Update on a Journey off the Grid

Ching Fu admires the mountain scenery in Alberta, Canada/ Photo by Jerud Crandall

The Biltmore Beacon covered a story in March, 2015, of two local outdoor enthusiasts who were leaving Asheville to live ‘off the grid’ in an RV. Two years and countless experiences later, Ching Fu and her partner Jerud Crandall are spending some time locally and sharing their experiences.  

From their first stop in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, their journey so far has taken them to 26 U.S. states plus Canada, making 142 different stops, which they call “driveways.” Their longest stay was for 2 months in the Yukon, Canada.

The pair is enthusiastic about their experience so far. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat, in fact, I wish we started sooner,” Fu said.

With 200 square feet of internal living space, their RV is not unlike a studio apartment. “We have pretty much everything we need except a washer and dryer.” A typical day includes making a large breakfast on their induction cook-top stove, washing dishes in the kitchen sink with hot water, working for a few hours and then heading out to hike or mountain bike.

“We may have just 200 square feet inside, but we have hundreds of acres in our backyard.” Each day brings a new adventure, and they never know what surprises they might find, including a moose walking in front of their living room window.

The couple’s RV is not the type of luxury vehicle seen on TV shows. Theirs is an environmentally-sound machine, refurbished primarily by Crandall, to run on solar power rather than fossil fuels. The vehicle has 8 solar panels installed on its roof. Crandall redesigned their truck to run not only on diesel fuel but included a secondary system to run on vegetable oil.  That part of their plan was not sustainable over the two years.  

All of their heating and cooling, cooking and washing is done without the use of propane. They became conscious, on a daily basis, of the amount of resources they used. Having a composting toilet and no washer or dryer, 40 gallons of water will last the pair up to 10 days, while the average per person water usage in the U.S. is over 100 gallons per day.

“I’d say its been 90 percent doable, with almost everything we had in a regular house.” While they do not use electricity as freely as they had, they cook 3 meals a day, have hot water for showers and dishes, and cell phones for Internet.  

Fu shared some of the challenges and learning experiences they have had over two years, including managing power, saving money, dealing with isolation, and communicating with each other.

“We learned how long power generated by the RVs solar panels would last. It may be sunny today, but we needed to save electricity for the next few days in case it was cloudy or rained for a while,” Fu said.

During a stop in Colorado in late spring their first year, a snowstorm dropped a foot of snow around them. Not sure how long the gray skies would last, the pair bundled up and lived without heat or hot water until the sun came back. “RVs and cold weather don’t really mix,” she said.  Fu noted that if they were desperate, they could always go to an RV park to ‘plug in,’ or just leave the area and head toward sun.

Fu said isolation is not an issue. While most of the time it is just the two of them and their dog, they have met several people along the way and tend to stay in populated areas. Social media, particularly Instagram, also provided a sense of community. Their first New Year’s Eve, the couple traveled to Nevada where they found 50 other RVs, almost all living full time in their vehicles.

Fu admitted that spending so much time with one other person in a small space requires good communication, and she said they have learned to be “honest, and not too sensitive.”

To keep their costs low, they sought free parks and campgrounds rather than fully equipped parks that might cost $30 to $60 dollars a night. They chose sites based on recommendations from others and looked for places that had lots of trees and mountains.

Fu and Crandall plan to stay in WNC for a couple of months and then head out again. “We still have not seen the great lakes, New Mexico or eastern California,” Fu said. While here, they plan to share their experiences with others who might be interested in venturing ‘off the grid.’

While they have relished their free and unstructured time, the couple now plan to focus on finding employment that will allow them to retain their independent lifestyle.

Fu was formerly a community outreach specialist at REI in Biltmore Park and a Biltmore Beacon 40 under Forty honoree in 2012. The couple maintains a website and blog of their adventures at “lifesmallridefree.”