Off Grid CTO: A Year in Review


Off Grid CTO: A Year in Review

Welcome to the next post in the series about living life off the grid working as CTO of a great and innovative software company called ModelOp which delivers software that manages your AI models at scale in the enterprise.

Amazingly, it has now been a full year since we arrived here at 10,200 feet in the Colorado Rockies.  We left for our cabin when the pandemic hit, figuring we would be here a few weeks while things blew over, and here we are a year later.  Time has flown by faster than I could have imagined.

Over the course of that year, we have built things, learned things, and made a few mistakes along the way.  So to commemorate this last year, I thought we would do a ‘year in review’ of some of those items and what it has been like living up here for now officially a full year.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” — Oliver Wendell Homes

The Beginnings

We had been vacationing in Mexico with family when the announcement came out that a pandemic had been officially declared, and the borders would soon be closing.  Fortunately our flight was already set for before the closure, so we returned from Mexico to a whole new world, as even our driver had to cancel on us due to his exposure to covid.  The grocery store shelves were empty, and our town was on a complete lock down.  We decided it was time to head up to our cabin which had ample supplies, and a lot more room to ‘spread out’.

So we packed up the cats, all the supplies we had, our stuff, and headed to the mountains.  We figured we would be here a few weeks while things blew over, and might as well make the best out of it, but in reality, it was the beginning of a new adventure.

Room to Move About

One of the first things we noticed after we got up there was that piling up six weeks worth of supplies in the front hall was just not going to work for us in the long run.  Constantly tripping over boxes in a tight space is definitely no way to live.

Fortunately, with my chainsaw powered saw mill up here, we had access to free wood.  So one of the first projects completed up here was to put in new shelving in the front hall to hold both tools and supplies, as well as allow us to place a freezer and a drink cooler underneath the supplies to maximize space.

This ended up being a great project and really added some much needed storage space to the cabin to allow us to extend lengths between trips to town and such.  This is really helpful in the winter when we try to avoid bad weather to make the trip quicker and safer.

“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” – Albert Einstein

 You might be a redneck if you wish your outhouse was as nice as those at the state park. — Jeff Foxworthy

A Quiet Place to Sit

Well we had an old outhouse at the place as a backup and for when we have guests, but it literally was built so small your knees stuck out the door.  Of course nobody wanted to use that, and it was just not practical.  So a top priority was to build a new one from our own lumber from my mill.

So before my wife’s family was to arrive for the July 4th holiday, it was a top priority to get it done.  Our septic system is small, and we did not want to overload it.  But I wanted this outhouse to be nice, and solidly built to handle the snow and last years to come.

So using our own materials, I was able to put together a much more comfortable outhouse that has live edge shingles (made ourselves), solar lighting, and ample room for moving around and hanging jackets and such.  We were very happy with the results.

A Year of Loss

Unfortunately, some close friends were lost this year as well.  My mom, after a long period of illness, passed on.  She will be missed and remembered throughout my journeys in life.

Also, my eldest cat Tatiana passed on as well.  She was a faithful companion that looked over me as I coded, and was teaching the other kittens about life at the cabin.  She had previously spent two full years up here when she was a kitten over 17 years ago.  She had the routine down, and even had an encounter with a bear that tried to break into the cabin.  She will be missed.

“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”
― John Steinbeck

“We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind, and tide” — Thomas Edison

More Power

Being up here full time, and having more computing requirements in a variety of weather, we really needed to upgrade both our system, and how we had it mounted.  So we started with milling some very stout and large posts to replace the random mounts we had around, and created room for more panels.  We expanded from 1200W of panel, to 1800W of panels, so a very significant increase.  We also plan to add another 600W this summer to bring us up to 2.4 kW of power.

Additionally, with the increased panel power, we needed to increase our ability to store it.  So we upgraded our battery bank by doubling it, so we have 8 batteries now instead of 4.  Another significant improvement.

Overall, we made it through the darkest part of the year with only rarely having to run the generator to charge up the batteries.  This is a great improvement and was a great accomplishment for the year.

Lots and Lots of Wood

When we arrive at the cabin a year ago, we only had two rows of wood left, and those were smaller rows at that.  We had let things get behind a bit as we only had brief visits at the cabin and mostly in the summer when you use very little wood.  As wood is our only heat up here, it is vital to surviving the cold of winter.

Almost as soon as we arrived, after a few bare spots began to show, we began to add wood to our supplies to not only cover this winter, but hopefully get ahead.  Well we put up six rows on one side of the woodshed, and almost five rows on the other side.  We are at about two and a quarter rows left on the one side, and have not touched the other pile.  So we seem to be about right to use six rows.  So this year we will only need to cut about half as much wood to get us back to a full woodshed.  We may strive to even fill in the middle though.  We learned our lesson that getting behind in wood is never a good feeling, and having plenty of it tucked away and dry is an investment in the future.

“Every man looks at his wood-pile with a kind of affection. I love to have mine before my window, and the more chips the better to remind me of my pleasing work…… they warmed me twice—once while I was splitting them, and again when they were on the fire, so that no fuel could give out more heat.” — Henry David Thoreau

“Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus.”
― Wallace Stegner


And Some Lessons Learned the Hard Way

I was out cleaning up some of the fallen trees from the windstorm earlier in the year, and this stuff was really green with lots of branches.  The first step in approaching this is to cut off all of the branches.  Unfortunately some of these branches were actually under quite a bit of tension, which is very atypical.  So as I was cutting some of them off, one kicked out strongly and knocked into the chainsaw.  Fortunately, I reacted quickly and got my finger off of the gas, but the saw was still spinning slowly as it was forced into my knee.  I could see my pants were ripped, and as I looked down, I realized there was a fair bit of blood and knew this was not good.

I walked back up to the cabin and told my wife what had happened, and she was not pleased, to say the least.  I cleaned it out and examined it more closely, and it was pretty chewed up, but clearly only damage to the skin.  So I patched it up myself with first aid supplies on hand, to more of my wife’s concern, and went back out to finish what I had started as we only had so much time to get wood into the shed.  It was a close call, but not serious at all for a chainsaw injury in reality…   You can see it in the pictures above after one month, and after 3 months, so it took awhile to heal.  I won’t share the right after shot….  It was not pretty.

I have been using a chainsaw for over 35 years without a single injury, but what I learned is it only takes one.  So that same day I ordered a pair of chaps, and now use those every time I go out.  It turned out to just be painful and a bit limiting for a time, but if it had been more serious, it could have stopped my ability to get chores done entirely putting our winter in jeopardy.




The Big Storm

Even though we already did a whole blog post on the big storm at the end of the summer, I can’t help but mentioning it in looking back at the whole year.  Neighbors fled the woods, trees fell all over the woods, and we will be feeling the impacts of this for years to come.

Myself, I have tons of green trees down all over my property.  Fortunately most of these are perfect for creating lumber, as they are not cracked from the beetles.  So a big focus from this year will be to not only continue on the beetle kill for firewood, but also accumulate some lumber in order to build a new shed down by the river to replace the old metal one that was crushed by the snow years ago.

Another outcome of this storm is that both my wife and myself want to clear trees back further from the cabin so that there is no chance that any could fall on us.  It was disconcerting seeing them swaying that much, and the damage done to other cabins where the trees did land on the roof.

Overall, the power of nature is amazing, and we did learn a lot from that storm and will be addressing it this year.


“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
― Haruki Murakami




And the Celebrations!

It was a crazy year for sure, and very, very busy with all kinds of things going on.  That said, it is always important to take the time to celebrate the holidays and take a break.  I always skip the chores on those days and try and do something fun.

We were able to hold our annual 4th of July fireworks show with the local VFD.  I setup and run the show electronically every year.  We weren’t sure it was going to happen due to shipment delays with Covid and gathering restrictions, but at the end of the day we were able to make it happen.  It was a much needed relief for everyone.

Then we had the normal celebrations around the solstices, as getting 50/50 sun/dark when you run on the sun is a big deal, as well as things like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

They were all special in their own ways, and were a welcome distraction from the goings on in the world.



A Great and Challenging Year

So Sunday was the official one year date.  It was a glorious spring day outside, which was much appreciated after the 4 feet total of new snow over the past couple of weeks.  The sun was shining bright and warm, and I was able to pull the carpets outside and do some spring cleaning.

Also, it was important to celebrate the day with a small can of champagne, and some fresh homemade sugar free cookies to mark the occasion.

The snow down low at the bottom of our road is now beginning to melt, and soon enough access to up here will be all but impossible for snowmobiles as they would have to cross a lot of dirt and overheat.  The tracks on the UTV will keep us in good shape for getting up here until all of the snow melts, but we can tell that spring is here at 10,200 feet.

This time, being all settled in and not scrambling to figure things out, we should be able to enjoy the return of the hummingbirds, the melting of the snow, and the solitude of spring in the mountains.


“Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead.” — Nelson Mandela




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3 Responses


    So inspiring! Up next…. chickens? 🙂

  2. Steve Searles says:

    Well done, happy anniversary! I hope you’re getting some time to ski. How did that PBR supply hold up?

    • Jim Olsen says:

      Not much skiing this year due to the unstable conditions all around this year. It seemed every weekend was high avalanche danger, or the west facing slopes were blown clear. It is just how it goes sometimes, and I like to stay safe, especially when skiing alone…

      The PBR held up… We did not go to get supplies for the first six weeks we were up here while we got settled in, and the road was changing to mud. Most of the towns had little if any stuff to get anyways, so we just road it through and had to eat through the freezer a bit before we had room for anything new anyways!

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