Sample lesson

ACT one, scene one:  two friends but distant neighbours meet at the community centre one day.  I am one of them. The other approaches me, “Jeez, I remember reading in your book about how much lifting and carrying was required out here.  At the time, I just read over that quickly.  Now that we have come out here, too, I know how hard it is.  Oh my God!  Next time write more about that!”

“Yeah.  I know what you mean.  Schlepping is a huge part of it.  But Sally edited out my whinging and complaining because she thought it off-putting for the reader.  I would have dedicated a chapter to Tylenol threes alone.  Couple of paragraphs on the merits of opiates.  Could have done a trilogy on sleep.  It is hard to pass on that kind of painful experience in a meaningful and entertaining way.  I eventually just came to describe it as: ‘like dragging a dead hippo up a flight of stairs’.”

“What I don’t understand, though, is how you learned how to actually do stuff?”

“Well, how are you learning about stuff now that you are out here?”

“ I ask the locals.”

“You don’t ask me very often.  And I am now a local.”

“Yeah, but one of the first things I learned from you was that you don’t know anything.”

“Good point!  You are learning quickly, grasshopper.”

Act one, scene two:  Attempting to learn stuff.

I walked into the local gas-products shop years ago.  “Hi!  I am building off the grid and want to buy all the stuff I need to install propane gas to my stove, my fridge, a small freezer and a demand hot water heater.  If I draw that system out on paper, can you tell me what I need?  I wouldn’t mind buying a small do-it-yourself gas-fitter’s manual either, if you have one?”

“Unh, I can sell you some bits and pieces but it is against the law for anyone but a provincially licensed gas-fitter to install a system like you are describing.  You are going to have to hire someone.”

“Well, I could do that if I could find someone who wants to travel into the wilderness for however long it will take and scramble up and down mossy slopes in the rain while doing it.”

“That’s gonna be expensive.”

“The fitter’s rates are not the half of it.  I will have to transport them and feed them and likely give them a place to stay overnight.   That will be in a tent unless they want to sleep in the boat shed with my wife and me.  She snores.  Then there are the bears.”


“Yeah.  Place is crawling with them.  But not to worry.  I have an extra gun for him or her to carry.  Just a precaution.  It would help if they are gun savvy, tho.  And not afraid to kill ’em if they have to.”

“Let me get Sam.  He’s a gas-fitter.  Sam’s almost retired so it won’t be him.  But he may know someone.”

Sam and I spoke.  He laughed out loud when I repeated the bear and gun story.

“Ha!  That won’t be me even though I don’t believe the bear story for a second.  But I know the mossy slope thing is true.  I’ve been out there.  And no, no one is going to go and do it for you.  You will have to do it yourself and break the law but, just so you know, the law was written so some doofus doesn’t blow his neighbourhood up.  You don’t have a neighbourhood to blow up.  So I’ll sell you the parts.  I’ll even tell you how to do it.  Do what I say and then test it.  And, if you blow yourself to smithereens, don’t come whining to me.”

“Smithereens don’t whine.”

“Good.  We understand each other.”

And so it was I got a half hour lesson on flaring tools and regulators and liquid soap testing and all that.  That was twelve years ago and so far, no smithereens have resulted.  If I was to add anything to Sam’s instructions, it would be to put all your gas lines under the house in a well ventilated place where any leaks will blow away and none can collect.  NO enclosed spaces.  Where the lines enter the house, a gas detector is a good idea, too.

Nothin’ like learnin’ on the fly, eh?

12 thoughts on “Sample lesson

  1. Made me laugh! But I know it’s true. I would not have survived without pills for the old knees, but have to say they are stronger today for it. And who would have thought I’d need to know how to turn on the gas and drain the water line. It’s just different work from sitting at a desk and way more fun.


  2. Many out of bounds snowboarders are rescued each year on the North Shore. After Blithely ignoring signs not to leave the trails. When rescued they often claim, “We did not know.” How can they not know? The WCB calls it a ‘risk assessment.’ When Evel Knievel jumped the Grand Cayon, he did not just roll his bike off the trailer and let it rip. He thought about the risk. A friend got off the train in New York City without a thought about the nature of the community he was about to visit. He got mugged! During the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush, prospectors needed to pack a ton of supplies over the Chilkoot trail or the NWMP turned them away. Many prospectors arrived at the trail with no supplies. Going unprepared to the Yukon beggars belief. How can any one not realize the effort required to live off the grid?


    • Well……..there’s ‘effort’ and there’s common sense. AND libraries. Learn as you read and as you go…why not? We have been raised in an environment that does not encourage free will, self determination and personal accountability. Result: life-in-a-box managed by others. I have no hesitation in exploiting the advantages of the box but I am not willing to sacrifice my freedom when doing so. Freedom first. Give me freedom or give me the bill but do not tread on me!
      Yes… can quote that…..


  3. Necessity and the mother of invention and all that.
    Yep. nothing like learning as you go. I hate it when a tradesman/neighbor lords it all over you and says, ” Your not gonna do it THAT way are ya?”
    Before there were building codes there were pyramids and then castles which, oddly enough , are still standing.
    Tradesmen can build faster but better?
    I’d argue that point.
    Did the same thing 10 years ago. Changed my gas furnace( from 1962) and water heater for more efficient ones. Took my time. Replaced a bunch of gate valves with ball valves, installed a temp and pressure sensor, compression fittings on the water heater for easy re and re at a future time..
    The inspector asked what company I used to do the work and I bs’ed and told him the name of a plumber friend who I asked if I could use his name and the inspector said , “Yeah, they always do quality work….”


  4. Hi Dave
    First timer here. I just finished your book and I had to say “Amen” to that last chapter.
    I love reading others off grid stories esp. when they look harder than mine 🙂
    My hubby and I escaped the rat race and retired early to the little homestead we always dreamed of. But whoduthunk it was going to be in Patagonia in southern Chile? I really needed the laughs as we are 12 months into this and still living in our little one room cabin. Hey, but life is good and things always take longer than expected. Thanks! Lori


    • Hi, Lori. Thanks back at ya. Pleased that you enjoyed it and, most importantly, laughed. That was the main reason for writing it.
      Wow! Patagonia!! Dude-ette! That’s OTG heavy. You guys get penguins, fer Gawd’s sake! I do not think our adventure could possibly be harder.
      Please stay in touch. Your story will be fun to follow. And, good luck times 1000.
      We are writing another because some critics felt that the book lacked serious, helpful information. We don’t have much of that – still learning – but we’re giving it a shot. But one main lesson is that it does NOT have to be an endurance test. We are NOT hardy, tough or skilled. We are NOT Alaska sourdough-types. We use power tools and watch Netflix now and then. Going OTG is not as hard as it used to be.
      And now you surface in Patagonia! I may have to do a re-think.
      Glad you wrote.


      • Yeah, the penguins live on the coast here. Cute little buggers! And though we could easily disappear into the wilds here and never be seen again, we are not that remote. For Chile anyway! We are 15 minutes from our little town and about 30 from a small city. I think we would have chosen to be more remote but we have kids at home still and you know how kids are. They aren’t jaded yet about modern society. You can imagine the reasons we left the good ol’US. But we like to focus on the positive and we wanted to spend the last part of our lives doing something really cool and fun and different. Our big adventure and we love it! And we do enjoy the modern conveniences also and life is pretty comfortable here and staggeringly beautiful with gorgeous lakes and snow capped volcanoes. Our region is the southern version of yours with similar climate and topography. The hardest part is just getting this house/barn built. They do things differently here and stuff is not always available or we just don’t know where to get it or we don’t know what it is called in spanish. That has been challenging!
        But make no apologies for your book. It was not meant to be a how-to book. There are plenty of those but not many that fall into the off-grid humor category and you really need a sense of humor to get through an offgrid construction project!


        • Thanks, Lori. Support much appreciated. Please stay in touch – we were thinking that our next trip would be to Patagonia (the pampas, Argentina, Mendoza). That area has some kind of appeal. But the flight is a deterrent. Hate flying now. Still – just knowing you are within the gazillion square mile area is encouraging.


          • The Chilean side of Patagonia is mucho mejor!
            Think lush rainforest, pristine fjords, awe inspiring glaciers, towering snow capped mountains, sparkling blue lakes and you have a friend who lives here! But, hey, if you want to go visit the dusty dry pampas of Argentina I won’t stop ya!


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