The Vagaries of the Search

As I mentioned in my last post, perhaps the reason the tales of finding land are rarely told is because they are so fraught with disappointments along the way. Spending time dwelling on them seems counterproductive. We have been rather silent over the past couple of weeks for a few reasons. Not the least of which was, after advertising our first trip to California in the hopes of finding land, things didn’t end up working out. It’s never very comforting advertising that sort of thing. There were other things too, like the saga of Babs the chicken, but that is a tale for another time.

After returning to Boise from our first trip to California, we had seemingly hit a brick wall. Nothing was happening. After over a week of very hard work, it seemed we never made one iota of progress. Dani finally wrote her “Universe’s Waiting Room” post when it seemed there was simply nothing else to do. That afternoon the tiny house trailer deal gelled, a new land parcel was listed, our agent mobilized and things began to move very quickly.

The tiny house trailer was uncanny for several reasons:

  • It was designed to accommodate the Morrisons’ hOMe design, the very house we were intending to build.
  • The owners had already installed flashing, insulation, wooden anchor beams and subflooring.
  • They had purchased all the windows they had intended from the build.
  • Work was forcing them to move so they decided to sell the project at a huge discount and…
  • They were two hours away from where we wanted to search for land anyway.

In a whirlwind of activity we made arrangements to go and were on the road in just over two days.

We hit the road knowing we were travelling on the only day when snow was likely on Donner Pass. We couldn’t go sooner, and we were not going to delay, so we bit the bullet. It was harrowing. We tried to hurry over the pass and miss the incoming storm (and the guaranteed, subsequent chain restrictions), but didn’t quite make it. The snow began falling heavily and visibility dropped. We neared the summit, having passed a couple of wrecks already, and thought we might make it over altogether when all traffic ground to a halt.

What followed was a most torturous wait as emergency services very, very slowly cleared vehicles and began to open the lanes of traffic. Each passing moment brought more snow, more potential ice build up under the warm traffic jam (the outside temperature was 27 degrees) and decreasing probability that we would make it over the pass smoothly.

As we chewed our fingernails wondering how long opening the road would take, snow accumulated. What you see on the mirror is what gathered just in the 30 or so minutes we waited while they cleared the wrecked cars:


It may not look like it, but that is about two inches of snow.

You would assume the folks clearing the road were pros, but it was a maddeningly long time before we got to move again. As we pulled through we found no fewer than four vehicles smashed up from driving too fast in the snowy conditions. And the lack of skillful driving continued as traffic tried to move forward; some people were so paranoid at sliding that they seemed unaware that it takes a certain, small amount of momentum to drive uphill on a slick, snowy mountain highway. I carefully tried to filter through the slowpokes and stay out of the way of the dangerous speed demons. Sure enough, some vehicles came to a stop while the wheels still TRIED to roll forward and began to move backwards creating new blockages for the several miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic behind them. Being near the head of the queue, we slipped through. Thankfully none of the speed demons caused wrecks or went off the highway.

It was a longer climb to the top than I had hoped and many traffic jams were caused with people pulling over and a applying chains, then getting back on the road. We white-knuckled it through the slow downs praying to the weather gods that we would not get stuck. Somehow we made it to the summit, then began the real danger: getting up was hard, getting down safely was much more challenging.

Regardless, we did succeed and breathed huge sighs of relief as we transitioned from the snow zone and below-freezing temperatures to merely rainy conditions. After nine hours on the road we picked our way to the plot of land. We made it without incident and, apart from being a little torn up from some septic testing, it was actually almost exactly what we were looking for. By far the best parcel we’ve seen to date, the back end of the lot was actually a serene, year-round creek. It had electricity across an easement in the property line and a well already drilled. We decided to make an offer!

From there we headed to the home of some of our new friends (met on the previous trip), who had graciously offered to host us during our stay. We got settled and even finished up the offer paperwork that night. The following morning the offer was submitted to the buyer’s agent and we thought we were possibly well on the way to actually having the land for our future home! So naturally the first thing we did was head out first thing in the morning to drive almost three hours to pick up the tiny house trailer.

The trailer was actually everything we could hope for, so we bought it.

After all these months and all the deliberation, we finally had committed to the tiny house path!

Because the trailer also came with a large amount of lumber, thirteen windows and no sides (truly flat-bed!) packing it was quite a challenge. Also the last time I hauled a trailer was 20 years ago and it was a little pop-up camper. This was over 30 feet long and weighed almost a ton. I was somewhat apprehensive.

Loaded up, we pulled out and began the second afternoon in a row of harrowing driving. Long story short (too late!) we got back to our friends’ place but missed the turn to their driveway. We checked Google maps which said there was no way around, I would have to reverse. I hyperventilated a bit, shoved the truck into reverse and began to back that large trailer uphill on a very narrow and not perfectly straight street. If you’ve never reversed with a trailer, I do not recommend starting under these conditions. I was doing okay when our friend heard the noisy diesel working away and came out to offer help. He assured me Google was wrong and there was a route “around the block” and he suggested I try it.

“It’s very narrow.” he said. “A very tight turn, especially for a  trailer this long. But you can probably make it.” he reassured me in his personable, Dutch manner. He did, however, fail to mention it was narrow and tight and vertical. The 3/4 ton, turbo diesel made a good clip up the hill at about 0.5 mph.

“That’s your turn there.” he said indicating where there couldn’t possibly be a turn. I was thinking maybe Google actually was right.

“Wait, where that green sign is?” I ask incredulously. I didn’t think my Versa could easily make the turn, let alone this ridiculous convoy I was piloting. He assured me that was where I needed to go. After a few blinks, I decided it was at least possible and going forward was certainly easier than going back. He comforted me further by adding “If you get stuck, then we’re going to have a real problem.” I didn’t respond.

As we got closer to the turn I stopped the truck and hopped out to toss a small woodpile off the shoulder of the road down into a neighbor’s yard. I needed to be driving there, dammit! With some careful shoulder driving and liberal use of driveways as roadways I set up the rig for the acute-angle turn. I barely sat in the seat as I checked every mirror while moving slightly faster than a snail’s pace. Swing left! Cut right! Dodge the tree! Check the mirror THEN QUICKLY SWING IT IN SO IT DOESN’T GET CARVED OFF BY THAT TREE! OH! And make sure the trailer doesn’t run over that three foot tall stump! Then dodge that OTHER tree!!

“Ha! You made that with three inches to spare! No problem…” he offered.

Sphincters unclenched, we moved forward. I’ve wasted too many words already but parking the trailer on their 20% grade driveway safely and detaching it (we weren’t going to drive with it all over town after all) was yet another challenge. But one accomplished successfully.

The victories were to be short-lived, unfortunately. What followed next was three solid days of delays and miscommunication regarding our offer on the prospective property. [Aside: However we were very fortunate on the social front to meet with all the new friends from our previous trip; and we met even more wonderful people through them! But on the property side of things it was a nightmare.]

Not only did we not get the information we needed, the information we were given was consistently miscommunicated. Having made the offer on Tuesday morning we had assumed we would have a counter offer that day and the back-and-forth would be wrapped up in one or two days and then we would be back to Boise to start wrapping up things there. We thought this because we had been told this was a motivated seller. Not so. It took until Friday night to receive what we were sure was a legitimate counter offer. We countered-the-counter Saturday morning. Another two-plus days were needed before we finally received the formal rejection of our offer (this afternoon).

All of this was made even more challenging because the entire transaction was obfuscated by issues with the existing septic system, the tests and directions the current owner pushed things in requiring a new system, and the unreflective, overly-complicated nature of the septic design culture in the area. Additionally our friends were probably not expecting us to be guests as long as we were. As gracious as they are, we didn’t enjoy finding excuses to occupy our time as we inhabited their space primarily waiting for the buyer/agent and consultants to get their collective acts together.

And so this chapter of our journey is brought to a close: the “Closest-but-no-cigar” yet. We have learned so much through each and every false start, that we try not to get disheartened at the setbacks. But this being the closest one yet – the first plot of land where we could actually visualize it as “home” – makes it even harder to take.

Having received the rejection this afternoon, we will drive back to Boise tomorrow morning leaving the trailer behind, in storage under the care of some other, very gracious, new friends. We will have to travel to my brother’s wedding back East in mid-May, so we booked tickets to fly out of SFO. This will force us to pass back through the area. Either we will find land in California before then and can move the trailer to it during that trip, or we won’t and will will bring it back to Boise to begin the build at that time.

The Sierras feel like home. But is this home? “All signs point to ‘Yes'” says the Magic 8-Ball. But the Magic 8-Ball didn’t have to put up with this shit. Tonight we nursed our wounds by searching for land in Maine just “for funsies.” What we found was shocking: more fantastic sounding land than you can shake a yard stick at (har har). But there is a price to live in Maine: the weather. Yet a price of simply overcoming environmental hardships (even if it is six months of winter) seems far easier and more enjoyable than the hardships of dealing with petty landowners/agents and a deluge of bureaucracy.

Yet it seems we’ve met all these wonderful people in California for a reason. And we love it here. It’s not very satisfying to think “home” lies somewhere between Maine and California. …somewhere…

Again: is this why the tales of the search for land are never told? It seems they are usually summarized simply in a smile, a knowing shake of the head and the utterance: “…we looked so hard for six months before we found this place…”

We are wrapping up three months in the search and it’s taking a toll in so many ways. We will keep moving forward, though. What else can we do?


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