Originally published on Knik.co
Living without plumbing is a lifestyle choice many Alaskans make. According to a state economic trend analysis published in April 2014, around 12,000 Alaskans live without water; a significant number in a state home to just a little over half a million people.
Whether it is by choice or necessity, living without water is particularly evident in the interior of Alaska. In the interior of the state winter temperatures dip far below zero, making it easy for pipes to freeze. In addition permafrost, ground frozen solid, is common in northern Alaska, making the idea of a modern septic system, a pipe dream. For some, living without water is a way to save money. For others it is a romantic existence, full of self-discipline and self-sufficiency.
I was all on my own during the summer of 2014. In late April of 2014, I moved into my dry cabin off Farmers Loop Road in Fairbanks, Alaska. I went into town the first morning I woke up in Fairbanks. I found my five gallon jug in the local Fred Meyer and carried it to the nearest water station. The water stations in the Fairbanks area are a dime a dozen. About two cents a gallon, I would pump my water, just like I was pumping gas, into my little blue jug. I dragged little blue, significantly heavier when full of water, up the hill from where I would park my car to the cabin, about 200 feet away. I would then gracefully set my blue jug on the lip of the sink where it would live for three to five days; then I would do it all over again.
Before I lived in a dry cabin, thirty minute showers were common and part of my everyday routine. Washing dishes in the dishwasher and cleaning my clothes, just a part of the weekly chores I powered through for majority of my existence. My biggest concern at first was how I was going to shower. I got a gym membership and took advantage of the showers in the locker room. With the hassle of having to drive 20 minutes away to shower, baby wipes and dry shampoo found their way onto my weekly grocery list. There was once a time the gym was closed and I was forced to wash my hair in a bucket on my front porch. I never was much of a bath person, but I remember my first real bath after moving out was more luxurious than I could have ever anticipated.
I never considered how much water went into cooking and cleaning. I’d say that 75 percent of my water usage went into a combination of cooking and cleaning dishes, the rest for drinking and other miscellaneous things. I learned to conserve my dish use and gained a carefree judgment of what was actually dirty when it came time to clean. This is because cleaning the dishes was an event in itself. I had to first try to figure out how much water I needed to finish the dishes. Boil that water. Then over the sink, carefully, I’d rinse the dishes with the water, scrub it with soap and hope for the best. I will never take the invention of dishwashers for granted again. The dishwater would drain through about six inches of PVC pipe into a bucket. Every night I would take the bucket of dirty water and toss it free off the deck. This is imperative if you don’t want your living space to smell like a garbage disposal.
It’s easy to remember the wasps, mosquitoes, and dirty dishwater when I recall my dry summer. However, it’s hard to forget the romance and the solitude that comes with sequestering yourself in nature.
Nolin Ainsworth, a former student at University of Alaska Fairbanks, lived alone in a dry cabin while attending school.
“My favorite part [about dry cabin living] was the absolute quiet and sound of the wind when it swept through the trees at night.” Ainsworth said.
With a literal laundry list of things to do, living dry adds hours of chores to your week. Whether it is hauling water, washing dishes, or waiting at the laundromat for your load to finish up; living in a dry cabin takes a lot of time, work, and patience.
The dry life is not for everyone. I’d even admit that it’s not for me, despite how “Henry David Thoreau” I like to think I am. Whatever your reason for choosing to live water-free, the experience will no doubt give you a new appreciation for modern day luxuries most of us rely on daily.