Friday, December 14, 2012

What If You Have Two Dreams?

Warning.  This is a long one, and profound.  I usually try not to get that serious on this blog, but this is a good one.  If you've come here while you have a few minutes to kill at work, you might want to come back later.  But if you have the time, this one might strike a nerve.

I've had the dream of cruising in a boat ever since I learned that small boats can cross oceans.  I was in my early 20s and had just started boating.  I first learned about it from reading magazines at my yacht club, and then from books borrowed from the local library.  I was awed by tales of brave men and women single handing their small vessels against the power of the sea, and intrigued by their descriptions of tropical islands with waving palms and white sandy beaches.  You can actually do that in a little boat?  And live to tell about it?  I started dreaming, and hoping that I too would one day be able to cast off dock lines and wander where the wind took me, without a care in the world.

I've never been too interested in crossing oceans, but I always thought I'd cruise in a sailboat one day, probably to the Caribbean.  As it turns out, our boat is a 46' trawler, and our islands turned into the ICW.  But the dream is the same, and I don't think I've missed out on anything.

We cruised, in a weird way.   We wintered in Connecticut, cruised south, stayed on the Chesapeake until  after New Year's, and summered in Georgia.  Yes, I know the way it's supposed to be done, but I've always marched to the beat of a different drummer.  Ask anyone who's known me for any length of time.  There's something wrong with me.

But listen, I've had a second dream, for many, many years.  It all began during the energy "crisis" during the 1970s.  Energy prices were soaring.  There were shortages, especially of gasoline.  There were odd-even days to refuel your automobile depending on your license plate number, and gas lines.  Remember gas lines?   And you could only buy up to ten gallons, no more.  Gasoline was suddenly a precious commodity.  Prices soared to $1 a gallon, but we felt lucky to get it at any price.

I was in my late twenties, with a family and a raised ranch house in Saratoga Springs New York.  It's only heat source was electricity, which was very expensive.  What if those prices became unaffordable?  Or what if electricity was rationed like gasoline?  What would I do?

Being a sort of impulsive person, I dove into research of alternative energy, and long story short, bought a Vermont Castings Vigilant Wood stove and installed it, along with a Metalbestos chimney.  I loved that stove.  It provided wonderful heat, and the fuel could be found by walking in the woods behind my house.  Later, we had a 20 acre woodlot where we could harvest our winter's fuel.  Utility companies could kiss my ass, and it felt good.

We started a weekly "Energy Conservation Night" at our house.  We turned off the lights, the TV, and the stereo.   No computers, no games.  For light, we used candles, kerosene lamps, and the fire from the wood stove.  My daughter, Becky, who was maybe six or seven, was very dismayed.  No TV?  Well, her mom and I got out a board game, I don't remember which one.  We played it, sitting on the floor in front of the warmth of the fire, illuminated by the soft glow of candles and oil lamps.  We talked, we laughed.  We had fun.  We loved it.  She loved it.  We all looked forward to it.  Before long, her friends asked if they could come to our house for energy conservation night.  It was a hit.  Half the neighborhood kids were at our house, interacting like kids did a century before.  It was a hoot.

A few years later, I returned to college as an adult student.  I took an earth science course, with the professor focusing on environmental issues.  Half our grade was a final paper.  I chose to name mine "A Self Sufficient Homestead", using what I learned about alternative energy as a basis.

It was an involved project.  I won't go into detail here, but it involved Clivis Multrum composting toilets, solar hot water heating, passive solar heat, and energy efficiency.  I even wrote a computer program that calculated the solar gain of things like southern orientation (including latitude), the R value of insulation, moving and sizing windows, etc.  The paper got me an A+.  It also planted another seed.  Another dream.

I always thought it would be wonderful to actually be able to implement some of those ideas in an actual house.  Live like people used to, harvesting the land, living free from ties to big oil and international corporations.  Now, I have my chance.

My wife, Pamela, and I bought ten acres of land in Bleecker, New York, in the Adirondack Park.  If nothing else, I think land is a good investment.  They're not making it anymore.

The Adirondack Park is the largest protected park in the United States, roughly the size of Vermont.  It is a combination of state owned and privately owned (and regulated) land.   It was officially protected in 1894 by New York's Constitution and declared forever wild.

Our little ten acres, out of the park's six million, is all woods, with a road built from a ramshackle trailer that was hauled in there by the previous owner out to the road, which was blocked off by the county highway's guard rail.  It was logged a couple of years ago, and the really valuable timber was gone.

Pam and I, and the dogs, drove from Georgia to New York for my daughter's wedding in Vermont last week.  While up there, we went to the Sheriff's 911 coordinator to get a mailing (and 911) address, and then to the county highway department to arrange to get the guard rail cut so we could access the road.  We called a logger, met with him, and arranged to have half of the ten acres cleared.

On the two day ride back to Georgia, we talked about going back north in the spring and what lies before us.  We'll be busy contracting with a bulldozer guy to come in and level and smooth everything off, which will also get rid of logging debris.  We need to get a well drilled, which we'll contract out, and then build a small guest cottage, complete with outhouse until we install a septic system.   We want to be off the grid, so power will be by solar panels and a wind generator, using what I've learned over the years in boating.  The power to pump water from the well will be by wind to cisterns.

I know, you're thinking "Whoa, slow down there!  What about fixing up Drift Away?  What about finishing that?  You're so close!  You're only a few days away from the Bahamas!  Have you lost your mind?"

No.  Well, OK, maybe.  OK OK, yes we have.  Cruising has been my dream for 40 years, but it has only been Pam's for a handful.  Don't get me wrong, Pam loves the boat and our lifestyle, but she's also been a horse person her whole life.  On our trip north last week, we stopped at some kind of horse rodeo thing.  Pam's friend Kim (you'll be hearing a lot more about her) was in some kind of horse event where you ride into a herd of cows and cut specific ones out and send them off.  Yep, you get it.  I have no idea what they were doing, but Pam did.

So why not combine my dream of living in a small, self sufficient homestead in the woods with Pam's love of woods and horses?  And her love of family back in the frozen tundra of upstate New York?

Call it mountain insanity if you will.  When Pam and I went to New York last summer, we instantly fell back in love with the Adirondacks and the forests.  When an opportunity came along to buy a piece of it, and just like with Drift Away, we snatched the gold ring.  Just like with Drift Away's dreams of cruising off without a care in the world (HA! Yeah right!), we have dreams of a small cabin in the woods, with a large garden, a few chickens, and a couple of horses to boot.

What of the boat?  We have a few months to consider that.  Do we keep her, or sell her?  We've invested a tidy sum making her a boat again, and we're at the point where everything works.  It's only cosmetics now.  Wouldn't we be nuts to sell?  Probably.

Next spring, we'll be busy cleaning up the mess that the loggers left behind, using the money we get from logging to buy a chipper and wood splitter.  If we're lucky, we'll get the small guest cottage done by winter.  We could then go back to Georgia after the holidays... or we could stay in Bleecker working on the property.

Should we sell the boat, and focus on Bleecker?  That's the heavy question weighing on us now.   Selling Drift Away and swallowing the anchor seemed unthinkable a few months ago, yet here we are, at yet another fork in the road of life.


  1. Is it something with age Dave? I'm so fed up with the constant adding of things in life. Gotta have a new couch/chair/table/light/dishes/etc. New clothes/shoes/hair/sunglasses/purse. I'm tired of paying big electric/gas/water bills. My wife can't understand why I'd ever want to live on a boat. It's so small. It rocks back and forth. What if it storms? What in the world would we do every day? I can see my solar panels and wind generator pumping electricity into the batteries. My watermaker making me more than enough. Go to bed when it gets dark, get up when it gets light. Read, work on the boat, learn a language, work on the boat, snorkel/swim, meet people, work on the boat, explore places, volunteer for a week or four at a school, work on the boat. Live in shorts and flipflops. You get the idea. I also love the mountains Dave. Was born way up in the Rockies 53 years ago and still am in bliss when we visit. I actually lived in the Catskills for a year in the 90's. I do however, like the thought of the sunshine vs snow!
    So fulfill you and Pam's dreams and follow your heart!!!

  2. Our thought ... keep the boat, build your new dream, do both until you decide that you don't want one or the other any more. That's why we're commuter cruisers, we live in a small lake house in the Midwest during the summer to race one design, see family & friends and water ski. In the winter we cruise aboard Winterlude, leaving her wherever we end up.

    If you sell Drift Away now before you have experience actually living year round in the new cabin (LOVE the concept, btw), and then decide you wish you still had a boat, it'll be more difficult to buy a new boat. But if you absorb the expenses for a year or two and then decide you're not really using the boat anyway and sell, you won't regret selling.

    Or, who knows, you might decide that, like us, commuter cruising is really what you want -- we call it the best of both worlds.

    Cheers! Jan & David

  3. One more thought -- it only gets really difficult when you have THREE dreams as we're now discovering ... we'd love to spend a couple of months travelling the world with cruising friends (land travel, not boat), a couple of months cruising on Winterlude and a few months at the lake house. YIKES! I need to win the lottery! J

  4. 1. Be REAL careful about EACH and every tree you have cut. From the standpoint of aethestics AND erosion AND oxygen.
    2. Be REAL careful about EACH and every tree you cut.
    3. My (as usual, opinionated) view: Only own one place. You can alway rent a second "place" (including RV's, boats, big city apartments, etc.). I speak from two years of intensive lake house refurbishment. One is enough. And well worth it to live in Paradise! I anxiously await the new blog. Sincere best of luck getting back to the country!

  5. Well Dave and Pam,

    Your definitely lucky to be able to have those 'dreams' and to make them a reality in todays economy.
    Please don't take this wrong guys, but you haven't really 'lived off the water yet'. Sure you travelled down the coast but you didn't really get the full experience. You've spents months in a single place. There are so many ways you can become self sufficient off the boat, solar panels. You don't need to be plugged into a dock. You haven't really explored and experienced the full dream. Maybe you should sell Drift Away and buy that sailboat and explore the islands. We agree with Jan and David, build your cabin, but don't sell your boat yet. Use it as a 'winter getaway'. Get that dinghy running and untie those lines! You can have the best of both worlds! The mountains of New York are beautiful and we're sure your 'cabin' will be wonderful. We too have recently become CLODS,, cruisers living on dirt. But we're also looking forward to returning to the Summer Wind in the spring. We wish you the best of luck in your decision. There are places you can dock Drift Away cheaper than Brunswick, seeing that you won't be living aboard her in the spring. Check it out... We'll definitely follow your progress on land.
    Sincerely wishing you both the best!

  6. One of the best friends I ever had, an extremely talented kidney/liver transplant surgeon once told me as I faced an important life decision and consulted with him for his wisdom, that I should always follow the dream that I had in my heart. I did. A few years later, when he had the opportunity to start his own transplant unit in a major hospital, he came to me and asked if he was making the right decision. I remember his smile as I repeated his words from a few years earlier. He started the transplant unit and told me later that it was the right decision for him. A few years after that he had the opportunity to return to a third world country where his father was a tribal leader but who needed medical care he would not receive without his son's help. Again, the transplant surgeon called because his returning to his homeland would have its dangers due to tribal conflicts and now he had a wife and children here in the states. I told him to do what his heart dictated but to be very careful because there were people who loved him here and others who needed his talents to become healthy again. He did. He returned to the third world country, treated his Dad and as he was driving to the airport to return to the states, he was ambushed by a rival tribe and killed. I have always believed he followed the message found in his heart. End of story.

  7. Dave, I've followed your adventure from waaaay back(years ago really). Driftaway was a brilliant solution to fill several needs at one time.

    Now it may be too much baggage for your new travels. There's lighter means to keep your salt water adventure alive and going.

    Good luck, I'll be following the new blog in the future, hopefully, both blogs.