Off the grid

January 14, 2016

off-the-gridWho among us hasn’t fantasized about leaving terrorism, war, poverty, bankruptcy and all the other 21st century problems behind and going off the grid? You know, living a simpler life? One in which your only focus would be yourself? And survival, of course.  But oh, how wonderful it would be to know for certain that a terrorist will never, ever come within reach. Ever.

But there’s still danger: maybe a grizzly. Or a wolf. Let me explain.

Not too long ago I found a TV show called Railroad Alaska. It’s about what they call the toughest railroad in the world, mostly because the climate and distance are so tough.  That’s what they SAY it’s about. But it’s really about the people living off the grid, whose only lifeline to civilization is the railroad. And they are an interesting bunch.


The stereotypical conductor. I have a lot of questions for him. Like, WTF is he doing in Alaska? Is he an actor?

We are RIVETED to this series which, unfortunately, we missed for its first three seasons. It’s slow going trying to tape reruns and then view them in sequence and avoid buying them on Amazon. But I don’t want to step out of sequence because, well, every little thing is important.  So let me explain a bit. Because the dialogue’s lame and one episode is like the next. Except for this:

Not all big cities are BIG CITIES

One senior couple lives off the grid some 90 miles from the nearest city: Talkeetna.  To really get a hold of what that means, consider that the population of Talkeetna is only 900. In one early episode, the older woman, who is just recovering from a stroke,  neglects to get her necessary medication on her monthly trip to town. So, she called her son and told him it was an “emergency”–and it was, because the medication would help prevent another stroke.  The son, who lives in Talkeetna, had to drop what he was doing to catch the weekly train that ran by his parents’ homestead.

Just like in frontier days, the train stops when it needs to, not at a station. And that day it stopped near the homestead. Maw and Paw zoomed to the tracks on their snow machines to pick up their son for a visit and medication drop.  The timing of all this is never clear, but you get the drift. So to speak.

Now, in the city, how would it be if you had to drop what you were doing to take a train out to the bush and back?  Yeah, I thought so.   The son said he knows his folks want to live on the homestead (which is a fairly shabby and rustic place without indoor plumbing) so he does all he can to help them do that.  Obviously, even in poor health, the senior couple chooses to live (and probably die) isolated in the bush.

Maw said that when they first moved to the property they had no insulation. Outdoor temps got to 67 below zero.  “So when it got up to 47 degrees below zero if felt like a warm spell.”

Umm.  Not even.


The outhouse. Year ’round. Need I say more? You can see his left hook. So to speak.

“The shower house is closed for winter.”

Can we discuss indoor plumbing? The “shower house” is away from the main house and it closes for their (brutal) winters. So, no showers all winter. All the long winter.  Yeah, it would be a mighty long winter if I couldn’t shower. Mighty long.

An even older couple who seem to be on the edge of crazy also live out in the bush. The guy, hair and beard askew with a slightly crazy look in his eye, accidentally shot off his hand one year. Now, had he lived in the city, he’d have had a fancy mechanical hand and lots of rehab to get him to work it. He’d be pretty functional. But out there in the bush, well, such things don’t happen. So a large hook replaced his hand.

“Is that hook DUCT-TAPED to his arm?” I asked M., incredulously. Because that’s what it looked like to me. But no, the hook had some sort of basic black leather sleeve he slipped on.  Life is very basic out in the Alaskan wilderness.  And they are a completely fascinating couple. I mean, the look on my face as I watch must be priceless.


There are other cast members, but I just this this pic says it all. See the hook?

Calling the LaLeche League!

Two newlyweds who both love living in isolation are also featured on the show. She looks like she’s missing a few teeth and he spends a whole lot of time thanking his lucky stars for finding a woman who wants to live off the grid, too, and who has the skills to do it.  In Season 1, she was expecting a child.  He had to be gone overnight so instead of sending her to town, a girlfriend of hers with a six-week-old infant came to stay. Since he took the only snow machine, I’m not so sure what girlfriend could have done for pregnant wife in an emergency except, perhaps deliver the baby.  After he left, though, girlfriend realizes she’s come all this way and FORGOTTEN HER BABY’S FORMULA.

Ok, so what mom does this? And where are those breast-feeding Nazis when they’re needed?

So now she has to leave nine-month-pregnant off-gridder and trudge TWO MILES through deep snow WITH HER BABY IN A FRONT-FACING PAPOOSE dodging wolves and moose who could find that baby might tasty.  She picks up the train, finally, goes to town (90 miles which is a few hours) to get formula at the tiny general store and then takes the train back and trudges two more miles in what had to be the dark (by then) but for purposes of the show, it’s daytime. Of course, this had to be staged. Because I doubt new mom would forget formula. But it’s reality TV.

Like any woman, I’m wondering how this pregnant woman has her baby in the bush. But we never get to see that. Instead, next episode, she has a six-week-old infant and there’s no mention of how it all came about. Did she do it alone? Was there a midwife? Did her mother come?  Obviously, this show is written by men.

So, you can see how escapist it is and how addictive it is to consider living in a place where you don’t even think about measuring liquids you travel with so they are three ounces or less.  I love the lack of stress about terrorism: no self-respecting terrorist would trudge through the wild to come shoot you up. And if, by chance they did, and hell would have to freeze over first, well, you’re armed to the gills because you need to be for survival in the wild.

Off the grid is a fantasy for me, but this is a time when some of us are seeking refuge in fantasy.

If Alaska’s not your thing….

The other day I read a blog post by a woman who said she is finding her own safe haven in the Hallmark Movie Channel. That made me smile because I, too, tape those sappy love stories that all have a happy ending. No one gets beheaded or shot. I love them. In fact, there are four or five waiting on my DVR right this very minute. Far preferred to the idiocy of Fox or the unprofessional CNN news team.

So, times are tough right now. There’s a lot of tension in the air.  But most of us city slickers are ill-equipped to live off the grid. So what to do to get away from the constant onslaught of real-life violence?

My prescription is a dose of Railroad Alaska, a couple of Hallmark movies, and if you have a really bad case of 21st century anxiety, try the five hours of Railroad Alaska’s Realtime Rail Trip: five hours riding the train through remote Alaska nonstop. No dialogue. Some moose.

It is a meditative experience just made for a nice bowl of weed.  Fire up and…

All aboard!


29 comments on “Off the grid
  1. chuck house says:

    Well, we did a ‘local version’ when we moved to Elderwood, CA. Not exactly off the grid, since we have a microwave ‘bounce’ to a fiberoptic line to Los Angeles (allows better Skype to China or Europe or India, no latency so lip-sync works). But we ‘do our own water’ and this year that failed for a time (Central Valley has a bigger drought than even the Bay area. 35 horses need 700 gallons of water daily in our hot summers.
    Our town is 158 folk, most are fourth or fifth generation, everyone ‘knows’ everyone else (and dated ’em or married ’em at least once). In one year, we’ve known seven folk who died–three shot dead, one killed by falling off a big piece of farm equipment and getting ground up, one in a small plane crash, one by slipping and hitting her head on the cement floor, and one ‘naturally’.
    There is a ‘town’ seven miles away, but the bank is 25 miles away, and there is a quality meat store and grocery just a few miles past that. Many though eat their own animals (mostly cows, pigs, goats, lambs–no one that I know eats dogs, cats or horses). The seven year olds are good with shotguns, most have shot pheasants, quail, doves, rabbits, etc by that age. One fellow at our New Year’s bash pointed to the nearby hill, and said, “that’s where I was shot a few years back” No one else thought that strange.
    We are too old to need ‘formula’ or the LaLeche League, but when new horses arrive (seems like always in the middle of the night), we don’t call “the vet”–and Mother Nature says “Hello” as in the foxes and mountain lions that magically appear to help us watch the proceedings. Bears are a little less frequent, but when the last one strolled by and was treed five homes away, six guys with AK-47s suddenly appeared (4am) and the poor bear exited this world. Where DID those guys come from?

  2. I am tempted to go off-grid. But then I realize how much I like heat, indoor plumbing, and clean water and I get over it.

  3. Mary says:

    WOW! My mind is reeling. I would love to be off the grid, away from all that the 21st century brings but, NOT THAT FAR OFF! I am intrigued enough to try and catch an episode or two.

  4. Anna Palmer says:

    Vancouver is my version of off the grid. Which really means away from some of our US crud. I think it has more than 900 people. At least I would likely keep my teeth.

  5. My hubby LOVES these shows. I, on the other hand, find them frustrating and amusing at the same time. Personally I LOVE the grid. ps: I wrote a post about the Hallmark escape recently. Can I assume?…..

  6. deanna says:

    Living off the grid would be okay for a short period of time. This is why I love camping, it is a good way to get away for a little while.

  7. Jennileigh says:

    If I go Off Grid, i t better be somewhere warm and sandy, with a lot of vodka and pretty little paper umbrellas for my drink…….

  8. I was born in Alaska and I’ve dreamed of returning one day. I’m in love with your photos and all of that snow. We don’t get any here. I’d love to live off the grid and live simpler.

  9. Brianne says:

    I love the idea of it, but there’s no way I would survive “off the grid.” When I need to escape, I drive out to some beautiful hiking trails, the vineyards, or the beach (I’m lucky enough to have all within an hour or so). It’s nice to get away every once and while, and feel off the grid without actually going “off the grid.”

    Great post!

  10. Isabel Leong says:

    I would love to go off the grid at least once in my lifetime too, y’know? Especially while I’m still young and unafraid. Would be a nice experience to live and share when I get older. 🙂 All it takes is courage!

  11. That show sounds like a hoot! I need to tune in. While I run in the opposite direction of social media, especially considering I have a website/blog, I’m not up to totally living off the grid.

  12. At this point, I think getting off social media would be a big step in going off the grid for me. I do love Alaska, though.

  13. Liz Mays says:

    OH man, I’d be a mess off the grid, but in the long run maybe I’d love it! I need to watch that show though. It sounds fascinating!

  14. Elizabeth O. says:

    I have to be honest, I’ve never seen an episode. I can imagine the struggle, but they seem like they also have adapted to the life that they have. It would be nice to live off the grid and away from people, it would be a tough adjustment though.

  15. andrea says:

    I do like the Hallmark Channel – some of the shows. But I also believe that “off the grid” is TOTALLY different for each individual… 🙂

  16. I think I can endure living off the grid, but not for a long time. This show sounds very interesting. I would love to watch this.

  17. MELISASource says:

    I’ve often toyed with the idea of going off the grid. The thing is, I’m the most connected woman in the world, so going off the grid would be next to impossible for me.

  18. Lisa Rios says:

    I would love to go Off Grid as well, some where around where I have a warm environment with some nature’s blessing all around. My husband usually watch these shows at times & I accompany him whether I love it or not!

  19. Alana says:

    Years ago, we bought some land in rural Arkansas and intended to “go off the grid”. Until we figured out what that really meant, and we discovered we had a great love for electricity and hot water. Although, we did use an outhouse for the four years we lived on that land. This kind of roughing it, I never would have considered. Voluntarily.

  20. I would love to go off the grid at least once, because I think I have courage of doing this!

  21. Matthew says:

    cool post, love the photos. will have to check out the show on railroad in Alaska- sounds interesting.

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