From a cramped Toronto apartment to a cabin in the N.B. woods: One couple's getaway story
When COVID-19 closed in, they fled Toronto for a remote haven in New Brunswick
Madeline Taylor and Mitchell Kingsley had a plan.
They'd work hard, live frugally, pay down their "sizeable" student debt and eventually move out of their cramped Toronto apartment and buy a house.
But this year hasn't gone according to plan for — well, pretty much any of us, but particularly for Taylor and Kingsley.
The young couple are now living an Instagram-worthy East Coast adventure they didn't see coming and embracing upheaval with a panache worthy of an "if life gives you lemons" guidebook, chronicling their adventures online and garnering a steadily growing social media following.
It all started, as everything did in 2020, with the arrival of COVID-19.
'We were constantly worried about money'
Taylor and Kingsley were living in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto, paying $1,300 a month for a basement apartment and trying hard to put some savings away.
But they were increasingly feeling that things weren't working.
"We had good jobs, but we were constantly worried about money," Taylor said. "We were choosing not to eat out, not grabbing coffee, that kind of thing, but it just wasn't making a huge difference."
They could see that Toronto housing prices were "exploding," and they were starting to realize that "even a small condo wasn't in the cards."
"We were definitely feeling rent poor," Taylor said. "We were trying to figure out how we could chase our dreams while also being homeowners and investing in a sustainable lifestyle. And we started to look towards New Brunswick."
Earlier, Kingsley had bought a 225-acre parcel of land in Albert County, on the Fundy coast near Hopewell Rocks. It was remote, rugged, with a funky but humble cottage on it. The cottage needed renovations, and the plan was to settle down there some day in the distant future.
"We were thinking of it as a 10-year plan," Taylor said.
And then in early 2020, they started hearing about the "coronavirus" that was wreaking havoc in Wuhan, China.
"We kind of joked about it, like 'If it gets really bad, we'll pack up our Jetta and live in the cabin in New Brunswick," Taylor said.
I lived in a condo building for three years and I never even knew my neighbours' names. But here we've actually been invited into people's homes.- Madeline Taylor
By the middle of March, things started getting serious.
COVID-19 had arrived in Toronto, and Taylor and Kingsley were both asked to work from home.
That was problematic, because "home" was a tiny basement apartment in a house where seven other young professionals were also "working from home," and it quickly started to feel claustrophobic.
And suddenly, Kingsley said, their New Brunswick getaway joke started to sound pretty attractive.
Acres of woods and water all around them
"We talked about it and I was like, if we can get internet, I'm down," Kingsley said.
A bit of hasty packing and one sixteen-hour car ride later and the couple were here, in their isolated "little outpost."
Their lodgings were small, simple, basically a one-room open concept log cabin with a loft bedroom upstairs and acres and acres of woods and water all around them.
There was internet - surprisingly dependable internet - but there was no coffee shop on the corner, no streetlights, no grocery store on the next block, no neighbours upstairs or downstairs or even next door.
Both Kingsley and Taylor say having grown up in a small town (they're both from Flesherton, Ont.,) helped.
But it was still a big adjustment.
They've had to get used to remembering to keep the woodstove stocked ("If you forget because you're working and in the zone, it starts getting pretty cold," Kingsley said), washing clothes by hand and hanging them outside to dry, getting up when the sun pours in the window ("that was never a problem in our basement apartment,") and scrupulous planning rather than dashing out on a whim to pick up a grocery item or a coffee.
"I've never used a coffee maker so much in my life, and I used to be a barista," Taylor said.
Unexpected joys and the raw thrill of nature
There have been some nasty surprises - like the time the drain pipe went rogue in the middle of the night and filled their cabin with "less than awesome smells."
But there have also been overwhelming benefits and unexpected joys.
There are daily swims in their own backyard lake, hikes in the forest, spectacular views of the famous Fundy tides, and weekend getaways to Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
There's also the noticeable plunge in their monthly lodging costs. That $1,300 rent for a basement apartment in Toronto? It's been whittled down to $600 a month for a lakefront retreat.
Outpost cabin life a hit on social media
And surprisingly, as isolated as they are, Taylor and Kingsley say they have never felt so connected to their community.
Taylor is keenly plugged in on social media, posting regular updates on their adventures on their Our Little Outpost page on Facebook and Twitter, posting winsome photos on Instagram and charming videos on TikTok, tempering the stunning natural beauty of their surroundings with the occasional cold shot of rural reality. (The rogue drainpipe incident made an appearance in a TikTok video captioned "Some cabin realness.")
Their posts have amassed a loyal and steadily growing following, with many reaching out to say "I love what you're doing."
"We just adore getting messages like that," Taylor said. "We've actually met with some of these people in person and they've become close friends, people we've invited over to the cabin."
The couple have also made friends of the neighbours along their road, all of whom have been generous with baked goods, dinner invites and "tips and tricks on how to survive our first New Brunswick winter." ("We've bought a generator," Kingsley notes with pride.)
"Honestly, I feel more connected to my community here than I ever did in Toronto," Taylor said.
"I lived in a condo building for three years and I never even knew my neighbours' names. But here we've actually been invited into people's homes, we've heard their stories, we've bartered with baked goods. It's amazing."
Plans to build a 'tiny home' to rent to visitors
So what lies ahead for the couple and their East Coast outpost?
If this year has taught them anything, it's to be wary of the best-laid plans.
But they do intend to build a "tiny home" on their property to rent out to visitors who'd like to experience the outpost adventure lifestyle. The plan is to have that ready by the spring of 2021.
Beyond that, Kingsley said, they're taking it one day at a time.
"With coronavirus and everything, it's tricky to know when the country will be back to normal. So right now, we're taking it day by day. Our long-term goal is to stay out here, and if there are some road bumps along the way we will deal with them as they come."
Overall, the couple feel they've been granted an unexpectedly wonderful opportunity and just plan to roll with it.
"I wish we had seen more examples of young people who are able to do something like this," because so many of them are feeling overwhelmed by the impossibility of home ownership, Kingsley said.
"But now that we are doing it, we just want to reinforce that it is possible. For us, New Brunswick was a huge opportunity. Owning a home may seem difficult, but there's a better chance to do it here than anywhere else."