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Andy and his family live in a small collection of cabins hidden out in the backwoods of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. It’s an idyllic dream for many city dwellers, one they manage to pull off while retaining luxuries like central heat, indoor toilets and even broadband Internet access.
I first met Andy on Washington’s west coast one summer, maybe four years ago. The sound of a big diesel is what I remember most. A cream-colored Ford pickup with an Alaskan Camper stuffed into the bed pulled up and parked right next to the ocean. An attractive woman with a newborn baby climbed out and started cooking breakfast. Andy walked over and said hi; “stoked” is how I’d describe him.
We were on a surfing trip and I assumed Andy would be joining us in the water, but instead, he and his family spent the weekend hiking the surrounding mountains and just having a good time.
I next saw him at a New Year’s party, where talk quickly turned to riding dirt bikes. And and his brother turned out to be more accomplished motorcyclists than most people I know. They’ve explored most of the Pacific Northwest on a matching pair of Honda XR650Ls.
Fast forward a few months, and here’s Andy again, wheelying into my camp on that Honda. This time, we made plans to hang out again; I was invited to the family’s property as well as to join them on a handful of motorcycle adventures. One of those led us to an abandoned military bunker high above the Strait of Juan de Fuca. But that’s a story for another time.
What I’d like to tell you about today is how this family has dialed-in The Dream. Somewhere between hippy and backwoods survivalist, are Andy and his brother. They share an eight-acre parcel just outside Port Angeles, acquired from their family when they were just 18, after their parents got divorced. In the years that followed, each built their own cabin, set a few hundred feet apart.
The property sits about twenty minutes outside of Port Angeles. It’s “on-the grid” if you will, which means they receive power and internet access the same way everyone else does... Magic Tubes! Or maybe just Wave Broadband, the Internet provider for the Olympic Peninsula. Either way, their old man has a router in his house, and everyone else streams off that. The family are able to live a lifestyle that’s simple and close to nature, but one that’s still close enough to civilization to benefit from its modern conveniences. That compromise is a big part of their secret.
The brother’s is the smallest, but also the most impressive. Especially considering he started construction when he was in high school. Andy’s cabin is the first you see, after completing the long, uphill, dirt driveway. Opposite it is the shed the boys built to house their collection of cars, trucks, bikes, boats and whatnot.
Their father, for lack of a better word, is a bit of a recluse and still lives on the property too, paying the occasional visit on his 60,000-mile KLR650.
At Andy’s place, it’s hard to tell you’re not in a small, suburban house. Just one where you have to sprinkle stuff on your poop and turn on the propane before taking a hot shower. Off the grid? Not exactly, but that’s what makes the family’s life more interesting, and more attainable for most people.
Elsewhere on the property, 20 minutes outside of town, are an assortment of out buildings, sheds, a treehouse, a handmade sauna, a wood mill (fabricated from an old motorcycle) and a network of trails ridden by Andy’s oldest son, Liam, aboard his XR80.
Compost toilets keep shitting simple, while the propane-powered hot water forces you to think before you use it. Heat is generated by burning wood, that then pumps hot air through an elaborate system of pipes in each home. The brother has a large steel drum secured in the corner of his cabin for this hot air, something he installed with the help of the property’s ample supply of clay.
The abundance of space in the buildings allows the boys to build, destroy and tinker to their heart’s content. In any given shed you’ll find anything from a vintage beach cruiser to kayaks to surfboards to snow shoes. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking this sounds a lot like one of those TV Shows about crazy people hoarding old trash, but you’d be wrong. As much as these sheds are filled with things, so is the family’s time. Andy and his brother both work for a local snowboard, surfboard and skateboard maker They’re sorta the on-call problem solvers, typically working the night shift. That flexible schedule is what allows them to get out of their cabins for any available opportunity; those kayaks, motorcycles and climbing gear? They get used, a lot.
So how do you live this dream? The one where you get to give up your 9-to-5 and all that money you waste renting a little apartment in the city and move out to the middle of nowhere and cut logs for the rest of your life? Andy’s answer is you don’t. You don’t need to disconnect to live a better life. Andy and his family still have Internet access and electricity from the local grid. After felling and milling a tree, then turning those boards into their new pottery studio, they sit down, open their laptops and relax in front of Netflix like the rest of us.
Rather than The Dream, they’re living an achievable dream. What I’m getting at is that you don’t need to give up all modern amenities to live simply and to live closer to nature. Instead of buying that brand new SUV or a timeshare on that overpriced vacation home, why not take a chance on something that needs a little work? Dedicate yourself to it. And never stop.
Nothing is new in Andy’s Adventure Land. The bikes, the boards, the trucks, the buildings; all of them are in need of a little work. And they do that work and get them working when they need to, then use them to go adventure riding or sea kayaking or hiking to the top of local mountains. Or, just sit down in the kitchen, fire up the wood burning stove, and put a jazz record on old record player and chill out. I bet that’s what you’d like to be doing right now, right?