CHARLOTTETOWN — Challenge and change were on the minds of Laura-Jane Koers and Cameron Lerch for much of 2007.
They had successful careers and a nice condo in Victoria, B.C., and were within easy visiting distance of family and friends.
But in December of that year, they broke out of their predictable comfort zone, quit their jobs, sold their home and much of what they owned, said goodbye to all they knew and headed east.
This they did in the dead of winter, sleeping in their truck as they crossed the country to Prince Edward Island and eventually settled into an old uninsulated, wood-heated house on a 25-hectare property in Kings County that they call Whimfield Farm.
“People were saying, ‘You’re crazy. What are you doing? You’re going to DIE out there!”’ laughs Koers.
However, the couple’s introduction to bone-chilling minus-double-digit temperatures, their experiences of renovating their old home and their exploration of their new community have made for some fascinating and fun entries in Koers’ popular blog, Whimfield: Modern Pre-Industrial Living.
In it, she relates the humour of melting snow for water and finding a bowl of frozen soup in the kitchen. She also details things like the excitement of tearing her house apart and rebuilding it, adventures in lobster fishing and other interesting avenues of Island life.
Her ongoing diary-like dialogue has drawn close to 60,000 visitors annually from Canada and the United States and as far away as India, Australia, Germany, South Africa, Norway, France, Argentina and the United Kingdom.
“I sometimes struggle with (the thought of) what am I writing this for? Do I write this because I love the act of doing it, just between me and the doing it? Or do I love it because it connects me with people?” says Koers, whose love of blogging stems back to her university days.
“It’s definitely both, but for me it’s so important to be heard or to have people share what they think or feel about what I wrote.”
Until late 2007, the couple was entrenched in an upwardly mobile urban lifestyle.
Koers worked for the municipal government just outside of Victoria. Lerch was a software developer with a local company.
But the day-to-day drudgery weighed heavy on him.
“I just got frustrated and felt that I wanted to try something new and I’m the kind of person that says, ‘Well, I don’t know what it’s going to be like until I go and do it.’ So I just decided to do it.”
It was not so cut-and-dried for Koers.
“I took a little bit of convincing, but I know the passion and the hard work that (he has) so I was like, ‘OK, let’s try it,”’ she remembers.
Fortunately, they had bought their condo before prices skyrocketed and got out when the selling price was good, so they had a nest egg they figured would last for a while.
They took off almost as soon as their condo sold in mid-December, travelling in their truck, which doubled as their sleeping quarters for more than a month.
“It was so exciting because we had everything on the trip across (Canada),” Koers says. “We had money in the bank. We had everything that was important to us in terms of material things with us in our trailer. And we could go anywhere. We had no schedule.”
Their final destination was up in the air, but they had in mind a potential home-to-be on the Whim Road, just outside Montague, P.E.I., that they had noticed on a real estate website.
“This house kind of drew us here. We weren’t committed to buying it, but the goal was let’s start in P.E.I. and take a look,” says Koers, whose first look at the house was blinded by sheer rapture.
“I had rose-coloured glasses on. I was saying, ‘Oh, it’s wonderful because I like vintage things. We’re not going to change anything. I love it!’ And I did love it, but then once we got in here the reality set in and everything got turfed,” she adds with a grin.
Another reality factor was that neither had any carpentry experience, with the exception of Lerch doing a few small projects to jazz up their B.C. condo for sale.
“This man is not intimidated by any project,” Koers says of her partner. “I couldn’t comprehend the thought of renovating this house. I couldn’t even go there (in my mind), but he could.”
Reality also struck full force when they moved into the house in February when the temperatures were hitting close to -20C.
Lerch was horrifically sick at the time. And when they tried to keep warm with just an old barrel-style stove in the drafty, uninsulated house, they were simply a few degrees short of freezing solid.
“We were trying to get the house warm, but we couldn’t. We couldn’t get the bedrooms above zero (Celsius). We were sleeping in -8C every night,” Lerch says. “I was just sitting there (in front of the stove) like ‘Oaaawwwhh I’m dying’ and she was spending most of her day melting snow because we didn’t have any water.”
After a week of this, Lerch was getting sicker so they headed to a motel for a month. Once he recovered, they slept at the hotel at night and worked all day at the house.
Each completed project brought a sense of accomplishment. From their humble beginnings of very little heat and no running water, they gradually worked their way up the comfort scale and eventually moved into the house.
In the beginning, Koers was posting to her blog as often as three times a week, but it has slowed a bit as things in terms of house renovations have petered off and their career workload has increased.
She has Brightflock, a web marketing and web project management business. Lerch has a web application company called Kibo Software.
“We’ve been exposed to many stories of people who want to move to P.E.I. or the Maritimes from all across Canada and the U.S.A. Whimfield has been a hub for people interested in moving east,” Koers says.
“It’s so much about just living; I call it a life dream. If you have some dream, try it. Of course be smart about it and do your research, but try something. And you can always go back to what you were doing before.”
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