It’s a thought that’s crossed many a desk jockey’s mind: “Man, I’d love to flee this office, get out from under this fluorescent-lighting, and do something more concrete with my hands. Like, maybe, build a cabin in the woods.”
My guests had these thoughts, and unlike most, actually pulled the trigger on their long-standing daydream. Their names are Bryan Schatz and Patrick Hutchison, and in today’s episode they share the experience they had as a result and which they wrote about in a recent article for Outside magazine. We begin our conversation with how the idea of quitting their respective jobs as a reporter and copywriter to build a cabin together in the Cascades began as a joke between these two then burned-out 30-something friends, and how it slowly became a real, if still sketchy, plan to make it happen. Bryan and Pat share the idyllic way they thought the project would go, and when the reality of how much harder it would be than they thought set in. We discuss the unexpected challenges that arose, how the tensions of constantly working together affected their relationship, and how they kept an income coming in while on hiatus from full-time employment. We get into how long the cabin, which they originally thought would take two months to build, actually took to finish, the extent to which it went over budget, how they finally felt when it was done, and what they ultimately decided to do with it. We end our conversation with what, despite everything that went wrong, Bryan and Pat gained from the experience, and what they plan to do next.
If reading this in an email, click the title of the post to listen to the show.
- The genesis of Pat and Bryan’s idea to build a cabin in the woods
- Overcoming the suspect optics of this project
- Their initial experience with an old cabin they worked on
- What did they imagine the project would be like?
- What and when was the realization that this was going to be a lot harder than imagined?
- The original timeline for the project (and how laughable it ended up being)
- The small things that torpedoed their timeline and budget and mental health
- Was there a general budget? What happened to that budget?
- The infamous ridge beam
- How the cabin impacted Pat and Bryan’s friendship
- What it felt like to finally finish the cabin
- Process over product
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- A Harebrained Dream of Building a Cabin in the Woods
- Patrick’s article for Art of Manliness
- How to Simplify Your Life and Get Off the Grid
- This Old House
- The Ultimate List of Hobbies for Men
- 7 Skills You Should Have Learned in High School Wood Shop
- What Craftsmanship Can Teach Us About the Good Life
- 4 Reasons You Should Learn How to Repair Your Own Furniture
- MacGyver Manhood and the Art of Improvisation
Connect With Pat and Bryan
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Read the Transcript
If you appreciate the full text transcript, please consider donating to AoM. It will help cover the costs of transcription and allow other to enjoy it. Thank you!
Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of The Art of Manliness podcast. It’s a thought that’s crossed many a desk jockey’s mind, “Man, I’d love to get out of this office, get out from under the fluorescent lightning, get outside and do something with my hands, like maybe build a cabin in the woods.” Well, my guests had these thoughts and unlike most, they actually pulled the trigger on their long-standing daydream. Their names are Bryan Schatz and Patrick Hutchison, and in today’s episode, they share the experience they had as a result, and which they wrote about in a recent article for Outside Magazine.
We begin our conversation with how the idea of quitting their respective jobs as a reporter and copywriter to build a cabin together in the Cascades began as a joke between these two then burned-out 30-something friends, and how it slowly became a real, yet still sketchy plan to make it happen. Bryan and Pat share the idyllic way they thought the project would go, and when the reality of how much harder it would be set in. We discuss the unexpected challenges that arose, how the tensions of constantly working together affected their relationship, and how they kept an income coming in, while on a hiatus from full-time employment.
We get into how long the cabin, which they originally thought would just take two months to build, actually took to finish, the extent to which they went over budget, and how they finally felt when it was done, and what they ultimate decided to do with the cabin in the end. We end our conversation with what, despite everything that went wrong, Bryan and Pat gained from the experience, and what they plan do next. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at awin.is/cabinbuild.
Alright, Bryan Schatz, Pat Hutchison, welcome to the show.
Patrick Hutchison: Thanks for having us.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, thanks, Brett.
Brett McKay: Alright, so for people who… Our podcast listeners who read The Art of Manliness and have been reading it for a long time, they’re probably familiar with your names because both of you… Well, Pat, you’re a regular contributor right now. You’ve been doing stuff for us on the site since 2016, and we were introduced to you by Bryan, who did some, guests some articles for us back in 2010. I was looking at this, Bryan. I think one of the things you did for us was you did a primer on Muay Thai, and your experience in Thailand…
Bryan Schatz: Yes. That’s right.
Brett McKay: To learn Muay Thai. And that was 2010. So we’re coming up on 10 years that you did that.
Bryan Schatz: Wow! It’s such a long time ago. It was fun.
Brett McKay: It was fun. Well, the reason I brought you on the show, because I read an article on Outside online, about a crazy project that you guys did together. ’cause you guys are friends, that I think a lot of guys have thought about. It’s one of those conversations you have when you’re having drinks, and you’re like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we built a cabin in the middle of nowhere?” And you guys had this conversation and you actually took action and decided to build a cabin in the woods. Let’s talk about the background of it. When did you guys start floating this idea of building your own cabin?
Patrick Hutchison: So I actually had to go back and look through old messages between Bryan and I, in kinda thinking about where it all started, and it had started when shortly after we had met, Bryan and I were both trying to become sort of adventure journalists of some sort, and I had an idea to build a cob house, which is like a house made out of hay and mud. And that Bryan would help me build it, and with the ultimate goal of writing a story about it. And then I think as the years went on, it became more and more about just building some kind of small cabin, and less and less about writing a story about it. I think in part because the reason to build it became more and more about not writing any more. [chuckle]
Brett McKay: And was it sort of like a joke, and then it eventually became a real thing?
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, it’s funny to hear back now that it was originally a story idea because I had completely erased that from my memory for the longest time. All I can remember is us sending kinda each other ideas back and forth about different types of professions, and the cabin idea is one that sort of stuck longer than the rest, and it became just increasingly this serious thing. I remember at one point, I was still kind of thinking of it as a joke, and Pat, I think was starting to think of it in an increasingly real way, and he was saying things like, “What if we just start a tiny home company and we’ll build tiny homes and sell ’em?” And I thought, “Well, that sounds really cool, but I have no idea how to do it.” No idea where we would do it, where we would store these tiny homes or who we would sell them to, and it just seemed like this ridiculous thing, and then over time it became increasingly serious and morphed a few times until we landed on the idea of a cabin.
Brett McKay: And what I love too about you guys in the article about how kinda self-aware you were of this, ’cause you talked about one of the things you were afraid of, both of you, when you decided, “Yeah, we’re actually gonna do this,” was that “We’re gonna look like the sort of insufferable Millennials who are trying to live an authentic life, and so they’re gonna go off and build a cabin.” How did you overcome that fear of how you’d look and just decided, “We’re gonna go for it”?
Bryan Schatz: It’s funny, I think there’s something incredibly cliche about what we did. Right? There are many stories like these. Go on Instagram and you see just a gazillion pictures of people out there building cabins. And I think originally it was a little bit less about the “being insufferable” for me and more just, “What are my friends and family gonna think? Am I just throwing my future away to kinda chase this dream?” that frankly, even at the time, neither of us knew how it would work out, or whether or not we would even really enjoy it. We had this inkling. So for me, I think it was more a matter of overcoming… I don’t know, convincing, say my parents and my friends that I’m not totally throwing my life away and/or maybe I am, but I think it’s gonna be worth it. And then later, we were approached by Outside to write about it, and then it really kind of dawned on us that, “Yeah, we’re just a couple of Millennials just chasing dreams,” but it just felt worth it. We had been in careers for quite a long time that we eventually sort of came to… I don’t think I’d go as far as resent, but just, we were ready for a change, and it was worth it to go ahead and give it a try, regardless of how it would look.
Brett McKay: Parents are obviously… Their concern is like, “What are my kids doing? They should have a job with health insurance.” But also, do you guys have significant others in your life who this was a decision that affected them as well?
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, definitely. We both have girlfriends and I think a lot of the pressure that we put on ourselves about, “What are people gonna think about this? Is this a terrible idea?” I think that was mostly sort of self-imposed, and both of our girlfriends were remarkably supportive. So my father was a carpenter much of his life and became a home inspector. And when he found out we were doing this, he was, I think he was probably a little bit wary, but he also, every night before he went to sleep, he would think about things that he would need to know how to do, and he kept sort of a journal of how-tos. And then he sent me that journal, and it was things like, “How to make sure your foundation is square and plumb,” and “How to frame walls,” and some of the different techniques to do. So all around, super supportive people.
Brett McKay: You guys had this idea, you start floating it. In 2013 you guys do some, kind of get some background experience. Pat, you bought a cabin, an already-built cabin, back in 2013, and both of you kinda worked on that to, I don’t know, get your hands dirty with this idea, right?
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah. And to call it an “Already-built cabin” is sort of… I kind of think of it as like a, if you know that story Stone Soup as a kid where it’s just like a bunch of bandits come together and they’re like, “Oh, we’ll make some soup.” And you’re like, “We just need a stop. And you know what really goes good with stone soup is a potato.” And they trick the townspeople into making a soup by just bringing all this mish-mash ingredients in. That’s sort of how the cabin was, it really felt like someone had just found a couple of pieces of wood on the highway, brought them up on a weekend, had a few beers, and nailed them together. So nothing matched, nothing was square, nothing was level. And everything was about 30% completed. So it was a great opportunity to sort of see an x-ray of a poorly-built cabin, and then apply what was very little experience on top of that. But it was a great learning experience for myself and for Bryan, and for a bunch of friends who all didn’t really have building experience, and couldn’t really test out their skills on an apartment that they were renting in the city. So it was kind of a nice bunny hill that we could screw up on it and it didn’t matter.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, and to Pat’s credit, he had just bought this thing. And it is funny, it’s like, to say it’s fully built was both accurate and very generous. But Pat basically let us just try things out, and if we messed things up he didn’t get mad at us, there were no… It truly was just kind of like, “I don’t know, let’s see what happens here. Throw a wall up and if it works, great, and if it doesn’t, oh well.”
Brett McKay: Did both of you have construction experience before this?
Bryan Schatz: I had a little bit. My father iss a contractor and now a home inspector and so growing up, I’d go out and do some jobs with him. Nothing too major. Did a few roofs and various… Gosh, I don’t even remember at the time. Maybe we framed some walls, small stuff, nothing major.
Brett McKay: And how about you, Pat?
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, same for me. I built a lot of tree houses as a kid. [chuckle] But as an adult is was more like going home for Christmas and my mom needs something fixed, and so I’d sort of try my hand at nailing a couple of boards together, something like that. But very little before buying that cabin. Although, I did watch a lot of This Old House on PBS for a bunch of years, and continue to. [chuckle]
Brett McKay: That’s fair. Okay. So and with this house, you guys kinda completed it. I mean, we put in that quotation marks. What did you do with the cabin in 2013 after you did what you wanted with it?
Patrick Hutchison: We just used it a lot. I made a bunch of keys and then handed keys out to seven or eight really close friends that I’ve got up here, and just sort of said, “Here are the directions, you know where the cabin is, you know how to take care of it.” And so I would say for the seven or eight years that I owned it, people were up there using it probably every other weekend, at least.
Brett McKay: Alright. So you ended up selling it, eventually. Fast-forward to 2018, this is when you guys finally decide all the talk you’ve been having, this going back and forth with potential plans, you guys decided you’re gonna build a cabin from scratch. So did you guys have an idea of what you wanted the cabin to look like when you started off? Or was it one of things like, “We’re just gonna get started and we’re gonna figure this out as we go”?
Bryan Schatz: I think we had a few different ideas that constantly changed. I remember for a really long time we were sending each other pictures of A-frames. And so at first it was like, “Alright, we’re definitely gonna build an A-frame.” And then we came to realize that… I think the only thing that we had decided concretely was the general square footage, which was I think 384. Is that right, Pat?
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah.
Bryan Schatz: Something like that. Anyways, and we realized that if we built an A-frame on the footprint that we were thinking, it was gonna be really small inside so that changed after, I believe, we already had the subfloor in. So we had kicked-off a whole bunch of different ideas, and were still planning and drawing things out well into after we started.
Brett McKay: And when you first started, did you guys set a budget for yourself when you decided, “We’re doing this”?
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, you could call… I mean, we told ourselves that we were gonna spend no more than $20,000. Really, the only thing it was based on was that we didn’t want to spend more than $20,000. And so we thought that that seemed like more money than either of us had independently, and it must be enough to build a cabin. [laughter]
Bryan Schatz: It was.
Brett McKay: And did that include the property as well, that $20,000?
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, yeah.
Brett McKay: Alright. Well, so let’s talk about that. Where did you guys end up buying property for your build?
Patrick Hutchison: We bought it in the same general area that my little cabin was in, and we basically got word that a property was gonna be up for auction. And so put it in, a super low offer, hoping that we would get it and sort of taking it as a sign from the universe that we were supposed to be doing this if it worked out, and it did.
Brett McKay: Alright. And so this is in Washington, right?
Patrick Hutchison: That’s right, yeah, so the sort of Central Cascades of Washington on the west side of the mountains.
Brett McKay: Alright. So you guys got the property pretty cheap, was it, what? I think it was a lowball offer, it was like $3,000 or something like that, and you were like, “That’s not gonna happen.”
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, exactly.
Brett McKay: Alright, so you got the property. What was the first thing you did when you started building? Did you just take the initial plan that you’re gonna build this small A-frame and just start, “We’re gonna… We have the plan, we have the blueprints, we’re gonna just do exactly what the blueprints say”?
Bryan Schatz: Well, we didn’t have any blueprints, that’s for sure. Everything was sketched out on paper in pencil. And I think once we actually got the land was the sort of, “Oh crap” moment, “Now we actually need to figure out what we’re doing.” And so we just started researching as much as we could on the internet, watching tons of YouTube. I remember Pat was, when it came to the foundation, was researching a lot about weight loads, how many posts and piers you would need, and how much concrete, and at what depth. So it was kind of when you gotta turn in your homework and class is the next day, that kind of feeling.
Brett McKay: And then also I think that you talk about too, as you were starting to prepare the build, you guys together had this idea of what building a cabin in the Washington woods would be like, and it was really idyllic. I mean, how did you imagine cabin-building in the middle of nowhere would be like?
Bryan Schatz: I mean, for me, I just imagined all of these beautiful pictures that you see, and I guess our experience up there, to an extent also on our building weekends on Pat’s first little cabin, didn’t really matter too much if we messed up. Most of the time when I went up there, I was really lucky and it was beautiful weather, the river is always running at a nice pace. So just like this beautiful area and a great time with friends. And I think I had it in my mind that it would certainly be difficult and we wanted it to be difficult, but it would be totally manageable, and we’d have time for hikes, and having as much coffee in the morning as we want, and leisurely getting over to the job site, doing a great job during the day, and then having time to like play in the river or whatever else afterwards. And that pretty quickly came to an end. I think that lasted about two or three days.
Brett McKay: Yeah. What was the moment when you realized, “Oh crap, this is gonna be a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be”?
Bryan Schatz: I mean, it might have been the… I think the very first couple of days we were basically just digging holes and toiling in the mud, and it was super fun, we were having a great time. And then it might’ve been after kinda putting in the first foundation posts and building up to the subfloor, where we had a really long day that was really difficult and sort of troubling, a few things went wrong, and we had to wrap our heads around how to make it right. And our idea of how long it would take was just nowhere near realistic, and I think that’s when it kinda started to dawn on us that, “Maybe we’re in over our heads, and we’re gonna have to actually put in some work to get this thing done.”
Brett McKay: Well, and the thing to note too is that there was no electricity out there, and there was no water. There’s these pictures on the article of you, you had to basically go down to the creek and climb up this giant hill with just big buckets of water so you could get the water to mix concrete.
Bryan Schatz: Yep. [chuckle]
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, in hindsight, we ended up installing a 1500-gallon water tank at the cabin as one of the finishing touches. [laughter] And in hindsight, we should have maybe done that first, so yeah. And anytime we needed water for anything, especially mixing concrete, it was going down to the river with a big 5-gallon jug, filling it up, which required getting into the river deep enough, so that we could actually get it under there, and we also did this in the middle of winter to mix up concrete for the hearth under the wood stove. So I think literally trudging through snow to get into the river and fill up those jugs.
Brett McKay: Well, let’s backtrack. What part of 2018 did you guys start the cabin? Was it spring, summer?
Patrick Hutchison: It was June 2nd.
Bryan Schatz: June 2nd, right.
Patrick Hutchison: June 2nd. [chuckle] A day in infamy.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah. It was supposed to be June 1st then something came up, I don’t remember what.
Patrick Hutchison: Something came up.
Brett McKay: You guys started in June, were you expected to be have this done and wrapped up by the end of summer?
Bryan Schatz: Yeah. I had a four-month leave and I had budgeted a few weeks at the end, or so I thought, for a little vacation time, which wasn’t at all realistic. But yeah, we thought we would be done, I think, by the end of August, if that’s right.
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Alright. And then very quickly you realize that’s not gonna happen. And something note, both of you note in the article is that, the thing that really threw you guys off were, there’s all these little small things that you overlooked before you even started working on it that just sucked up all your time. I can imagine one of them is getting water to mix concrete was one of those small things. Any other things that, they’re really small, but they just piled onto each other, they just really sucked a lot of time from your work day?
Patrick Hutchison: Oh man, getting materials was always a challenge, especially because we didn’t have cellphone reception at the site, and so a lot of times, trying to check how to do something required, like “Oh, we’ll need to drive into cellphone reception for half an hour.” And then you get into reception to watch a video on how to do something, and then you forget exactly what your situation is, so we drive back to the site to look at it, take more pictures, and then back to cell reception. And then you’re into town to get materials but the first hardware store doesn’t actually have what they say they do online, so then you drive to another hardware store. And it’s just, these days unravel. Instantly, and you spent seven hours just figuring out how to screw a couple of things together and find the screws to do it. And then the day is over, and it’s dark and you don’t have electricity, so you can’t see anything, and you only need two or three days like that to realize that this project could take three or four times longer than you ever expected it to.
Bryan Schatz: There’s also some small things that you just don’t realize when you’re getting into something. So something that would happen would be, I guess later on, once the cabin was built up higher, we need ladders. And so, you throw some ladders up, but it’s on a really sloped hill. And so, the ladder would be pitched to an angle. And so you’d have to dig out a patch of the hill to get the ladder lined up with the cabin so that you could actually go up to it. And only later did I realize that you can actually get these little leg extensions on the bottom of your ladder, so that if you’re on a slope, you just extend that one leg and then you’re good, but we didn’t realize that, so we wasted tons of time just digging holes in the side of the hill so that our ladder would sit properly. Small things like that add up too.
Brett McKay: How long were your work days when you guys finally gotten the groove of your working schedule?
Bryan Schatz: It felt very long.
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, I think they basically became just whatever daylight hours were. So in a peak of summer, that could be up here in Washington, like 6:00 AM until 10 o’clock at night.
Brett McKay: And were you guys sleeping out at the cabin site during the summer?
Bryan Schatz: No. Actually, at this time, Pat still had his small off grid cabin that he had purchased in 2013. So we’d retire there every night.
Brett McKay: Every night. But then wake up at six o’clock, but you didn’t have time to enjoy your coffee and look at the sunrise, you just had to get back to dig in a hole.
Bryan Schatz: There was no enjoying sunrises, no. Some sunsets on occasion.
Brett McKay: And during this time, so you guys, you kind of budgeted that you wouldn’t be working, or do you have a leave of absence from your job, but you also had to keep money coming in because you guys quickly realize, “This is gonna cost more than we thought.” So what did you guys do to keep money coming in, so you keep the build going?
Bryan Schatz: Won’t you take it, Pat, you had to do a lot more of this.
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, so I had quit my job. So the only way to keep money coming in was doing freelance copywriting, including for The Art of Manliness. So on select nights that I had to do work or Brian had to do work, we would go from the build site to a bar that was about half an hour down the road, and that was open until midnight or so. And so, at nine or 10 at night, we’d be sitting down for dinner, and to start work day number two, and write marketing copy or Art of Manliness articles until 12 or 12:30 at night, and then try to get back to the cabin and get some sleep.
Brett McKay: Yeah, we really appreciate it. During this time, I don’t think you really… You mentioned it all that much. I think you might have in a few emails like, “Yeah, I’m building a cabin.” And I was like, “Oh, okay.” I didn’t know the extent of what that actually meant, until I read this article.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, Pat in particular was really grinding it out. I had some freelance writing to do, but I had taken my leave and I had kinda cash out on some vacation hours that I had piled up, and so I was in a slightly more comfortable position, I guess. And that I at least wasn’t concerned about what would happen at the end of the build, ’cause I knew I had a job to go back to, so I could really drain the account down pretty far.
Brett McKay: All right, so you guys started making progress, you guys got the floor, the foundation laid, starting getting some walls. Well, before you have the walls, there’s this part in the build where you had to put in place the ridge beam. And I like this story ’cause I think it exemplifies some of the improvisation you guys had to do, ’cause you just said you’re describing how you’re learning on the fly, you have to go in town, get cell reception, watch a YouTube video, then go back and then try it. The ridge beam, this is a really, really important part of the cabin and a really hard part to put on a structure. For those who aren’t familiar with what a ridge beam is, what is that? What makes it so hard to put it in place? And what did you guys do to get that in place?
Patrick Hutchison: So yeah, so the ridge beam is essentially… You’re building the cabin up, you’ve got your floor and you’ve got your walls, and then it’s all gotta come back together to get closed in on the roof. And so, the ridge beam is sort of that initial, very big piece of timber that goes across the top of the cabin that all of your rafters, that all the rest of the roof can attach to and sort of stitch everything back. It’s sort of the backbone of the cabin. And I guess I’m still not certain how people are supposed to put these in, [laughter] but ours was, I think, about 28 feet long and it weighed…
Brett McKay: How much did it weigh? Yeah.
Patrick Hutchison: I think it probably weighed about…
Bryan Schatz: A couple of hundred pounds.
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, maybe 250 or 300 pounds. And so, it’s impossible for… We struggled to lift it, the two of us on the ground. And so, the idea of getting it up 18 feet above our heads into a very narrow slot that it had to fit in was, one of those things that we just sort of ignored until the day that we had to do it, because I don’t think that we could comprehend how it was actually gonna happen.
Brett McKay: And so, what did you guys end up doing?
Patrick Hutchison: I had sort of dreamed up this… I think what Brian eventually got a slow motion catapult. So sort of built this A-shaped structure out of 2 x 4s, and then tied one end of the ridge beam to that, and then we sort of pushed that A-frame structure up bit by bit to sort of pull the ridge beam up. We got it in one end, and then to get it into the other end was sort of a combo of that, plus we had the thing tied to my car at one point that we were like up on the hill, trying to drag it upwards into place. We had a neighbor come down with some come along straps to use those and pull in a different way. And I remember there was one point when we had so many different things that we had just made up on the fly to help push this thing up and hold it in place. And at one point, we looked at it and nothing was touching the ground anymore and we didn’t understand what was holding it up. [chuckle] And then, it’s like all of a sudden, we all just sort of like, “All right, everybody back away. Let’s look at this thing from 20 or 30 feet, because it could fall at any second, ’cause we don’t understand how it’s being held up right now.”
Brett McKay: And you call this improvisation… I thought it was funny, you guys called this improvisation, you called it jazz. We’re gonna use some jazz to get this ridge beam up.
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, jazz was the word that we use anytime we didn’t know how to do something and knew that we were just gonna sort of make it up and see if we could get it to work.
Bryan Schatz: There was a lot of jazz.
Brett McKay: Was there a lot of jazz that most of the build was just… It was just jazz the entire time?
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, the entire cabin was jazz essentially.
Brett McKay: Besides the ridge beam, was there another thing or part of the cabin where you’re just like you had to just wing it and just say, “Okay, we’ll see how it turns out.”
Patrick Hutchison: To a certain extent, we did that with a lot… We built the cabin to code, we’ve got Brian’s dad to sort of use as a resource ’cause he inspects homes. And so, the place was built to code, but what sort of hurt us in the long run was winging it in the way of saying like, “Oh, it’d be cool, if this wall was a little shorter. Instead of being eight feet, let’s make it like seven and a half.” Not realizing in the moment that, “Okay, well, all boards come in standard lengths of eight feet, all plywood comes in standard lengths of eight feet.” Everything is eight feet and people build walls at eight feet for a reason. And so, now you can’t just throw this material up, you have to custom cut every single board that you put in. And I think that we actually took some time to think about it once and realized that there’s not a single standard piece of lumber in the entire cabin.
Bryan Schatz: That might be true. Maybe a couple of sheets of plywood at some point, but in a home or a house or a cabin or whatever is built in layers. You have the framing, and then you have the interior wall cladding, you’ve got to sheave it and then you put the exterior finishes on. And so, by cutting our studs shorter than their natural length, you had to do that at every single stage of the build, so it just was this compounding problem over and over and over again.
Brett McKay: Making your life harder.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah.
Brett McKay: It needed to be. Well, you guys are friends, you guys have been friends for a long time. How did you all work together during the build?
Bryan Schatz: Mostly good, not always good. There’s a scene in the article that we wrote about where different people have different jobs. And so, when we we’re getting the roof in, one person would be up on the roof and the other person would be down on the ground. And the person on the roof it’s impossible for them to really get anything for themselves ’cause they’re on the roof. So they’re always yelling at the person on the ground. “Can you get my tape measure again ’cause I dropped it for the fourth time?” Or, “Can you get me a sheet of plywood, or whatever it is, cut it this length.” And then if it’s not quite right, you send that back down. And meanwhile, the person on the ground is just running all over the place, making all the cuts, fetching all of the tools. And in moments like that, can get really tense, especially when it’s not all coming together right. And so, there were definitely times when we… I don’t think we ever yelled at each other, but we would get pretty passive-aggressive or just kinda mean to each other. And that could last anywhere between an hour or a day. And eventually, it would be fine. We have a good laugh about it later on and make up, but there were some moments for sure.
Brett McKay: And was it like the disagreements… Were they just kind of the tension was just about small things? Do you guys have big disagreements for like the big picture with the project?
Patrick Hutchison: I think the big picture project stuff, Brian and I were just talking about the other day, that it seemed… We’d put in these really long days and a lot of them back to back to back, and every once in a while, we really just realized that we needed even an afternoon just away from the project. And so, we might take on those days a longer hike or something, and just sort of talk about, “Really? Are you still doing okay with this project? It’s taking much longer. It’s costing a lot more. You’ve not been home for a month and a half,” or whatever it is, and really try and check in and make sure that we were doing fine. And I think on the grander scheme of things, we were always pretty aligned. And most of the disagreements came from… ‘Cause Brian wanted me to cut a rafter for the eighth time, and it was like…
Bryan Schatz: You have the tools, get it right the first time.
Patrick Hutchison: Is it me not cutting it right or is it you not measuring it right? What are we really doing here?
Bryan Schatz: It’s definitely you not cutting it right. Or the roof guy wanting something too much, it’s like, “Bring up all the nails, roof guy.”
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, and if it’s not obvious, Brian was usually the roof guy.
Brett McKay: So you guys started this in June, you thought it’d be done, wrapped up by the end of August. At what point did you realize that it wouldn’t be August, that this thing would be finished?
Patrick Hutchison: Probably, pretty close to August or like five days after starting.
Brett McKay: What did the cabin look like in August?
Bryan Schatz: That’s a good question.
Brett McKay: Did you have the ridge beam in place at this point?
Patrick Hutchison: I think it would have been in August that we got the ridge beam in place, but all the rafters weren’t in, the roof had not been covered in plywood or tongue-and-groove boards that we used to cover it. I don’t think we finish the roof until early October. Is that right Brian, or was it late September?
Bryan Schatz: I think you’re right about early October by the time… ‘Cause I remember that the fall storms were well underway and we were sort of racing against a really big rain storm that had been building for a few days. And if I remember correctly, we got the last screw of the roof in just minutes or hours before a huge rainstorm came.
Patrick Hutchison: No, actually the last half of the roof that entire day that we were working on it, it was pouring down rain.
Bryan Schatz: My memory is notoriously bad.
Brett McKay: You just wanted to forget that. It wasn’t a good memory.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, exactly. So I’ve to shut out certain things.
Brett McKay: Well, so Brian, you had your leave until August, did you have to go back to work in September?
Bryan Schatz: I did. Yeah, I returned to work… Or around, let’s see. Well, no, so I had my leave a bit longer than I had thought the build would take. So we thought that the build would end sometime in August, and then I would have a few more weeks basically to… I think what I originally had planned was to spend some time with my girlfriend, since I would have been gone for so long, and that time basically just got turned in to continuing working on the cabin. And then eventually I did go back to work and I would just basically go up for really long weekends or I’d take a week off here and there. If it’s not already obvious, my bosses were remarkably generous and patient with me for this whole thing.
Brett McKay: Well, and at this point, and when you decided you had to go keep building even into the fall, possibly the winter, were there moments where you’re like, “We just wanna just give up, move on. We’re doing sunk cost fallacy at this point. We’re gonna keep doing this, but it’s just costing us too much time and money”? Did you guys have those moments?
Bryan Schatz: I don’t think I ever got to the place where I fully wanted to quit. It probably would have been wise at several different points, but ultimately, even though it was pretty challenging at times and hard on relationships, ultimately I just really, really enjoyed it. And every time I needed to go back up, I looked forward to doing so. And at some point, eventually you’ll run out of money or you’ll run out of time, and I guess we just kind of squeaked by and it always felt worth it to keep going.
Brett McKay: And, Pat, did you have any quit moments or where you’re just like, “No, I’m gonna finish this.” You knew that from the beginning?
Patrick Hutchison: No, I think the more that we worked on it, the more clear it became to me that it was 100% what I wanted to be doing with my days. And that if there were any way to combine seeing family and friends into the same lifestyle, that that is what I wanted to do with my life. And so I think, as Brian said, quitting never really was something I thought about, because I kinda realized that I would be working on the cabin at the cost of pretty much everything else that was going on.
Brett McKay: And then you also mentioned you guys didn’t wanna be… I didn’t know this was a thing, but apparently in Washington, the wilderness, there’s lots of unfinished cabins, ’cause people, they ran out of money or they just said, “No, this isn’t worth it.” And you didn’t wanna be one of those guys?
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, that’s true. There are a bunch of cabins even in that immediate area that you see, and maybe they got half way through on the interior, or they built up to the roof and didn’t go any further, and some of them look pretty good and others are just totally thrashed and look like they’d been there forever. And each one just sort of represented a broken dream perhaps, and as depressing and sad as it was to see those, I think they also fueled us to keep going and make sure that this cabin wouldn’t be another one of those.
Brett McKay: So you went into fall. Did the construction go into winter as well?
Bryan Schatz: Oh, yeah.
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah.
Brett McKay: Okay, well, yeah, you mentioned that. So you had to actually go… Yeah, you said that you had to go down the river, in the ice cold river to get water for cement to make the platform for the stove.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, and that cement actually, so there was a pretty big snow storm on that trip and we had to… We strapped on snow shoes ’cause we couldn’t drive up to the cabin, there was too much snow, and we piled all of the bags of concrete into sleds and just towed them up to the cabin. So it was pretty deep.
Brett McKay: So, right, and besides going over budget on time, did you guys go over budget on money as well?
Patrick Hutchison: Oh yeah.
Bryan Schatz: More than double. [chuckle]
Brett McKay: ‘Cause where did you guys get the funds? Did you have to take a loan from the bank, or did you just have to go into savings? Did you start Go Fund Me? What did you guys do?
Bryan Schatz: I returned back to work, and so I basically took everything that I wasn’t using for just my life and imported back into the cabin.
Patrick Hutchison: We also had a very generous buddy, our buddy, Dan, who had agreed from the start. He was sort of looking for an investment, and he’s not one, I think, to be into the idea of just putting his money into stocks or something like that, and so he thought that we would be a good investment and this project would be a good investment. And so he was blindly giving us thousands of dollars. He put in a third of all the costs to help us realize this project, hoping that we’d eventually be able to sell it and he’d get some sort of return.
Bryan Schatz: I’m not entirely sure it was even necessarily an investment for him, ’cause originally we weren’t even sure whether or not we would sell it. We had talked about maybe throwing it on Airbnb. Maybe we’d all keep it and it would just be this fun cabin that we all got to hang out in on weekends. Nonetheless, he did go in as a sort of a third part financial backer and was both generous in that and also generous in not getting too upset that it was taking us longer and longer and costing more and more. He was yet another very supportive person in this process.
Brett McKay: Yeah, he was a romantic like you guys. He caught the vision.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, exactly.
Brett McKay: So when did you guys finally finish the cabin? You started in June 2018. When did you wrap it up?
Patrick Hutchison: I think we stopped working on it [chuckle] in early July of 2019, and that became a hard thing is really knowing when is a cabin done. But I think early July is when we put the last finishing touches on it, except for starting to bring in furniture and things like that. And we had a big party. I brought the fog machine in, we had a bunch of friends up and sort of christened the cabin.
Brett McKay: So what did it feel like when you guys finally decided? Okay, this is over a year since you started. What did it feel like to finally think, “I’m done with this.” Was it anticlimactic? Or did you feel some closure? What was that like?
Bryan Schatz: Man, it’s tricky. I think it was a huge relief for me. It kinda made me think like, “All right, how do I get to do this again?” When we decided to sell it, we had a lot of people ask, “Are you gonna miss it? Do you feel bad about selling it?” And I think… Correct me if I’m wrong, Pat, but I think for both of us, in the end, it was a lot less about the end product and more about the process, and as much as we liked what it turned into, for me, it was going to be missing, actually building it and being up there with close friends, doing something that we really enjoyed.
Brett McKay: Was that, for you, the same sort of sentiment for you, Pat?
Patrick Hutchison: Yeah, I would say that the last day that Brian and I have actually worked on it, was a much sadder day, than the day that we handed over the keys to it.
Bryan Schatz: Kinda like, “Now what?”
Brett McKay: Right, right. Well, and selling it, was kind of a hassle too, because it doesn’t have indoor plumbing, people couldn’t get a house loan, you couldn’t mortgage it, so you had to find someone who was willing to pay cash, just to buy the thing.
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, it was either cash, or we…
Patrick Hutchison: We were hoping to find someone that was gonna pay cash, and eventually we had to do seller financing, so essentially we become the bank and someone gives us a down payment and then make payments to us every month. And fortunately, I finally found a couple that were up for that, and they’ve actually paid it off now, full. And they couldn’t have gone to a better couple of people, they’ve really done a lot to the cabin and really embraced it and absolutely love it. Yeah, it’s a great scene.
Bryan Schatz: They’ve also thrown it up on Airbnb for times when they’re not using it themselves, so if people are interested, they could check that out.
Brett McKay: All right, so the title of the article is, We Quit Our Jobs to Build a Cabin. Everything Went Wrong, and we highlighted some of the stuff that went wrong. But it sounds like both of you, you guys, it wasn’t the end product that… This is all about the experience. In the end, it was worth it to you guys, right?
Bryan Schatz: Yeah, definitely.
Patrick Hutchison: 100%.
Brett McKay: So what are you gonna do? Some people ask you, “What are you gonna do now?” Are you guys planning another cabin build? You guys gluttons for punishment?
Bryan Schatz: We indeed are. We had hoped maybe this fall, would be a time to start again, and that’s not happening, Coronavirus and other…
Brett McKay: We got the wild fires out there too.
Bryan Schatz: Wild fires. Yeah, there’s a lot of disruption going on right now, obviously. So we definitely are hoping to, and we’re hoping to now, in the spring, I guess we’ll kinda see what Spring brings, but that’s the idea.
Brett McKay: And what would you guys do differently this… Is it gonna be one of those things… Here’s one of the things I’ve done with DIY projects, is that I’ve done the same sort of thing that you guys do, on a much smaller scale, and I’m not building a cabin. But I wanna learn how to do something, I watch YouTube videos, I learn how to do it. And then because I don’t have to do that thing ever again, when I do have to do it again, I completely forget, and I have to go through the process all over again. Do you think that’s gonna happen to you guys, or do you guys think you learned some things that you’ll kind of cut down on that having to go to get cell reception, to watch a YouTube video?
Bryan Schatz: I’d like to think we’ve learned some things, also between then and now, we both have continued… Not doing the same thing, but similar things, like I mentioned, I’m in woodworking school right now. Pat and I just started doing a sort of backyard office build out for some folks, down near where I live, and Pat works for a company that builds these really cool travel trailers, they’re kind of these retro trailers that you could glamp in, and so it’s not the same as cabin construction, but we’re still getting our reps in, to some extent. So hopefully, we won’t be too rusty.
Brett McKay: And how do you guys think that the experience changed you? Looking back on it, and you’ve done some introspection, how have you grown, because of this experience?
Patrick Hutchison: Oh man, I think it taught me the thing that I had suspected for a lot of years, is that being at a desk, working on a computer, is just not something that I can do long-term, and that I really value spending my days as actively as possible. I think it also reminded me just sort of how much I enjoy really giving myself big challenges, putting myself in situations where I’m uncomfortable and sort of need to rise to the occasion kind of things, and just how valuable and meaningful those growing and learning experiences can be. And how kind of toxic it can feel, to sort of just get comfortable and live out your days sort of without ever challenging yourself, that I’ve tried to apply that after the cabin and hopefully am, but I think that it was a great experience for reminding myself of all those things.
Brett McKay: And Brian, for you, any big lesson takeaways from that experience?
Bryan Schatz: I really have to echo Pat, in that one of the reasons I think that we were drawn to this, to begin with is, like we mentioned, we had both been in jobs for a number of years and for a variety of reasons. Were looking for something new, and I think for me, I really kinda needed a big challenge, I felt like I hadn’t really stretched myself in a long time, I had been doing much of the same thing for several years, and building this cabin definitely stretched us. And I think the fact that in the end, we pulled it off, was sort of a relief, ’cause I think I had gotten to a point that I really wasn’t sure if I was capable of doing something like that anymore, ’cause I had just kind of gotten into a routine. And so that in particular, resonates, and I think constantly challenging yourself to the degree that you can, is super important, and I wanna keep that up.
Brett McKay: Right. So the article is called, We Quit Our Jobs to Build a Cabin… Everything Went Wrong, it’s available on outsideonline.com. Is there anywhere people can go, to follow you guys and your exploits, building trailers, doing woodworking, or your next cabin build, where can people follow you at?
Bryan Schatz: We do have an Instagram page that is very sparsely updated, but hopefully, we’ll be doing more of that, and that is @landingpatcabins.
Brett McKay: @landingpatcabins, on Instagram. Well, Bryan Schatz, Pat Hutchinson, thanks so much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Bryan Schatz: Thank you, Brett.
Patrick Hutchison: Thanks a lot, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guests here, are Bryan Schatz and Patrick Hutchinson, they’re the authors of an article in Outside Magazine, called We Quit Our Jobs to Build a Cabin: Everything Went Wrong. You can go check it at outsideonline.com. Also, check out our show notes at aom.is/cabinbuild, where you’ll find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another addition to the AOM Podcast, check out our website at artofmanliness.com, where you can find our podcast archive, as well as thousands of articles written over the years. And if you’d like to enjoy ad free episodes of The AOM podcast, you can do so on Stitcher premium, head over to stitcherpremium.com, sign up, use code MANLINESS, and check out for a free month trial. Once you’re signed up, download the Stitcher app on Android or iOS, and you can start enjoying ad free episodes of the AOM podcast. And if you haven’t done so already, I’d appreciate if you’d take one minute to give us a review on Apple Podcast or Stitcher, it helps out a lot, and if you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend or a family member, who you think would get something out of it. As always, thanks for the continued support. Until next time, this is Brett McKay, reminding all you listening to the AOM Podcast, to put what you’ve heard into action.