Our Story

be IN the mountains

“Do you just want to live near the mountains, or do you want to be IN the mountains?”

When Tim sprung this question on me, it caught me off guard.  What on earth was he talking about?

By early 2017, Tim and I had been fantasizing about moving out West for years.  Our children were moving into adulthood, and we would be empty-nesters soon.  Our adventures had always revolved around hiking and biking or snow sports, usually in a mountainous area.  We would daydream of living near the mountains and taking hikes every weekend…drinking in the fresh air, dipping toes in an ice-cold stream, laying on a rock warmed by the sun.  We had taken a week-long backpacking trip to Glacier National Park just a few months prior and longed for more time on the trail.  Life is simple when you’re backpacking…not easy, but simple.  You wake up every day with nothing to do but eat, breathe, sleep…move.  It was where we felt most alive.

Admittedly, much of this fantasizing could be traced back to being miserable in our jobs.  I was working 60+ hours a week, fielding hundreds of emails and angry phone calls a day, attending one meaningless meeting after another.  Every day was just a series of dumpster fires I was putting out.  On the most stressful days, I found myself checking out mentally, so overwhelmed I didn’t know what to do next.  Tim was similarly stressed, but in a different way.  He had dreamed of a career in an environmental field and had gotten his degree.  But it just never quite worked out.  As his military career wound down, he found himself unsatisfied with the jobs he was taking.  We had become drones in the corporate world.

We were also burnt out on remodeling and maintaining a 100-year-old house.  The list of things to do and buy and improve was endless.  Tim would sometimes say we had “become slaves to our possessions.”  We had boxed ourselves in.  Trapped by our income, trapped by our debt, trapped in our pursuit of the standard American Dream.

But even if we could swing a job out West, there was no guarantee we would be free of the same constraints we had in Wisconsin.  Most mountain towns are prohibitively expensive places to live.  It always seemed like a pipe dream to make a move.

“Do you just want to live near the mountains, or do you want to be IN the mountains?”

He proposed that we hike the Pacific Crest Trail.  Wait…WHAT???  I definitely knew about the PCT.  We had even hiked parts of it when we lived in southern California.  But hike it?  You mean the whole thing?  That would take months!  He pulled out a map and we looked at it together, taking in the gravity of what it would be like to hike 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada.  We scoured the internet, analyzing the logistics.  It seemed like a long shot, but with a lot of preparation, we might just be able to make it work.  Excited at such a bold plan, we set a target date of April 2019.

The next few months were a blur.  We watched a documentary called “Minimalism”, and to say the least, it was a complete turning point for us.  These people had found what we’d been searching for.  A life with more meaning.  A life with less stuff and more time for relationships and adventure.  Listening to their stories, we were hooked.  The overarching theme of the film was, if it doesn’t bring utility or joy, remove it from your life.  We immediately set to simplifying our life and reducing our possessions.  Within weeks, we had done a head to toe purge.  We made a plan to sell the house in the spring of 2018 and budgeted to get completely out of debt.  With all these changes, it seemed feasible we could save enough to take six months away from working and hike the PCT.

Meanwhile, I had moved into a different role at work.  The company had brought in fresh management to implement a new system and train the team I joined, and every day brought further stress and frustration.  I wasn’t eating or sleeping well.  Bad was turning into worse.  And then, in August of 2017, I got a call from HR: I was part of a group being “downsized” from the company.  I was being let go.

It was a completely surreal moment.  I just got fired over the phone!  I’ve never been fired in my life!  Fear set in.  How are we going to manage on one income?  Certainly, our PCT plans were in jeopardy.  I called Tim, crying, still in complete shock.  He took a deep breath and said, “Meet me at High Cliff, we’ll figure this out.”  As we met, he smiled and playfully shouted, “Welcome to the rest of your life!”  His calm washed over me, and despite myself, I felt…relief.  That job had been toxic, and I wasn’t sure I would have lasted much longer.  We hiked and talked and made a plan.

We shifted our timeline, and sold the house in November of 2017, downsizing into an apartment. Around that same time, I secured another corporate position, albeit with a far better company. Suddenly, our debts were paid off, and we were living a much simpler life.  We felt unchained, liberated.  Having so much less stuff and space to maintain made us feel lighter, more flexible, and far more energized to pursue our outdoor hobbies.  We hiked, biked, and kayaked.  We traveled far more than usual, going on trips to Florida, Arkansas, Oregon, Colorado, and several trips to the U.P. of Michigan.  We had more time to spend with family and friends.  And all the while, our PCT dreams had solidified into a reality.

In April of 2019, we will strap on our backpacks, and be IN the mountains.

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