Alone. In the Night. In the Dark.

Alone, in the night, in the dark….


After an incredibly long lecture by my boyfriend about how I shouldn’t announce to the world where I was going all the time, and how I should be less honest with strangers, not be so naïve, etc,  I came to the startling conclusion that if anything did go wrong I was “Alone. In the night, in the dark.”  To quote a line from one of my favorite classic films the 1963 version of  “The Haunting”.   Having grown up in Cleveland, OH and living in New York for 14 years he failed to understand the never ending openness of us gentile Southern borns.  I find it incredibly difficult to not be honest at all times,  I also hate being “fussed at”.  Abe Lincoln and I would have sure been pals.

To quote another line from the object of many sleepless nights of my youth,  “No one lives any nearer then town.  No one will come any nearer than that.”  Here I was with horror movies on the brain and a potential serial killer on the loose, no one nearer then the lodge, and no fast way to get there.   With my history of past violent crime I knew that with my luck chance wasn’t exactly tipped in favor of my safety.


I decided to do a quick weapons check of the cabin. …

One axe, several kitchen knives, bug spray, a cast iron skillet in case I wanted to go complete Laurel & Hardy style, a lot of wood logs, a hammer and nails, fireplace poker, candle stick, some rope, and various other weapons to round out the game of Clue.


Now the question remained would any of these items strike fear in the heart of a ginger murderer on the loose?   I had all night to ponder these questions and indeed I did as was reflected by the dark circles under my eyes the next morning.  So far the contest to sleep at the cabin was being won very strongly by CABIN.  Cabin 2 – Fosho 0.

Would an inflatable kayak be enough to surprise a would be intruder?  An animatronic Christmas deer?  The floral pattern on the wicker chair was pretty scary, maybe I could just wave that at them and they would run away in terror, their design senses completely offended.


I figured since they would have to break a window to get in, maybe I would have a couple of minutes to mount my defense.  After all they would have to pull themselves up over a windowsill covered in broken glass.  Would that give me enough time to crack them over the head with the frying pan?  Would I actually be able to “axe” someone.  Being from New Orleans I had “axed” someone many a question but would I be able to wield an actual weapon and harm a human?  I briefly considered getting my grandfather’s old dueling pistol out of mothballs.   Although since it was a ball and powder gun by the time I actually got it loaded I would probably have set myself and the whole cabin up in a Pirate’s of the Caribbean worthy charge.


I had never spent much time thinking about defending myself.  Being mugged 3 times at gunpoint in the course of 5 years I had had my share of terror.  In all those situations the largest weapon I had was a set of car keys.  There wasn’t much time to do anything but keep moving and hope for the best.  I was now however a defender of my own castle.  What would Jon Snow do?


I spent the next 8 hours pondering that question since sleep was certainly OUT of the question.  The bed being surrounding by windows on two sides I kept expecting to turn over and see my little friend with his face pressed up against the glass in a grotesque game of peek a boo.  I did fear that my heart was going to be beating it’s last when I turned over upon hearing a scurrying sound on the inside of the wall to watch as a tiny little mouse trying to escape the cold popped it’s head out and said hello.  Probably a good thing the roads were closed and no neighbors were present as I’m pretty sure my blood curdling scream could be heard halfway across the lake.

Sleep is for the weak anyways right?


After careful consideration I had decided on a few different sources of protection.  First was immediately putting the shutters back up on the bedroom windows.  No need to spend anymore time imagining turning over and waking up with a face close enough to administer a nice shave.  (Shaving razor? Hmmm another good weapon mayhap?)  Next I moved the axe, phone, and kitchen knife within easy reach.  I stuck the cast iron skillet under the bed for good measure.

But the larger problem remained.  I was hoping to spend some time there in solitary confinement and internal study.  So far the internal reflection had consisted of an extensive list of ways that I could die while alone at the cabin.  Not exactly a good topic for breathing meditations.  Unless panic attacks, shortness of breath, and a Woody Allen neurosis version of zen is what you were into.

Do I buy a gun?  Should I get a taser?  Mace canisters in every room?  Security guard baton with laser pointer and blinding flashlight as a friend suggested?  (This I may just get for fun with house guests!)  Daryl style cross bow?  A pit bull and a rottweiler?   A pot of boiling oil to be dumped from the loft?


Would I actually be able to shoot someone?  Would just cocking a shotgun put fear into a would be intruder?  Would a laser pointer make people think I had a gun and I meant business?  Should I just start borrowing a dog everytime I ventured up alone?  I was pretty good with the BB gun, would that be enough?  (Seemed to cause Ralphie’s parents quite  a fright.)  Archery seemed to work really well on The Wall but would a bow and arrow strike fear into your local insane douchebag?

If I did manage to disarm someone, mace them into a curling ball of regret, or knock them out cold with the frying pan, I STILL had to somehow get myself into snowshoes and to Tamarack and safety before they managed to recover.  I could see me trying to run in snowshoes in a Bozo panic.  Would I have to knock them out and truss them up somehow until I had time to get away safely?   (**Note to add zip ties to my defense budget.)   Around and around these thoughts went in my head ALL NIGHT LONG…..


Do you think those secret service guys that got me drunk at the Vancouver Olympics would be available?  It’s about time those tax dollars paid off!

Suggested reading- Stephen King’s “Night Shift”


Toilet On A Sled

Toilet on a Sled.  Ta Ta Toilet on a Sled…to be sung in your favorite rap melody.  Insert tune here.

The Toilet had arrived!


Winter cabin preparations were done and the last piece de resistance was the winter toilet.

My Mom was popping into LA for a quick visit Halloween weekend and my plan was to head up to the cabin directly after with new toilet in tow as well as a couple of other last minute supplies.

As of yet it hadn’t snowed up at Mammoth and I was thinking I was in good shape to get everything in before they closed the road to the Twin Lakes Campground and my cabin.   As usual one can always count on our good friend Murphy to come into play at the least opportune time.


I was anxiously watching the weather Halloween weekend and saw there was a storm coming in.  I couldn’t dine and dash with my Mom in town so knew I was going to be in a race with the elements.

As soon as she took off to continue her trip to visit my sister in Colorado, I took off to try and beat the storm and the potential road closure.

The weather was gorgeous heading up as it usually is in the Owens Valley.  I could only think of John Muir, our early pioneer ancestors, and the many roads to ruin they had been led down by stunning hot weather in the valley only to be met by the fury of the Sierra Nevadas once they met the higher elevation.  Today was no different.   I was optimistic though heading through Bishop.  There was no way there was such horrible weather in Mammoth today bad enough to close the roads considering the utopian blue skies I was cruising through.



Guess again said Murphy.

I got into town to a white deluge of  “Mammoth” proportions.  It was dumping as all us ski and board addicts pray for all season.  However the mountain wasn’t open yet and the only thing I could see was an obstacle on the race for the gate.  The windshield wipers were singing a tune as they swished the heavy snow back and forth on the glass in front of me.  The odds were not exactly in my favor as Katniss Everdeen would be thinking right about now and I sensed an adventure about to unfold.  The real life game programmers were throwing everything at me.  I could only hope there were some sponsors at the forest service willing to help a girl out.


As I arrived at the gate I was not met by a group of heavily armed, hot teenagers in spandex and survival gear but by an incredibly unyielding locked gate.

The lock was not one lock but a multitude of locks locked together in a Jenga worthy jigsaw puzzle.  It seemed odd to me that one massive bolt wouldn’t have been enough, but I had already been warned by the neighbors that multiple powers that be had locks on the gate. Edison had one, the US Forest Service had one, the phone company had one, and who knew who else.  I’m actually not sure anyone could figure out how to get that gate open but I figured I’d give the Forest Service a call and just test the waters on the winter gate.  As I looked in the rearview mirror at the massive box for the toilet riding in the cargo space I thought in my head this could get interesting.


I guess it was worth a shot.  After a bit of pleading and a couldn’t you just open it for 15 minutes while I drive the toilet in and drop it at the door I was met with a very polite but firm no.  I knew the no was coming but figured if I didn’t try I wasn’t a very good optimist.

So it was to be the sled.   As I’m sure had run through the head of Shackelton, Amundsen, Nansen, and all my other favorite Polar Explorers of old.   I didn’t have any delightful huskies on hand so it would have to be some good old fashioned polar man hauling.  As I was hoping to host a “Come as Your Favorite Polar Explorer” party at some point at the cabin I guess it didn’t hurt to get some research in on my first “Winter Voyage”.


The snow was coming down in an unceasing deluge and I had failed to pack my ski pants. So it was to be wet sledging.  I could just picture Frank Wild, Shackeloton’s right hand man taking a look at me (while wearing his fantastic goggles) and shaking his head at my rookie unpreparedness.


I was all lost in though about how to get this stuff to the cabin when I looked past the locked gate and saw a man approaching through the blizzard towards me.


It crossed my mind who in THEIR right mind would be walking from the campground in a blizzard when I realized I was about to do the reverse while toting a TOILET on a SLED. Hmm, I think Frank Wild, Shackelton, and Worsley would be having a good laugh at my expense on that one.


As the man got closer my  victim of violent crime spidey senses started going off and I decided to halt the pre-packing business and get back in the car.  The windows were completely covered with snow now, so I couldn’t see out and was hoping the reverse was in effect.

When the knock came on the window I lurched so strongly I’m surprised the airbags didn’t engage.  I’m not sure why my first reaction was to open the door.  Jack the Ripper would have even probably advised me to lean on the horn and then immediately put the car in reverse and get the hell out of there.

No instead I opened the door and in my most polite Southern voice said “May I help you?”.

My would be assailant was about 6 feet with a crown of dark red, slightly greying hair.  I didn’t think my death would come at the hands of a red head but it would probably look good in the papers and news reports.  “Ginger slaughters new cabin owner in her second attempt to kill herself by being incredibly stupid.”

The  (in my head)  stark raving serial killer asked me if I was trying to camp.  I looked at him like he had indeed lost his mind  (as my potential serial killer murderer he probably would have already)  and said no of course not ,  I’m just trying to get to my cabi….nnnn.  Umm yeah this is where it all goes wrong in the movies.  I quickly corrected myself with a meet my boyfriend at the cabin, umm and the forest service rep, and my swat team that travel around with me.  At this point I felt like there was probably a massive neon sign stating “Are you an idiot?”  flashing above my head.

Or course our fair red head didn’t miss a beat.  “Oh you have a cabin over there?”   Alone, in the woods, where I could happily come murder you later…was what I heard.


I hastily made some excuse about how the Forest Service ranger was coming out to meet me and I had to go.   Immediately shut and locked the door, then spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out how I was going to deal with towing a toilet to the cabin while waiting for Charles Manson’s buddy to come have his way with me en route.   A potential mountain lion or bear encounter would have been more comforting, hence why I didn’t panic when I saw this track in the snow shortly thereafter.


I slipped out the door and made my tow preparations.  Pulled the sled out, lashed down the toilet, popped on my brand new snow shoes and set sail for the cabin, full speed ahead.



Was one of the first things I found out.  The next thing I realized was that jeans are not water resistant as I towed the toilet through the mounting snow.  I can’t imagine the image I would have presented to my serial killer buddy if he had come by.  A girl towing a toilet through the snow with saggy, wet jeans hanging off her tush, while awkwardly trying to tighten the new snow shoes that didn’t seem to be on quite right.  I don’t think sexy would have come to mind, so it may have lessened his desire to cut me into pieces and throw me in the frigid lake.


I panted my way up to the cabin and managed to make 2 more round trips in my saggy jeans bringing in the rest of the supplies before the snow got any deeper.  When I peeled off the jeans to change I was surprised by how cold and soaking wet I had gotten.  I slipped right into survival mode and starting working on using up that delicious fresh pile of wood.  Now that I had the carbon monoxide detector installed I was ready to turn on every heating element in the cabin at full blast and get a Dante level fire going.  Hell yeah!


With a massive sense of accomplishment I set out to get my fancy new toilet set up then hunker down for a cozy night in the storm.  I was going to have a lovely pee inside first of course.   I earned it after all!


Here I was….alone in my cabin, massive blizzard raging outside, road closed, toilet all set up, fire going full blast with ensuing smoke trail, and that’s when it hit me that the only person other then my boyfriend in LA who knew I was out there was the strange red headed man I met on the road.  I’m thinking this is going to be a long night…..


Suggested reading:  Apsley Cherry- Gerrard’s  “Worst Journey in the World”


Winter Toilet

Winter Toilet.

I had no idea how revolutionary this idea was until I met the neighbors.  It’s right up there with “propane shower” in the anals of dry winter cabin lore.

Our little plot on Twin Lakes is a small tract of 4 cabins in a row.  Adjacent to Twin Falls and right on the shore of the most southern corner of the Twin Lakes.  On my next trip up to the cabin I was delighted to have an opportunity to meet the neighbors.


After all the usual how do you do’s and getting to hear about each other’s lives, I started to ask some big questions about winter cabin use.  Being that I’m an avid downhill skier and I love cross country skiing as well, one of the most desirable things about this particular cabin was it’s convenient winter access and it’s location adjacent to the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Trail.


Being the new kid on the block, I had a lot of interest in how they have dealt with winters in the past since both of the other owners have owned their cabins for 10 + years.  The cabin’s water being from a creek that froze in the winter I was curious about how they handled a “dry cabin” during the colder months.  The other’s used their cabins minimally in the winter but were full of useful tips.

My favorite being: “ Don’t stick your head in any tree wells.”

This coming from the geologist neighbors who had us over for cheese and wine and filled our heads with all sorts of fun geological facts about the area.  One being that Mammoth Mountain is a young volcano on the Long Valley Caldera and that the “Mammoth Scenic Loop” is actually an emergency evacuation route out of town!   I also quizzed them about the potential dangers of earthquakes, since the year before while staying at the Cabins at Tamarack Lodge an earthquake shook the whole place.  Their response was, “It should be fine since you don’t have a stone chimney.”  Comforting….I think?


The geologists mentioned the greatest winter danger in the area was the Carbon Dioxide discharge from the ground that had killed a parcel of trees at Horseshoe Lake, one of the lakes directly above us.  It builds up under the snow and collects in the tree wells.  It was advised that we avoid sticking our heads near them.  This has been really amusing to tell houseguests, I think they think it’s some kind of drinking joke.  However, after my experience with Carbon Monoxide poisoning I was not interested in getting into trouble with any other types of carbon!


After these enlightening tips I got down to business about how they deal with their “business” during the winter.  I was surprised to hear that both couples dealt with their, ahem, waste by  various uses of double duty bags….!  One couple simply put a hefty bag in a bucket, the other couple used an ammo can with a toilet seat similar to what the guides used when I rafted the Grand Canyon.

The neighbors had never considered the winter toilet idea and were excited by the idea and very curious about how it would work.  Here I was to revolutionize the winters at the Twin Lakes Tract…!


I had done a lot of research on various toilet ideas for dry cabins and had finally settled on buying a compost toilet from Nature’s Head.


The Wynns had done a really great review on this one on their site for their RV and there was definitely a movement (no pun intended) towards these with eco conscious folks.

At a $1000 price tag this was a pretty big investment, but the alternative of having to deal with my own manure every time I went to the cabin in the winter was very unattractive.  I also was planning on using the cabin a lot more in the snow season then the other cabin owners.  Realizing that the winter season in Mammoth normally runs from October to May, that means 8 months of having to poop in a bucket if I didn’t get the toilet.  Gross.

Since becoming the proud owner of a compost toilet it is the ONLY thing anyone wants to hear about the cabin.  I never knew a toilet could have so much interest for people!


Wait till I get that propane shower to use next season…..







Winter Is Coming

Winter Is Coming……

Ned Stark might as well have been sitting in our living room in Los Angeles whispering this in my ear in his raspy Ned Stark voice.  Winter was indeed coming, and quickly.

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It was mid- September by the time I had picked up the keys and made my first trip to the cabin.  Jack had advised me that he normally shuts off the water to the cabin the first week of October, only a couple of weeks away!


I knew that I needed to start preparing for the quickly approaching season unless I wanted my first winter in the cabin to be a “Revenant” style experience, albeit hopefully without having to arm wrestle a bear with a cheese pairing knife.

I had gone out and met the “Landlords” on the way in this time.   I am a total visitor center junkie so getting to go to one to conduct “business” was a special treat.  The team were super wonderful and my forest service rep was a young, hip, rock climber who happened to hail from one of my favorite states – Wisconsin.  Yeah, the forest services rocks and rock climbs as it were!


Next up on the list WOOD!

“What rolls down stairs, alone or in pairs, and over your neighbor’s dog?  What’s great for a snack, and fits on your back?  It’s log, log, log….”  Was running through my head as we headed over to the Mammoth Firewood Company to pick up some wood for the season.

I have to admit walking up to a two story high pile of wood and being allowed to have at it was some of the most fun I’ve had all year.  By the time we were done I definitely had a bit of a Paul Bunyan swagger happening and the subaru was being used for some serious outdoor recreation as well as testing out it’s load capabilities!


Now the question on my mind having never done this before was  “Was this going to be enough?”  Well it kinda wasn’t.  But almost.  Certainly did look sexy though.


After all that manly labor it was time to take a well deserved break and some lumberjack refreshments…..


Now off to tackle the official water cut off for the season.  I won’t bore you with all the details but in short the water to the cabin is supplied by a small creek up the hill behind the cabin. It is gravity fed to the cabin by a series of twisty pipes running down the side of the mountain, true homesteader style worthy of the Kilcher Family.

To shut off the water for the season the first step is to cork the pipe up at the source, which is managed by the very high tech method of sticking a WINE cork into the pipe.  I can’t think of a more eco friendly, sustainable practice for a wine lover as myself.  Let’s just say there will be no shortage of corks to stem the tide each year.

Then you open up a series of pipes to drain the water off, ending with draining all the water out of the cabin itself and leaving the valves open.  I’m already anticipating flooding the whole cabin next year when I turn on the water while forgetting to close all the valves. I have written myself copious notes and warnings on every instruction sheet, typed or otherwise, and I am considering a tattoo on my wrist in Sanskrit stating  “Use this hand to close the house valves before turning on the water and flooding your whole cabin.”

Next up is a little anti freeze in the toilet and down all the drains, removing the water filter, and disconnecting the on demand water heater.  Ahhh the joys of hot running water, not to be experienced again till next spring or possibly summer if El Nino has her way with us.

Cabin winterization is officially done  (I hope I did it right)….now time to celebrate with a little Italian magnum from our friends at Poliziano!   Salute!


After a little wine in the afternoon we settled in for a cozy night of cabin exploring and discovered some cabin gems.

Old places have a way of collecting things and the cabin was no different.  I discovered a treasure trove of vintage park pamphlets, maps, and books about the local area.  Girl Scout nirvana!   Man from Mono was a total delight and a must read for anyone wanting to learn about homesteading in early Mono County.


Also, realizing that I had forgotten my book at home, I did a little searching and found a treat in the cabin library….who couldn’t resist a story about Barney and Big Boss Man Dan Peary.  I think I found Tarantino’s next script.


My favorite discovery though was this New Orleans Cabildo decal on the bathroom mirror.   I guess  this cabin was truly meant to be my mountain home.  Kismet.





This was not a term I was hoping to become familiar with on my first night as a cabin owner.  Neither was carbon monoxide poisoning.

I’ve stayed in cabins before on my own, I’ve stayed in cabins with wood burning stoves before on my own, I wasn’t a novice at this.  I’ve done this before.

As I lectured myself later that evening…..

I love making fires (who doesn’t?), playing with fires, and once as a child actually set my own hair on fire playing with a book of matches.  I may have actually been roasting honeycomb cereal while pretending it was marsh mellows on a campfire.  I still have the spot that my hair never grew back to prove it!

As I settled into getting comfortable and getting the feel of the place thinking, “ I own this cabin, now what do I do?”.   I got the fire going and opened the flue, half way only per Jack’s instructions to get it going, and sat down to read a book for awhile.


Now this was COZY.  Sigh…everything I was hoping for.  Warm fire, good book, a glass of wine, and the immense sense of pride of owning the cabin I’ve dreamed of for so long.

I promptly dozed off, this should have been my first tip off as I have an impossible time taking naps!


I awoke awhile later with an insanely loud ringing in my ears, intensely painful headache, and a desire to vomit.  I went to stand and immediately almost fainted.

BLOODY HELL I thought, this is not good.

I was able to force myself standing and went to open the window, only to realize the window didn’t work.  I tried the next one which I’m pretty sure was actually nailed shut. It seemed like I was living a common plot in all disaster and horror movies.


Now about this time in my woozy condition, I thought how do I get air into this place, and then well duh -The DOOR!  (As I’m sure any audience member in a theater would have been screaming at me through the screen by now.)  I quickly stumbled over to the door and flung it open and breathed in the deliciously crisp mountain air my body was screaming for.

What I couldn’t figure out was how it had actually gotten bad enough to put me in such a state.  The cabin wasn’t exactly air tight.  The windows are definitely “vintage” with various little pieces of wood laid up against the bottom seams to block the draft.


I also realized the first thing I needed to do as a proud new cabin owner was to invest in a carbon monoxide detector and fire alarm!

After a sleepless, cold, first night in my new cabin, as I was terrified to have the fire on while I was alone and not knowing if the heater was also a problem left that off as well, I called the emergency room at the hospital that morning to confirm that I didn’t need to come in to be checked for carbon monoxide residual damage.  They assured me that if I felt fine and wasn’t still nauseous or experiencing any symptoms that I was ok and didn’t need to worry.  Whew!

My friend Jen, who also happens to be the best realtor in Mammoth, was delighted that I didn’t actually die my first night as a cabin owner, and I decided to hold off on sharing that story with my mother for awhile since she was already worried about me being alone in the woods.  With my penchant for getting mugged in busy cities her mind had already built up a long list of things that could happen to me alone at a “Cabin in the Woods”.  Yes, we both watch too many horror movies for our own good.

Now, maybe I took Jack’s instructions way too literally, and the thought did cross my mind that perhaps the mountain wasn’t quite ready for Jack to part with his wilderness home and this was it’s way of getting his cabin back!