Greetings from Alaska, Part 21
This is a follow-up to Elizabeth Hinckley's earlier blog post about life in Alaska. You can find Part 1 here.
So how does one live in a home without running water? When we first moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, my husband Derek and I lived in just such a home (called a “dry cabin” by locals) for over a year. Here’s how we solved the big problems of The Sink, The Shower, and The Toilet.
In our dry cabin we had a kitchen sink basin, without a faucet. One short pipe connected the drain to a large white paint bucket in the cabinet under the sink. We bought our potable water from a filling station a short car ride away called the Water Wagon. We filled five-gallon blue jugs with water using the same hose mechanism used to pump gas into a car, drove it home, and manually hauled it inside. A gallon of water weighs approximately 8.34 pounds, so a five-gallon jug weighs in at about 41.70 pounds. We used five jugs on a rotating basis, meaning we lugged over 200 pounds of water into the house at least once a week.
Put a jug over the edge of the sink, turn the spigot, and hey – running water! The water would run into the sink, through the drain, down the pipe, and into the paint bucket. Periodically we would have to take the paint bucket outside and empty it over the side of our deck into the forest. If we wanted hot water to do dishes, we would boil water in an electric kettle, pour it into the sink, and hey – HOT running water!
NOTE: I use the “we” very liberally in this first section. Derek graciously and voluntarily performed 99.9% of the manual labor described herein, day in and day out, for over a year andthrough a winter when temperatures were regularly 30 degrees below and colder. He is absolutely the best.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks has showers available to students who live in dry cabins. If we wanted to shower we would pack a bag with all the toiletries, towels, clothes, etc. that we might need and drive to campus. Each shower at the student union was in its own private room with a toilet, sink, and mirror, and best of all, the showers were free! In the land of the midnight sun you can pay $7 for a shower at your local laundry mat, which is $7 more than we wanted to pay for a daily shower.
One downside to showering at the student union was that it wasn’t open 24/7 so we couldn’t just “grab a shower” anytime we wanted. If it was too late OR too early OR Sunday, then we had to go elsewhere. And of course there was competition for an open shower with other local dry cabin dwellers – no one likes to pack a bag AND drive ten minutes AND walk five minutes to wait for a half hour to take a shower, but it happens. Showering wasn’t something we did casually when we lived in a dry cabin. Showering was something we planned our days around.
Surprisingly, this one was the easiest to solve. For our toilet, we used an outhouse. It’s as simple as that. Despite the whole “using the bathroom outside when it’s 50 below thing” and the “using the bathroom outside with mosquitoes thing” and all the other “things” about outhouses… it just wasn’t that bad. I’d much rather have a shower in my house. Then I’d much rather have a sink in my house. Then, once I have a shower AND a sink in my house, then I’d want a toilet.
As a community, we have much to be thankful for. We are thankful for our families, for our heath, for our jobs, etc. In our more reflective moments we are thankful for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, for God’s infinite love and unfathomable grace to have unilaterally initiated a relationship with us while we were still dead in our sins. Yet, rarely do I hear my peers thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the clean water that runs, like magic, out of their faucets and showerheads, into and out of their indoor toilet bowls, from the sprinklers and hoses in their yards, every single day. I guess it’s just not something people think about.
Now that we live in a home with complete indoor plumbing, I get to take a shower in my own home again. Everyday I wash my feet in water that is clean enough to drink. If you’re reading this blog I’m willing to bet that you do too.
What a luxury. I am deeply thankful!