Redoubt Relocation – From the Deep South to Northern Rockies: A Move to Self-Sufficiency
Gentle Reader, the purpose of this article is to share with you my first-hand experience of moving my family from a balmy Southern locale to a small mountain town in the Redoubt. I believe many of my homesteading experiences, regarding everything from critters to cabbage, may provide practical and helpful insight to anyone envisioning a new life in the Northern Rockies. For those slow-talking, sweet-tea-sippin’ Southerners who may be contemplating such a move, I have also included some of the learning curve I encountered regarding cold weather.
Human nature is a funny thing. We tend to recall with great fondness any challenge over which we have prevailed. We often assign happy monikers like “The Good Old Days” to describe periods of life which were filled with difficulty. For me, that period is referred to as “The Great Adventure” and it began almost a decade ago. Much like childbirth, the pain associated with The Great Adventure has mostly been forgotten, replaced now with joy and contentedness. So, before the pain recedes completely from my memory, please allow me to share some things I learned along the way.
To put things into perspective, at the time I moved to the Redoubt, I was a medical professional and a single mother. I was relatively new to the concept of preparedness and dreamed of building a self-sustaining life in the Northern Rockies. My enthusiasm for pursuing this dream was tempered with a healthy dose of fear. If I failed, there was no safety net. I was the sole source of income for our little family. If a move was going to happen, I had to make decisions that were smart, logical, and cost effective. The story that ensues contains the step-by-step progression, details of what worked (and what didn’t), and important lessons I learned along the way.
How Will I Make A Living?
As a medical professional, I felt reasonably confident that I would find a job because I was moving to an area known for being medically underserved. There was a concern that I would have less shifts/less pay once I started a new job, due to lack of seniority. To determine if I could afford a potential pay cut, I utilized online cost of living (COL) calculators– something I recommend, with one reservation. The COL calculator indicated I would enjoy a 30% drop in my cost of living by moving to the Redoubt. This was ultimately true, but the savings was not realized during the first 1-2 years. I attribute this to the many purchases required for the different climate and lifestyle.
How To Move All The Stuff: There will be many things you’ll need to purchase once you live in the Redoubt, so be frugal with moving costs. From a lady’s perspective, if you adore that antique hutch from Grandma, I suggest you bring it with you because it’s doubtful you’ll find one quite like it once you arrive here. The quality heirlooms you easily found in Southern thrift stores will not be in abundant supply in the Redoubt. My experience was that once we bought a home, some furnishings didn’t work any longer and they commanded a much higher price in a local Redoubt consignment store than I would have ever received had I sold them prior to my move. If you have room on the moving truck, then take it. On the other hand, if you have a lawn mower, ocean kayak, diving equipment, outdoor wicker furniture, or a fancy racing bike for paved roads, then you might consider selling those before you move as you may soon be living on a dirt road with only forest for “lawn”.
For increased privacy and to prevent movers from noting “Oh, you must be a prepper”, (which they will do with the unabashed glee of a toddler greeting a new litter of puppies), I suggest using the PODS system to supplement your small moving truck. You can schedule pod deliveries for loading and unloading at your leisure. Another advantage of using the pods system is that you can space out the cost of the move, paying for each pod upon delivery, and unpack one pod at a time. But please – BEWARE! Pods have a weight limit, which includes the weight of the pod itself. (Before packing it, look inside the pod for the posted weight limit.) Do NOT place all your heavy food buckets or that extensive book collection into a single pod (even though this makes sense from an organizational standpoint). You’ll quickly exceed the weight limit and find yourself having to reshuffle the contents to “balance out the weight” on the day of your big move, thereby destroying any privacy and organization you might otherwise have had. It will be enough to make you say bad words.
Suggestions for Moving Animals
Dogs/Cats: It’s easiest to take the dog/cat in a cab of the moving truck, especially in summer. You will have more than enough headaches to manage without worrying about the potential danger of your dog overheating in an airplane cargo-hold. Hotels that accept pets fill up quickly in the summertime, so make your reservations early. Obtain motion sickness and anti-anxiety medications for your pets before you leave and – this is important – be sure you get an accurate weight on each pet. It’s no fun to realize that the reason Fido has whined incessantly for the last 13 hours of your trip is because Fido was under-dosed on his weight-based medication.
Horses: If you are trailering your horses (which I did), then you’ll be busy with an additional set of chores. Ensure you bring plenty of water from your old home for your horses, and even then, they may refuse to drink. (In case you were feeling bored, this will keep you occupied with many hours of worry as you drive down the highway.) Proceed onward; it’s better for everyone if you don’t drag this out unnecessarily. Also, in certain parts of the Redoubt (depending on your plans and your route) you may be required to have certified weed-free hay. Lest you be tempted to skip this step, please be aware there are stiff penalties for violating this law. (Reference the USDA portal for more information.) Don’t forget to locate “horse hotels” along the way and have a resource lined up for hay delivery once you arrive.
Where Will I Live?
Out here, the availability of rental houses in small towns is limited. I thought my circumstances (single mom, child, big dog, horses) would cause me to be perceived as a risky tenant, but prospective landlords were far more accepting than I anticipated. Ultimately, I found a little house via on online search. I rented it sight-unseen, and we showed up two weeks later, lock-stock-and-barrel. Was it perfect? No. Would I recommend this practice to others? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how persnickety you are. In our case, the house had a wood stove, there was a barn for the horses, a shed, a deep well, and some acreage for grazing. My child could catch the bus to school if we opted to go that route. There was a year’s lease – time for me to catch my breath and figure out what my next steps would be. It worked for us and became our adopted Slightly Cockeyed Cabin.
Schools – The small town where we own property has a high school of less than 100 students and offers every major sport, plus 4-H, rodeo, yearbook, music, language, and other extra-curricular activities you’d find in a much larger school. The graduation rate hovers around 98% and approximately 95% of the kids go on to college. Private school tuition costs about $3K/year (versus $22K/year in my Southern locale). Homeschool programs are robust and homeschool families meet often. There are also many excellent colleges in the region, both public and private, as well.
Initial Movers Remorse –Upon arrival, we got the animals settled and then decided to head to a local restaurant for supper. We’d done it! Just me and my child!! We’d finally made it over the first hurdle! So – why did I burst into tears as the waitress brought my coffee to the table? The reality was that we left behind a lifetime of friendships to move to a town where we knew no one, and I suddenly felt very alone. I think it’s important to recognize that even when a move represents the culmination of your dreams, it can still be traumatic. A hot shower and some rest will help. And, those dear friends will be out to visit you sooner than you think!
The First Winter – My only challenging weather experiences had been limited to a few massive hurricanes and an occasional “cold snap” which necessitated bringing the orchids inside. Dealing with extreme cold presented a learning curve on many fronts. I learned that “firing up” a wood stove wasn’t as simple as it looked. Flooding the house with smoke is a miserable way to learn you’ve done it all wrong, so I recommend educating yourself about air flow and dampers before deciding to give it a go (and hire a chimney sweep annually or learn to do this chore yourself).
]I’d never heard of “block heaters” for a vehicle (didn’t need them in the South), but soon had one installed in the 10-year-old 4-wheeled drive SUV I purchased. The Slightly Cockeyed Cabin was located at the end of a long gravel road, and rocks repeatedly punctured my tires until I purchased LT 10-ply tires. Bags of ice melt and snow shovels were things I soon found myself needing regularly. Muck boots rated to -20 degrees F and Carhart coats were necessary apparel. I didn’t think they were very attractive, but I bit the bullet and bought them. I discovered that, almost regardless of how cold it is outside, the right clothing will allow me to do almost any outdoor task, when necessary. A simple trip to town provided frequent reminders of my ineptness when driving in snow and ice, and I felt real compassion for all the poor souls who had the misfortunate of being on the roads with me. (I did learn, though.)
Livestock in Redoubt Winters
Our animals had to deal with changes too. For the first time ever, our much-loved Arab horse was shivering due to cold. Naturally…he had never grown a “winter coat” while living in the South. He often wore two blankets that first winter, which required extra care and monitoring to ensure he didn’t overheat, sweat, and get more chilled. I educated myself on the new varieties of hay that were available to me, got to know the various hay farmers (and looked at their hay), and garnered a spot on the coveted “first cutting” list by placing my order early and paying in cash. I learned to mix up supplemental feed (oats, corn, and sweet feed) tailored to the age, health, cold weather, and activity level of my horses. They made it through that first winter without losing weight or getting sick. Out of all of us, it was my child who seemed to adjust most easily to all the new changes, This was all an exciting new world!
The First Spring: As the snow gave way to our first spring in the Rockies, I was amazed by all the plant life. Here, daffodil flowers sprouted up through the snow! Everything outdoors looked so alive! Then, our beloved dog took ill… his coat took on a mangy look as large chunks of fur went missing. I suspected cancer had finally taken hold and was distraught at the thought of losing my old friend. The vet conducted an extensive (and expensive) array of blood tests, only to announce that my dog was “blowing his coat”. Imagine my embarrassment when I learned that the large chunks of fur falling out were simply due to normal spring-time shedding! (Mind you, my dog had never had a coat to ‘blow’ before, so this was my first time seeing this.) He lived to enjoy another five happy years, and I lived to pay the vet bill.
In the South, wheat, pasta, flour, and many other dried goods arrive already contaminated with bug larvae, requiring a stint in the freezer before sealing those products for long-term storage. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Northern Rockies offers an ideal climate for food storage and the “freeze it first” step can safely be skipped. It suddenly became much less hassle to add dried goods to my storage! Tip: If you are ever traveling between Butte and Bozeman, MT, be sure to stop at the Three Forks junction of 1-90 and 287 to visit the Wheat Montana Bakery. Purchase some bags of wheat from these folks. It’s top quality and you can’t beat the prices!
To round out my dried goods, I added canned goods. I found that Winco (which offers a selection of over 700 bulk items) offered very low prices on canned goods. Goodbye Publix; Hello Winco! On the other hand, canned goods from Big Lots proved to be false economy. Most of the cans (except for my coveted Sweet Sue Chicken & Dumplings) soon bulged and had to be tossed out.
Slowly I moved toward freeze-dried foods. I do regret that I didn’t do this earlier in the process, but my initial focus was to store, as quickly as possible, an adequate food supply for my child and myself, while staying within my given financial constraints. Freeze-dried foods were pricier, and rust appeared on various cans I had obtained while living in the South, but I haven’t encountered a single rusted can since I moved.
As my supplies increased, organization became paramount. I invested in several of the 200 model FIFO Can Racks, to fit more cans in a smaller space and ensure first in, first out usage. Frankly, I wasn’t a fan. The racks were well-made but took up entirely too much space and didn’t hold nearly as much as I had envisioned. I ultimately got rid of them and went with sturdy metal shelving units purchased at Home Depot, which ended up being superior in both cost and space savings. Besides, it’s not difficult to simply put your newer items in the back.
One of the advantages of living in this climate is that critter food stays fresh for a very long time when stored outside in galvanized trash cans with tight fitting lids. Even most summertime temperatures are relatively cool, preventing things from going rancid. Putting away a year’s supply of corn, oats, sweet feed, chicken/duck crumbles, and dog kibbles is a chore, but it’s not a chore you have to do often.
(To be continued in Part 2.)