Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Ron Melchiore author of Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness. Ron is an Outdoorsman/Pioneer, Homesteader, Remote Exploration Camp Manager and Author.
Living off grid since 1980, Ron
and his wife Johanna have spent the better part of their lives
"unplugged." As part of the back to the land movement that
originated in the 70's, they have spent their adult years living the
Ron spent 20 years in Maine mastering the many facets of homesteading: gardening, food preservation, animal husbandry, and construction, to name a few. The need for money became obvious in those early years, so as a small-business endeavor, he added logging, tree farming and milling lumber to his repertoire, which ultimately earned him and his wife awards as Outstanding Tree Farmers.
Because Ron possesses an adventurous spirit, he decided to pursue a long-time dream of his, to thru hike all 2,100+ miles of the Appalachian Trail — so, he spent 5 1/2 months walking. A cross-country bicycle trip years later satisfied his need for mobile adventure. He has survived forest fires and bear encounters.
Ron and his wife currently live 100 miles in the Canadian wilderness on a remote lake. Access is by float plane and they generally only see other humans twice a year when they come out for resupply. A computer/satellite link serves as their connection to the outside world.
Norm: Good day Ron and thanks for participating in our interview.
What motivated you and you wife Johanna to live off the grid?
Ron: Hello Norm. I truly appreciate this opportunity to talk to you and your readers. I was born in Philadelphia and grew up in the suburbs in a conventional household. My chosen career was electronics.
An off-grid homestead
was never on the radar. But, I’m a free, adventurous spirit. I had
worked for a number of years in the industry and quickly grew
disillusioned with the notion that all there was to life was get up
in the morning, work, make the company owner wealthy, go home and
There simply had to be more to life than working it away. I was lamenting that fact to my supervisor when he suggested homesteading. It was a completely foreign term to me but after a little research the light bulb went off and I became enamored with the concept of self-reliance. I wasn't married at that time but Johanna always had a desire to homestead so it was an easy transition for her.
Norm: How did you go about preparing yourself for this kind of a life?
Ron: Dive in head first but with the eyes wide open. But that doesn't mean I was foolhardy. Once I decided on the new direction my life was going to take, I educated myself by buying and reading all kinds of books on the topics of going off-grid, homesteading and self-sufficiency. After I found property in Maine for my homestead, I talked to the local old timers who were a wealth of knowledge on this way of life. And finally, I simply started slow, sucked up knowledge like a vacuum cleaner, gained experience by doing, and built upon my successes while learning from my mistakes.
Norm: What has been your greatest challenge in adopting this lifestyle?
Ron: This lifestyle has been nothing but a big adventure for us. I was a young guy in my early 20’s when the concept of a simpler life in the forest came along. It wasn’t a challenge to adopt to the lifestyle. Rather, it was an exciting new path in life to travel. However, we occasionally watch TV shows about people going off-grid and it’s obvious they are challenged because they didn’t have a well thought out plan and/or they had misplaced expectations.
Norm: What is the most important thing that people don't know about living off the grid that they need to know? As a follow up, what do you believe are the essential qualities a person should possess if he or she is contemplating this kind of a lifestyle?
Great question! The first thing that comes to mind is how much energy
all our gadgets take. You can essentially power just about anything
in an alternative energy home if you are willing to spend the money
to size the system accordingly.
However, there are certain things
such as an electric stove or clothes dryer that are impractical
because they consume such large quantities of energy. Furthermore, in
an alternative energy home, you become acutely aware of wasting
For example, if everybody is sitting around the dinner table and every light is on in the house, you are simply wasting energy. The same is true if the TV is blaring but everybody is outside. The batteries are being drained for no good reason. You wouldn’t drive the car home and then leave the headlights on. Not unless you want a dead battery the next morning. The point I’m trying to make is this: you can live and thrive normally in an alternative energy home as long as there is a balance between what is going in via sun, wind and water to recharge the system and what energy is being consumed.
As far as the essential qualities a person should possess if contemplating off-grid living... I think being realistic in your expectations is important. A person will still be able to power their appliances like always but when shopping for appliances, one will shop with an eye towards how much energy each device consumes. Another valuable trait will be to accept that unless the home is producing more power than it is using, wasting power has consequences. But the offset is that by living off-grid, you have taken a large step towards self-reliance.
Norm: Do you ever feel lonely and how has you family and friends reacted to your choice of lifestyle?
From day one when I announced I had an interest in quitting work and
homesteading, family and friends supported me 100%. It is something
for which I am forever grateful. As far as lonely, never! Here we are
100 miles alone in the wilderness of Canada accessible only by float
We generally don’t see another human for six months at a time and yet we are never lonely. We aren’t anti-social. We simply don’t feel the need to be surrounded by people and we are comfortable with ourselves and our surroundings. We have so many hobbies and things to entertain us that not only are we never lonely, we’re never bored. There’s always something fun and entertaining to occupy our time. We’ve been out here for 17 years and the question we frequently ask ourselves is: “Where did the day go?”
Norm: What do you do for medical and dental care?
When we fly out for resupply every six months, we can deal with
medical and dental problems easily enough. The real dilemma is if we
are out here and a problem creeps up. If an emergency occurs during
lake freeze up or spring thaw, the situation becomes more dire since
a float plane can’t get in.
During those times, the only way in and
out is by helicopter. In that event, in order to give the aircraft a
place to land, we’ve cleared an area in the nearby forest. We’ve
done two other things.
I took an EMT course a long time ago and recently took a two week first responder course as a refresher. Johanna has basic first aid training. We also have a great repoire with our doctors who understand our situation. We have a well stocked medical kit with prescription meds including antibiotics. Those antibiotics have been invaluable a few times over the years.
Norm: Where in Northern Canada are you located and how did you find the remote lake that you presently live? How did you go about purchasing the land?
Ron: We live north of the 56th parallel in northern Saskatchewan. Our address is a set of coordinates, latitude and longitude. We do not own this land. We have been granted a crown lease from the government and are surrounded by millions of acres of forest. Sometimes in life, weird things happen without explanation.
We found our homestead site by
accident. As it so happens, we had hired the Cessna 185 to fly out to
do an aerial tour of some of the lakes we thought might work for us.
As we were flying, I had a topographical map in my lap and I was
following our progress.
On the way to our destination, I noticed a
lake with a beautiful sand beach. I immediately asked the pilot to
circle and then land. Once we drifted up to the sand beach and jumped
from the pontoon to the shore, a sense of peace overtook us and we
immediately knew we were destined to call this home.
A chance sighting of a lake from the air that was not on our itinerary and the search was over. It was magic! Now the hard work began. Once we were granted a lease, we had to work like the pioneers of old and create a homestead from virgin wilderness by hand. Keep in mind, everything needed to be flown in including all building materials. It was quite an endeavor.
Norm: How far is the closest town or village to your home and how often do you travel there?
Ron: The closest resupply town is La Ronge which is 100 air miles south of us. There is a small hamlet 64 miles away where the float plane base is located. Twice a year, a float plane comes in to pick us up. Those are the times when we shop, pick up mail, take care of any appointments and see other people.
Norm: What do you do to earn a living?
lived extremely frugally in Maine. Hand pump for water, outhouse,
kerosene lanterns etc. We worked hard and saved every penny we could.
We still live frugally out here in the bush so our expenses are
There have been a few occasions over the last 17 years when we were able to get jobs in remote exploration camps. The perfect job for us since it was just an extension of our normal life in the wilderness. I would help build and then manage the camps. Johanna became the camp cook and baker. That income has helped greatly over the years.
Norm: What motivated you to write Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness? As a follow up, what purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story?
Another really great question. Johanna and I are quite content to fly
under the radar and live our life “normally.” We are quiet,
To us, our accomplishments and things we’ve done in life are not a big deal. I never thought anything we did was unusual or out of the ordinary.
But family, friends and complete
strangers, upon hearing some of our stories, would invariably utter
that we should really write a book.
I heard that for years and years. Finally I got tired of hearing it and started jotting down some stories. Before I knew it, I had 18 chapters and a book. Here’s the pertinent message of the book: It’s OK to live an unconventional life. Life is uncertain and if you have a dream, don’t wait, pursue it with vigor. I hope my story gives a measure of confidence and inspiration for others to go out and fulfill their dreams. If I change one life for the better, it was all worth it.
Norm: Could you briefly tell us a little about your book?
book takes a reader on a vicarious journey with me. The book starts
with our 20 years in Maine homesteading off-grid, learning and
gaining the confidence that we can not only survive but thrive with a
self-reliant lifestyle. During those years in Maine, I had an
opportunity to do a winter thru-hike of the 2100 mile Appalachian
Trail and do a cross country bicycle tour across the United States. I
have chapters in the book detailing those adventures.
Then I discuss our life in the wilderness of Canada. How we cleared the land, built our homestead from scratch and survived the terror of being surrounded by a forest fire. I also share numerous stories of animals, life in an exploration camp and nature encounters.
Norm: What challenges or obstacles did you encounter while writing your book? How did you overcome these challenges?
Ron: I’d have to say that writing the book and jotting stories down was easy for me. The real challenge was making sure I told the story with humor, kept it focused and interesting while telling the story in a manner that made the reader feel as if we were old friends chatting in the living room.
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing the book?
The big thing I’ve learned from doing the book is how much time I
needed to invest in not only writing it but in promoting it with my
publisher. It really is an enormous undertaking to develop a game
plan to make others aware of the book.
Some of the things I’ve done
to promote the book are: build my own website devoted to our
lifestyle, create a number of Youtube videos, do podcast interviews
and I just recently finished narrating an audio version of my book
which is now available in many different outlets including Amazon.
I’m not a movie maker, narrator or web designer so all this stuff had a huge learning curve associated with it. Off Grid and Free: My Path to the Wilderness is getting great reviews so we are getting the word out.
Norm: How long did it take to write the book and how did you go about having it published?
took me about 12-16 months to write. Johanna was my first editor and
we wrestled with a lot of things until we felt it was right. Once we
felt we had a polished manuscript, I researched numerous agents. I
specifically targeted agents whose interests were non-fiction with a
leaning towards the outdoors.
I sent a query to about 50 agents. I
waited for a time and then sent out another 50 or so. I had many
encouraging responses. “Interesting, inspirational and well written
BUT it is such a diverse set of topics, I’m not sure I can sell it
to a publisher” seemed to be the message. OK I thought, I’ll go
direct to the publishers.
I had better luck with them and ultimately chose Moon Willow Press which is a small, environmentally aware publisher. Mary at Moon Willow suggested some more tweaks to the manuscript and her expertise improved the final product. We make a great team and I’m immensely proud of what we’ve done thus far with her.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your book?
are easy to find. My book is titled Off Grid and Free: My Path to the
Wilderness. It is in print, ebook and audio formats. It is available
on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Norm: What is next for Ron Melchiore?
Ron: We have one last adventure in life before we hit the checkout counter. We will be moving from our wilderness homestead in April. We will start from scratch again and create another off-grid homestead on or very close to the ocean in Nova Scotia.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Ron: How about : what’s the coldest temperature you ever had out there and how do you deal with the cold? The following is an excerpt from Chapter 14 (Slush Makes for Poor Sledding):
“Winter is long and cold. The -57°F I mentioned previously is an extreme example. When it's that cold, we stay inside. But many times we’ll go for walks at -20°F to -30°F, and as long as I’m active, I have worked in -40°F temperatures, but that’s really pushing it.
How do we deal with the cold? Clothes!
We never go out in the cold without clothes on. We’d end up as one big frost bite! Without clothes in summer: one big bug bite!
But, seriously, we have good winter clothes and coats, and dress in layers, beginning with long underwear.”
Norm: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Good luck with your book. You are very welcome Norm. Thank you so much. I am always available for questions and comments so I hope your readers feel free to contact me direct.