Time to Unwind: My 2-Day Trip Away From Holiday Mayhem

New York is a volatile city, full of movement, noise, and energy. It's a thrilling place to live, but it's also exhausting. Long days in front of the computer and crowded subway rides, a constant stream of stimulation and sound, even when you're at home in your bedroom. (Thank you upstairs neighbor and busy commericial street.) I never realize how tightly I'm wound until I get away for a few days. And you can't get much more "away" from New York than North Dakota. So that's where I went.

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The main cabins
My aunt and uncle own 70 acres of land in Medora, North Dakota, a town on the far western border of the state, in the Badlands. Remote and rugged, Medora is is best known for the influence it had upon Theodore Roosevelt, who first arrived in Medora to hunt buffalo in September 1883. He called his years in the Badlands "the romance of his life" and famously said he "would not have been President had it not been for [his] experience in North Dakota." Medora is a tourist destination now, with a national park (Theodore Roosevelt National Park), serious biking/hiking trails, and various historic sites.

But I didn't go there for any of that. I went there to unwind in a once-solar-powered cabin with a composting toilet and no running water, set down in a ravine only accessible in the winter by showshoeing.

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Down at Bearpaw
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My aunt and uncle have 4 log cabins on their property. Their main cabin, up by the road, has running water and a geothermal system, while the two cabins down in the ravine (called Bearpaw) rely on high efficiency propane gas stoves, a composting toilet, and no running water. All cabins have electricity. Heating costs at Bearpaw even in North Dakota's frigid winter months top out at $15 a month, with $30 in electricity costs per month at the main cabin.

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At any time there are about 35-70 gallons of water stored down at Bearpaw, and guests are encouraged to be mindful and conserve as much water as they can. An outdoor shower is outfitted with a Sure Flow on-demand 12-volt pump showerhead, which is still high pressure despite its minimal 0.5gpm.

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The non-electric composting toilet cost about $700, and in the five years they've been there, they've only had to empty it twice (and they've had MANY people staying there). They turn the drum once a week to make sure there is enough moisture for the bacteria, but otherwise all the waste is completely broken down into soil. My uncle says when it comes out it just "smells like really good earth."

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Herd of buffalo, anyone?

What did we do there? Well, nothing... and it was great. I read this book while curled up in bed, while my husband read this book in a rocking chair by the stove. We drank percolated coffee and red wine, and snacked on shelled peanuts. We snowshoed up to the main cabin for hot chocolate, and accompanied my aunt and uncle to a Christmas reader's theater in town. No internet access meant no email distractions or blog surfing. Just a night in the wilderness.

I love New York, but for those 2 days, I didn't miss it.

(Images: Cambria Bold)