The Benefits of Digging Yourself an 8 ft Hole


i had a plumbing issue at the only house I ever owned. I took time to figure what would be the cheapest, fastest way to repair it. After getting estimates of over $1000 to rent a digger machine, I rationalized that a $20 shovel would be a better deal. So I got to work.

The job took me over a month, whereas the professionals could have gotten it done in a day. But I wasn’t in a hurry to finish the job. I was the only one living in the house anyway. I had the last month of summer to complete the digging. Although, being in northern Wisconsin, the summers can end on short notice.

I paid the city money because I might have blocked the road. I think it cost me like $40. I wasn’t so sure I needed to pay them anything, because the payment was mostly for the driller machine and plows. My body didn’t take up that much room.

I also had to call the utilities before I dug. I wasn’t exactly sure where the water pipe was. Nor did I want to dig into an electrical or gas line. I believe the surveyor came out the next day and color coded my utilities lines for me. It was kind of obvious where the water line was because there is a spigot at the surface and I know where the pipe entered my basement.

A little backstory: the pipe burst over the winter near my house, like right on the wall. I spent all winter listening to the rushing water, but there was very little I could do with the frozen ground at the time. Luckily, the leaking occurred before it reached the water meter, so it wasn’t costing me any extra in the bill. But I was concerned about the wall taking so much water damage.

When I started digging, I found the ground to be very rocky all the way through. it was tough on the shovel and my body. I needed to take frequent breaks to rest and eat. I slept hard and ate voraciously. I noticed that my biceps got stronger, but my lower back got more screwed up. But I was able to finish the job all the way through. My hole was 8 feet deep, 15 feet long and about 3 to 4 feet wide. That was to uncover the entire pipe.

There was a lot of dust on the dry days and I needed to use several masks, which quickly browned. It was hard to breathe through the masks at times and they got quite hot at midday.

Since, I was on Main Street in Rice Lake, WI, a lot of people saw me digging my hole. One guy told me later that he saw me pop up out of my hole, which made me look like a gopher. Another guy yelled at me from car saying that my neighbor actually owned a CAT digger. I didn’t care though, I already decided against paying for a machine to do my work.

But my hole was too small for the plumber to safely get into. There are regulations to hole size/width ratios. My hole was too narrow by regulation. People can die in a hole like mine and have in smaller ones. For example, a few years back the newspaper reported on city crews working in a hole that was too small for its deepens and a rush of water came out of nowhere to envelope a worker in his tomb. It was a sad story.

But I wasn’t afraid. The plumber stood on the top of my hole and gave me instructions on how to replace the broken pipe. It was made of iron and was very heavy and long. I looked into options for a replacement. I compared PVC plastic to copper and copper to another iron pipe. I wasn’t very enthused about the high price of copper, but I didn’t like that plastic can change the taste of water.

I believe Menards wanted $75 for 25 feet of copper or something. It was a fraction of that cost for plastic. I went down to the Rice Lake Utilities and talked to the utilities supervisor. He suggested that copper was my best choice and offered to sell me some of their stock by the foot. I accepted his deal, but later he tried to get a few more feet out of the sale to make me pay more. When I protested, he said that he regretted selling me the copper. I told him I regretted it too, but the copper is buried deep in the ground now and I can’t give it back.

So I injured my back, but I had a gym membership and knew what to do to correct the strength imbalance. I had a tendency to favor one side for digging more than the other. So there was a twisting problem that caused problems. One side of the muscle became stronger than the other. Although, both my biceps seemed to become equally strong. I just used my back in an unequal way.

I performed extra back bends to fix my strength imbalance. It took about a month after the hole was finished, but my back seemed to be pretty normal again. I didn’t suffer any pains, except for muscle soreness. The whole experience was a great workout. I really enjoyed getting stronger and saving money.

My prediction was that I would get weaker from all the workload I performed. I would shovel all day long. It was like an arm workout all day every day. But I got stronger from it. I found it easier to curl the 60 lb dumbells at the gym afterward, whereas before I was curling 50 lbs. so, it really is hard to overwork the muscles. I think the problems are more likely to come from under nourishing the muscles.

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