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House Hunting

We all have different life experiences; I grew up in a military family, living in traditional ranch style homes (base housing) on military bases usually in duplex style, with a shared carport, or patio space. My wife grew up in Chicago, in various apartment buildings. Neither experience prepared us for Living Appalachian.

Ok, so my wife and I are looking for a few acres of land, way back in the woods, as a sort of a weekend getaway and accordingly, we have visited a few sites, contacted realtors and have skimmed the local papers. A particular parcel caught our attention: Offered as roughly 11 acres, $59K, with two cabins, one finished one partially finished. It has a well, a developed spring, a rain water cistern, chicken coop and a couple of out buildings. The place also offers free natural gas with a gas generator, and satellite internet. The owner said the road is rough and it is definitely "off the grid", so it would on be worthy to look at if you were serious about getting back to nature. Oh, how serious he was!

So we drive down a dual lane, paved and marked state highway, turning at the designated location on a "county maintained" road, which in West Virginia can mean many things. In this instance, it means the road is single lane and paved – not uncommon for this state. A couple of miles down this road, it turns to a gravel surface. The road is still not bad and passable by a standard, 2 wheel drive car. A few more miles and the road crosses one shallow creek and then another. I wonder how these look when the rains are heavy? Our mini-van makes the swim nicely and on a little more to a turn out to meet the seller's girlfriend. She is in a 4WD Chevy Blazer, and will drive us the rest of the way.

Onward we go, through what is now merely a goat trail; this roadway is classified as an "unmaintained" county road, but, if you fuss enough, the county boys will bring out some gravel on occasion. Our host says you need good tires for this drive.

Really? I think a military HMMWV would be in order...

We proceed, moving at a blistering 2 or 3 miles per hour, in 4WD, bouncing and splashing along ruts, holes, loose rock, gravel and dirt. Fifteen minutes later we arrive on the homestead after a ride that makes the Universal Island of Orlando Theme Parks' Dragon Challenge ™ dual roller coasters pale by comparison. Hmmm, it seems like a nice place, out in the woods.

So, now we get down to business. What do you do for water? Well, there is a rock formation against a hill that has a natural spring. Ground water trickles into a PVC pipe that feeds a 20 gallon water jug. There is a 500 gallon cistern that catches rain water on the "new" cabin. Finally, the property has a hand dug well, about 60 feet deep, and 4-5 feet across, where the sides are blocked up with stones. So, the spring is the drinking water, the cistern is for plants and animals, and the well is just there because it has no water pump.

What about trash, I enquire? Well, we burn what we can, and take the rest into town, dropping it in the gas station trash containers as needed. In the clearing, there was a mound of smelly, semi-burnt rubbish literally the size of pickup truck. Looks like we need to get around to burning, eh?

What about sewer or septic systems? Well, we tore down the outhouse (the other day) and my brother-in-law is on his way into town to get some lumber to build a new one.

Good luck bringing a heavy truckload of lumber out here, I think to myself.

"I suppose you could install a septic system with a leach field over this way", she gestures.

I ask, "What do you do in the meantime"?
"Oh, we're roughing it for now".
What does roughing it mean with no running water, no flushing commode, not even an outhouse? I was in the Army for 20 years and we sometimes had to "rough" it; at least there was an end in sight – pun intended!

Caution - Digression! At one point while stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana, I willfully re-appropriated military assets, i.e. a standard folding metal chair. I took it home, cut out a big hole in the center of the seat, and fastened a standard toilet seat and a short length of rebar for tissue. On our next FTX (field training exercise = go live in the woods for a week and shoot blanks at each other), the chair got laughed at by the other platoons, until day three, when the idea suddenly seemed practical. Hey, Sarge, can I borrow that chair thing?

So, we head into the unfinished cabin. It is a modest two story building, well built, metal roof, insulated walls, double pane windows, and rough-in wiring. It needs flooring, exterior siding, outlets, switches, sheetrock and other trim work. It is potentially a nice little place. No plumbing of any kind, though. Really, no plumbing…

Past the chicken coop we go, noticing they have chickens, turkeys, guineas and something else I didn't recognize. Hmmm, fresh eggs?

So, on towards the cabin they are living in, but first, we stop at the "generator" shed. This little building has a slight engine noise coming from it and when she unbolts the door, I see a familiar sight: a gasoline powered Honda EU2000 generator. This is the source of their electricity for the whole place. I use my Honda generator while camping and for emergencies.

Next, we step into the house they are living in. This place is an 800 square foot, upgraded shack, built in the 1970's by some hippies from the hippie movement and later remodeled. However, remodeling does not consist of crown molding, baseboard and window trim. Instead, they have removed the newspaper insulation and replaced it with rough cut oak boards. You can see the wall framing members, crumbling floor and single glass pane windows. The gas heaters in each room look beat up and dangerous, and they actually still have natural gas lamps mounted high on the walls in each room; the lamps look like something you'd find in an antique store. The place looks like someone built a home with salvaged wood scrap. This place, too, has no bathroom or commode. It does have a typical kitchen sink, but no running water. Remember the spring? You bring water from the spring in gallon milk jugs and pour it slowly into the sink – there's your running water! I was afraid to ask where the water drained…

We also noticed an odd thing. The host stopped twice along the way, to open and close a vehicle gate. The first instance was because the neighbor had cows roaming around, but the second? Thieves? Even 911 couldn't find this place!

So, let's surmise: 11 acres, $60K, no running water, no electricity, no trash service, no bathrooms, no plumbing, lots of rubbish, and access road passable by only the best of 4 wheel drives or goats. Cell phone service is available, however, if you ride an ATV a couple of miles, up a hilltop on someone else's land.

Real deal, huh?

Hey, it's Living Appalachian...