As summer winds down and people start to shift back indoors, no doubt a lot of us are wishing we’d gotten out more this summer. And as I wrote about in last week’s guest post at Cait Flanders, it’s easy to conflate the joy of being outdoors with the desire to live in an outdoorsy town. So let’s talk about outdoorsy towns.
Probably because we don’t divulge where we live, for the reason that doing so would make it easy to identify us if our employers ever found the blog and we kinda need them to keep paying us through next year, we get a lot of questions by email, direct message on Twitter and even sometimes in the comments about where we live. We’re still not telling ;-) but we promise we will just as soon as we give notice. Just like we’ll share our names and faces and pictures of our cute dogs and our prettiest local landmarks and all the rest… all except our actual numbers.
We know we get these questions because we talk a lot about the good parts of living where we live, which – let’s not play coy about it – is pretty much paradise. We feel lucky every day to wake up a place we love (or at least the days we wake up at home, and not in some random hotel on work travel like I did today), and we find endless inspiration on our local trails and waterways. (If you feel like guessing where we live, please do it by email, not in the comments. ;-) ournextlifeblog [at] gmail dot com.)
But it is not all perfect, either. The questions we get tell us that some of you are considering making a move to the mountains for your early retirement years, or maybe in the lead-up years like we did.
But if you’re considering the move, make no mistake: No place is perfect. Anywhere you live on Earth, there will always be the daily drudgery, the occasional clogged pipes, the irritating local quirks. And as tends to happen in all awesome places, the more desirable the place is to live or visit, the more crowded and expensive it will be.
But as we’ve learned in the last five years in the mountains, mountain towns come with their own set of challenges. Feelings can be complicated and contradictory, and we can both love where we live and be driven crazy by it. So, yes, though we are glad we made the move, sometimes we’ve still got those Mountain Town Blues. Let us sing ‘em to ya.
The Short-Term Blues – the stuff that gets us down now, but should get better after we retire
Weekend Warriors – The worst thing about weekend warriors – the people who come out to the mountains and get their outdoors groove on only a few days a week – is that we are them. Those long weekend ski lift lines? We’re in ‘em. The long line of traffic to get out of said ski area? We’re stuck in that, too. The crowded trails in the summer? You get the idea.
Premium Prices – We call it the “mountain tax,” the surcharge added to basically everything we buy, from groceries to gas to utilities. In our case, we figure it works out to about a 20 percent total markup, but it’s higher on some things, like our natural gas bill. We’ll be able to escape some of that by chopping our own firewood after we retire to save on our heating bill and by volunteering for our local CSA in exchange for a share of produce, but it will always take more effort to get our prices a bit closer to what most Americans are used to paying – and gas will just always be expensive.
Off-Limits Stores and Restaurants – Locals know, if you haven’t made it to the grocery store by noon Friday during peak winter and peak summer seasons, then you’re going to find a way to suck it up without new groceries. When the weekend tourists start to roll in, the stores fill with people and empty of food almost unbelievably quickly, making references to the Soviet Union unavoidable. Same goes for restaurants – unless you want to wait for a long time, locals don’t bother trying to eat there on the weekend. Right now we rarely have time to go out during the week, but that will change soon.
Lack of Bear Sightings – Until just a few weeks ago, we’d never seen a bear here. Including when the neighborhood bear did major damage to our property, and including that time it cleaned out our chest freezer. Just let us see you, Yogi!!!! (We call him Yogi because we’re highly unoriginal. And because he steals food. And also I’m totally guilty of assuming that the thieving bear is a “he.”) I’ve actually become slightly obsessed with seeing a bear – I am always trying to spot one when I’m out hiking, and sometimes I stay out a little too late into dusk in hopes that he’ll come out come out wherever he is. We were recently rewarded with a brief sighting of Yogi’s baby mama and cubs, but we were at a safe distance, and thus the iPhone photos didn’t turn out at all. (Seriously, Yogi, you can help yourself to our freezer again if you’ll just stick around long enough for me to get a blurry pic.) Now moving on to actual problems…
The Long-Term Blues – the stuff that will always be true
Drivers in the Snow – It’s the curse of the SUV, y’all. Anyone driving a vehicle that has even part-time four-wheel drive seems to think that snow is but a minor inconvenience that doesn’t bring into play the laws of physics. Or at least that’s what we presume they must have been thinking when we see scads of SUVs in snow banks and spun off roads after big storms here. That’s one way to learn that snow is slippery and worth slowing down for, I suppose. But driving around newbie snow drivers all the time, because new visitors are constantly cycling through, gets a little frustrating.
Climate Change – Groups like Protect Our Winters have sprung up in realization that climate change is creating not just hotter summers, but also warmer winters, meaning: less snow, more rain. While it would have been unthinkable to ski in the rain 20 years ago, it’s now a thing that happens once in a while, and will likely happen more in the future.
Unbelievably Short Growing Season – Where we live sits at elevation, and even though it gets plenty warm here during the day in the summer, that elevation means that it can drop below freezing (meaning: frost) any day of the year. Lovely for cooling off the house in the evening without air conditioning, lousy for gardening. We tried to garden our first summer here, but what the deer didn’t kill, the frost did.
Limited Infrastructure – This is more a small town problem than a mountain town problem, but small places have less infrastructure generally. There’s not much public transit to speak of, which means we’ll always be car-reliant, especially in the winter when it’s tougher to bike places. There aren’t that many doctors here, and we’ve had to travel to see specialists. And there are plenty of things you simply can’t buy here for any price – if you want ‘em, you’re going somewhere else to find ‘em.
Wildfire Fear – Pretty much the entire western half of the country now spends half the year worried about wildfire, but the threat is for sure more acute in mountain communities. Fire tends to travel uphill, plus most mountain towns still have massive amounts of flammable timber all around. This problem, like climate change, is only likely to get worse.
Comparative Mediocrity – We saved the pettiest one for last. Have you ever felt like the fastest hiker in your group? The best skier in your family? The paddler with the most perfect stroke? Or just the camper with the most epic survival story? Yeah, you’ll never feel those feelings again, because everyone who moves to the mountains is crazy awesome at rad sports. Ski towns generally are overpopulated with Olympians and triathletes who you’ll see all the time, and even your basic dirtbag skier or climber probably has a sponsorship, and not the self-sponsored kind. So prepare to be reminded over and over how much you suck at everything. ;-)
In spite of all that
We love living in the mountains. We love cities, too, but we’re so happy we made the move here, in spite of all the downsides. But we’re big believers that we should all go into big decisions with our eyes wide open, and not expect any place to be perfect. If you can embrace the upsides and downsides together, though, then you might just be in the place that’s perfect for you.
Do you ever dream of moving to the woods or mountains?
Do you dream of moving somewhere different for retirement, or before retirement like we did? What places are on your wishlist? What downsides are you willing to accept in exchange for the big upsides? Let’s talk about it in the comments!