Professional cyclist Dan Timmerman always wanted direct access to nature. Sitting around observing it from a distance was never enough. He wanted to be in nature.
Five years ago, Timmerman and his wife, Sam, bought a 10-acre property in rural New York and moved into a cabin. They have lived there ever since.
While the couple hasn’t totally rejected modern life — they have no TV but do own mobile phones, laptops, and cars — they lead and unconventional lifestyle that is simple and enlightening. They own their property outright, have no debt, and live on solar power.
By living in their cabin off the grid, Timmerman and his wife, who is a caterer, have saved a good deal of money.
'We're on the reduce-your-expenses method,' he told Business Insider. 'This is an off-the-grid cabin that we bought pretty cheaply, and living this way is cheap. We don't have many expenses, if any, basically just a mobile phone bill.
'We have plenty of money in the savings, and I'm able to work as a professional racer mainly because of the way that we live. If I had to pay rent in town it would be a different story.'
'Off the grid' can have a lot of meanings. For Timmerman, it means their cabin isn't connected to the electrical grid at all.
'We have our solar power, which is stored in batteries. A lot of people assume that means you're also disconnected, but that's not true in our case. We are connected. We talk on the phone. We have the internet.'
Though Timmerman and his wife live in the woods, that doesn't mean they aren't connected to the world. They have mobile phones and laptops, using mobile data to go online. While they don't stream movies, they occasionally watch DVDs. He uses the internet to keep up with the bike-racing community and do research for all his projects.
'We're pretty content,' he says. 'Living in the city or in town, you have the social aspects and the conveniences, but you're surrounded by concrete and motors, you know? For us it's more worth it to be out here, to have access to the natural world, have our place, and do all the projects we want to do.'
Timmerman says living off the grid does have drawbacks.
'We end up driving more because my wife works in Ithaca, and we're 18 miles outside of town. And certain times of the year, like winter, you tend to feel a bit isolated. But it's not like we live in the middle of a mountain with nobody around us. We have a pretty hoppin' village eight miles away, and we go in, and we have friends down the hill.'
'We have direct access to nature -- it's right there,' Timmerman says. 'We're connected to it every day, not just sitting there observing it. We're cutting wood to keep warm in the winter. Tapping maple trees. And going to collect acorns to make flour. That's the sort of stuff you're really cut off from if you're living in the city. To us it was worth the inconvenience to have direct access to that.'
The couple heat their cabin with wood, which they have plenty of access to on their land. They have a wood cookstove that provides heat, so they cook on it a lot in winter. Their refrigerator runs off their solar-powered battery and is kept outside the cabin so it uses less energy.
They raise chickens, have a large garden, and grow a lot of their food. For anything else they need, they drive to the grocery store. Throughout the year they gather whatever is in season in the wild. How much sustenance they can get from foraging varies with their schedules. Timmerman used to do some hunting -- mostly for deer using a crossbow -- but he says he just doesn't have the time anymore, given his chores and racing and training.
'I'd say we have vegetarian tendencies, but then again maybe not,' he says, laughing. 'We don't eat a ton of meat, but we're not vegetarian or vegan, either.'
In the winter, Timmerman doesn't leave the cabin much. It's the offseason from racing cyclocross, though he does some strength work. The rest is taken up with projects and chores around the house.
'We supplement shopping for groceries with what hunting or gathering I do, but the bulk of it is from the grocery store like anybody else. If I had more time I'd do more.'
There are two composting toilets on the property, and the compost is used on the garden. As Timmerman told DirtWireTV, it's a simple enough system:
'Well, it's a bucket, you poop in it, and when you're done you put sawdust on it. And when it fills up, you take it down to a compost pile. It sits there for a year. It's fixed with leaves and whatever else and compost. It becomes fertiliser and goes on the garden, and you grow food.'
Timmerman's main source of income comes from racing for the Stans NoTubes Elite Cyclocross Team. He started out competing on mountain bikes, later raced on the road, and now does mostly cyclocross. For years, he's been a highly ranked rider on the domestic circuit, with dozens of top-10 finishes on his race résumé, including fifth at US Nationals in 2015.
In late spring and summer, he works a few days a week as a mechanic in a bike shop in town. Much of his time is spent doing manual labour around the cabin and training. At some point he's going to quit racing and ride recreationally, he says, but for now he's enjoying it.
The woods surrounding his cabin provide endless miles of prime training ground.
'Every now and then we talk about maybe someday living in town, but mostly it's just talk,' Timmerman says. 'We're pretty happy out here. It's the best of both worlds. We've got a community in a rural area, which is a pretty difficult thing to find, so we're not totally isolated. We also have access to the village.'
'The best thing is the direct access to nature, being able to do all the stuff we do. And the financial aspect. We're really comfortable financially. It really gives us a lot freedom. Like, if one of us wanted to start a business or something, and we had to invest in it, we'd have the freedom to do that because we don't have all the overhead where we live. That's secondary to just being able to live the lifestyle. But they are both big advantages.'