Who would have thought that to get off the grid you would – well – have to be off the grid to begin with?
It just goes to show, that when dealing with Lou and Roman, otherwise known as the We Work For Food Construction Company (WWFFCC), any scenario is probable, and when it comes down to getting it done, nothing is impossible.
As construction/renovation plans were being drawn up prior to this years sojourn to my Petersen Lake camp, it became clear that the WWFFCC had decided it was time to go green.
Pointing out that I was already completely off the grid, they informed me in no uncertain terms, that while this was a good start, it was not nearly as far off as I would be once their grand design had been implemented.
Understanding the Gravity of the Situation
If you happened to read last year's instalment of the WWFFCC chronicles, "Don't Let a Little Thing Like Gravity Hold You Down!" you know that the WWFFCC installed what they described as, an "innovative gravity based water system."
Having had time to reflect on their handiwork over the winter months, the WWFFCC concluded that while gravity might be fine for the likes of Sir Isaac Newton, it was of little practical value when it came to the camps water system.
With this in mind, we hit the Boat Show in early January and sourced a small 12 volt pump, that while normally used in marine applications, if all went according to plan, would produce enough pressure to operate our small propane water heater, pump water directly into the cabin, and provide plenty of hot water for the al fresco shower.
Despite the fact we had a year to plan, and presumably acquire all of the necessary components and materials, several stops were made during our 14 - hour drive north to buy a veritable plethora of bits and pieces, without which I was told, their grand design was doomed to failure.
Our first stop was The Home Depot in Orillia, where we acquired several bags of plumbing parts, and then it was off to the Canadian Tire store in Gravenhurst, to pick up all manner of electrical components, that I was assured were needed to compliment the pump, deep cycle battery, and 40 watt solar panel already stowed away in the back of my SUV.
Just prior to our arrival in North Bay, all of the tension that had been building since January regarding some nagging concerns regarding the pumps ability to deliver finally bubbled over, and the guys could not wait another minute before running a test – the lack of water notwithstanding.
As for power, unfortunately, the only available source was my vehicles electrical system.
The pump was quickly removed from its box; instructions tossed aside, and various wires they had extracted from the Canadian Tire bag, were attached. Once plugged in to the auxiliary power outlet, there was an audible ZAP, accompanied by a rather impressive spark, and not surprisingly, both of the vehicles auxiliary outlets were now out of service.
After examining the fuse panel during our fuel stop in North Bay, it was determined that no real damage had been done, and all that was needed to restore power was a 20 - amp fuse to replace the one that had just been fried.
While there was not a spare 20 – amp on the panel, we did manage to dig one up in New Liskard, and the rest of the trip went without further incident, after I made it clear that even though the test results were inconclusive, the power outlets were now strictly off limits for experimental purposes.
I'll Have Mine Over Easy Sunny Side Up
Because we left home somewhat earlier than usual, we arrived in Geraldton just before 6:30 am. Fortunately the restaurant at the Crown & Anchor motel was open, as we had approximately 2 ½ hours to kill before the lumberyard opened – and yes - we were not quite finished shopping just yet.
Lou, who was somewhat groggy after having slept for about 10 hours in the back of the SUV – in fairness he was feeling rather under the weather – plopped into a chair in the restaurant, and ordered up some over easy sunny side up eggs - with ham.
Seeing the rather puzzled look on the waitresses face, he squinted, blinked a couple of times, then cocked his thumb at Roman and said, "I'll have what he's having."
After breakfast we did several loops around town to fill in the time, and when the lumberyard finally opened at 9, picked up some wood, a few screws, and a $3.29 skill saw blade that, as we later discovered, you installed with the label facing in, not the other way around, as would be the case with a regular priced blade.
Arriving at the boat launch just before 10am, we loaded most of our equipment and materials into my new 10 ft. Jon Boat, and towed it behind our 14 – footer. While the 5km trip down river to the camp was a little slower than usual, having our little "barge" in tow saved us at least one additional trip back to the launch to pick up the balance of our equipment.
Sporting new, custom designed work shirts – at least those of us who remembered to bring theirs along - with each persons rank, and inferentially their overall status in the WWFFCC pecking order emblazoned in large white letters across the back of each shirt, we certainly looked more than ready to take on the somewhat daunting task(s) before us.
In keeping with tradition, we hit the ground running once we arrived in camp, and after getting things stowed away, the WWFFCC got right down to business by fabricating and installing a new counter in the "gazebo." The counter not only gave me more room to prep meals, the under counter shelving provided much needed storage space for my pots and pans.
Switching from carpentry to electrical, and following some improvisational, on site design changes, the boys then installed the solar panel, and configured the "power centre," which consisted of the deep cycle battery, together with various wires, plug ins, fuses and modulators, that would eventually be used to run the pump.
I should also mention that they insisted on installing an LED light over our dining table, and while I threatened to remove it when they were not looking, it did serve a useful purpose, as we took all of our evening meals after the sun had set.
By the time all of this work had been completed, cocktail hour had finally arrived, so we kicked back and I mixed up a batch of excruciatingly dry martinis - with plenty of olives - for Lou, and Jack Daniels Manhattans – with loads of cherries - for Roman and I.
Our inaugural evening meal underwent something of a change from years past, and featured a field tomato, blue cheese and sweet onion salad, chateaubriand – carved table side of course – and "smashed" potatoes with chives and double smoked bacon, all of which was washed down with a big, chewy 2009, Saldo , California Zinfandel.
After downing some Frangelico spiked espresso, Lou managed to spark up our traditional evening campfire without doing any particular harm to himself or the surrounding forest.
We finished the evening off by sitting quietly beside the fire under a canopy of a zillion stars, sipping cognac, and contentedly puffing away on some excellent Cuban cigars.
The Pressure is Killing Us!
Today promised to be a full day, and fortified with a breakfast consisting of fresh brewed Costa Rican coffee, Cumbrae Farms breakfast sausages and banana, macadamia nut pancakes, the time had come to bring the WWFFCC's grand design to life.
First up was a complete redesign of the water reservoir. The wooden support frame was taken down and replaced with a sleek, new platform that was held in place with barely visible chain link supports.
Lou, who for some reason bought into Roman's idea that he should be the one to do the work on the reservoir, at least that portion of the work that needed doing 20 feet above the ground, just about painted himself into a proverbial corner.
While precariously balanced on his lofty perch, Roman and I came to the sudden realization, that Lou was one cut away from dismantling the old support frame, and thereby severing the only thing holding him, and his ladder aloft.
After bringing this to his attention, he managed to get out of the tree using the ladder, rather than letting gravity play a staring role in his descent, before making the final cut.
When it comes to designing and installing a workable plumbing system, you soon come to realize that it's all about pressure, and your ability to control it – and this system was certainly no exception.
After assembling what seemed like miles of pipe, held together and connected with hundreds of fittings and clamps, pressure, or the lack thereof, threatened to derail the grand design.
Undaunted, the WWFFCC, made a number of innovative design changes, disassembled and rebuilt several valves, fabricated new fittings, and came up with all manner of bright ideas, that at the end of a rather intense 12 hour day, culminated in the installation of a fully functional, off the grid, electrical water system.
Following cocktails, and a large bowl of smoked almonds, we dinned on whole-wheat pasta - this year's healthy addition to the menu – smothered in a homemade tomato sauce with meatballs and sausage.
The evenings wine selection featured a 1998, Pirramimma, McLaren Vale, Petit Verdot, which again was followed by fresh brewed espresso, Cognac and cigars, which we enjoyed while lounging beside the campfire.
Anyone for Port – In a Storm?
Our plan for day 3 was to spend the morning fine tuning the water system and rebuilding the shower stall, following which we would do some fishing.
By now, you may have come to the realization that tradition plays a significant role, and governs many of our activities while in camp.
One of the most sacred of these is ensuring that Lou gets his first cup of coffee served to him while still in bed, because those of you who know him I'm sure have come to realize that he is not a morning person.
Therefor, by getting him into the days routine in a slow, measured and structured way, once the fog finally lifts, he is usually hitting on all cylinders and ready to go.
Move him along too quickly first thing in the morning, and it may take most of the day to get his compass realigned.
After breakfasting on dry aged New York Sirloins, poached eggs and fresh fruit, we finished everything up by 1pm, including a very nice wooden step/walkway for the main entrance to the cabin, that was designed, built and installed by Roman.
The time had now come to down tools, pick up our fishing rods, and head out onto the water.
We were onto fish in no time - at least Roman and I were – much to Lou's annoyance, who was anything but gracious or complimentary in terms of his comments any time we landed a fish, or for that matter managed to get a bite.
Changing spots brought a change in Lou's luck, and he starting to gain some ground on us. Unfortunately so did the rain clouds that had been hovering in the area, and after getting soaked several times, we decided to head back and wait for it to clear.
Once back in the cabin, Roman got a fire going in the wood stove, and we huddled around the stove while sipping on a 2001, Graham's Vintage Port, and nibbling on a selection of cheeses that included, Bleu Ermite, Bonnechere and iles Aux Groues.
Early that evening, the weather cleared, and the time had now come to put both the water heater and shower through their paces.
Lou, being the senior member of the crew, and designated guinea pig – or should I say test pilot - was first up. Both the steam, and the sounds of absolute pleasure that were emanating from the shower stall left no doubt in anyone's mind that the performance of the shower and water heater had certainly met, if not exceeded all of our expectations.
Roman was next up, and because you have a relatively clear view of lake from the shower, as you can see from the picture below, he was treated to a view of one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen up there while he showered. He said it was the second best shower he ever had, but no amount of prodding or cajoling could get him to tell us what the best one was.
Our evening meal consisted of jumbo Tiger Shrimp, sautéed in homemade garlic butter, finished with fresh lemon. The shrimp were served with a medley of grilled vegetables, and a 2011, Domaine De Fontsainte Rose.
Espresso, Cognac, cigars, and of course campfire then followed. Fortunately the sky remained clear, and we spent the next several hours sitting in what could be best described as our own private planetarium.
Thar' She Blows!
Breakfast this morning featured Cumbrae Farms, chicken/mushroom/Dijon sausages, eggs prepared to order and fresh orange wedges.
The intention was to devote most of the day to fishing, and other than Roman deciding to building a "step up" for the shower, Lou turned his attention, and the chain saw, to fabricating a wooden serving platter for the charcuterie I planned to serve later that afternoon.
But before we get to that, it's worth mentioning a particular incident that occurred while the WWFFCC was making some minor adjustments to the water system.
There is no doubt that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I won't have to use nearly that many to describe what you are seeing in the picture below.
All I will say is that Lou should have listened to Roman, and not cut through that pressurized hose.
Lou and Roman fabricated 2, very impressive serving platters, and once they were sanded, oiled and suitably admired and fussed over, it was time to hit the water.
The decision was made to head downstream and begin fishing just below the first rapid. It turned out to be a good choice as the fishing was excellent in the deep hole below the rapid.
Roman picked up right where he left off the previous day, and by the time we packed it in; he had out fished both of us by a ratio of approximately 10 to 1. To say the boy was hot would definitely be an understatement.
Lou, who was even less gracious than on the previous day as he watched Roman haul in fish after fish, managed to save face by catching the biggest of the day. In total we caught, and released well over 30 fish.
I promised the boys that next year we would keep a few and have a fish fry.
Being rather hungry after all of that hard work, we returned to camp, and pressing the new platters into service, enjoyed a selection of charcuterie that included, wild boar prosciutto, smoked duck breast, and a variety of salami and cheeses.
Other than breaking camp that evening so we could get an early start in the morning, all of the work had been completed, therefor what better way to spend a warm, sunny afternoon than by having a siesta on the beach until dinner.
After finishing up the remaining cocktails at the appropriate hour, we enjoyed pasta with homemade pesto, and grilled, balsamic marinated chicken breasts.
I just happened to have another bottle of the Pirramimma remaining, and it complimented our table fare very nicely.
With our store of Cognac now totally depleted, we switched over to brandy – remember we were roughing it – and enjoyed yet another perfect evening beside our roaring campfire.
We leave the lighting of the campfire to Lou, as he usually manages to come up with a twist of sorts that turns it into something of an event – and he was really on his game this year.
Using what was remaining of the chainsaw fuel, he traced the call letters of the WWFFCC – most of them anyway – in the sand.
Once ignited, both the letters, and the campfire wood burst into flames, and I'm certain that whoever was floating high above the earth in the International Space Station, could clearly see the letters WWFF.
When asked why he chose to leave out the remaining 2 letters, I never did get a straight answer.
Building a Strong Foundation
As always, plans for next year were discussed during the drive home.
The WWFFCC will be turning their attention to the "old," or original cabin in 2013, with plans to install a steel roof, bunk beds, and shore up the foundation.
Their work was as always both amazing and transformative, and the time spent in camp each year is nothing short of remarkable on so many levels and in so many different ways.
I didn't hear any complaints about the food therefor I am assuming that my account has been paid in full.
There was some friendly chirping between the boys during the drive, as to who came up with the most "bright ideas" regarding the installation of the new water system.
For the most part I just sat back quietly enjoying the rather hilarious back and forth, content in the knowledge that I had the best "bright idea" of all - not only this year but in the previous 3 as well – which was engaging the WWFFCC in the first place.
Hell, come to think of it, we are now so far off the grid; I only hope that we can find the place next year!
Thanks guys…and by the way, I may include some of the items listed below on next years charcuterie platter – any preferences?