Tuesday, August 21, 2012

first two weeks at the holler (this was originally entitled "week 1 at the holler", but um, yea, that was a week ago)

Where to begin!

We arrived safely late afternoon on Tuesday, August 7th, after a few mishaps with the moving truck. But let me back up first.

On Wednesday, July 25th, Jaybird broke his hand "doing something stupid", as he put it. Doc says it should heal up fine in about five weeks, but we knew such a handicap would make the move a bit more complex. Two days later (and four days before our scheduled move date), our mover informed us that he had wrecked his truck and broken his leg and would be unable to service our move. I frantically reposted our listing on uship.com, but in the end, we decided to just rent a truck and haul all our stuff out ourselves. So we got a 26' Penske truck towing a car hauler for the Taco, which Jay would drive, and I would drive my Pathfinder towing Komfy.

We picked up Penske mid morning on Wednesday, August 1st, and with help from family and friends, loaded it up over the course of two days. A few things got broken, but nothing that can't be fixed. We wanted to leave that Friday, but there were still lots of details to finish up, such as packing up Komfy with everything we needed for the long drive and taking care of miscellaneous last-minute errands.

Around 6:30am on Saturday morning, we waved goodbye to Boulder Creek and were off!

Getting out of California seemed to take forever, especially going up over Tehachapi. Penske's hazard lights were used prolifically due to our fully loaded weight coupled with the steep mountain passes. Arizona's mountains also proved quite challenging to our convoy, but we made it to Kingman after 13 hours of driving the first day. We both slept terribly the first night because we had to resort to setting up camp in a very noisy parking lot with idling diesel semi engines and street sweepers whizzing by all night long. It was also approximately one thousand degrees inside Komfy because we discovered that our little Honda generator is insufficient for running the A/C unit on Komfy's roof, but we just made sure that the animals had lots of fresh water and were at least able to run the fan inside. Clyde Dog also managed to break the pull out bed opposite ours inside Komfy, so he was banished to the floor for the rest of the trip. Nekkie took the whole thing like a champ and snuggled on our bed every night, purring with contentment.

We discovered that our beasts are excellent travelers. Clyde Dog pretty much slept the whole time in the car and was happy to pee and poop on command each time we stopped to eat, fuel up, stretch, or take care of business. I kept Nekkie in his carrier for most of the first day but then finally opened it up and let him roam the car, where he found a good place right next to Clyde Dog behind my seat, and that was his spot for the rest of the trip whenever he was out of the carrier. Anytime we stopped, he would dutifully return to the carrier so I could open the car doors without fear of him bolting, never to be seen again.

We awoke around 4:00am and were on the move by 4:30am. Day 2 took us through the rest of Arizona, all of New Mexico, the panhandle of Texas, and about 15 miles past the Oklahoma border. 17 hours of driving and a couple Five Hour Energy shots later, we were able to find a very nice rest stop with clean bathrooms and a big grassy area for Clyde Dog. One trucker pulled into the rest stop after us, and I assumed he was looking for a spot for the night, but he drove by us, stopped, hopped out, and came running over to pet Clyde Dog. He told me he just had to stop once he saw our horse and give him a good head rub. Then he was back in his truck and on his way. Truckers are a funny bunch. (We discussed becoming truckers if we ever get bored with farming -- seems like it would be fun as a team.)

Day 3 saw us through the rest of Oklahoma, all of Arkansas (I looked for Bill Clinton), and finally over the Mississippi River into Tennessee. I cried when we crossed the state line into Memphis. Somehow I imagined the western third of the state to be less green than East Tennessee, but I was pleasantly surprised at the lushness surrounding us. We stopped for some fast food in Jackson, but as we started to pull out of the Taco Hell, I noticed that the rear tire on the car hauler was completely shredded to bits. I frantically called Jay on the two-way radio (note: if you ever attempt a cross-country move, walkie-talkies are a lifesaver to have), and then we got to sit in a Motel 6 parking lot for the next 2.5 hours after calling Penske to get someone out to fix it. Fortunately, this was all covered under our rental agreement. Finally, we pulled back on to I40 around midnight and drove another 30 miles or so until we found a suitable rest stop. Exhausted, we retired ourselves and the animals for the night, and while we found Komfy to be a very wise purchase (instead of trying to hunt down pet-friendly motels and also being able to stop whenever we wanted), we were ready for this to be our last night in it for this trip at least.

The home stretch was day 4 through Nashville, Knoxville, and finally getting off I40 on to the 11W North (I still don't understand the road naming system around here), which would eventually take us to Hwy 31 and into our home county of Hancock. We definitely aggravated some locals with the fully loaded Penske going over the final mountain pass even with the pedal to the metal (Jay was able to wave five cars past us on one of the few straight stretches, much to their relief, I'm sure). We decided that it would be best to stop at the local volunteer firehouse a couple miles from the holler and detach the car hauler, unload the Toyota, and navigate the moving truck solo up our windy driveway because we feared getting the whole thing jack-knifed or stuck somehow on our mountainous terrain. It took us two days to unload everything, and we were able to return the truck after reattaching the car hauler a day early on that Friday. Jay was able to finally relax once the truck was done with. He said that oftentimes during the drive, his flip flops would actually start melting into the floorboards.

The house is coming together and is starting to look very cozy and feel right. I really can't handle disorganization, but Jay and I gave ourselves a timeline of at least a year, if not two, before we find a place for everything and have everything in its place. Everything that is not an immediate need is being stored in the little cabin, but I'm even making progress in there so that when people come to visit us (hint hint), they have a sweet spot to relax and feel at home.

Communication with the outside world has proved as challenging as we thought it might be. We were scheduled to have AT&T install a landline last Friday afternoon, but after two days of missed and rescheduled and missed again appointments, we told that stupid fucking company to take a hike. Our satellite internet installer has had delays with getting our equipment in, so that hasn't happened yet either (we're told that it's possible to get a landline through the satellite internet for a few more bucks per month, something they don't tell you unless you ask, so we're hoping that will be an option).  In the meantime, we live without, and when we get out to civilization every other day or so, we bring my laptop and use one of our phones as a hotspot and have many lists so we can remember what needs to be done while we're connected. Honestly, it's a trade-off we're perfectly fine with (and not much we can do about anyway), although it will be nice to have internet again someday hopefully. (Update: we're finally connected!)

Despite our rural, end-of-the-road location, we've had many visitors. Our neighbor comes by every few days to check on us and shoot the shit, something that is definitely part of the local social etiquette. Clyde Dog has made good friends with his red tick coonhound, Rambo. Several of that neighbor's kin have also rolled up randomly to see what the new folks in town are all about. All these people share the same last name. We've been offered/given homegrown produce and canned goods, care package meals, books, dog treats, a garden tiller, assurance that our road will be well maintained because the one who maintains it is also kin, and even a riding mower. As in, it is fully functioning but needs a few small things fixed, so "if it works good for you, we can work something out (as in, payment), but if it doesn't, we'll just push it off a cliff somewhere." Fucking legendary!

I love our house because at less than 800 square feet, it takes me about 20 minutes to clean the whole thing. Clyde Dog is also an outside dog now (except sleeping on the kitchen floor at night), which makes it that much easier to keep a tidy home. He is porch dog extraordinaire, and I couldn't be more thrilled about it. He barks dutifully when anyone shows up but is quick to mind us and settle down. We watched Nekkie finally creep into the woods behind the house yesterday, and we're hoping that his bird killing repertoire will soon be expanded upon (I love the birds and their song of course, but being a cat owner, I know our cats are not truly happy until they gift us with a fresh kill on the doorstep periodically).

Back in Cali, we always left Clyde Dog in the house when we were out. He had Barker (RIP) to keep him company and really didn't think much of being in the car. He did pull a Cujo move out the window screen once (and a good 6-foot drop), but we figured that was a one-time fluke and that something must have been teasing or taunting him out the window. But something in him changed on the way out here. After four days of being (read: sleeping) in the car, except for stops and breaks, Clyde Dog is most definitely a car dog now. On our first outing here, we figured we'd do as we always did and leave him in the house. We came home to a busted out window screen and Clyde Dog happily panting on the porch. It was then we realized that he now comes with us everywhere, and we have to adjust our outings accordingly, which hasn't been difficult, but I'm having a hard time getting used to a constantly filthy car. Worth it for my beast, though.

We've identified a lot of the trees on our land, and a neighbor identified some of the plants gracing our yard as well. For trees, we have Eastern Redbud, Ohio Buckeye, an American Chestnut (it might be a Chinese Chestnut -- not 100% sure yet), Black Walnut, a mature pear, several mature apples, White Oak, Yellow Poplar, a small immature Dogwood that needs serious pruning, a couple ornamental Maples that also need attention, Black Locust, and I'm sure countless others. Christine, the neighbor, told me we have liriope, Sweet Flag, Yellow Lily, Rose of Sharon (these are planted everywhere, and the bees seem to love them), and hollyhocks (which she apparently has been unable to grow).  

Some random observations:
- My left arm is now way more tan than my right from all the driving.
- We live in Tennessee but probably spend 60% of our time in Virginia since we're a stone's throw from the border and a lot of the roads to get to civilization head northeast.
- We live in Tennessee. Crazy!
- Grass grows fast around these here parts. And it gets everywhere.
- Whiskey is really expensive here.
- Tennessee time is like Hawaii time. Everything takes twice as long or longer to get done.
- Southern Sweet Tea encompasses a whole flavor spectrum. I prefer the less sweet varieties.
- The best shower I ever had was after driving across the country. Hands down.
- Everyone in Hancock County waves to each other. It's awesome. I feel like an asshole when I forget to wave.
- We all lost weight during the move.
- There was a mama Turkey hen and three of her babies in the yard yesterday morning!
- Jay fears that I will get swamp foot from running around barefoot in the grass all the time.
- The DMV is no different in Tennessee. A big, fat pain in the arse.
- Without a dishwasher, there are always dishes in the sink, which is something that I'm getting used to.
- Absolutely perfect weather, with a few thunderstorms and downpours thrown in for excitement, except during the two days it took us to unload the moving truck. It was one million degrees then and humid as all hell.
- I washed my car yesterday, which was a futile effort because we live on a gravel/dirt road. Silly me.
- I like having a simple, white refrigerator again. No fingerprints/dog slobber show up on it like on our previous fancy stainless steel one.
- I was surprised that not everyone is in church on Sundays.
- I don't really need lotion anymore.
- It's like Christmas every time I open another moving box.
- Chips/crackers/salty snacks get soggy in about 20 minutes if you don't close the package.
- I really need to get a compost bin built.
- Waiting more than a week to do laundry when you don't have a washer and dryer is an unwise decision.

Some peeks into our new (extremely disorganized) humble existence for the visually inclined (p.s. the dog makes it into a lot of them somehow):

Mitsy's Crazy String. Don't ask.

For the Clamper brothers out there.

Jay is not peeing in the bushes for once. He's identifying trees.

Nekkie with his first kill. The tiniest mole I've ever seen. Gotta start somewhere.

Wraps for dinner.

Oh, the disorganization. It's much improved from since when I took this.

Moving boxes = future permaculture supplies.

Clyde Dog is never far from my side, and the pictures prove it.

Evening hike.

Our upper food plot.

The cup is for Clyde Dog's water, and the gun is in case we stumble upon
a defensive mama bear with cubs. (We've seen fresh bear scat twice now.)

We think he likes it here.


  1. Looks like a nice place, watch out for poison ivy!

    1. I am highly allergic to poison oak back on the west coast, but last time we were out here visiting, I rubbed poison ivy on my forearm to see what would happen and didn't have any reaction! (We also bush-whacked up our mountain and would definitely have crossed it if it is around, and I didn't get any then either.) That still doesn't mean that I won't develop an allergy to it, but I'm totally stoked that I don't get it now at least.

  2. Every time I've checked Google Reader for the past couple of weeks I was hoping to see an update! I probably sound like a weirdo blog stalker or something. LOL. Glad to see you made it out there! Your dog looks like a happy camper. :-)

    1. I'm the exact same stalker type. :) I knew I had to get an update on here, and it just so happened to coincide with finally getting our internet connection, lol.

  3. Lovely pictures! Your neighbours sound equally lovely.

    Be prepared for the possibility that the dog situation may change again. When we moved from Sweden to France, our Weimaraner went from being a "stay at home dog" who hated the car, to the kind of dog who'd break down doors and possibly chew through walls if they weren't half a yard thick and solid stone, just to not be left home alone. This was fine, because he'd by then become accustomed to being in the car for long periods. We took him everywhere. When we did the groceries, he slept in the car boot.

    Then one day, a few months down the line, he started barking and howling when we left him in the car, although he settled down when we got out of sight. This was just around the time he started whimpering excitedly when we turned down the road to our house, so by the time he'd decided that the new place was really "home" (it probably took so long because he's lived all of his first 5 years in one place). So, we started leaving him behind again. It was just about the time when it was stating to be too hot to let him stay in the car anyway. The next time we brought him somewhere was when we were looking at houses (the first place was just a rental) and the drive was too long to leave him at home. So, he howled and barked in the car. He didn't settle down when we got out of sight. He trashed the car boot, got into the car, squeezed out a barely open window, and came looking for us.

    TL;DR: Dog is not a car dog. Dog moves across Europe and becomes a car dog. 7 months later, dog becomes less tolerant than he ever was of being left in the car.

    1. That's fascinating! I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing happened with ours. We locked the house up tight today because we were going somewhere that we couldn't bring him, and lo and behold, he behaved! We did make sure that our cat was also in the house, who was contentedly lounging on the sofa when we returned, so maybe that made a difference.

  4. You made it! Great to read the update and see someone who's living the dream...makes me jealous but inspired.

    1. Thanks! I plan to do a low-down of the pitfalls as we discover them, too, because I have no doubt that homesteading and doing all this will have its downsides as well, but we definitely feel like we're where we should be right now. :)

  5. Welcome to upper east Tennessee! Your chestnut is probably Chinese --- Americans are wiped out except in a few tiny pockets. If it's a shortish spreading tree, it's Chinese; if it's tall and straight like a tulip-poplar, it's American.

    1. Thanks, Anna! I think you're right about the chestnut. Still good for piggies, though, right? I thought it was ironic that y'all had headed out west while we were on our way east! Glad you had beautiful weather in the Bay Area -- it is oftentimes socked in with fog in the summer. Tell your brother congrats!

    2. Definitely still good for piggies. Folks plant Chinese Chestnuts to eat the nuts themselves, but no reason a pig couldn't do the same.

      We're still recovering from our trip, but do want to get together with you one of these days before too long if you're interested! I'll bet you're recovering too, though. :-)

    3. That sounds great! I get the feeling that you're very private, so y'all are welcome to come to our place (bring your dog! Clyde Dog is very submissive if Lucy is primarily dominant) or we could meet up for some grub if you have a favorite place. But I would love to see your farm in person sometime, too, and we both have no fear of being off the beaten path and trekking if need be, so don't let your even more remote location than ours be a factor. We love exploring (and have 4WD). :)

  6. It's such a treat to read about you guys living out your dreams!! Not sure if I could ever be so brave (ie: crazy) which is to fucking stupid... if it's a dream. Mine would go a little differently however ;) In any case, love the update about your adventures and glad to hear that your finally on your way to happily ever after! Hope we can find a will & way to visit someday soon and see all this glory first hand!

    1. Can't wait to see you guys out here, K. We need us some Miller Time. E and T would go nuts and have tons of riding trails available to them! And we can sit and drink wine on the porch. :)

  7. What a trip seeing all the pictures. Sarah I love the dialog! Cannot wait to see you in person. I do love the place and what you have done with it. Keep us posted.

  8. right on guys.. glad everything went okay.. we have been checking the blog wondering how the progression has been.. I bet you all are stoked, Clyde definitely looks like it..
    we wish you guys the best of luck.. Your (old)house will be in good hands, once we finally get into it. take care.

    Mike and Jocelyn and company

    1. I feel your pain with the red tape that accompanies buying property. That place fits y'all like a glove, though! Would love to be kept in the loop with what changes you make. And you're welcome to come out here anytime for some respite. :)

  9. All things considered, you both have done a great job so far making your dreams come to realty, good for you. We wish you the very best, but you already know that. Keep us posted as things move along. We got an offer on our house, finally, and signed a contract for a 45 day escrow, just hoping things turn out. Much Love to you both Auntie Nancy and Uncle Gerry

    1. Hooray, so glad to hear that! I know how you feel -- it's not done until it's DONE, lol. Love you, Auntie!

  10. Awesome update.............so stoked for you guys! Totally jealous you have such flat green land compared to my desert cliff!

    1. I'm still waiting for your blog to start so I can keep apprised of your homesteading shenanigans, too, lol. Hope Del and Jersey are behaving themselves. :)

  11. Well crap I wrote a whole reply and it didn't post....guess I'll make up another. I'm glad you guys are living the dream, these are the stories of our lives. I miss you terribly. It's like my best friends are gone......oh wait they are. Thank god for technology so I can be updated quicker then the days of letter writing. Congrats on your new life! Love you and miss you. I hope to come out soon.

    1. My Mom has had the same problem posting comments before -- not sure what the deal is. Miss you, too, Ali! Miss ya lots. And you WILL be out here soon visiting. :)