Something happened to us over the summer. We lived for three months in a VW camper van, driving from one of America’s great beautiful places to the next, making campfires, exploring the woods and generally communing with nature and stuff.
Next thing I knew I was in Mexico again, having our baby in September and longing, just pure aching homesickness for a little town called Jackson, WY.
It was only a few months earlier that I remarked to Drew about how immensely well-adapted our children were as our three-year old navigating walking the broken sidewalks of Oaxaca, Mexico, interacting in English or Spanish depending on who she was talking to, and running ahead of us with confidence, then stopping on a dime at the next intersection, waiting for us to cross the street. Niña, Hermosa, Rubia, Bien Sería. The words that follow us as we walk. It feels like a certain kind of belonging to have children in Mexico. People talk to you. We eat at street food stalls, and afterwards the owner stops to tell us about his daughter. We had found our forever home.
So what happened in the course of a few summer months?
Honestly, it’s hard to say. Perhaps we had been ready for a change for a long time… maybe there was something missing from our life before… or maybe (and I think this is it) we just shifted. I biked the 10 mile bike trail from downtown Jackson to Teton Village, stopping on the way to have lunch by the Snake River and as I sat there hugely pregnant, with my two kids and husband, stuffing strawberries in my mouth and literally basking in the beauty and good weather, I realized I had never been happier.
I want more of that. More biking, more lakes, more camping, more outdoor stuff. I want to go to places like we visited this summer – Bryce, Zion, Page, Jackson, and Yellowstone. We’ve traveled to dozens of countries together and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered the same combination of rugged beauty, vast stretches of land, and variation, all within such well-developed infrastructure. We traveled all over the world for 8 years and it didn’t occur to us to look in our own American backyard.
It’s something we’re going to have to remedy.
Now that we have the VW van, which with it’s kitchenette and two beds, we can fit a family of five quite snuggly and still stealth camp (which is our preference), charge our devices and eventually tow more gear (like bikes, kayaks, or a thule full of stuff). It’s a home on wheels. Traveling around the US just got a lot cheaper, now that we have the van, it’s basically free.
We just need a home base.
I thought Jackson was going to be it. In fact, I started joining all the local groups and reading into the history and politics – what I do when I’m pretty well committed to settling down in a place, but after four months of following the classifieds, I’ve come to realize there’s just one small problem. It’s not even that real estate in Jackson is expensive. It is. It’s that there is none. There are plenty of million dollar homes, but anything in the more reasonable $250,000 range are wildly over-priced condos (essentially you end up paying double or triple per square foot). To rent, there’s even less. Like nothing. A single bedroom for rent, sure, if I was 22 and skiing for the winter by myself, but for the five of us? NADA.
So I’ve had to look farther afield.
I started looking for ski towns, because I think part of why I really like Jackson is because it’s so nicely developed, there’s a ton of tourist money in town so that means the bike trails, the library, the parks – all of it – are extremely well-maintained. Which is fantastic! It reminds me of Europe in that way. So I started with ski towns and came across Telluride. Oprah lives there. Well as much as having a multi-million dollar “log cabin” counts as living in a place. I looked for towns on the outskirts. Ridgway. I knew that name. Ah, yes, friends of ours, who lived in Sayulita while Stella was born came from there. I started digging more.
It’s a small town. 900 or so. It has milder winters than Jackson. Cooler summers. It’s close to Telluride and Ouray. It has shopping 30 minutes away in Montrose (rare for a mountain town, in Jackson, people drove 2 hours to Idaho to do their big shopping trips). It has mountain biking trails known at the RAT (Ridgway Area Trails). It’s in striking distance of Fruita, Moab, Page. It has summer and winter huts. HUTS! This is a dream of my husband’s who has regaled me with the same childhood story of winter camping in Vermont over and over again. They cross-country skied out to a winter hut and– according to Drew– it was the best experience of his young life.
We can bike with the kids in trailers. We can camp. Explore more of the US park system. I can start my long-lost love affair with trail running again. Drew can cross-country ski. I can try my hand at downhill skiing (I haven’t been since my 20s). The kids will put down their ipads and for their homeschooling lesson we’ll go OUTSIDE. Identify edible plants, animal tracks, and birds. Run around. Hit things with sticks. Basically the childhood that Drew and I both had in rural New England, but we never got around to giving it to our cultured, well-traveled, city kids.
Then I found out that two of my favorite writers are living there. Peter Hessler and his wife Lesley Chang moved there after a decade in Beijing. I went to Beijing (and wrote a book about it) because of Hessler’s River Town. I’ve read all of their books. This feels like fate.
Holy sh*t. We’re totally moving to America.
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My writing workshop starts on Wednesday. Write your book!