The Payoff


Early morning in Elk Meadow near our house.

At some point, we all have a dream of “livin’ the dream”.

From my very first memories of visiting an alpine setting, I’ve dreamed of what it might be like to wake up every morning, look out my windows and not only see the mountains, but have them cradling me and my home. I’ve lived here in Colorado for a quarter of century and have spent considerable time climbing, hiking, skiing, biking and backpacking in the high mountains, but our home has always been just out of the foothills. Sure, it’s been great being out a little where I could get views from our upstairs bedroom of Longs Peak up to the north all the way down to Pikes to the south, but it wasn’t “living” in the mountains.

We’ve talked a lot over the years about whether moving somewhere else was really worth the effort. We’ve talked about moving to places like Taos because we love the food and architecture, Idaho because it’s beautiful and there aren’t a lot of people and places like Whitefish or Kalispell, Montana because, well, Montana is awesome. But the caveat ending all those conversations has always been, “would it be the same feeling living there as it does when we just recreate there?

Over the last couple of years we earnestly started thinking about moving on up to the mountains…like IN the mountains instead of right outside of them. We had all these visions of how awesome it would be to wake up in a beautiful valley with high peaks all around us. We thought about how how cool it would be to have trails we could ride or run just out the door instead of having to drive an hour or two just to reach a trailhead. How we’d feel part of a small community again instead of just feeling like another worker drone in a giant anthill of people.

So early in the process we each got a sheet of paper and wrote down everything that was important to us. Nothing was off limits, nothing was right or wrong. Once we took a few days or weeks to compile our individual lists, we then compared them to see how many items were the same (if any). As predicted, we were pretty close on most.

The next step was then to start looking at communities that would meet those requirements. I think we wound up with probably half dozen real contenders and probably a dozen more that at least that needed further consideration. My personal list of possibilities was closer to 100 towns, but I reluctantly agreed to trim it down for the sake of time.

After lots and lots of thought, vetting and thoroughly checking out the towns in person, we finally narrowed it down to two real contenders. Once that happened, we began the important step of assessing the pros and cons of each and also dreaming about what life would really be like living in those towns.

I’m a strong believer that life can be, and is, whatever you make it. I loved our place in the Boulder Valley and living there never deterred me from doing all the things I wanted to do, other than maybe having the ability to go surfing. We were 10 minutes commute from our offices, had tons of restaurants and entertainment opportunities at our disposal, several ski resorts only 1.5 hours away, lots of great friends….we were livin’ the dream! And with that said, we had to sincerely think about what we might be giving up. Was it worth it? Maybe, maybe not.

I think this is where a lot of people get bogged down. Change is scary, on any level, and it can become paralyzing and easily lead to non-action when the decisions get bigger. Moving our entire lives was one of those things that seemed overwhelming and at times it seemed the only prudent thing to do was just stay put and enjoy the status quo, because after all, there was nothing wrong with our lives the way it was.

My friend Jesse and I have spent a large number of hours climbing around in the mountains in the winter talking about how the best times of our lives were initially the most uncomfortable. It’s hard to get out of your comfort zone, period, and most people work very, very hard to build a certain level of comfort and protect that feeling with everything they have because, well, it feels safe and comfortable. But Jesse and I have concluded time after time that when we’re put under duress is when we begin to learn about ourselves and grow as humans.

So this is where we were. Should we go for it and see what the unknown had in store for us? Would it be as cool as we thought? Would it suck and we’d regret giving up a sure thing? I think all the life experiences and travel we’ve been fortunate to have in our lives gave us the answer. The answer was the most memorable and influential experiences in our lives have been the ones we didn’t plan but in fact, were the ones that put us way out of our comfort zone.

Not only did we go for it, we went even bigger and decided to completely remodel an older mountain home, with us doing the majority of the work. Talk about surprise after surprise after surprise. We were both well off centre most every day for months dealing with the thousands of details and issues we never dreamed of or considered. Admittedly there were more than a couple of days where we felt this move/project may have been a colossal mistake.

However, as hard as it was, both mentally and physically, we pushed on endlessly for week after week working late into the night every night…after working at our regular jobs. I would personally leave in tears some nights because I simply didn’t feel I could keep the pace any longer.

Then, out the fog, we finally reached the day when we could get our temporary certificate of occupancy from the building inspectors. The house was still a full-on construction zone and there was lots of work ahead, but we could at least finally be in one spot. No more living out of a tiny apartment 45-miles away with our belongings scattered all around the Front Range in various PODS and storage units!

We’ve now been living in the house and our new community for approximately eight weeks. I’d say it’s about 95% finished save for a little more trim work around a couple of doors (we’re still staining!) and some stone work around the fireplaces, but those are things I can do without all the previous pressures of juggling contractor schedules with ours.

There were times during the last six months when I actually hated the house. I hated the thought of leaving my day job and going up there to work another eight hours..then drive back to our apartment later in the night. I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel because every time I thought we were on track, another crisis would appear and it seemed we were taking two steps back. I honestly couldn’t imagine it ever being a place we could just relax and enjoy much less love.

Someone at work asked me a week or so ago if all the stress was worth it and if it felt like we were finally getting settled in. It was ironic they’d asked me right then because the day prior I’d gotten up for the first time since moving in, hopped on my bike and rode some of the trails leading from our house up Bergen Peak.

I had indeed woke up in that cradle of the mountains, had incredible riding right out my door and had that crisp mountain air with the smell of ponderosa pine greeting me when I walked my bike out onto our deck. And to put a little icing on the cake, fifteen minutes after leaving my house, as I was huffing my way up a steep section of singletrack, I had to pause for a few minutes just to listen to the elk bugling in the meadow down below.

Climbing the steep singletrack on Bergen Peak…with the elk bugling in the valley below.

Six months of excruciating stress and it was all wiped away with some crisp fall mountain air, the smell of pine, a bugling elk and a long singletrack mountain bike ride…from home.

Climb high, ski hard, pedal far, live simply.

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