I spent my Fourth of July like a true American, a real pioneer; that is, without electricity or running water.
That's because a storm similar to the one that flattened the Chicago area Monday took out the power at my family's lake cabin over the Fourth of July weekend in northwestern Wisconsin's Burnett County.
My husband Joel, our friend Kristin and I were driving up to the cabin for the holiday weekend, still several hours from the worst of the storm, when it blew through the state with straightline winds up to 100 miles per hour.
The downed trees appeared suddenly, imposingly in our headlights as we turned down the road to the cabin just after midnight. Some volunteer firefighter or Good Samaritan with a chainsaw already had started into the branches, and we slowly wound our way around trunks and leaves. When we reached the long, sand driveway to the cabin, though, we just had to give up, abandon the car, and pick and climb our way through. It was dark. It's usually dark. It's deep in the dark of the woods, without street lights anywhere nearby even when there is power.
That's my husband and I clearing the driveway after a Fourth of July storm flattened trees at my family's lake cabin in northwestern Wisconsin.
Two people were killed in Burnett County in that storm, according to the Associated Press. Trees were downed across roads, wires and houses -- some ripping up entire front lawns along with their roots; others, snapped in half, looking like the fist of God had slammed down on them. Businesses and homes in Danbury, Wis., were without power that whole three-day weekend, and it still is out at the cabin, a week-and-a-half later, according to my mom. Food spoiled in grocery stores, stocked for holiday festivities. Danbury Days, the parade, the fireworks, the pig roast at the firehouse -- all were canceled.
We spent the weekend clearing the driveway, hacking apart trees with handsaws and an ax, the only people on the lake without a chainsaw, from the sound of it. We got to the grocery store too late for the bum-rush on ice. We threw away everything in the freezer -- some fish my dad had left, quickly going horribly, smellingly bad -- and stocked up on jugs of water, hot dogs, eggs, bread, a bottle of Bisquick Shake n' Pour, anything we thought could survive several days in the heat and cook over a fire. We picked wild blueberries for the pancakes. We tried, unsuccessfully, to catch some fish when the hot dogs ran low. We shampooed our hair in the lake and flushed the toilet with buckets of water, dragged uphill from the lake, since the cabin in on septic and pump systems.
And we had a good time, despite the hard work. At night, without electricity, without the chatter on somebody's TV echoing across the water or the lights on every house burning bright, the lake was completely still. It was surprisingly light in the cabin with just a few candles burning. It was like a reality TV show, or a Disney Channel movie, that drops the city folk in the country, hilarity ensues, and then pulls out some message about how those simpler times really were better. Or something.
"I can be done if you don't have children, or if you're not a senior citizen," said Corrinne Dirks, director of sales at the Hampton Inn in Elgin. The inn is completely booked again Wednesday night, she told me late Tuesday afternoon.
So here's to you, the ones who are doing it, going at the storm aftermath pioneer-style and without electricity. It can be done. And here are a few safety tips while you're doing it.
Share your power outage survival tips, and get some safety reminders from the McHenry Country Health Department, after the jump.