What It’s Like to Live in a Cabin With No Running Water or Phone Service

Before I dig in, I should mention the cabin has Wi-Fi and impotable water that runs in the summer. So if this has lessened your interest in this article, now might be a good time to X out of it and continue on with your social-media scrolling. After all, there could be a better article, one about a reborn man living in a cabin with no amenities whatsoever, his trying journey to find the piece of himself he had lost years ago in urban life. 

This is not that. This is my awareness of my lifestyle being atypical for a millennial, and my desire to write about it, especially in the name of people balking when I tell them I need to shower at the gym or rake the toilet I excrete into.  

How I Got Here

Live in a Cabin
Vacationing in a Mount-Cardigan yurt in 2010

Prior to emptying my downtown apartment and driving to California from Massachusetts to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, my life mirrored that of any other independent millennial in the city; I worked and took care of myself, and as long as I did this, my approach could be arbitrary. If I left the apartment and forgot something, it was no predicament. Even if I had reached my errand destination, the trip back would be no more than a few miles. 

But my longing to hike the Pacific Crest Trail forced me to face the unknown upon my return, what I later learned to be the precarious. For seven hundred and seventy-five dollars a month, situated in the illuminated downtown district and paid for by a lucrative job delivering chicken wings, the apartment I had was a steal. I knew it would be difficult to find something of such a good price and location upon my return from the hike, but the state of the housing crisis in the late summer of 2021 was not something I foresaw.

There was nothing. As the days passed I continued my search and widened my openness to jobs and locations, yet nothing worked. A good apartment here, but no job. A good job there, but no apartment. All the while I squatted on my sister’s couch, eager to get out and be on my own once again. 

When I saw a job listed on Indeed for counselors to answer the suicide hotline, experience preferred but not required (I have a minor in psychology and have worked as an EMT), I figured what the heck. My parents own a trailer not more than eleven miles from the job site and a cabin not more than twenty-three miles up the rise to the east. 

I got the job, the trailer was and is still occupied per my brother’s dubious lifestyle, and my parents left for the winter to travel and—not deal with the stipulations of living in the cabin in the adversarial season. Alas, I was left to caretake, and I’ll be here until at least the spring.     

The Cabin

Live in a Cabin

Built in the late 2000’s by an independent architect of rustic properties and tucked away at the base of Mt. Cardigan four miles from a paved road, the cabin caught the attention of my parents when they noticed a for-sale sign erected in the driveway in the fall of 2010. It was Columbus-Day weekend, and we had rented a yurt up on the ridge of Cardigan. The route back to our Massachusetts home led us down Millbrook Road, and the cabin was on a small hill next to a bridge where the river forked off from the sinuous path. We checked it out, though I never thought my parents would be the ones to buy a vacation property.

The school bus I was on was at the intersection of West Central and Union in Franklin when I got the call from my parents telling me they had purchased the cabin. This I have not forgotten. It served as a getaway for our family for the next eight years, and when my parents sold my childhood home in 2018, it became their on-and-off residence as they hunkered down in between their post-retirement travels. 

It was nearly empty when first obtained, but over the years my parents (my mom mostly, she would argue) made the cozy cabin more hospitable by adding furniture, decorations, cabinet installations, screen doors, a wood stove, and all the amenities of a traditional home. In 2019, they had a shed built in the backyard and Wi-Fi installed to better fit their needs of long-term residence. The toilet is a composter, and the plumbing that runs in the summer is basic.

Now I reside here.  

But how, some who have always had the privilege of plumbing, phone service, and proximity to civilization may wonder, do I manage this lifestyle?      

How I Do It

Live in a Cabin

I was intimidated by the idea of shutting the water off, I must admit. It was done in late October and in the time leading up to this I had much trepidation. My reliance on the faucets in the cabin was high, and I wondered if I would be able to adapt to this change.

I did. I work in the city of Lebanon, New Hampshire, a burb of thirteen thousand that holds the stat for the tenth biggest city in the state. Here I must do everything, including showering. To my luck, there is an Answer is Fitness with private bathrooms, and since I am an avid exerciser, the monthly fee is quite worth it. The pipe stem under the kitchen sink has been removed, allowing water to flow into a bucket fixed underneath. This means I can dispose of water in the kitchen sink as long as I remember to empty the bucket (which fills faster than you’d expect) every day or so. 

With this I have two three-gallon canisters with spigots propped over opposite sides of the double sink, one with a heater and the other without. On the left side I wash dishes in a pool of soapy, hot water; on the right I rinse them. It’s like giving your dishes a bath instead of a shower, as I have explained it to peers. This dish load is minimized by my efforts to use disposable plates and bowls as much as possible. In the morning I soak a towel with the hot water to wash my face and wet my hair, my best illusion of being freshly showered. 

The toilet may be the most advanced piece of technology in the cabin, but maintaining it is the brunt of living here. Waste excreted into the tube lands in a pit some several feet below. A third of a cup of sphagnum needs to be dumped down the tube everyday to conduce the decomposition process, and a high-flow fan prevents moisture from countering this. A crawl hole on the side of the cabin allows access to the pit where a long handle needs to be drawn back and forth with vigor every other day. This handle “rakes” the pit, or mixes the excrement with the sphagnum. 

I don’t love doing these rakes, and even if I was half a foot shorter and the fetid aroma of ammonia didn’t permeate the crawl space, forcing me to catch my breath on bad fumes, I still don’t think I would be too fond of this process. What’s worse is once a month I have to pull the feces-crusted shell of the toilet tube out and clean it by hand. Balking yet? 

The cabin has a propane heat system, but its lack of insulation precludes the normal retention of most homes. This is why my plan on upcoming weekends (ones where the high temp isn’t fifty-five) is to utilize the wood stove. Retention matters little when heat is constantly blasted.  

On occasion a bar of phone service can be obtained in certain spaces, something that never happened before a cell phone tower was built in Grafton next to Kilton Pond, but otherwise the cabin sits in a no-service zone. This reality that may have deterred some from renting the cabin when it was listed on Airbnb is almost a non-problem for me, except for when I try to log into an internet entity that wants me to verify myself as a user. These verifications are sent over text, sometimes leaving me in an awkward position where I can’t access my own email at my residence. Otherwise, the Wi-Fi and landline suffices. 

These many caveats of living in this isolated cabin are collated with having to make sure I’m there to stay when the weekend comes. The closest general store is seven and a half miles out in either direction, and after making fifty-mile trips to go to work and back five days in a row, driving is the last thing I want to do. So my work days that land me in town come with a schedule: trash and mail on Wednesday, laundry on Saturday, and jug filling on Sunday (my off days are Monday and Tuesday). With only me and the cabin on weekends with nowhere to go, I am humbled and reminded of simpler times when trips to town could have been an all-day endeavor. 

Why Cabin Life Works

Live in a Cabin
Vista up the hill from the cabin with Mt. Cardigan in the background, Photo Credit: Austin Patch

Keeping in mind that I spent the previous five months living in mountains with nothing but a backpack, this is not a step down from anything. Actually, it is rather luxurious. I have adapted to the situation because—well—I am adaptable. I am also a runner, and the seemingly endless dirt roads bordered by forest and redneck properties are ideal for this hobby. Dirt is soft. Pavement is hard. Ask any runner. My cat likes the cabin too, or rather the land around it, though it seems I’m the one pulling all the weight (do something, Gypsy!). The apartment we lived in prior was on a busy road, and for this reason she had to be an indoor cat.   

Living in the boonies calls for a minimal social life, but by this I am not too bothered. I was burnt out from socialization after college and wanted to get more done. This I realized when I first lived on my own. My technological needs are also not high. Unlike many men my age, I do not play video games. If I did, I don’t predict I would enjoy living in the cabin. The Wi-Fi would not suffice. It is not powerful. I use the Wi-Fi only to stream, save my writing documents, and use my phone. This it can handle.

Beyond all this, my sheer love of simplicity and nature allows me to thrive in such an environment. I would keep living in the cabin until my proposed embarkment of my Continental-Divide-Trail hike, but it would be best I assess my options when my parents return in the spring.       

Why Cabin Life May Not Work

Live in a Cabin

If any of the characteristics mentioned in the section above do not apply to you, cabin life may not be a good option. I imagine anyone who’s never moved out of the city may just hate my style of living; there is no avenue to pamper yourself up and go to the club on Saturday nights, a drunk stumble sure to land you back on the couch in the early morning. No, this life is for those who can make a positive situation out of a bad one, those who appreciate the profound aspects of life.

If you flinch easily, this life is also not for you. Not even my vigilant eyes can adjust to the dark here on a cloudy night (what was that? a twig snapping?), and even in the glow of moonlight, I am all alone in this cabin with nothing but a jerry-rigged lock to keep the lurking demons out.

A wolf howls in the distance.    

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Published by Nicholas J. Devlin

I'm a freelance writer from western Massachusetts. Horror, comedy, and all the unholy things my parents told me to stay away from are pretty much my favorite. Oh and I like the outdoors.

8 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Live in a Cabin With No Running Water or Phone Service

  1. An interesting article of stepping back a bit from pandered living. I find that an outhouse is much preferable to dealing with poop buckets, composting and the like. The inconvenience of having to visit said out house once or twice a day is negligible compared to dealing up close and in person with used food (digested). Moving the outhouse every four or five years as the hole gradually fills to capacity is a great trade off. In the winter the trip may be a tad daunting at times but a once a day trip isn’t that horrible and a thunder mug (poop pot) works well in those rare times.
    Wood heat is a great way to heat. You will find that if you are able to locate dead trees and manually cut them down and buck up the wood into stove lengths and split it you will save a lot of money by not needing to hike aimlessly up and down hills or run on a treadmill and do the gym thing!

  2. I do live in a cabin but have all the comforts of a regular home (spotty internet and phone reception though). Enjoyed your writing. Don’t mind the isolation at all. Thanks for sharing your experience. I think I would vote for the outhouse too 🙂

  3. Your style is really unique compared to other people I’ve read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this blog.

  4. You are so interesting! I don’t think I’ve read a single thing like this before. So nice to find another person with original thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This web site is one thing that’s needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

  5. Thanjs!…loved the story…after my AT hike I plan to live on my first on Williams pond Bucksport maine starting July 1….as lowly as I can with a bike trio each week to tiwn…well see but any advice welcome!

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