July 13, 2024
I Knew It Was Time to Transfer to a Mountain City. I Simply Didn’t Know Which One.
I Knew It Was Time to Transfer to a Mountain City. I Simply Didn’t Know Which One.
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Thomas knew earlier than I did that this is likely to be the place. “I prefer it right here,” he stated two summers in the past as we pulled out of Durango, Colorado, after a whirlwind weekend. We’d floated the Animas River at nightfall, then pedaled up Telegraph Hill early the following morning, beating the warmth of the day as we bombed down Massive Canyon singletrack with buddies. “I can see us dwelling right here,” he added as we drove towards the Utah border.

My fiancé and I have been on the street making an attempt out new cities, as a result of I’d satisfied him that we needed to transfer. I simply didn’t know the place to precisely. The query had consumed me for so long as I may keep in mind. After years of rolling by seasonal resort cities as a river information and ski bum (ultimately writing books about every expertise: Downriver and Powder Days, respectively), I’d eddied out in Seattle—a metropolis I didn’t love—pinned down by inertia and an incapability to stumble on what got here subsequent. So many areas appeared out of attain; my cloudy need for a brand new place to stay was beginning to drive Thomas and me loopy.

I knew I wished to be close to the mountains, someplace that made it simple to spend the majority of my free time outdoors. In Seattle we lived in a basement condominium two blocks from the freeway, combating site visitors to get to trails. The place an individual lives dictates a lot: group, tradition, commute time. Mountain cities have what I’m in search of in these three regards. However the economics weren’t in our favor. Housing and rental costs have skyrocketed, pushed up by market forces and rich second-home house owners, whereas in-town wages and job alternatives have remained stagnant. In the meantime, approval, funding, and assist for brand spanking new reasonably priced housing are laborious to return by.

The author and her fiancé during their hunt for a new hometown, checking out the Utah backcountry
The writer and her fiancé throughout their hunt for a brand new hometown, trying out the Utah backcountry (Picture: Courtesy Heather Hansman)

I wasn’t particular when it comes to the frustration I felt trying to find a dream city. For an individual of my age (older millennial) and revenue bracket (as a contract author, modest), dwelling someplace fascinating had turn into more durable than ever. Thomas and I knew we’d be priced out of most basic ski cities, and cost-of-living issues have been pushing native tradition and group out of different locales we’d hoped to contemplate. We tried to keep away from areas we thought have been particularly weak to fireside and drought.

Annie Dillard as soon as wrote that the way you spend your days is the way you spend your life. That phrase saved operating by my thoughts and stressing me out. I couldn’t choose the precise place to spend my days, so I stayed caught, rising anxious as they continued to fly by.

However indecision was a recipe for torment, so to beat paralysis, we drew up a spreadsheet. We sat on our tiny patio in Seattle, within the warmth of a smoky summer season that was rife with close by wildfires, and made a listing of each attainable place we would wish to find yourself.


We may transfer to the Mad River Valley of Vermont, near my household however removed from the rangy western mountains that felt like dwelling. Or we may attempt Boise, Idaho, the place Thomas may maintain his job as a undertaking supervisor for a building firm, however the place we didn’t know anybody. His favourite place, central Oregon, would imply settling down removed from the Rocky Mountain rivers I liked, but when we moved to the Colorado Plateau, there was no assure that these rivers would stay runnable within the face of ongoing aridification. Plus, if we picked Colorado, would there be a Vermont-size ache in my chest?

It was, in any case, about extra than simply place. It was about identification, together with the long run we have been lining up for ourselves. Regardless of the place we moved, it felt like I used to be giving up on some a part of a dream. There was Annie Dillard echoing in my head once more as we waffled and wasted time.

We made a four-circle Venn diagram with the elements that felt most vital: folks we liked close by, quick access to the outside, reasonably priced actual property, and a powerful probability of remaining livable from a local weather standpoint. We monitored housing prices and annual precipitation to deal with a few of our extra urgent considerations, and winnowed our choices down.

Mountain biking at Purgatory Resort, the local ski hill for Durango residents
Mountain biking at Purgatory Resort, the native ski hill for Durango residents (Picture: Courtesy Go to Durango)

In the summertime of 2021, I drove towards the Rocky Mountains, and Thomas flew out to satisfy me as quickly as he may break away from work. We crashed at buddies’ homes in 5 states, in locations like Carbondale, Colorado, and Bend, Oregon. We took bike rides by neighborhoods, checked out grocery shops and downtown districts, and tried to think about how we’d spend our days.

I used to be pining for a spot I’d by no means been to earlier than, one which in all probability wasn’t even actual. However I used to be satisfied I’d realize it once I noticed it. In German, that is referred to as fernweh, or “far illness.”

However making an attempt to align a really perfect with actuality is a dicey enterprise. While you function out of dreamland, you run up towards some critical constraints. Through the earlier winter, for instance, after a transparent blue morning of nordic snowboarding in Crested Butte, Colorado, I’d determined: This is the place. Then I checked the Zillow listings.

The economics could have been out of my management, however I used to be additionally snarled in what it meant to me to develop up and quiet down. I wished to stay in a spot that I liked, one thing that appeared to have been readily completed by buddies of mine, who’d discovered their dwelling on this planet apparently angst-free. I felt jealous and misplaced, deep in fernweh and getting nowhere.


My need for a house that felt true to my values jibes with the speculation of place-based happiness; psychologists seek advice from this as person-environment match. It’s the concept that sure folks really feel extra at dwelling in sure spots. It’s why a few of us love buzzy cities and others crave the sensation you get from large skies and wide-open plains.

I obsessed for an additional six months earlier than we lastly made a transfer. There was no signal from the universe—we simply headed in a basic path and eradicated sure choices the extra reasonable we have been pressured to be. As the sphere narrowed, our minds saved drifting again to the southwest nook of Colorado, the place the desert hits the mountains, and the place Thomas had stated he may think about us dwelling. I began to see it, too, though it meant giving up on different variations of the fantasy.

A view of the San Juan Mountains from the Million Dollar Highway
A view of the San Juan Mountains from the Million Greenback Freeway (Picture: Cam McLeod)

Right here’s the factor a couple of dream city: both it stays in your head, lovely however naggingly unsatisfying, or in some unspecified time in the future it stops being a fantasy and turns into actuality. Then it’s a must to stay there—pay lease and sit in site visitors and take the powerful elements together with the great ones. It’s important to abandon that sense of far illness, otherwise you’ll ache for the remainder of your life.

We now stay in Durango, in a rental home two blocks from the Animas. I’m nonetheless anxious concerning the rising price of actual property and the creeping drought. I nonetheless awkwardly invite folks to dinner, hoping that in some unspecified time in the future group will appear easy. And I nonetheless really feel that ache each time my mother sends me photos from Vermont. However there’s a ski hill close by, and I can watch the sunshine hit the La Plata Mountains within the morning. My days are including as much as a life I like, even when I’m not all the time positive I’m dwelling the dream.

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