My Three Roommates: Cold

Note: If you’re enjoying reading about my Camp Life, I would like to suggest you check out my friend Spence’s blog, Rediscover the Wild in Wilderness. He’s also living in a wall tent (see, I’m not the only crazy one!) though he’s doing it up in Thunder Bay!

I was joking with a classmate the other day about my three roommates. Their names are Cold, Dark, and Loneliness.

Though I was joking at the time, I also must admit that these three have very much shaped how my life has been the past month. It seems that I am constantly doing battle with at least one of them, and am frequently struggling with all three at the same time.

I would be lying if I said it was easy or if I always enjoyed it. The fact is, this tent living is difficult. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t exactly realize just how hard it would be. How much work and frankly, how demoralizing it would be at times. Over the course of February, I hope to discuss all three and the affect that they’re having on me. Tonight, I will talk about the most troublesome roommate: Cold.

Those of you who are reading this will probably agree that this winter, thus far, has been one of the coldest winters in recent memory. Wherever you are, most likely, you have had to deal with the cold in some form or another. Perhaps you were caught in the ice storm that wreaked havoc all through the GTA over the Christmas Holidays. Perhaps you are one of the individuals who are attempting to heat your house via propane, and are now enduring a sudden shortage of this valuable fuel. Or perhaps you are simply walking from your house to your car every day. Regardless, you are experiencing the cold.

Living in a tent, the cold is an omnipresent presence. When I am in the tent, I know that the cold is nearby. Canvas walls do little to provide insulation, and I have become used to everything being in a perpetual frozen state. Shampoo. Peanut butter. Cooking oil. Beer (IS THERE NO JUSTICE!). Last night (Tuesday, February 11), even my mattress started off the evening hard as a rock due to  the -25 degree temperature. Needless to say, heating the tent is a constant source of anxiety and work for me.

Though I haven’t really done the calculations, I estimate that, over the course of the year, wood, and the processes of ordering, transporting, stacking, splitting and lighting it, have taken me an average of an hour’s work a day, and that’s ignoring all the problems that I’ve encountered (I’ll get to them soon). Think about that, an hour a day spent merely getting yourself warm. Then realize that without this warmth, you won’t be able to cook, have water (it’s all frozen) or do much of anything else. Try concentrating on any task, whether that be reading, talking on the phone or working on schoolwork, when all you can think about is how cold you are.

Of course, no tent living experience would be complete without near-constant problems arising. Uncured firewood (despite the seller’s promises); massive creosote buildup in the chimney; smoke filled lungs and eyes; accidently shearing the chimney elbows in half while cleaning it out; broken axe handle… I have learned and experienced quite a bit in the last month. There have been a few mornings where, rather than dealing with a fire, I just fled to the car as quickly as possible, and even one or two nights where I just curled up in my blankets and fell asleep in a very cold room.

That being said, there have been blessings as well. For example, I found a stash of beautifully dry old softwood in the field where I’m staying. It burns quick and hot, which is enough for me to get a fire going and throw some smaller pieces of damp wood on top. My girlfriend’s uncle donated a propane heater to the cause which provides a nice (usually quick) boost of heat, and when working in conjunction with the stove, can actually make it too hot (blessing of blessings! joy of joys!) inside the tent regardless of the outside temperature. And finally, there is my bed. With my mattress off the floor, a number of sleeping bags and blankets, and some lovely fleece sheets given by my wonderful girlfriend (perhaps in preparation for her March visit), I have yet to spend a cold, sleepless night. In fact, most evenings, even in -25, I wake up sweating due to being too warm.

Ironically, the few nights that I have slept inside (three nights during the Guelph Organic Conference and one night while visiting some friends in Peterborough last weekend), have, by far, been my worst nights of sleep. I have become not only used to sleeping in a cold room… I have become adverse to sleeping in anything else.

But still, last night (Tuesday, February 11), as I was struggling to get a fire going in a very cold stove, I couldn’t help but think how nice it will be when the temperature decides to go above the freezing point. I understand, now more than ever, the beautiful promise of springtime.



P.S. I didn’t announce it, but February 7 marked my one-month stay in the tent. At that point, I had spent a total of 28 nights in the tent. To celebrate, I partied in Peterborough. I will hopefully be more on top of my anniversaries… maybe you can come and party with me the next time?

Ed. Last Saturday, Brian and I (and Brian’s friend Steve) each picked up one more bushcord of mixed wood from an Amish neighbour who advertised it in the paper on Thursday. While it was more expensive than my last load by $75, it is wonderfully, beautifully dry and lights up almost immediately. This is well worth the extra $75 to me. Also, for full disclosure, it got up to PLUS 4 degrees today, which is pretty much summer to me at this point (I was doing chores in a t-shirt). This new weather kind of makes me feel whiny for writing this post… but I also do not believe that we have seen the last of the cold this year.

Open for Visits

I have yet to figure out the correct way to tell new acquaintances that I am living in a tent. I don’t blurt it out, though if it comes up naturally, I won’t go out of my way to hide it. It’s a strange subject to broach. I know that upon stating that I am currently living in a tent, that this will become the conversation. I suppose that this is to be expected. Very few people know somebody who has done it, at least as a long-term living option,  and it is certainly a new conversation for them to have. I don’t dislike this conversation actually, it is simply that I enjoy having a full range of conversations.

Furthermore, upon revealing that I am living in a tent, I become known as “The Tent Guy.” My entire identity is quickly condensed into that one simple aspect. I am Tent Guy. I suppose that this is preferable to being known as “That Guy Who Messed His Pants” or “That Guy Who Talks to Himself” or “That Guy…. you know… That Guy.” But still I am hesitant to become a single definition too early on in the conversation.

The last issue for me is that I do not know exactly how people will react when finding out that I am intentionally living in a tent. In my experience, there are three distinct reactions that people have.

The first is that people think I am a complete idiot. Usually the response is a dropped jaw and a penetrating look of disgust. Living in a tent is not only so far from their own experiences, it is actually beyond what they consider to be in the realm of allowable experiences. They cannot remotely fathom the idea of somebody doing this. There are some days I certainly agree with them.

The second reaction is that people think I am a badass (it should be noted that I use this term in a positive way). This is an interesting reaction because it has both positive and negative ramifications for me. On the positive side, I earn a lot of respect immediately. This builds immense social capital, making all future social interactions much smoother. The negative side of this reaction however, is that I now have a level of badassery to live up to. If I were Apartment Guy, nothing would be expected of me. I could live a completely normal life and that would be okay. Tent Guy however, has to wrestle packs of coyotes, quote Thoreau and eat cattails.

The final reaction is possibly my favourite. “You’re crazy.” It’s usually said or thought with a slight smile and perhaps a small shake of their head as they come to grips with what I said. My favourite part however comes next, in the pregnant pause that arrives just after they pronounce their honest (and at least partially correct) judgement. It comes when I see them look off, losing eye contact with me as their mind turns inward. Because a part of them, maybe a tiny part but a part nonetheless, wants to be able to do this. Maybe not quite this exact experience, but something similar. They, like so many of us, are living good, honest lives that, we are afraid to admit, are perhaps a little bit boring. They like the idea of living “simply,” of being out in it all, of having just a little bit of adventure.

At that point, I am quick to invite them over, perhaps for dinner, perhaps to help stack wood, or perhaps just to see the place. Almost always, I receive an enthusiastic reply. So far, I have had three people over to visit, not including my amazing build crew to whom I am still completely overwhelmed with thanks for. All of my guests have left hoping to come back, and maybe even bring other friends with them.

I love being Tent Guy. I love being able to share with new friends and old this amazing experience, whether it is via this blog, or, better still, through visits in real life, preferably with a nice tent-cooked meal and a bottle of wine. I hope that as the year progresses, I will continue to share this place with many more friends, helping each one of them to grow in their own badassery.


Tent Guy

The Build

This weekend has been absolutely crazy. I’ve barely been able to process it myself, let alone put it into a form which would make sense here. Still, I managed to take some shots of the tent building process that happened on Saturday. It was incredible. This post is dedicated to Adar, Caitlin, Tim, Mike, Dave, Sylvia and my parents, who made this build happen. THANK YOU SO MUCH!! I will post more about the build soon… but school starts tomorrow and I’ve been going non-stop since Thursday.


Shadow is the Russet House Farm Dog. In the summer, he herds cattle. In the winter time, mostly cats.


We carried a load of pallets down a one kilometre laneway that was completely covered in snow. It was absolutely ridiculous. The fact that I had got quality help is evident from the fact that there wasn’t an open rebellion against me. There should have been. It was bad.

This picture also shows a bit of the site before any work was done.


After we all had miniature heart attacks from carrying the first load, Sylvia and her 65 Massey Ferguson came to the rescue. She cleared not just the laneway, but also the very site where we were going to build, saving us about a week’s worth of manual labour.

Without this tractor and snowblower, there is no way we could have completed the build.

We drove the rest of the supplies down with my dad’s truck once the laneway was cleared.


Mike and Tim are laying out the patio stones which were meant to act as support stones in the four corners of the tent. Mike (a landscaper and contractor) and Tim (a high school tech teacher and contractor) felt the stones would work better to balance out the floor. I was easily persuaded to listen to them.


This is a good shot of the beginning of the pallet sub-floor.


This picture is in the kitchen of Sylvia and Brian’s house. My parents showed up with chili my mom had made up the night before. We very much needed this lunch.

My mom rocks.


Caitlin, Dave and Tim screwing in the plywood. Technically it isn’t plywood. I say plywood because it’s easier to say than OSB panels. OSB is cheaper and, for my purposes, pretty functionally equivalent.

Notice the one blue board. Dave named him Harvey.


My dad helping to pull the tent down over the frame. In this shot, he’s inside the tent.


Dave hammering in a t-stake that we’ll later tie the tent to in order to prevent it from blowing away. Despite the frozen ground, the fence post driver which he’s using (basically a big, heavy, metal tube) made really quick work of it.


Caitlin, Adar, Dave and Tim, happy that the job is finished before the sun goes down.