As far as the cabin build was concerned, our to-do list for the rest of the season comprised mostly small things. We’d finished the basic structure; now it was a matter of focusing on the details like weatherproofing, exterior window trim, paint, interior storage, and curtains. Our longer-term goals of insulating and furnishing the space were still on the horizon, but given the adventures of the first two building expeditions, we left those carrots to dangle off in the “maybe next year” zone.
It was another six weeks before we made our third trip of the year to the property, a much needed escape amidst the hubbub of planning WDS, updates to Justin’s apps, and other major projects, but also in part an early celebration of Justin’s birthday. Conveniently, Summer Solstice fell on the same weekend and we were able to enjoy the longest days of the year in what had quickly become our favorite place.
Since our June trip was largely about escaping, we didn’t try to bite off much as far as projects were concerned and drove the car up instead of our little truck. Of course, we’ve become accustomed to hurdles and unexpected issues arising along the way, and this trip was no exception. Upon arriving, we discovered some of the freshly laid shingles on the roof were flapping around in a moderate wind. It turns out our budget choice in three-tab shingles was proving to be more of a hassle than expected—a combination of exposure to heavy Spring weather and a failure of the tar backing to fully adhere the layers together naturally under the warmth of the sun. We were weary from the six-hour drive, but the noise of the flapping from the inside of the cabin convinced us to make the trip that evening into Chelan on a hunt for roof cement (they conveniently have a Walmart Supercenter on the edge of town), and we spent the evening gluing the loose shingles back into place. Problem solved!
In addition to bringing folding chairs and a few other light furnishings with us, we were able to cross a few items off our list, thanks to another trip into the local Ace Hardware branch in Chelan and a second run to Walmart. (The 30-minute trip to Chelan is much more reasonable than the hour-long drive into Wenatchee, and it’s nice to know that we also have decent access to tools and hardware if we need it.) We added a deep, sturdy shelf to the east wall above the door, and used 1x2 furring strips to clad the loft railing. Plenty of cracks and gaps were filled with caulk to boot.
More importantly, we were able to kick back and enjoy spectacular fireside sunsets and hike down past the end of Road “J” through the gullies of seasonal springs and out along the bluffs overlooking the river. We also learned, much to our initial panic, how much Zeus enjoys chasing deer. No amount of calling could break him from his canine instincts, and all we could do is wait patiently for him to give up his hunt and come bounding—tail wagging and tongue flapping with satisfaction—back over the ridge to be scolded by two angry owners. Speaking of wildlife, we also spotted our first marmot, a giant cousin to squirrels and groundhogs. And on our last full day, we took a drive up the Methow River Valley to the northwest, curious to explore what we had heard was a gorgeous destination in the shadows of the Cascade mountains.
Incidentally, on July 14, a combination of extreme triple-digit temperatures, high winds, and a series of lightning strikes gave birth to what would become the Carlton Complex fire in and around the Methow River Valley (one of many other wildfires up and down the Western States). We had wanted to make another trip on my birthday weekend at the end of July, but the combination of firefighting efforts, a strict burn ban, and the oppressive summer heat postponed our trip until things had, well, cooled off.
We watched the daily news reports of the fire like hawks, comparing maps of the growth and wind reports to the unsuccessful attempts to hold fire lines or start back-burns to contain it. Even though the immense burn was taking place on the opposite side of the Columbia River, we feared that embers could easily be carried across in the wind and spark more fires that could threaten our property. But when all was said and done over a month later, the Carlton Complex fire burned over a quarter-million acres, hit the record books for the largest fire in Washington’s history, and its southern edge fizzled out a mere 8 miles from our cabin. And despite the devastation, only one life was claimed due to a panic-induced heart attack.
We returned over Labor Day weekend to much cooler temperatures and a relaxed burn ban for another getaway from the hubbub of our various projects. From our vantage point over the valley, we could see a charred hillside along the southern edge of the burn, a stark reminder of how quickly it can all go up in smoke. But amongst our gear we had packed a few gallons of paint, some basic moulding, and a few other supplies. Our tiny cabin would soon be painted sage green and the windows clad and sealed with proper trim. Exterior complete.
It was during that September visit that we first experienced the night sky undimmed by moonlight. Each of our previous trips were cast in bright, near-full moonlight, masking most of the stars above, but the moon’s cycle had shifted enough to give us a spectacular sky show. On our first night we gazed upward at the dense clusters of millions of stars, divided by a milky arm of our galaxy stretching from one end of the expanse to the other. It was breathtaking—I couldn’t recall the last time I’d seen space so vividly. And if that wasn’t enough, Justin cried out mid-gaze as he spotted a remarkably large shooting star off toward the horizon. Just as I shifted my eyes to follow it, the meteor split into two pieces, the smaller of which shot off into a different direction. We shivered with excitement and disbelief at what we had just seen. Truly magnificent.
Our one-year anniversary of purchasing our 12.5 acre retreat was quickly approaching, and we’d planned to celebrate it by inviting my brother and his girlfriend up for a weekend in late October (this also happened to coincide with our anniversary of seven years). During this last trip of the year, we’d take the opportunity to insulate the interior in hopes that we might be able to escape during the doldrums of the coming winter months and see the region dusted in snow. But our truck had other plans—the transmission gave out two weeks prior, and scheduling conflicts were complicating Alex and Kate’s ability to join us. We were still trying to decide if the truck was worth fixing, so we canceled the trip and stayed at home, dejected that we weren’t able to visit the cabin one more time in 2014 but grateful that the transmission hadn’t died mid-journey and left us stranded.
When all was said and done, we’d made four trips to “Camp Columbia” in 2014 (still on the hunt for a better name for the place), built a tiny cabin with our own hands, and survived one of the hottest summers and largest wildfires on record. We acclimated to the drive and special circumstances of the location, surmounted unexpected hurdles, and emerged triumphant. But more importantly, we had an absolute blast along the way! We have no doubts in our minds that we made the right decision in choosing this place and look forward to another year expanding upon our vision for a tiny retreat perched above a mighty river and set against majestic mountains.
This is our place.