Monday, November 22, 2010

Tent Life - getting started

Ben and I decided we want to spend what is left of this fall, this coming winter and the following spring in the mountains. Since Ben’s family has a farm here in Clifton Forge, VA, we decided to live here on “the hill”. This will be my account of our adventure of living on the farm.

We are interested in simplifying our lives. Our plan was to live in a small space where we would only be able to have what we need (cutting down on clutter is a great feeling). We want to lessen our monthly bills as much as possible, so we can focus more on living life and less on money. We wanted to build our own cabin to live in, but instead we found a less expensive and more portable option. We bought a 14ft x 16ft canvas wall tent. We plan to live in the tent here for about 6 months, then we will move on to do something else and possibly be bringing the tent to a new location to live in it.

We have been focusing on preparing our shelter for the last week. The first step was deciding what to bring and packing it up. We chose what furniture would fit in our tent (bed, dresser, couch, desk and some chairs) and decided we would need a uhaul trailer to get it all up here from the Outer Banks. We packed up our furniture along with clothes, lots of blankets, personal items, cooking supplies and of course our computers and were off to the start of our adventure. We decided it would be easier to get a wood stove once we were up here. We were lucky enough to have help from Ben’s dad, Bob, he drove up with us and pulled the uhaul trailer behind his truck.

Ben’s sister Keely and her husband, Curt, and three children, Emma, Evan and Eli; have been living here on “the hill” for over two years now. Their animal companions include: Hank the hound dog, Thomas the tom cat, Ellie the cow, Wally the goat, a slew of chickens and a few guineas. They have been kind enough to let us share some of their amenities while we are living here. We will be able to use their bathroom and shower and laundry machines as well as share their company up here on the hill. We were able to stay in their house while we were getting the tent set up.

We built a platform for the tent to sit on as well as an interior frame to hold the tent nice and sturdy and taut. Since we will have it set up for six months, we figured it was worth our time and money to build these things to make our stay more comfortable.

DAY 1 – Wednesday (11/17/2010)

We got here last Tuesday evening. Wednesday we got up and started making plans of what we were going to build. Having Bob, Keely and Curt was very helpful in talking through our plans and making a decision on what lumber we would have to buy. Once we got our plans written out we made a list of what lumber we would buy and headed off to the hardware store. We bought various sizes of 2 x 4’s, a few sheets of plywood and nails and screws. Curt also had some materials around the farm that we were able to use.

The next step was to choose the location for our tent platform. We wanted to be fairly close to the house, so we could run an extension cord from the house. The spot we chose is about midway between the house and the barn; we are about 150ft or so from the house. Just north of us (less than 10ft away) is the garage/workshop. Just south-west of us is the old smoke house. The smoke-house has a small fenced in area that is good for the dogs. Ellie, the cow, and Wally, the goat, live out in the barn. This was also a good place because the ground is pretty flat here. We chose a spot that gets a lot of sun, especially in the morning. We decided to face our front door south to catch as much sun as possible. It is very nice and sunny in here during the day.

Now that we chose a location it was time to start the building process. The first thing we did was lay out the perimeter of the platform in 2 x 4’s. We made the platform the same dimensions as the tent 14ft x 16ft. We decided to staple a layer of plastic inside of the perimeter to help keep moisture out. Then we ran 2 x 4’s every two feet across the perimeter. Once all the 2 x 4’s were in place we nailed rough-cut hemlock planking to them. That was some splintery stuff! We worked until after dark having to use a lantern and headlamps to finish up.

I had been concerned about moving our cat, Kazak, up to the hill. But by the end of the day we could already see he was feeling comfortable and enjoying exploring his new surroundings. Of course the dogs love it up here, we already knew that. Freya gets a little cold every now and again, but with a good blanket she fares just fine.

DAY 2 – Thursday (11/18/2010)

We were able to get an earlier start on Thursday since we already had all of our materials. We stapled tar paper on top of the splintery hemlock, and got started on building the walls to the frame. Instead of describing every detail of the frame I will just let you look at the pictures and figure it out.

We made our frame walls about 16 inches taller than the canvas walls. By doing this we added 16 inches of height to the entire tent. We used 16 inch strips of OSB (plywood) around the bottom to fill the gap from canvas to platform. This has made the tent more comfortable (especially for Ben at 6’5”), also it gives us more room for storage and shelves on the walls. We put the walls up, Then used 2 x 4’s to temporarily put the ridge pole up where it needed to be so we could build the rafters.

We put a few braces in the walls, and then came the moment of truth: putting the canvas on. Honestly, I had been very nervous about the frame building process, I was afraid all day that the canvas may not fit right. We got the canvas over the frame and it fit like a glove, a very tight glove. We were happy that the canvas fit tight and didn’t sag anywhere.

We also found an old door in the barn with a glass pane on top. We decided to fix-up this door and hang it on our frame. That way we would not have to zip and unzip every time we were coming and going from the tent. Also, I think that window will keep me sane. We have a beautiful view of farmland and mountains out of our front door and we will be able to enjoy it through that glass.

I took some pictures of the tent, and when I looked at them later on that night I really noticed how beautiful our surrounding here are. We had been so busy that I had not fully appreciated the mountains and sky. I made it a point to make sure I took a moment to appreciate everything around me the next day.

DAY 3 – Friday (11/19/2010)

Friday we finished putting in some permanent braces on the frame and started working on the door frame. We decided to put the door off center to make it work better with the zipper opening. I worked on scraping paint and sanding the door to get it ready to be repainted.

We nailed down 3 sheets of OSB in the front of the tent for our floor, in the back of the tent we nailed down some carpet. Bob had to leave us after that to go ahead and get on the road for his journey back home. We are so grateful we had him around for all of his ideas, experience and help in building.

Ben had set up a job interview and had to leave for that before noon. He interviewed for the position of cook at the Red Hen. It is a small nice restaurant in Lexington (about 30min from the hill). They must have liked him because they asked him if he could start the next day! It’s just him and the chef in there cooking so he should learn a lot.

While Ben was at the interview I started unloading the uhaul. I pulled the bed out first and got it in the tent, then I nailed down the pieces of carpet that we brought around the bed and in the back area of the tent. I unloaded all that I could and Ben helped me finish when he got back. We got all of our furniture in place and everything else moved inside the tent.

Curt took us all out to a Chinese buffet in Lexington that night. It was good and nice to not have to cook. We slept in the tent for the first time Friday night. Since we had no wood stove yet it was quite cold. We were cozy and warm under all our blankets. I think it got down to about 29 outside that night, and not much warmer in the tent. There was ice in the dogs water bowl in the morning. Both dogs and the cat slept in the bed that night.

DAY 4 – Saturday (11/20/2010)

Ben got up and when hunting super early on Saturday since it was “doe day”. He did not see anything unfortunately. When he got back we ate breakfast and started working on painting the exposed plywood. We got the kids to help prime all the outside OSB walls, then we painted it with some exterior paint we got really cheap because it was mistint. I worked on scrubbing down the door to get it ready for paint while Ben chopped firewood.

After lunch Ben went to work for his first day. I worked on unpacking and setting things up while Ben was at work. I unpacked our clothes and put them in the dresser and I hung some tapestries and organized stuff. Curt ran us an extension cord, so I plugged in my laptop and had music to listen to while I was unpacking. Having the glow of a computer screen and music made me feel more at home. I started to feel like the tent was my home when I was listening to music and setting our stuff up. Ben didn’t get home from work until about 11pm. Keely and I watched a movie in the house, and then talked to Ben about how his first day at work went. Then Ben and I retired to our tent for the night.

DAY 5 – Sunday (11/21/2010)

Sunday morning we slept late (until about 10:30). I woke up to a very bright and sunny tent and quickly realized that it was really warm. It was a lot easier getting out of bed when it was that warm in the tent. We made coffee in the tent on the coleman stove. We are looking forward to getting our kitchen set up and being able to cook more in the tent.

We primed the door, and went to the hardware store to get hinges. We got to see a little bit of Clifton Forge when we went to the hardware store. We drove down the main drag and saw different stores and restaurants. I was taking note of which places I may want to apply to work at. We ate a Sunday brunch buffet at Vic’s, and went grocery shopping at the Kroger.

Sunday evening we tacked down our sod cloth to the OSB we had painted. Curt cut us some long thin pieces of wood that we put over the sod cloth and screwed into the studs. The long pieces of wood hold the sod cloth pretty tight to the OSB, helping to prevent a draft or any moisture coming up. After dinner, Ben set up his computer in the tent and we sat on the couch and watched a dvd before bed. First movie in the tent, little things like that make it feel more like “home”.

DAY 6 – Monday (11/22/2010)

It was much colder when we woke up this morning, probably because we got up at about 8am today. We managed to muster up the effort to get out of our warm cozy bed into the cold.

After breakfast Ben taught me how to split wood. We need to split a lot of wood, he will be doing most of that, but I figure I can help a little. I am getting better at it, and it’s definitely a good work-out. We started a wood stack out back of the tent. We will have a big one out back and a couple in the front as well.

We went to move the goat and cow out to the field. We had done this a couple times in the last few days. Everything went fine before, but today the goat was not happy with me apparently. He’s got big horns and knocked them in my crotch twice. It hurt, and it was embarrassing.

I painted one side of the door green, will have to wait until tomorrow to paint the other side, then we will be ready to get the door frame up and hang the door. After we hang the door the outside of the tent will be all finished up. We will still be working on the inside of the tent, we need to build some shelves, a rack for hanging clothes and counters for the kitchen area.

We are brainstorming ways to have water in here. We mainly just need water for doing dishes and washing hands. We are thinking we will do some kind of gravity fed system over a sink. We would like to find a way for the sink to drain outside so we won’t have to dump the water every time we do dishes. Also we will be looking for scrap pieces of linoleum for the kitchen area and some kind of countertop material.

I will need to start applying for jobs tomorrow, hopefully I can find something interesting. Some of my favorite times so far have been when Ben and I have gone for sunset walks in the woods. He can step right outside into the woods and it is very peaceful. I love going on meditation walks out there. Mike let me borrow his mandolin, I have messed around with it a little. I want to get a beginner mandolin book so I can start learning. We don’t have internet in the tent, so I will be posting from Keely’s house.

My camera is now refusing to work, so all my pics will either be from Keely's camera or my cell phone. A lot more pictures can be found in my facebook album here's the link:


  1. Great post! This is really cool. Hope I make it up there before you guys head out!

  2. Thanks for all the info! It's great to have an adventurous sis living in a tent that i can live vicariously through!

  3. Enjoyed the day by day run down. Keep the posts and pictures coming. Looking forward to you getting the door up.


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