The Cabin Up North

Blog, Home / Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

In Wisconsin everyone knows someone who has a cabin up north. It’s a part of your childhood. What did you do this summer? I spent two weeks at the cabin up north. For those of us who didn’t have a cabin up north, we’d usually get invited by a friend for the vacation.

My family did not own a cabin up north and none of our relatives did either. It’s fairly common for families to go halvsies on the cabin with other family members and split the time there. Of course, you’re introducing more voices into the conversation when you do that but you’re more likely able to afford a cabin and maintenance and all that comes with it. But you get it half the time. It’s a trade off.

I also seemed to be the one kid who didn’t get invited to a cabin up north for the majority of my life. The only time I can remember going was when I was in college and one of my girlfriends’ family had a cabin somewhere north of Wausau. The weekend was filled with kayaking, grilling, and learning to water ski. It was everything I imagined.

I bring this up, because it still saddens me. Whatever the reason was, I feel like I missed out on a part of my childhood that would have helped me better connect with my friends. Every time I heard them talk about where they were going or what they had done, I felt left out. Maybe next year, I told myself, I’d be invited. I never was.

Fast forward to this year. Ellie and I are married, homeowners, and happily employed. Our debts are minimal, aside from the house. Our incomes are plentiful for our means. We’re able to set aside money every month for savings. I currently have more saved than I ever have had saved in my life. Together we have a savings account for home projects and life purchases and the money there is more than I imagined having for many years. Any time we receive gifts we do not know what to do with, we put it in that account. Ellie, too, has her own sizable savings. All is well, financially, in our home.

But we have an itch.

We see the money in those accounts, add it up, and ask ourselves, “What for?” Really, what are we hoarding it all for? The amount saved could feasibly keep us afloat for a year if we both lost our jobs and lived frugally. In short, we’re comfortable. This is where the itch comes in. This isn’t the comfort we dream about. We love the lives we have now, but we share a goal in life.

We want to move out of the city and leave the jobs we have. We want to support ourselves with the land as best as we can. We don’t want to worry about money because we have so much of it, rather because we need so little of it. That’s the dream we are working towards.

So a couple months ago, I sent Ellie a property listing I had found towards the end of the day on a Friday and asked if she liked it. It was a few acres, in the middle of nowhere, with a small Amish-built cabin on it. There was a second outbuilding as well. It is located a couple hours from where we live, in an area of the state known for its beautiful landscapes. Her response surprised me. It was something along the lines of, “I like it, should we go see it?” Here the thing, I liked it too but I never thought we would go see it. It was more share-worthy in my mind, not serious inquiry worthy. But I said, “Sure,” and proceeded to set up a showing for that Sunday.

The drive, around two hours, was lovely. Curvy roads, open landscapes, and small towns made the drive interesting. The weather was beautiful, coming out of Wisconsin winter. Windy, but that wasn’t a problem. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

As we got closer to the cabin, houses became fewer and further between. The road turned to dirt and started to climb. It was beautiful, peaceful, and the right path we were hoping to take.

As we pulled up tot he drive, Ellie and I reminded each other one last time that if we both didn’t love it, we would walk away. We needed this reminder because I fall in love with property easily. I see all the potential it contains. I think ten years down the road and it helps me look past the blemishes. I learned this while we searched for our current house.

In person, the cabin was more than I expected it to be. It was bigger than I imagined and sturdier. Hefty beams stacked on hefty beams. A beautiful front porch, perfect for a rocking chair, glass of whiskey, and for polishing a rifle. Mmmm.

Janet, the realtor who was showing us the property gave us free reign of the place, filled us in on what she knew and answered our questions. She didn’t try to sell, and was more often encouraging us to think twice about it because it had some flaws. I’ll get to those.

The inside was one large open room. Open concept? To the left was the living space and the right was the kitchen. Right across from the door was a wood burning stove (but there were baseboard electric heaters as well). Immediately to the left of the door were the stairs up to the two lofted bedrooms, all open to the rest of the cabin. Bare wood was everywhere. One bedroom was slightly smaller than the other. Both had skylights. The kitchen had a sink, water was pumped in from a rain collection system under the porch. We couldn’t test it because it had been drained for the winter. The sink drained to a bucket under the sink. The stove was electric. The fridge was passable. It was both rustic and not at the same time.

One side of the house had water damage from a leak. Janet believed that was caused during construction, but there was some evidence that it might have been after. The place was Amish built, easy labor to come by in Wisconsin’s Amish country. But Amish doesn’t always mean quality. The roof had shingles off in places and would need to be patched.

The biggest downside? The one I could deal with if I had to and Ellie didn’t want to touch. There was no bathroom. There was an outhouse, however.  Not ideal for late night trips to the bathroom or in the rain or the winter. But we couldn’t really live there in the winter because the water system needed to be drained. I cannot go that long without water.

The second building on the property was not Amish built and was a little more modern. It appeared to have been used as a shop of sorts. It had electrical and space for a wood stove. There wasn’t much to say about it.

But the view. Oh god the view was beautiful. If you’ve never seen the Wisconsin Driftless area, it’s hard to describe. The glaciers created beautiful views. Rolling hills relatively uninhabited. Mmmm, calms me just thinking about it. I wanted to buy that view. 

The acreage was on one of these hills and most of it had been left alone. If we were to farm it, like we’d like to do, it would be a lot of work to get it going.

We thanked Janet after we had gotten our fill. We climbed into our car and drove off. Quiet for a time, taking it in. How to be objective about it? There was so much I liked about it and it checked off so many boxes. It gave me that feeling of fulfillment for something you’ve been yearning for over many years. I felt like it could fill that hole in my childhood. It would be land and an escape. We would eventually change our lives to move there in peace. Our future would be filled with sunsets and reading, plowing and harvesting. I fell in love with it, so how could I be objective about it?

I was scared, that’s how.

As much as I’ve wanted this for such a long time, I don’t think I’m ready. It’s such a big leap to leave a job to pursue an unknown. And though I do feel like I have a safety net now, I am worried it wouldn’t be enough. Living in a city is a safety net in itself. You’re surrounded by people all the time. People are there to help, but if it was just Ellie and me out in the middle of nowhere…I don’t know who would help us if we needed it.

Even if we didn’t move out there and just kept it as a vacation cabin, I’d be afraid the extra monthly payment would break us. We live comfortably for our income when there are no surprises, but when there are surprises things get harder fast. For example, I was quarantined with the mumps earlier this year and it took me a while to pay off the bills, and that’s even with great health insurance from work.

I’m not ready for it, even as much as we want to be. Someday in the future we will be ready to join our fellow Wisconsinites and get the cabin up north (or in the Driftless), but that day isn’t here yet.

Would you have bought the cabin?

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