When we first decided that we wanted to campground host in Alaska, we were directed to the Kenai Wildlife Refuge. All of the information said that we would have to ‘boondock’, a word we had never heard before. A little research showed us that it meant ‘living in the boondocks with no amenities’ or no water, no power, no sewer. In other words, ‘off the grid’ in a trailer.
Though we thought we could ‘pull it off’, we decided to apply for jobs that had at least two of those things: electric and water. When we were offered a job through Alaska Recreation Management that didn’t have those things, we decided once again to ‘go for it.’
(For those who want to know – We got this job because we actually asked some campground hosts at Quartz Creek when we were here last year for our daughter’s wedding, ‘How do we get your job?’ We did not hear back from any places where we filled out applications through Chugach National Forest or the State of Alaska, only from the people to whom those hosts referred us.)
Our fifth-wheel trailer comes equipped with a 12-volt battery and two 30 lb. propane tanks. The battery, believe it or not, will run our furnace along with propane. Our stove/oven and refrigerator are also propane powered. When traveling, the refrigerator runs on propane, but when we plugged into electric, it ran on electrical power.
Years ago we bought a solar generator in the event we would have to live without power. It came in handy a couple of times when blizzards blew out our power for hours and even days. We could plug in our freezer and refrigerator and not lose our food. So, we at least had that for power, and Alaska in the summer has 20 hours of daylight. But what if, like today, it is cloudy and rains. My husband had the foresight to buy a small gas generator that could take over if necessary. Once we arrived at Cooper Creek, we put our solar panels on the roof of our trailer and the sun did its thing and charged the generator. Today, however, the gas generator is running while it’s raining. We are still learning how much wattage we can use with one and the other, but for the solar generator, we do need sun. We have learned that when the furnace runs on the battery, the generator will re-charge the battery first leaving us with a smaller amount of energy.
Our trailer has a 60 gallon water tank. We traveled most of the way without filling it because of its weight. However, through Canada, most of the campgrounds didn’t have water as it was still too cold. Because we never knew what we would find, we kept it ⅓ full. Now that we’re without a source of water via a hose, we will have to haul water. We have a 42-gallon water bladder that can lay in the back of the truck so that we can haul it once it is full. One of our options is the hand pump here in the campground. Honestly, I can’t imagine pumping 42 gallons of water into the bladder twice a week though I would probably end up with very strong arms. We can go to a place called Jim’s Landing and fill our water with a hose or we can visit a friend of my daughter’s. These people live ‘off the grid’ and have a wonderful spring. They pump it into 50 gallon containers for use in their mountain tiny house. We have been told we can use that water which we will probably do (and they have chickens where I can buy fresh eggs!).
The next issue will be getting the water into the holding tank. We have a little pump thingy that should do that for us, but since we’ve never used it, we don’t know how or if that will work. We learn new things each day; some actually work, some we have to re-invent. We also have two 6 gallon jugs that we can haul water from the hand pump or the spring. As for drinking water, I’m weird about where my water comes from. For example, I cannot and will not drink water from a bathroom sink. I blame that on my brother who told me when I was little that the water from the toilet flushed into the sink. Yeah, he does plumbing today. We buy cases of spring water for actual drinking.
We have a hot water heater. It runs on either propane or electric. It holds six gallons of water. So, showers tend to be short though I’ve never run out and I love to stand in hot water. Since we will be hauling water, I will shorten my showers because I think hauling water will become tedious. There is a hook-up for a washer/dryer combo in our trailer, but since we knew we would be hauling water, we didn’t buy one. We have the luxury of going to our daughter’s house and showering. We will be doing laundry at her house, too.
This is the biggie. Gray water is that water that comes out of the shower, the bathroom sink and the galley/kitchen. We have learned that gray water can be released into the ground. If anyone has ever tent camped, you know that you can throw your wash water out on the ground. Well, that’s what we’re going to be doing; it’s just going to come through a hose and we’ll move the hose around and around. The only rule is that it cannot be released on forest service property so the hose goes out about 50 feet from our trailer. The hose is brown and camouflaged because we have heard tales about people thinking it’s black water and turning hosts into law enforcement.
Black water is the water that comes out of the toilet. When we first asked about the campsite, we were told that we were within 100 feet of the pit toilet. On the one side of the toilet there is a manhole cover into a septic holding tank that we can open and dump our black water. We bought a flo-jet pump or what we call a ‘poop grinder’. This little mechanism grinds up what is in the black tank, mixes it with water until it flows through a garden hose into that manhole. Unfortunately, we’re like a million miles from that pit toilet and so pumping to that manhole is not going to work. The second option we have is called a ‘poop hauler’. Sounds fun doesn’t it? This is a huge tank on wheels in which my husband (not me) will dump our black sewage. Then, he will haul it on the back of our truck that million miles and dump it into septic tank.
Apart from these three things, it’s going to be a fun summer living in this fifth wheel. I have hot water to wash dishes. I have propane for my oven to bake cookies and challah bread for Sabbath. I have a refrigerator that keeps leftovers fresh; a freezer stocked with ice cream. I have a hot shower. I have a flush toilet, but will probably try to use the pit toilet as much as possible. It will be clean and smell good because that’s part of my job. I know what I expect in a pit toilet so that is what I will do. I have a warm bed and when it’s cold, a furnace and the most-necessary propane-powered Mr. Heater. The lights in the trailer are LED and do not use much power so we added battery operated lights in places where we will need them if and when it ever gets dark in Alaska.
In the meantime, I have a wonderful sofa, my Broncos throw, the means to make hot cocoa, a couple of good books along with the Good Book, internet through Verizon most of the time, some herb plants and a few flowers to make this campsite at Cooper Creek in Cooper Landing, Alaska my home for the next four months.
*Note: Much of what we have invested came from our wonderful Cabela’s discount that we had for nearly 20 years.
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