From Rebel Heart to Dusthaven

An update on our newest adventure

Last March as the world was shutting down from the pandemic, Eric suggested we drive to western Nevada and look at plots of land tucked along the base of the eastern side of the White Mountains in a place called Fish Lake Valley in Esmeralda County. With a population of 873 people and a size of 3,589 square miles (9,300 km2), Esmeralda County is the least populated county in Nevada, a state that is already sparsely populated as it is. Translation = other than the people we saw at the gas station we didn’t run into a single person during our day’s reconnoiter.

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We packed our own food and ate on some rocks buffeted by high winds.

If you’ve followed our adventures for awhile now then you know our story but if you’re new here, I’ll give you a short recap.

Eric and I met and fell in love and during the falling-in-love process we decided we’d buy a boat and raise our family aboard it while we sailed around the world. We lived aboard for seven years and brought both our daughters home to the boat where they spent their first years as boat babies in our floating home.

Seven years into sailing life we set sail from Mexico to the South Pacific. During the passage our youngest daughter, Lyra, who was 13 months old, became sick and 1,000 miles into the passage we called for a rescue at sea to get her care. Our rescue at sea became a big news story and the media/social media narrative was very much one of us being bad parents for sailing with kids. As you might imagine, we disagreed with that narrative and thought (and still think) that we were good parents for sailing with our kids and for getting Lyra care when she needed it.

You can listen to our only media interview during that time on This American Life’s episode 525, Call for Help. A few years later we were interviewed by Kevin Grange for the The Journal of Emergency Medicine, and in 2019 I wrote this piece in HuffPost about our experience being parent shamed during and after the rescue at sea.

After the rescue and losing our boat, which was our home and held all of our worldly belongings, we found ourselves back in San Diego, the city where we’d originally sailed away from and starting over. It took us two years in San Diego to get our feet back under us. Once we did, we swapped adventures at sea for the mountains and moved our family to Mammoth Lakes, California, a town at almost 8,000ft altitude in the Eastern Sierra. We’ve now lived in Mammoth for four and a half years.

~ End life recap. ~

Eric has wanted to do three things since I’ve known him. The first thing he told me about on our second date - that was to sail around the world. We tried that.

The next thing was to walk the Pacific Coast Trail but he hurt his knee in his twenties and couldn’t do it. After his years of living on a boat, and four years now of volunteering with Mono County Search and Rescue Team in the Eastern Sierra, it’s possible he’s scratched that outdoor adventure itch enough, but you’d have to ask him to be sure.

The third thing he’s always wanted to do was an off grid, sustainable build in a remote plot of land. One thing about alternative building - you need to do it in places that either:

a) Are zoned for alternative building (many of which, in California at least, were out of our price range.
b) Find places where there aren’t any/many building codes against it.

Enter Nevada. In the county where we were looking there are no building codes against alternative building, there are barely any building codes at all.

Sometimes I think their state motto should be:

‘Nevada - You Can Do That Here.’

Eric’s interested in doing something called Earthbag construction, or Earthbag building, or Superadobe. This type of construction is not an earthship but earthships are cool. Here’s a recent article in USA Today about earthbag homes and here’s a video of the four of us talking about what Earthbag building is.

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I've talked a lot about what Eric wants to do with his life but what me?

I want to live close to nature. I want to read, and write, and create beautiful things with my hands and do all that surrounded by my loved ones and friends. Turns out the things I want to do are very compatible with Eric's dreams too.

The area in Nevada we were looking at is about two and half hours southeast of our home in Mammoth, California. Over the course of the next few months we made a few more socially distanced trips out that way to check out possible spots. Eric took things into account like building codes as mentioned above, terrain and grading, aesthetics, whether it was south facing (sun angle), and surface and ground water. Then he looked up the owners of the lots he was interested in and hand wrote ten of them letters asking if they were interested in selling. Two wrote back.

About a month later, after talking with each person and checking out both options, we went into escrow and purchased from one of them. We bought 10 acres on the eastern side of the White Mountains in Fish Lake Valley, Nevada. The location is about an hour east of Bishop, California around 7,000ft (2,133m) elevation. We acknowledge that the Paiute and Shoshone tribes were the first peoples in this region and are still there today.

After much family deliberation, we’ve decided to call the place Dusthaven. Welcome to our new adventure. We created a Facebook page and an Instagram and I’m not sure how much we’ll post on either, but they’re there if you’d like to follow along.

Dusthaven is open range and undeveloped. The 10 acres have no well or county water, no power, and no driveway or construction of any kind. After much walking, talking, and thinking, we staked out where a road would go and some initial pads for building.

Then Eric bought a tractor and started building a road.

Next we searched for a used travel trailer. Turns out everyone and their mother was also searching for used RVs and travel trailers to escape the confines of the pandemic. Hats off to Eric who kept diligently searching until he found one for sale in Las Vegas that met our parameters. He was driving to pick it up an hour after talking to the owner on the phone.

We got a used 2012 Forest River Stealth Evo 26 T2150. It’s about 25ft long and has decorated corduroy window valances and brown curtains - items I’m taking out and replacing pronto. I’ll also be redoing the cushions in the dinette, but that will be a topic for another post.

It’s a got a queen bed for us and bunks for the girls and I’ve already started sewing custom bedding for everyone’s “berths.”

Side note: I keep using nautical terms to reference everything in the trailer. The kitchen is the galley, the bathroom is the head, the beds and bunks are berths, and the cabinets are lockers. Old habits die hard.

Our goal with the trailer was that it would be better than staying in a tent and we’ve met that goal and then some but we’re still roughing it as we get things going.

Some may say I’m pretty adventurous but at 41 years old there was only so many times I was cool with digging a hole and squatting to go to the bathroom while we were out there. Say hello to our rented ported potty. It costs a pretty monthly penny and we’re very happy to have it join our build.

Like the porta potty for toilet needs, there is also still no running water. We’re packing water in for now but we’re on the list with a local well company. They should be out to Dusthaven in the next few weeks.

Which leads me to power. Eric’s plans are to be fully off grid so we’re already utilizing some solar panels for current power needs with plans for a carport that will house many more panels to come. We’re also looking forward to utilizing Starlink once it’s available but until then we’re using a Verizon hotspot in a Ziploc hoisted 16' up on a 2x4, with a 20' usb power cable supplied by a 12v to 5v dc step down. It ain’t fancy but we don’t need fancy.

Dusthaven is about seven miles off the main road through the sparsely populated region of Fish Lake Valley so when I say it’s quiet, I mean it’s really, blissfully quiet.

Here are some scenes from recent trips out to the land.

In this one I’m disassembling the horrid window valances. I’ll be replacing the brown curtains with custom white Sunbrella ones. Also, check out the view from that window.

I made the girls custom pillows for their berths. They each got to pick their fabric. This is L showing off hers.

Dusty boots on an impromptu boot rack. We don’t call it Dusthaven for nothing.

Eric grilling on a DIY grill. Best burgers ever.

The view looking northwest, away from the Whites.

We don’t plan on leaving Mammoth Lakes, not yet at least. We’ll travel back and forth while we’re working on Dusthaven, staying in the travel trailer until we get the earthbag house built. That will all take time and we’re not in a hurry.

Things you can expect from this blog in the months to come include:

  • Progress on our build at Dusthaven.

  • Updates on writing my book about our adventures and the loss of Rebel Heart.

  • Posts on writing, reading, parenting, adventuring, sustainable building, and sailing.

  • I’m the founder of Women Who Sail, the largest online community of women sailors in the world - so expect updates about Women Who Sail even while I’m high up in the mountains working on Dusthaven.

Thanks for being here. More to come soon.

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