Off the Grid  Retirement at our remote log cabin in Colorado

Friday, February 10, 2017

News Flash: Mid-January Warm-Up Arrives Mid-Februrary

Posted by: Rick

The past few days have led to a LOT of snow melting. The days have been sunny, the temperatures well above freezing (even overnight), and the wind has blown--hard. Right now, it is 7:30 AM and the temperature is 46°! The winds contribute a lot to the melting, but are starting to get to us. It is just too windy, even on a "warm" day, to go outside and do anything. We can't take a walk in the open, because gusts are upwards of 50 to 60 mph. We can't walk in the sheltered woods for fear of a dead tree coming down. Plus, the melting snow is now we and slushy and even with snowshoes on, we sink a couple of feet into the snow. Can you say "cabin fever"?

It seems the jet stream has dropped down so that it is clipping the mountains at elevations of 8500 feet or more. Estes Park and Berthoud Pass have both registered 100 mph gusts overnight.

It is nice to see the snow levels drop. I cleared the driveway of drifts yesterday and now it is melted all the way down to the dirt in many places. We can see our Adirondack chairs at the camp fire site again. Old frozen dog poop is being slowly revealed. However, with the melting comes mud.

We still don't have the Expedition "out" where we can drive it, but I really don't like taking the Ranger to the Suburban since we end up driving mostly on dirt (mud) roads. There is some snow here and there, but the trip is not much fun without the snow to cushion the ride.

I bought 50' of snow fence the other day. It is laying in rolls at the top of the driveway. Sometime next week (when it is supposed to be warm and sunny but with no wind), I'll string it up in the woods west of the driveway to try to keep it from drifting in there. That would be nice. Although, I must admit that the Husqvarna snow blower with tracks on it does a phenomenal job of clearing the drifts (as long as I have not driven on them with the Ranger).

One other quick note. The other evening, after dark, we took the dogs out for their final opportunity to pee before going to bed. We call it "finals", and the dogs definitely know that word. Anyway, we walked to the top of the driveway and were walking back, admiring the almost-full moon, when I saw something on the small porch at the door. I alerted Lynne and we both saw that it was the fox. It saw us, and luckily the only dog that saw it was Destin who was on lead. It just stood there looking at us. It was not afraid at all as we continued to approach the porch. It even stretched out and pawed at the logs next to the door as if asking to come in! After a bit, it took off. But, not far. It just went onto the snow bank about 50' away and sat there looking at us as we got the dogs back into the cabin. I think we have a pet fox now.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Frustrated, but Through Segment #1

Posted by: Rick

I am starting to get a bit frustrated with snow management.

As I think everyone knows, we were lucky to get our Suburban parked at Mr. H's place at the state line. And, we can get to it via the Ranger with about a 45 minute trek, no matter what the weather conditions are or how much snow we have. So, we are not technically, "snowed in", and do have the ability to get off the mountain.

Still, I'd love to swap the Suburban with the Expedition, using the Expedition to get into town, and keeping the Suburban (with chains on) at our neighbor's place next to us. That way, if the roads are passable from here, we can take the Suburban to the state line. That means a faster trip and a lot more cargo space.

To get the Expedition out of here, we have several "segments" to complete. Segment #1 is just getting it out of the driveway. Our driveway is narrow, has a tricky curve in it, and also has an uphill grade to get to Hidden Meadows Lane.

Segment #2 is Hidden Meadows Lane from our driveway to Wapiti Way. That is tricky because there is a tree that creates a snow fence causing 3 foot drifts to accumulate on the road. It isn't a very long stretch, but we need to get past that.

This is the short segment of Hidden Meadows Ln that we need to cross to get to Wapiti Way. It was clear a few days ago, but has since blown in.

Segment #3 is from the Hidden Meadows / Wapiti intersection to the "top of the hill" where we meet up with our neighbor's efforts to get out. Getting to this point is nice because we now have two households working to get out.

This is segment #3, obviously taken on a different day. This is from Wapiti Way and Hidden Meadows Ln, looking up across the prairie to the "top of the hill".

Segment #4 is all of Wapiti Way to the County Road (89), and down the county road to where a ranch fence and gate causes two significant drifts in the road. Known locally as the "gate" and the "trap", these can be real problems because there is no way around them. Segment #4 can be "cheated" some, because we can drive off the road and on high points of the prairie where the wind has blown the snow clear. In other words, we can usually drive around any problem areas.

This photo is of most of segment 4, along Wapiti Way to the county road, where I'm standing to take this photo. So, this is looking back toward the cabin site rather than along the road toward the state line. You can see the road in the upper right third of the shot.

But, this is not true once you get to segment #5: the gate and the trap. These have no path around them and so must be cleared by hand.

The trap, segment #5, above.

The gate in segment #5.

Segment #6 is another relatively easy segment because it typically blows clear. It stretches from the "gate" to where Coyote Xing (sic) intersects with County Rd 89. 

The above photo shows much of segment #6. You can get through most of this with chains on a 4WD truck.

The above is the end of segment #6 and the beginning of segment #7. While it is a bit clogged up this year at the intersection, once you are on Coyote Xing, it is pretty smooth sailing. I don't have photos of this segment of the trip because we don't go that way with the Ranger. We go over the snow on the road.

Segment #7 is Coyote Xing to Buffalo Run to Ferret Circle to Snow Pass which then joins County Rd 89 very close to the state line. Again, while complicated, this segment usually blows clear and is no problem to navigate. It is a necessary "long cut" around a stretch of County Rd 89 at the Wurl Homestead that is always deep in snow.

This shows where Snow Pass rejoins the Co Rd 89 (at the bottom of this hill) and the state line is at Chimney Rock. This is usually so passable, I don't even count it as a sement of the journey!

Back to my frustration. Two days ago, I had segment #1 and segment #2 open -- largely due to my neighbor clearing them with a tractor. However, we discovered we could not transit segment #3, so parked the Expedition back at the cabin. We've had a lot of wind the past few days, and sure enough, segment #1 and segment #2 blew full of snow. Very frustrating.

So, I spent half the day today, along with much help from Lynne, opening the driveway back up. It requires wresting the snow blower through dense, packed snow, often only possible by having shoveled the snow into chunks, to the top of the driveway. Once at the top, the snow blower does a pretty good job of cutting slices out of the remaining snow going downhill. When wide enough, I can then scrape it with the snow plow on the Ranger and create hedgerows of snow that the blower can handle with no problem.

Since that is such a chore, we've decided we may just not do it any more. Maybe we'll just let the driveway drift in and just drive over the top of the snow with the Ranger. And, we could get away with that because we moved the Expedition to the top of the driveway. Instead of waiting for all segments of the journey out to be open at the same time, we'll just tackle them one at a time. Like game pieces on a board game, we've moved the Expedition to the next space.

The Expedition, parked at the top of segment #1. About 300' of the journey is done. About 6 miles to go!

Of course, by not keeping the driveway clear (or any segment that we successfull, eventually transit with the truck), we won't have vehicle access to the cabin until May or June. But, we can probably get someone with a skid-steer equipped with an industrial snow blower to open it one final time in early May.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Keepin’ On

Posted by: Lynne

Chimney Rock

Yes, we're still here. We've had several people (mostly neighbors up here) get a little nervous about our recent purchase of a new RV. They seem to think we are abandoning ship and heading south for the rest of the winter. Ye of little faith, we are not going anywhere until perhaps May. I know my post about "if we ever get outta here" might have sounded a bit bleak, but hey, winter will do that to you once in a while. This is only our first winter and I want to experience it -- fully -- as promised. It's just a matter of not setting expectations of what it's going to be like and go with the flow. 

Our weather is finally cooperating and we are having our January thaw in late January. The past couple of days have been almost balmy (well, above freezing) with a stiff wind. We can see the snow levels going down down down here around the cabin, and even Wapiti is showing the road surface (gasp!) in a spots. Too bad the wind is not a Chinook, that would really melt this stuff in a hurry. But we have to be thankful for what Ma Nature is dishing out right now. She's capricious, so not to be meddled with. We'll take it Ma! Ma, we need a bit more in order to get Lex (our Expedition) out, please? Just sayin'.

We will go next Monday (weather permitting naturally) to have our 2 hour walk-through, pay for the RV, etc. Then they will store it for us for six weeks or so until we can get Lex the Pussy out to have the weight distribution hitch and sway bars installed. The nice thing is that we don't have to pay for storage until then, and the registration for temporary plates (60 days worth) won't kick in until we actually take possession. Another nice price break.

Having a blog and posting about our life here is a little like having a reality TV show that people watch. We don't really have any idea who out there is reading unless you leave a comment or somehow let us know. We got the nicest email from a reader the other day, a really heartfelt, long email saying how much they enjoyed reading the posts, telling us a bit about their lives and also some tips we might use for keeping the storage shed warmer. Thank you, it touched us.

I did manage a load of laundry yesterday and hung it on the line. I think the temp got to around 38 degrees or so, so they mostly dried and just needed a little warm up by the wood stove. Today is supposed to be yet another warm day, so more laundry and even maybe the featherbed cover. Ah, the little things in life.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Winter So Far

Posted by: Lynne

Haha, right? But seriously folks, it's kind of restricting with as much snow as we have on the ground. We DID however get out Tuesday and took a very quick trip down to an RV dealer in Loveland, only to find that they really didn't have what we were looking for. At least we know that now. 

With all the snow that we have it's hard to go out with the dogs to take a walk. We have to put on snowshoes to go anywhere other than the driveway because otherwise we'd sink up to our hips in snow.

A "going-to-get-the-game-camera" game camera catch!

Hailey can't maneouver anymore in deep snow—her legs get all tangled up trying to lift her feet enough so she sticks mainly to the driveway. Bella plows her way through but it's not easy, and Destin ... well, Destin had no problems but I do worry about him pulling ligaments if he gets in too deep. In places the dogs can walk on top, but inevitably they fall through and have to pull themselves out.

The wonderful plowing job that was done for us to enable us to get the Suburban parked at a "neighbor H's" house at the border has since blown in and is inaccessible by any vehicle except our Ranger. Trips to town are limited due to this because a) it takes a long time: about a half hour to get to H's house, then another 45 minutes into town. b) we don't want to bother H by coming and going all the time and making ourselves unwelcome — he's our lifeline! Considering that the trip to town would normally take us 45 mintues all total, it's wearying.

And, when we do get to town all our time is taken up with things that need to get done and there isn't any time left for just browsing around and taking our time. You don't want to get back as late as we did Tuesday, i.e. as the sun is going down. Well, actually we couldn't see the sun because it was snowing on our way home and it was really hard to see our previous tracks in the road bed and where the deep ruts were where (other) people had gotten stuck and tried to dig out. 

In all honesty, it's not exactly what I had expected, but then again the people who have wintered up here for nine years or so are saying that this is not normal. I am not at the point of Jack Nicholson in The Shining quite yet and it's looking like we will have a break in the weather for at least a week where we don't get any more snow. I don't think it will help the roads any, nor will it help us to get our pussy of a truck out where we could use it instead of the Ranger to go back and forth with, but it will be welcome just the same. Thank goodness for the Ranger!

Hidden Meadows Lane

I keep happy thoughts of how wonderful the wildflower season is going to be when it finally gets here!

We have a new buddy around the cabin, Mr. Red Fox.

He's bold, brazen & beautiful but he's kind of a nuisance. Destin (who has a fabulous nose and tracking sense) likes to follow the fox's trail and wanders off on our walks, right under our noses. One mintue he's with us, the next he's nowhere in sight. Mr. Fox has gotten in our garbage too and strewn stuff throught the forest, which Destin finds. One day he had a cat food can in the meadow and he was having a blast throwing it up in the air and catching it again. Then he had a crumpled-in-half Coke can and had it in his mouth playing it like a castanet. Silly dog, but maddening when he runs off. He is now restrained to leash walks after several long hikes in the deep snow to retrieve him. (By the way, he does come back home, but only when he's ready. I can't bear to leave him that long without knowing where he is.)

We had a visit to the game camera of Big Boy Moose. It only caught his head and front leg this time, but the interesting thing was that it was pretty clear he had shed his paddles — and recently too. Kind of creepy to see where they were! We are hoping, of course, that he shed those big bad boys somewhere in the draw on our property. Next week when we warm up we'll have a paddle hunt mission.

Another side of winter is that it sure would be nice to have a clothes dryer. We thought we could get by without one and we are doing okay, but we were figuring on more sunny days above freezing than what we have had so far. When we got the Suburban out for our day in town a week ago, we had contemplated taking all the stored up dirty laundry into the laundromat, but we just didn't have the time to spare. We ended up with a barely-above-freezing day right after that so I did three or four loads of laundry (including sheets) and was able to hang them on the line, then ended up bringing them in to finalize the dry cycle by the wood stove. I think next year we might install a dryer in the barn. There is room for it and the propane is already right there to hook up to. It would make life just that little bit easier.

Rick and I both have projects going, but that is a topic for another blog post. I think this one has run on long enough.

So, winter continues and if the locals have anything to say about it: the worst is yet to come. Meaning that February through April have been typically the snowiest and stormiest months. We're putting up our dukes for Round 2!

Friday, January 20, 2017

Mission: Expedition Extraction

Posted by: Rick

We had a master plan that we failed to execute in time:

  1. Place the Ford Expedition at the state line. It does not have chains, but is a reliable vehicle that we can use to go into town and back. 
  2. Place the Suburban, which has tire chains, at the "top of the hill" on our neighbor's property. 
  3. Use the Ranger to get to either the Suburban or Expedition, depending on the road conditions to the state line. If they are "good", meaning we can get there with the Suburban, with or without chains, then we take the Suburban to the state line. If we don't have chains on, then maybe keep going all the way into town with the Suburban. But, if we do have chains on her, then rather than take them off for the trip to town and put them back on to get home, we'd just switch to the Expedition. If the roads are closed, even to the Suburban with chains, then take the Ranger all the way to the state line and switch to the Expedition. 

Genius!

(By the way, when we say we put a vehicle at the "state line", we don't literally park it on the road at the border. There are a couple of people who have properties at or near the state line, but always near plowed roads, that will let us park a vehicle on their property. We have the Suburban parked at "Mr. H's", who is a great guy and keeps an eye on her for us.)

We got caught in a recent storm with the Suburban parked at the neighbors, but the Expedition still parked at the cabin. And, the storm closed the roads for a couple of weeks, so we had no way to get out of Sand Creek Park and into town. Sure, we have the Ranger which will go pretty much anywhere, anytime. But, we can't drive it all the way to Laramie. Without a vehicle at the state line, we were truly snowed in.

The Expedition parked at the cabin. Going nowhere.

If you follow the blog, you've seen the posts about opening the road and moving the Suburban to the state line. So, a modified plan is in place. We can always take the Ranger the 6 or so miles to the Suburban. But, I wanted to try to get back to the original plan. So, our neighbor and I hatched a scheme where we'd use a loaned Kubota tractor with a blade on the back and a bucket on the front to plow out our driveway and Hidden Meadows Lane. Then, we'd drive the truck over the prairie where the wind has blown the snow away, and eventually get it on the road to town. We'd then swap the Expedition and the Suburban, and be back to the original plan.

We failed.

This is Hidden Meadows Lane from the top of our driveway. I can drive the Ranger of this fine, but the snow is actually anywhere from 12" to 3' deep along this stretch.

Here is the video from which the above image was taken. I'm driving the Ranger down Hidden Meadows Lane and back just to show how much snow there is:

We hatched a plan to use a borrowed Kubota tractor that has a blade on the back and a bucket on the front to clear Hidden Meadows Lane and the top of our driveway. Then, we'd be able to drive the Expedition to the intersection of Hidden Meadows Lane and Wapiti Way, and then follow a trail we've cut through the prairie where the wind tends to blow the snow clear. We'd need to do some more digging at the top, but with a little effort and the help of the tractor, we thought we'd get the Expedition to a road where we could drive it to the state line and implement the original plan.

We had to use the Ranger to tow the tractor over the prairie and to the bottom of the hill. We should have known then that we could not get the truck back up the same way.

Pulling the tractor down the hill to get it through deep snow.

Once the tractor was positioned at the bottom of Hidden Meadows Lane, it was tough to get traction to scoop up snow. But, by clearing snow down to the dirt, the tractor was able to get traction. It was then just a matter of backing up, lowering the scoop, driving forward to fill the scoop with snow, backing up, driving off to the leeward side of the road, dumping the scoop, backing up onto the road again, and repeating the process. Over, and over, and over.

Slowly but surely, eating through the snow.

Yes! A full scoop!

Success! Driveway and Hidden Meadows Lane are clear! And Destin shows his appreciation for a vertical surface to mark.

We got the truck out of the driveway and down the very narrow Hidden Meadows Lane. Now all we had to do was drive the truck up the prairie road.

Our destination is at the top of this hill!

We did not make it. Within 3 feet, the truck was stuck. We tried hooking it up to the Ranger to pull it up the hill (after all we got the tractor down and back up the hill that way), but the snow was just too deep.

So, with effort, we backed the Expedition back into its parking place at the cabin. We'll regroup and try again later, I'm sure. Or, maybe we just live with it the way it is, knowing we still can get to the Suburban with the Ranger and that we have a way out when needed. And, chalk this all up to a lesson learned for next year.

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