I have been in touch over the course of the last few months with our host Tobias who has kindly asked me if I wished to make a guest post. My name is Ron Melchiore and I am delighted to be here. I have devoted my life to an off-grid lifestyle. Back in the late 1970’s I became aware of an alternative to the 9-5 work day routine. That alternative was to join the back to the land crowd who’s goal was to become as self-reliant and self-sufficient as possible.
To that end, 37 years ago I created my first homestead in northern Maine. My wife Johanna came along after the homestead was started and we’ve been together ever since. I/we spent 20 years in Northern Maine learning the ropes and becoming competent in a myriad of skills. That experience gave us the confidence that we could create a homestead in a wilderness location. So we made the move to a remote lake in northern Saskatchewan. Not only were we able to live in the wilderness, we thrived. For seventeen years we lived alone; our only access was by float plane. As a general rule, we didn’t see another human for 6 months at a time. We shopped for food, picked up mail and dealt with any needed appointments every 6 months. The rest of the time, we were truly on our own.
Going from the comforts of a typical home to the wilderness is atypical. I wrote a book titled Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness in which I take the reader on a journey from homesteading in northern Maine to homesteading on a remote wilderness lake 100 miles from the nearest major supply point. In my book, I recount how I, as a city born guy who trained in electronics as a career choice, ended up so far removed from society. I share how I have survived forest fires and being touched by a bear.
As part of the off-grid lifestyle, I have been blessed to have been able to do a number of other outdoor adventures. I winter thru hiked the 2100 + mile long Appalachian Trail and I bicycled across the United States. These experiences played a significant role in the direction my life took. Without these accomplishments I likely would never have made the move to the wilderness. Certainly as a young man, living in the wilderness was never on my radar. At that time such an endeavor would have been inconceivable to even contemplate.
Yet, wilderness is where I/we ultimately ended up. Each accomplishment in my life has been a building block, a stepping stone to the next challenge. It can be for you too. Whether your interest is prepping, homesteading or off-grid living, the common thread of each is the desire to be a little more self-reliant and self-sufficient. To gain more independence and rely less on others for your needs.
Living such a lifestyle naturally lends itself to opportunities other than what might be considered being self-reliant. Hiking the Appalachian Trail? Bicycling across the United States? Doesn’t seem those things have anything to do with prepping or living off-grid does it? But to me, those two events were instrumental in determining my destiny.
The sheer fact that I was homesteading in Northern Maine gave me the freedom to pursue these outdoor adventures. I am an adventurous guy so taking some time off from homesteading to hike the A.T. was easy. It was equally easy years later to take time to bicycle across the United States. What I didn’t realize or know at the time, was how much better I would be at homesteading and life in general as a result of having done these trips.
I can honestly say, winter hiking the A.T. was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Bear in mind this observation is coming from a guy who adopted a pioneering spirit, cleared virgin wilderness for a new homestead by chainsaw, then utilizing float planes, flew out all possessions and materials to build a 2 story home. Once all materials were onsite, we built our homestead by hand ourselves with some help from my brother.
That was a daunting undertaking. But walking 5 1/2 months alone on the A.T. in winter was a real character builder. Much planning and preparation needs to take place before a person can head off down the trail for any long distance hike and my hike was no exception. My preparations were compounded by the fact I would be hiking in winter. I delve in to details of my trip preparations in my book.
When hiking the A.T., physical challenges coupled with mental challenges were forces to be reckoned with. It’s one thing to contemplate a long distance hike from the comfort of a cozy living room. Quite another to throw on a heavy backpack weighing roughly 50 pounds and hoof approximately 20 miles day after day. Winter hiking forced me to lug more equipment and heavy clothing than would have been necessary if I had hiked in summer.
Because I was alone I didn’t have anyone else for moral support. My wife started the trail with me but physical ailments forced her to leave after a couple hundred miles. After she left, it took determination and courage for me to continue to the end. And poor weather with long stretches of rain and dampness, snow and freezing temperatures took their toll. Along with the rain and snow came wet clothes and frozen boots. I had a stretch where I hiked 300 miles in 13 1/2 days. This was hard physically as well as mentally. But by the end, I knew I had pushed my body beyond what I thought possible. I learned I could depend on myself and I gained confidence in my ability to adapt and push through obstacles when I had to.
Before I started the Appalachian Trail hike, I took an EMT (emergency technician training) course. At that time, I was aware of only one other successful winter thru hiker so we were really bucking the odds by starting in January. That EMT training was just another tool I could put in my bag of tricks to increase our chances of survival and success. If a medical problem cropped up, having some training gave me a shot at dealing with it. I couldn’t depend on help from other hikers since I rarely saw another person on the trail as most thru hikers start in March or April.
Survival skills are important even when traveling on well marked trails. I got lost on Mt. Rogers in a blinding snowstorm. Because I knew how to use map and compass, I was able to find shelter and safety. In the worst case scenario, had I not been able to find the lean-to shelter, I could have relied on my winter camping experience. I was carrying the proper equipment in my pack so I could have survived the storm by sheltering under a tree somewhere. A cautionary note. A person can possess the best tools and equipment. They can have book knowledge and years of training. But without practical experience as well as the confidence to be able to use those tools and knowledge, they are at a huge disadvantage. Practice your skills, hone them in a setting where failure won’t result in catastrophic, life threatening consequences.
Prepare as best as you can but realize there are situations you can’t really train for. Back in 2002, I was home in the wilderness, alone. I heard what sounded like a freight train approaching. When I looked 4 miles south down the lake I saw a wall of flames running in my direction. Panicking with the resulting mental meltdown would have been a disaster. I was about to face something very few people ever experience. Having the confidence I would get through the fire storm helped me survive it that night. Details of this harrowing night are in my book too.
I’d like to leave everybody with one final thought. Life is uncertain and short. If you have an aspiration, regardless of what it is: to be a homesteader/prepper, a passion to travel, a desire to try living off-grid or any other dream, when the opportunity presents itself, grab it and run with it before it’s too late. You never know where it will lead. As I mentioned previously, each experience I’ve had was a building block.
My homesteading in Maine gave me the confidence to attempt a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail which led to a cross country bicycle tour which ultimately led to our move to the bush and the creation of a sustainable homestead in true wilderness. Who would have guessed that a city boy could survive and thrive in such an environment. Back in the 70’s, when I was in my 20’s, certainly not I. Thank you for reading!
Ron and his wife spent 17 wonderful years living 100 miles in the Canadian wilderness on a remote lake. They are now building a new homestead on the Nova Scotia coast. As part of the back to the land movement that originated in the 70’s, they have spent their adult years living the homestead dream. You can follow and contact Ron at https://www.facebook.com/offgridandfree.mypathtothewilderness or http://www.inthewilderness.net/ or https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6mQmFsJZ86F6CYy7z4Ei8w