What Were We Thinking (Going Off-Grid)?

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather
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Recently as I sat looking out my office window at the huge full moon that was rising I was reminded of a night 15 years ago when I got finally got our internet working.

This might not sound like a big deal. Today most of the developed world is connected to the internet, but back then it was a huge deal for us to get connected. In fact, I wrote a whole chapter about it in our book Little House Off The Grid, because it was key to our ability to move here. Not only are we off the electrical grid, but there are no phone lines to our home either. There was no cell service in our area so we had to rely on a complicated piece of technology called an “optaphone” which converted phone signals into radio signals. There was a transmission box at the end of the phone line and one at our house. I had to put up a telephone pole, put a special antenna on it, install solar panels and batteries to power it and then arrange for the telephone company to come and connect it. It was a huge challenge and a huge learning curve.

Off-Grid Communications

It took about 4 months. Once I got it all connected I came up one weekend and tested the phone. And it worked. What a great feeling. The next weekend I brought the fax machine up and connected it and it worked. Strike two! Then the third weekend I brought up a huge computer (I didn’t own a laptop yet) and external modem and spent hours working with a local internet provider to get internet. And after much to and fro I got it working. There were no dynamic host communication protocols and fast transparent wireless connections in those days. There were a lot of 1,400-baud rates, and start bits and stops bits and stuff I found very frustrating.

And that was that. It was the final hurdle to us moving up here. We ran an electronic publishing business in the city and we needed to be able to continue to run the business here. We needed a phone. We needed a fax (kind of hard to imagine today). We needed internet. And now we had all three. There was nothing holding us back.

So I called Michelle and said “OK, let’s put the house on the market!” Let’s do this!

And seeing that rising moon on a cold fall night reminded me of sitting in this office and taking that absolutely terrifying leap of faith that we could do this. Leave our safe, secure little life in suburbia and move to the middle of nowhere, dependent on solar panels that were still outrageously expensive, power our home with inverter technology that was very much in its infancy, and hope we could figure everything out while heating with wood and running a business, 3 hours from our customers.

In fact, after writing that paragraph, it sounds kind of stupid to me. No really … what were we thinking? Why didn’t I just stay miserable in suburbia? It would have been so much safer. So much more … traditional … easy … safe.

Now, 15 years and many, many technology upgrades later, it all seems pretty easy. Pretty sensible. It clearly was the logical thing to do.

But it’s good to be reminded of where you came from. It’s nice to recall that there was great uncertainty. That there was a huge learning curve ahead, and yet we didn’t let it hold us back.

I love to watch a full moon just as it rises on the horizon. The point of reference makes it look so big. So awe inspiring. And it often reminds me of that third weekend, when I finally got the internet working on our optaphone system and calling Michelle and telling her it was time to sell our house in the city and move to the country.

And sell we did, and our house sold so quickly that we found ourselves moving at the end of January, in a blizzard … but that’s another story. You’ll find it in “Little House Off The Grid.” I gotta keep some mystery!

For more information about Cam Mather or his books please visit his website: www.CamMather.com.

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