To Zion Goes I?

I have done quite a bit of traveling in my day. I’ve lived in Europe and Asia, and I have visited parts of those places I didn’t live in, as well as Central America and lots of cool places here in the US. I have long said that I’m an itchy-footed vagabond at heart. My soul is restless, and I need a certain amount of adventure to feel content.

I have met plenty of people who are decidedly the opposite. They live in one place and never travel too far abroad from the area, and they are largely and even completely satisfied with that. I honestly have difficulty understanding that mindset because it strikes me as uncurious and disinterested in the world, and I cannot fathom having at least a middling amount of curiosity about other places and people. Having said that, I realize that some people really are homebodies, and that is okay. It is not me, but it is okay.

I came home from Korea after my folks passed away. I was ready to leave Korea, and it felt like it was time to come home. I had been reluctant to return to my hometown because I knew all too well what it was like. My ex-husband, however, generally sported the “better the devil you know” opinion. He realized later that I had probably been right, although frankly there was no place in the world that could have salvaged our marriage. In some respects, the hometown may have sped up our demise however, and thank G-d for that!

This fall, I will have been home for five years. My folks’ house has been sold and renovated, their belongings distributed among the family with the remainder being sold at auction, and my ex is long gone like a turkey through the corn. I am still working the same job, which is not a bad one by any means, but my heart doesn’t belong to any sort of cubicle work, and my soul is restless once more. I have grown bored, and some part of me always felt too big for this town. I never felt too good for it – well, maybe just a little – but I am more city than country, as far as daily living goes, and I have never cared for the cornfield landscape. My heart was never here.

To that end, I have been contemplating moving quite a lot lately. The time is not here yet, but I am thinking, and I am thinking hard. I have also been thinking a lot about what I really want from life. There is no point in making a move just to change scenery. Sometimes there is some merit in shaking things up, but I want to move to further my goals for myself. I have a lot I want to accomplish, and I know that a good chunk of it cannot be done from here.

I said before that I want to start distance running again, and I meant that. I realize that it will take at least a year or two to get all of the weight off that I need to lose, and I realize that it will take longer to get myself into the shape that I genuinely need to be in to be doing some of these runs. I also realize that it’s pretty tough to be able to run two or three hours a day during the week while raising three kids and holding down a traditional eight-to-five. Frankly, it’s probably not going to happen, and if it does, it will take years longer, and the honest truth is that I’m 34 now. I have a limited amount of time to accomplish my goals. Of course, it’s not impossible at all to be running big distance races into your sixties, but most of the folks doing that have been doing it for 30+ years.

I had a meeting with my boss today, and the main catalyst for these meetings was the fact that we have lost two people out of our office in less than one month. Both get to work from home now, which was one of the major reasons that they left. Freedom means a lot to people, but it probably means more to this wandering libertarian than it does to the average person. I told my boss a long time ago that I was bored and wanted to move up for the challenge, if nothing else. He asked if I thought I wouldn’t get bored with the next position, and I know I looked at him funny.

“Of course, I will,” I replied. “If you aren’t working to outgrow your current position or better your state of affairs, you aren’t doing it right.”

He asked me today if I had had any offers from competitor companies, to which I responded that I had not, which is true. I have had friends try to get me to come on where they are working, but I have never found the modest bumps in pay to be sufficiently enticing. I told my boss today that I would never take another job that was a lateral move. I admitted, however, that if I got a job offer in the city and it was an upward move, I would give my current company the chance to make me a counter offer, but that the idea of moving to the right place was extremely enticing to me. He knows as well as everyone else does that I am ready to go.

For quite a while, I wanted to go to Chicago. I knew from the outset that Chicago was an uphill, ill-advised proposition. I love Chicago. It’s my favorite American city. But it is damned expensive, and the politics are insane. Chicago has driven the rest of the state into bankruptcy without it being called such. Everything is overpriced up there, from the taxes to the ice cream to the bus fare. There is a ton of cool stuff to see and do, but you have to be able to afford it. Rents are through the roof, and the schools are shit unless you move into the ‘burbs or can afford a swanky private school. I mean, I have friends who have worked in CPS, and both were out within two or three years.

I finally forced myself to concede that if financial freedom is the first goal, Chicago may not be the place. Illinois is probably not the place. The state is far from conducive to doing business of any sort. In fact, businesses are leaving in droves because of the stupid laws and taxes.

When I started thinking about distance running and the races that are associated with it, I began to notice a common theme: most of them occur in high altitude zones, and many of the biggest ones are out West, in the mountains. When I started reading about Badwater, Western States, Hard Rock, Leadville, and any number of other, smaller, lesser-known races out there, I realized that, if I stay here, I would have a damned hard time ever running them for one great big reason: Illinois averages about 200 feet above sea level. There is nary a mountain in the state, and you have to go down towards Little Egypt to find hills.

It became clear to me then what had to be done, if I want to live my life my way, and frankly, why would anyone want to live on someone else’s terms? I would need to start working a lot harder on the side hustle. I would need to start looking at states and cities out west, and I would need to put a time frame on leaving. It needs to resonate like a vacation, like something to look forward to – the next great adventure.

I’m playing the hustle stuff close to the chest for now, but I promise we will come back to that at a later date, when I have something to show everyone. Right now, what we can talk about is places.

Arizona makes the most sense, straight out the gate. I have family there who are well established in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, and I even have some friends out there now. I spent many happy times exploring the desert as a child, and I love Sedona, Jerome, the painted desert, and even the mountains surrounding Phoenix. I like the heat, and I love the houses, the desert landscape, the palm trees (!), and the dusty old roads leading out to mines that are falling in. I love all of those things.

What I care for less is the strip mall quality of the Phoenix suburbs like Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. I have not visited Tucson, although it certainly wouldn’t be tough to make a weekend jaunt to stay with family and get my bearings. Of course, the one thing about southern Arizona that nobody likes to talk about is the fact that there is very little water, and the aquifer that feeds the area is quickly being depleted and is not replenishing itself. Eventually, they are going to run out of water. Not good.

Looking towards the Canyon, I know northern Arizona reasonably well, and I think a lot of people would say that they would love to live in Sedona, were it not a retirement community and expensive as hell to boot. My uncle lived there for a while, and it’s gorgeous. Great hiking, great places to eat, lots of weirdoes attracted to the vortexes… But expensive. It would cost a lot to buy a regular home or a townhouse there.

Flagstaff would make the most sense. If you follow Oak Creek Canyon up to the mountain road heading north and traverse the switchbacks – careful about that ashy soil that washes down onto the roads with the spring melt! – you’ll come to Flagstaff, which is a nice college town in the San Francisco Mountains. The Snow Bowl is up there, and there is some decent skiing to be had. Flagstaff is a good town. Not too big, not too small, and it provides access to mountain attractions. Not bad.

New Mexico is like Arizona’s government test site-riddled cousin. My uncle that lived in Sedona also happens to be a pilot, and he mentioned once that flying through New Mexico gets some people in trouble because there are narrow corridors where commercial aircraft have to stay. If they wander over the government airspace, jets get scrambled, and pilots’ licenses are swiftly revoked. Welcome to Alamogordo.

But in all seriousness, New Mexico is gorgeous. The architecture is some of the best in the country. Santa Fe has long been known as an old artist enclave, and my grandparents used to stop there taking the southern route to Phoenix to visit family. Grandma loved the market.

Sadly, it seems like the crime rate has gotten pretty bad in most of the New Mexico cities, based on what I have read. The impression given is that even nicer communities are not especially safe, and the schools are less than impressive. As much as I want to focus on making use of the outdoors, my kids will still have to get an education, and I would prefer it be a good one. Taos came out being the only town that really seemed decent, and Taos, being a resort town, is pricey beyond maybe what I would want. It’s also small, and I am not big on small.

California is a big “Hell no!” Between the taxes, the prices, and the people, I can’t imagine people willingly moving there, at this point. I have an old camp pal who lives in Carpentaria, and she has a beautiful home with her handsome Jewish doctor fiancé. (She is officially one of my models for what to do with yourself, which looks like stay thin and fit, dress well, walk in heels, have some taste, and let him have a dog. Fuck, I am not a dog person, though.) Also their house literally almost burned down from wildfires twice last year, and they had to evacuate a third time for mudslides. What the actual fuck. No. There are also water shortages, earthquakes, Bigfoot, and the Kardashians. I get that the weather is great (outside of the Bay area), but is it worth having to evacuate three times in one year? The answer, for me, is a resounding no.

Nevada is a place I know little about. I have a friend in Reno, and it seems like a weird mix of hipsters and super shady casino shit. Vegas seems to be what a person makes of it. There is a lot of suburban area, and there is a lot of tourism, obviously. Vegas is close to Phoenix, L.A., and the mountains. Desert running practice would be easy to get in. Vegas could be an option. Reno could be an option.

A state that I think a lot of people dismiss because of its, ahem, religious background is Utah. Famous for Mormons and, um… Mormons, there is Utah. Salt Lake City, home of the LDS temple, which is actually quite impressive, as is the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Did I mention there are a lot of Mormons in Utah? Also shitty weather inversions in the winter in the valley beneath the Wasatch Range.

Buuuuuuuut…

Utah is fucking beautiful. If you can avoid putting down roots in Utah County – it’s something like 96% Mormon – it seems like Utah could be a winner. Yes, there are shitty weather inversions. Yes, people knock on your doors and ask if you’ve heard the good news about Brigham Young or whatever. (We have that here, too.) Yes, people apparently say shit like, “Oh my heck,” the liquor laws suck, and also Whole Foods doesn’t exist there. I hear the restaurant scene is actually pretty good, the crime rate is low, the schools are decent, the medical care is good, and there is low unemployment thanks to tech companies moving in. Utah leans kind of libertarian, and they have low tax rates and are friendly to business.

Did I mention it’s fucking beautiful? Have you seen pictures of Zion National Park? Holy frijoles. When can I go? The government owns like, 70% of Utah or something, which is like New Mexico, but the difference is that they encourage you to visit the national parks, whereas I’m pretty sure you’ll get arrested for trying to sneak into White Sands. There is a lot of park space out there.

I have been through Salt Lake City airport on the way up to Bozeman, which is a great town, by the way. SLC is extremely convenient to other places in the west. There are cheap, short flights to Vegas, San Fran, L.A., Phoenix, Denver, etc. And you can get these great little regional airlines to take you up to places like Bozeman so you can do the Bridger Ridge Run and then have drinks after at the Crystal Bar.

One of the greatest recommendations I will ever make on this website is the Crystal Bar in Bozeman, Montana. My cousin used to bounce there when he was in college. People sometimes ride horses and motorcycles into the bar. Cash only. Come prepared to have more fun that you ever imagined possible in such a small bar. Best bar I’ve ever been to in the entire world, and that’s no exaggeration. I’m amazed there are other bars in Bozeman. How could anything compete with the Crystal?

I would live in Bozeman in a heartbeat if I were able to tolerate the kind of cold and snow that they have to endure up there. Bozeman has hard, hard winters, though. My cousin told me once how one of his engineering professors would come in wearing his ski gear and tell them class was abbreviated because he needed to get out and ski the fresh pow-pow. People have those little orange flags tied to their antennas so that people can see other cars coming over the snowdrifts and start to stop. Also the traffic is shitty in that town for no bigger than it is. It’s a great place, and Bridger Bowl is fucking amazing. I have every intention of doing the Ridge Run in the future, if for no other reason than so I can go and have drinks at the Crystal afterward, but I really do love Bozeman. One winter would do me in, though.

I know Oregon is beautiful. I would never in a million years move to Portland. Ever. Just no. I’m sure the interior is great, but it’s getting too far north for me, at that point. I want a reasonable amount of heat. Washington is, again, beautiful, but it’s mostly too rainy and cold for me. I’m down to visit, but it wouldn’t be my cup of tea.

“But what about Colorado?” Colorado is where all the outdoorsy freaks who want to run ultras, climb mountains, and endanger their lives daily hang out! You know what? FUCK COLORADO.

I have been twice, and I didn’t like it. It ain’t all that. Denver was just… It was disappointing. I don’t know how else to describe it, honestly. The bar scene was sub-par, and the food was meh. I did find a nice used bookstore. The blizzard and the ice storm driving back across Kansas was epic and miserable, made worse by the fact that my friend’s boyfriend had cheated on her with our friend’s sister while we were out there, and I was riding back with them. Just horrible. Awful

When I went back, my friend had moved up to Boulder which, in case you were unaware, is full of horrible, awful bobos – bohemian bourgeois. They’ll invite you to their absurd vegan dinner party (“You can bring the vegan pumpkin bread!”), talk about how absurdly liberal they are, and then they’ll talk about saving the environment as they have their ski gear strapped to their fucking Yukon that their parents bought them. The whole town was like that, and they were all drinking bubble tea from the oxygen bar. Just… Just fuck Colorado.

Can you tell that I’m leaning towards Utah right now? I’m as shocked as anyone, especially given the “Hey, I think I want to be Jewish now!” thing. One of the first things I wondered was, “Are there Jewish people in Utah?” There are, as it turns out. Probably not outside of Salt Lake, but there is a community and several temples. It can’t be worse than here, so I could make do.

People complain about the strict liquor laws and the lack of nightclubs in SLC, but that’s not a serious issue for me. I really do not drink much at all anymore, and nightclubs were never particularly my thing, anyway. I feel like, if you want to party, Vegas is a short, cheap flight away.

One thing I do consider more of a worry is building a social network. I certainly don’t think it’s impossible, but I’m sure that a lot of social life centers around the temples – the Mormon ones. I have also read several times that dating outside LDS is a real challenge in SLC, especially if you’re over a certain age. I can’t honestly imagine that it’s massively more difficult than dating where I live now which, as I have probably said before, is approximately as futile as panning for gold in your own shower. Mormons tend to marry young, shortly after the boys come back from their missions. This is not my primary concern, but as the girls get older, I also realize that I will be able to have a better, more active social life, so being able to find people who share my values and interests is a concern.

Having said that, finding good people is a concern for me no matter where I am. I have gotten to the point where I have pretty high standards for the people I chum around with. I want to be around people who live good lives by being active, involved, positive, and preferably entrepreneurial. I perhaps place the most value on active and entrepreneurial because all entrepreneurs I know have one thing in common: love of freedom. They won’t sell their time to the highest bidder. They want leave to mold their lives as they see fit. They also seem to have a pretty damned good grasp on how the world really works, and they know how tough things are out there. Nevertheless, they are in the fight, bringing their ideas to the world and trying to make things better for themselves and others. Those are the people I want around.

So am I totally sold on Utah or anywhere else? No. I honestly don’t know yet where the best place will be. It’s going to take some visits, probably, some more research, and it is going to take a little bit more time before I’m ready. But I do feel pretty confident that heading west is the right thing. Maybe a year from now, I will feel differently, but I rather doubt it.

As I believe I stated before, probably in the Badwater post, as I was sitting in my cube, listening to Goggins and Rogan talk ultras, I knew the moment I said to myself that I wanted to do this, that it was right. Sometimes we set a goal for ourselves, and we know almost from the get-go that it is not the right goal. It doesn’t fit. It doesn’t give you that sensation of being directionally accurate. You know that no matter how hard you push for it, it isn’t going to be the right thing. It’s like trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. But this all feels right. Heading west feels right.

That is where my thoughts have been focused for the last couple of days. My mind’s eye has been wandering through the deserts, feeling happy about the idea of places with lots of palm trees planted on the boulevards, mountains in the backyard, and places where grass is 100% optional. My ex-husband was wrong about many things, but he was not wrong when he coined the term “aggressive American grass.” I’m half-allergic to it and can’t get through a mow without coughing, sneezing, and coming in itchy. The idea of never having to mow my sandy dirt yard with natural vegetation is amazing to me.

The idea of being able to hike on trails leading through the desert to old caves with Native American paintings inside, having Southwest markets around, driving up Mingus Mountain to have dinner at the Haunted Hamburger in Jerome (big recommend – two thumbs up!), and hiking in Zion National Park or through Bryce or Chaco Canyon… Hell yeah. Being an hour’s flight away from Bozeman? Hell yeah. Short winters with the option of snow and ski lessons up the mountain? Yes, please.

I’m there. No matter where I end up, I know that the rooms will have huge windows so I can see the views, but I think… west. Yeah. West. “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country.”

Stay thirsty, kids.