 5th, 2009