Plumbing Disasters but Camping Miracles

What a week it has been, friends. As I stated in last week’s Garden Update post, last Monday we had septic tank issues. After we paid a premium to have someone come out that same day AND paid to have the pipe that runs between the septic tank and our house jetted and cleared, we thought our plumbing problems would be over. Nope.

Let me back-up (pun absolutely intended). When we first moved into this house, the septic tank was not working properly, despite the system having been replaced recently (or at least recently in septic tank years–they last a long time). We paid to have it pumped out and then Brian, being the stalwart homesteading warrior bada$$ that he is, rappelled into it Bear Grylls-style and inspected it so we could know if the tank itself had any issues.

After Brian deemed the tank in good working order, we were able to obtain a diagram of the entire system from our local courthouse, where we learned that when the system was replaced, instead of replacing the existing finger drainage system, they put in a dosing tank and a splitter, allowing the septic to drain either to the old finger system in the backyard, or be moved to the new finger system and dosing tank system for the frontyard. The valve was sending all the drainage to the less efficient backyard system and all we had to do was find the valve, turn it, and problem solved. Right? Sure. For a little while.

Every so often, we’d get backups. And when I say backups, it really isn’t clean water I’m referring to, here. I was a stay-at-home mom in those days with two preschoolers that were potty training. Not having a sanitary environment or working plumbing was just not an option. Yet, we also didn’t really make a heck of a lot of money. We had graduated college and started a family pretty much at the exact same time as the Housing Bubble Bust and Market Crash of 2008, and Brian’s employment situation and compensation reflected the times. On my old blog, I wasn’t shy about disclosing our income and often wrote about how we made do on very little, and I’m honestly grateful for those lessons now as we barrel towards a Depression. (Pausing here to acknowledge that “making do on very little” in White America is still an incredibly privileged position).

Part of how “we made do,” though was learning to do stuff for ourselves. Which meant that whenever the septic tank backed-up, my husband found himself quite literally dangling inside of it, fiddling with the pipe for hours on end while I tried to be useful by doing menial things such as turning water on/off, holding a light, or fetching something. Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at being his assistant and now know way more than I ever cared to about plumbing.

Actual photo of me helping Brian with the plumbing đŸ™‚

Once, after hosting houseguests for a few days, the system decided it could not handle the additional load and we went without working plumbing for four days while each evening after work Brian and I would (but mostly Brian) would wrestle with it. We use a snake–not an official one on a pulley system with a crank. Nope… this is one we shove into one end of the pipe and hand turn by ourselves, blisters forming from the corrugated metal. We also have a wonderful device we invested in years ago called a Drain King that attaches to the end of our garden hose and then we shove into a pipe, turn on water, and the device inflates like a balloon and pressurizes before releasing, hopefully clearing the pipe.

It took four days of dangling into the septic shoving one device into that pipe, taking the toilet off so we could shove another device into the other end of the pipe, and working together to finally get it cleared. I will never forget sitting in darkness on the fourth evening at the edge of a stinky hole in the ground while staring anxiously at the pipe inside of our septic tank, watching and letting out a whoop and a fist pump as the impediment finally burst through the wall of Drain King water and plopped satisfactorily into the tank below. Victory.

This incident is why we paid to have professionals jet the line while they were out. Let’s not dangle in the septic tank if we don’t have to, right? Everything seemed fine the rest of that day until after Liam’s bath the following day, when the dreaded “gurgle gurgle blurp” sound emanated from the bathtub drain and water began leaking through the bathroom wall into my dining room, down the slight slope of our foundation, and collecting into a pool at the base of my kitchen island. Again. Because this had happened Monday. So that’s super.


Fine. We know the drill. We’ve fought the Four Day Battle and won, right? Do the snake. Do the Drain King. Done. Problem solved.

*gurgle gurgle blurp* the next day.

Are you kidding me?

Back into the septic tank Brian goes. There go all the tools. There goes our toilet, which will have to be reset and resealed–AGAIN. There goes all the water into the house. *whimpers*

What did we learn from this experience? Lots, actually, even though the cost of that knowledge was stressful and messy, interfered with Homestead plans and projects that needed to happen, and impeded our ability to get ready to go camping for Father’s Day.

So, here we are: the septic tank itself is just fine. No, the problem, friends, is the pipe that runs between the septic and the house. That pipe is OLD and it is not happy. Not happy at all. We are getting city sewer hook-up within a year or so, so we are going to try to limp it along until that time. But, I’m afraid this means much more dangling will occur before we’re done. Send happy thoughts to Brian.

With all the stress of plumbing disasters day after day last week, we fell a little behind on the garden chores and canning chores. We were supposed to leave Friday for a quick camping trip to test-out the pop-up and celebrate Father’s Day, but I ended up needing to can 3 batches of strawberry syrup, freeze strawberry puree, plant 25 bare root strawberry plants (I actually had 50 to plant, but only made it through 25), AND do all the laundry I could’t do during the week because I just kept washing every.single.towel we own over and over again, plus the normal pre-camping kitchen prep I always do: make condiments, pre-make some things, smartly package others, etc. We ended up leaving Saturday mid-morning feeling way less prepared than normal but also in dire need of a weekend away in a forest to sooth our stressed-out selves.

We made it to Shawnee National Forest by late afternoon, and got the pop-up set and ready in record time. We learned very quickly, however, that our pop-up mini fridge does not work. It was also 90 degrees and we hadn’t had time to get the AC we’d hoped to or even to buy any fans. And, as it turns out, we’d also not had time to get a large propane tank to hook-up the installed camp stove in the pop-up, so we’d have to improvise and bring our old portable camper stove inside the camper, which is not ideal. We evacuated our camp site almost as quickly as we set it up for ice cream and emergency fan procuring, only to not be able to find any stores that sell fans within 30 minutes of camp.

And then it started raining and thundering. As we ate our ice cream, Brian and I looked at each other and just started laughing. What else could we do when nothing about our week seemed to be going our way? The ice cream was cool and delicious. The kids were happy and excited about the pop-up. And the rain would cool everything off.

It rained all night and all morning. We stayed cool and dry in our camper. It was Father’s Day and I made a fussy breakfast of pancakes and bacon. I spent time editing videos for the vlog. The kids chilled out reading or playing games. Brian relaxed. The universe conspired to force us to stop everything for a few hours and just be. And it was lovely.

After the rain stopped, we made it to one of our favorite areas–Bell Smith Springs. Even though the trailhead was a little busy, we could maintain social distancing and then quickly became alone and isolated as we looped and trekked over rugged and slippery terrain, taking the long way to Devil’s Backbone.

We splashed and swam–completely alone in this wondrous place–for an hour before trekking back again, first through dense forest, then rocky bluffs and cliffs, and then over creeks and streams, one of them a brilliant turquoise thanks to a mineral in the two large rock outcroppings sitting in the middle, then up the steep stone stairs and back to the truck and our little camper, where we made burgers and played board games into the night.

Peace. After all the stress–stress not just from this week but the stress that had been piling on for months now–seemed to melt away. This is why we camp. This is why we hike. This is what being in nature does to us. We are so thankful to have found and been able to buy this pop-up camper. It has unfolded so many wonderful possibilities for us in this uncertain and difficult time. And we’re excited to share as much as we can of that with all of you.

So, plumbing disasters avenged–for now. We are looking forward to a quiet week at home with the gardens, the chickens, the kitties, and one another, planning for our next, and bigger camping trip. Look for our camping vlogs to be coming on the Channel soon. Until next time, friends. I hope you, too, can find a way to get outside and away from your own stresses, even if just for a little while.





Published by kelinmchull

Wife, mother, student, dreamer/doer, adventurer, wannabe farmer, writer, and all around curious gal.

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