Gasoline and other random things

I want to start and give a shout out to my friend who road out hurricane Irma in Tampa Bay, in a hospital suffering from kidney stones. Way to go Robert! In all honesty he intended to sit at home and watch the rain and wind but ended up watching his stones pass.

In the last 7 weeks, I have packed everything that I own, dropped what I didn’t need into storage, and got rid a pile of “crap” that I had collected over the last 10 or so years. It is amazing what we hang onto and mentally tell ourselves that we neeeed that item. We rearrange rooms, buy shelves to properly display our crap and stow it there forever. Never to use or rarely use again.

I don’t want to go down a rabbit hole and talk about the minimalist movement here, but I do have a few personal observations. After spending a good week going through all my stuff and sorting and resorting down to what I absolutely needed then packed what I could into my truck and headed south. My  new co-workers kind of raise their collective eyebrows when I say I only have a deck chair, a TV  and an air mattress (I now have a real bed) in my apartment. I actually find it kind of refreshing not to have all that stuff just sitting around literally collecting dust and wanting me to undust them.

Sorry I digressed, but I love being where I am, what I am doing, and being near the cabin. The minimal part came out of necessity. And it has been great! Very little overhead.

The reason I started writing this today, was I had a bit of an epiphany this past weekend when I went up to the property and cabin to spend a couple days putzing around, cut some brush, mow some grass and other general maintenance. What I realized is how much gas I used or use everyday. My batteries were dead when I arrived Friday night, both gas cans were empty, the generators tank was about half empty and the brush cutter gas tank was almost empty. So I had to drive into town and fill my two five gallon cans, turn right around and get back to the cabin to start work before the day’s heat set in. Time lost, one hour. It just kind of occurred to me that without gas, and the costs associated with that golden liquid that we take for granted daily, how much harder our lives would be.

If I were to add the cost of gasoline over a year, or over five years how much money are we talking about? I did a few mental calculations. But in my case 5 gallons a week times fifty two weeks equals two hundred and sixty gallons at say $2.50 a gallon comes out to $650 a year. Multiply by 5 years? you get the picture. I am not including any of the costs of gas burned driving to and from the cabin or the extra trip into town to fill up the tanks. You see where I am going? a trip to the property can be a hundred dollar bill easy.

Saturday I ran the genset for about four hours to get a good charge on the batteries while running the brush cutter and then a chain saw. In all I burned through five gallons of gas for a Saturday afternoon. I am sure those few people that read this blog, are having the thought that five gallons really isn’t much in the bigger scheme of things. That is true. I honestly don’t want to mow an acre of knee high grass with a scythe. And the other side of the coin is how much we spend monetarily for “independence”. Which really isn’t being independent when you take a moment and think about the those five gallons adding up and in my case the time it took to go refill.

Now I know the thought has occurred to you, why doesn’t he use solar or wind, or have power run to the property? In a previous post I talked about the overhead on running powerlines to my place. $18,000 was the quote given to me. I want to add, that I am in a half mile blackhole. A quarter mile on each side of me have power lines running to the properties. Wind and solar? Each has come down in price over the years and most states (not mine) including the Fed offer subsidies  to offset the costs (30% in the case of the fed subsidy). Wind is still kind of iffy in my book. A lot of up front capital is needed and little return for the amount of energy they produce. Solar, even for my small place I am looking at a $5000 dollar outlay, and that number may or may not include the cost of batteries. Just depends on who you talk to. There is also the overhead of maintaining those pricey little blocks of water and lead they call batteries. Until Tesla can really get the price down on their lithium batteries I think that technology is still out of reach for the average guy.

I have even tossed around the idea of converting the genset to propane. I have a 500 gal propane tank on site that is rarely used. So as you can see, the capital outlay can be significant no matter which way you go. I am trying to do as much as I can without going further into debt after the move, a pending divorce and the costs of that wonderful life event.

I am not trying to have all of the conveniences of modern life, just run a few lights, cell phone booster, charge a phone and occasionally watch a movie.  Pretty low consumption, 100 watts an hour. Maybe 150. I’ll keep you posted as I figure things out.


I’ll keep you posted!


Solar shower

Mid June, I bought a solar shower made by a company out of Concord Ca. called Summer Shower. I did some reading and across multiple reviews sites and a few real world reviews this particular one always kind of percolated to the top pf the list. Solar Shower sells a couple of different sizes, 2.5 gal, 3 gal, and a 5 gal. I, personally went with the 3 gal model that was listed on Amazon for $35 (?) or so. After 2 extended stays at the cabin of more than a week each and showering daily the “bag” has held up pretty good so far. Previously I was heating water on the stove and using a regular old bucket to rinse, lather repeat. That method works well and the only real cost was the price of a bucket at Dollar General. Being a lazy human, and not wanting to lug water around further than I have to I went the solar shower way. I will be honest here, I got tired of burning the shit out of my hand every time I picked the damn boiling pot off the stove. Even with oven mitts I always seemed to burn one part of my body somewhere.

Filling is fairly straight forward with a twist off cap. Once you fill to the desired level (in my case 3 gallons) you literally lay it clear side up in full sun and let mother nature do the heating. In every case I have had 100 plus degree shower water at the end of the day. On an average summer day, I would say the water heated in a couple hours of laying in full sun on the deck of my cabin. I never really timed the process but I did max out the temp gauge yesterday as it was a exceptionally clear day with few clouds. According to the chart on the box, you only need 1-3 hours of direct sunlight to heat depending on the ambient temp outside. In my case mid to upper 80’s.

The nozzle is fairly straight forward with a push/pull design. Pull the head to open the flow and push to close. Only downside is when you hands are soapy, it can be hard to pull the valve to open. That is really the only complaint I have with the product. There are a couple of velcro loops to hang “stuff” on to the bag but I really don’t have a need and haven’t used them. 2 small pockets are located on the front to store a small mirror that comes with the bag, or place your soap into according to the instructions on the box.

I would say, this is not something I would ruck with. It has it’s purpose, but I don’t think it is or would be placed in my ruck sack. The weight of the bladder itself is pretty heavy and not easily foldable for stowing. The bag does roll up nicely, but due to the design and rigidity of the integrated handle and hose, it cannot be folded smaller. For a semi-permanent base camp or off grid type cabin or camp it is perfect and made pretty solid. I wouldn’t throw the bag around or abuse it, but it is pretty well made for it’s intent.

Overall I would say money well spent. I have to haul water in to my place with 5 gallon carboys so I conserve when I can. I have found I bathe with about 1.5 gallons, more or less, and actually use less water than the bucket method.

Long term we will see how it holds up. I am sure it will if I don’t throw it around or drop it from more than a couple feet.

So if you are looking for a solar shower this might be your answer, milage may vary.

Alice, Malice,Hellcat

My old Voodoo packs finally gave up the ghost. I purchased two packs about 5 years ago for about $125 each with the intention of keeping them for a bugout bag. Well if you’re going to have a bug out bag you should at least test them out, right? I did every weekend and over time the bags just wore out. Mostly the shoulder strap padding. The stitching has held up and I really don’t have an issue with the products themselves. I think for the money and the amount of abuse I have put them through they have been troopers. I will keep them for a range bag or light loads in the future. I can’t say they are ready for the trash bin.

So I was standing in my gear room thinking that I didn’t want to spend $400 plus for a new pack (like a Mystery Ranch) , and I really didn’t want to use my big ruck for my weekend hikes. Looking around I had an old medium ALICE pack sitting in the corner that I have never used and was given to me years ago. I also have a MOLLE II pack that is currently issued. That got me to thinking, how could I combine the two very incompatible packs into one.

Thinking that I was pretty smart and I was doing something that had never been done before I started ripping apart both packs with the goal of combing the two into one franken pack. Well I did it. Not real well I have to admit, but I did it! And I have taken it on two rucks so far with pretty good results.

I started poking around the interwebs and found a lot of videos and articles on how to do what I thought, being the smartest man in the room, had never been done before. After recovering from the smack in the back of the head I realized I wasn’t so clever. This has been done before, and by smarter people.

After reading some, I found out that I was pretty close in my attempt.

First thing I did was cut the old cinching hardware and replaced them with fasttech buckles.

The waist/hip belt and shoulder straps installed

Shoulder suspension straps attached to the frame

Replaced the internal radio pouch hardware with fasttech fastener

Added a drag handle

The magic bag of fasttech buckles. These replacement buckles came with the MOLLE II ruck as a standard issue.

Now, you’re sitting there thinking, cool! you didn’t show me how to put it all together. Well there are smarter people than me so I will include a couple links  on how to put it together properly along with how to create a drag handle, which I have to say is stupid easy to do. Some call the above modifications a HellCat, some call it a Malice like Tactical Taylor, or just a Alice pack mod. Whatever you call it, it is a pretty easy project to do in a few hours and it is pretty cheap with Alice packs in the surplus market running pretty inexpensively. A quick Google search gave me $20 for the frame and $50 for the sack. Midway sells both the frame and sack for $110. The MOLLE II straps and waist belt run around $75.

I used the two videos that are included below. Each very informative and provides a step by step on the processes. Stupid easy.

Alice pack mod

Drag handle

Alice packs have been given a pretty bad rap over the decades, and rightly so. The original Alice was never intended to carry the weights it ended up carrying, and there are a lot of guys out there with bad backs, messed up necks and knees that can attest. I only have about 12 miles on my back with this modified pack and so far it has treated pretty good. I will admit that I am only carrying about 35 lbs on my weekend rucks and I only carry what I need to get me by for a day or two. Nothing long term or an extended time out in the field.

A brief history of the Alice Pack

So what’s next?

So what’s next after you buy an off grid property? I get asked from co-workers. “you bought 43 acres? what are you going to do with it?” I really have to laugh, you don’t have to do anything with it! most people think if you don’t drive it, or if it isn’t consumable then it is a waste of money. If I say a vacation house, they all raise their eyebrows and say “ah” or “awesome”. The whole thing about no water, no electricity, and an outhouse just blows over their collective heads. 99% of people have no concept of living without modern conveniences, there is no mental reference. The ex mil guys I work with get it, civilians generally don’t.

But what do you do? Since a off grid place wasn’t really in our thought process when we set out on this adventure, it has kind of opened some possibilities and some challenges. In the beginning and right up until we found the place we purchased we were not out looking for places that were off grid.  It was mostly raw land, or land with an established  homestead. The raw land we did look at for the most part had infrastrure near by either with county water at the road, electrical service near-by, county garbage pick-up. All the modern conveniences.

After we closed on the property I did a little exercise in how do I bring the those modern things to our land? My first call was to the local electric company to see if we could have power run to the cabin. They said Sure! $7 a foot! and by the way? roughly, that will be $18,000.  I thanked the engineer for his time and hung up.  So electric is out of the question for now. Maybe down the road we will look at solar, wind power, or a generator.

Water, well? (no pun) a few options available are, have it delivered? about $200 for 2000 gals. Bring it in ourselves? Rain water catchment system? Or drilling a well at $10 a ft? I was able to look up what the average well depth in the area of the cabin. 850 ft. with a static level of around 700 to 750 ft. and no guarantee of hitting anything other than rock. Then how do you pump it out without 222 volt electrical service?

Grey water and black water? We do have an outhouse. And a pretty decent one at that. Grey water right now just runs outside, we produce very little grey water.

The poop house, or what I call the shit factory



We spent  5 days over the Christmas Holiday in the cabin and had a few learning curves to go through first. No refrigeration, no flushable toilet, no showers, and conserving the water we did bring in by using it sparingly. Our potable water was hauled in using 5 gallon plastic carboys that I purchased from Walmart for $7 each. During our stay  our daily usage was about 5 gallons a day for 2 adults and 1 dog.

The cabin is fully wired and the previous owners used a generator to hook up to the cabin from outside connection or plug in. I found out the hard way that the inlet was wired initially for a 50 amp 220 volt plug.  I swapped out the 50 amp inlet (female plug) to accept a 30 amp male connection so I could connect my generator to the cabin. Easy right? Remember I mentioned 220 volts a few lines above? Yeah well, when you change to a 30 amp 120 volt connection to the wire or circuit that was wired for a split 220 volt input you now have 2 hot wires, a common, and a ground. I learned this after the incident, read on.

I plugged in a battery charger for my screw gun and I have never seen that amount of pure white sparks come out of a piece of electrical equipment like that in my life! Kinda cool but it did cost me $70 to replace the charger. Lesson learned. I did have a circuit tester with me and went around and tested all the outlets before I plugged anything else in. I found only 1 outlet and 2 overhead lights that worked “properly”. Only knowing basic electricity I am going to leave it up to the pros to come out and look at how the panel is wired. I know the previous owner was a welder by trade and he was using a generator that he runs his welding equipment with to power the cabin. Most of those are 50 amp 220v right?

Propane is the main source of heat and cooking for the cabin. A really neat thing is the previous owners installed Humphrey Gas Lights negating the real need for electric lights. Based on my experience, these little lamps kick out the heat, enough to keep the entire cabin warm enough to sit around in a t-shirt and jeans on a 30 degree night. I mentioned that cooking is also done with propane. There is a propane stove/oven installed and we cooked a pot roast during our Christmas stay, it was 57 degrees out that day and close to 95 inside with that oven going. Talk about kicking the BTU’s!

These are all challenges, not show stoppers in our book. And what is really cool? we don’t really need any of the modern conveniences to enjoy our stays.

In the immediate our intent is to use the property as a vacation get away for now. Long term? slowly develop the property or maybe not. I do know we are going to install a rainwater catchment system for our needs into the foreseeable future. With 800 sq ft of roof? why not? it’s not California and the rain is still free.