We started our off-grid adventure four years ago with nothing but raw land surrounded by some of the most magnificent views in the Big Bend of Texas. Although we had no intention of developing our property for full-time living, we nevertheless wanted a comfortable and inviting place to visit several times a year.
Four years later we have a cozy cabin powered by solar panels, almost two-thousand gallons of water catchment capacity, a workshop, and a recently added shade structure that we are developing into an outdoor kitchen. Looking back, it has all happened slowly — one small project at a time.
One of the first things I did when we started our off-grid adventure was to get a little black book — a place to scribble notes, sketch ideas, make materials lists, and record our progress. This simple step has made a huge difference because it has kept me focused on planning and completing one project at a time.
Developing anything off the grid requires careful planning, in large part because if you forget something it is a long way to the hardware store. And because we only visit our cabin a few times a year, we can’t afford to waste time by postponing a project because we failed to plan accordingly.
We have learned that redundancy in regard to tools and supplies is important to making progress. This usually translates into buying an extra coupler or an additional box of screws or extra lumber or whatever the case may be according to the project at hand. Over time I have built a good inventory of extra items — the things that I know we need to stay on track with our projects.
Although we like to visit our cabin to relax and unwind, we also want to take advantage of our time there to make a little more progress on the development of our property. It is a long way from our driveway in the suburbs to the gate to our property so we always plan on completing at least one or more projects every time we visit.
This past week we added pavers to the area under our shade structure. Because dust is an ongoing reality of off-grid life in the Chihuahuan Desert, every little thing we can do to mitigate the dust is a win.
I ordered three pallets of pavers from McCoy’s Building Supply in Alpine and had them delivered to the property. In preparation, I leveled the area and ran a line of mason twine from post to post to guide the installation. I then notched the corner pavers to lock them in around the corner posts and then started the installation.
Getting the first row of pavers perfectly level and in line was important to avoid having to deal with cumulative error on the next rows. This was the tedious part of the process but worth the extra attention to get it right.
All in all it took us a day and a half to install the pavers. Having knee pads made a huge difference since I spent most of the time on my knees while Cheryl handed me the pavers. I had to cut the entire final row of pavers and was happy when I laid the last one in place.
Once we completed the installation, we swept sand between the joints to lock everything in place and then added a line of gravel around the perimeter. I am thinking about adding a decorative border around the perimeter sometime in the future. We’ll see. And then the final step in this phase will be to add an inch or two of gravel all around the shade structure and cabin.
Spending a day and a half, mostly on my knees, setting one paver at a time in place reminded me that this is how we have been able to make so much progress over the past four years. Like eating an elephant, it all happens one small bite at a time! That is the pace of progress off the grid.