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So long, Chicago

“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”
― John Muir

When I first started dating Drew, we had a bunch of those silly “getting to know you” conversations one has in a new, awkward relationship. One of those conversations, I think on our very first date at Wormhole Coffee, started with, “If you could live anywhere, where would you live?” I can’t remember who answered first, or how the conversation went exactly, but I do remember one of us said, “Well, you know, I’ve always liked Colorado,” and the other one responded with what would become a familiar refrain throughout our courtship: “You too?”

So we’re moving. To Denver. In less than two weeks.

We took a trip there in August to see if it was a good fit for us. We were expecting some good, some bad, some hard decisions. Instead, everything that could go right did. (Except for the one AirBnB that smelled of sewage…) We ate whiskey-infused donuts. We ate tacos with my Denver coworkers. We saw more than two dozen open houses. We went to the church that Drew’s best friend’s brother pastors. We wandered around Boulder and Golden and Denver and all the suburbs in between. We both cried at the sight of the mountains.

I inevitably get the question, “Why?” Because we can, that’s why. Because Chicago winters are brutal. Because we could have a yard to grow tomatoes in. Because we could hike and bike and run outside in nature instead of alongside rush hour traffic. Because I’d like to be able to see my family more than a couple of times a year. Because, as my kindred spirit John Muir wrote, “going to the mountains is going home.”

The haul between Fresno and Chicago is soul-sucking. You could be in London by the time you get to Fresno. No, I take that back. London is an easier trip, because you can actually get a direct flight there from Chicago. I’ve missed birthdays and graduations because I have to either take a red eye or take two vacation days just to go spend a weekend. But it’s the ordinary things I miss the most, like Mom sneaking spiked lemonade into tailgates or going to see a movie with a friend who’s known me since high school. Phone calls aren’t the same.

This move has been about a year in the making, starting with Drew’s parents moving from the Chicago suburbs to the Phoenix area last November. Suddenly, almost all our immediate family was in the West. And we started to wonder, what if?

At the time, I was in the process of accepting a job from 18F, an organization with a serious devotion to remote work. If we moved, we reasoned, we’d have one source of income we could take with us.

Then Drew got a remote position with Rackspace. Now we could, quite literally, just pick up and move. How many chances does a person get to do that, especially as he gets older and life gets more complicated? How many times in a couple’s life together will both of them be in a position to just go?

Chicago has shaped me profoundly in the five years I’ve been here. I’ve gotten to work at amazing places with people that have come to be incredible friends. They have taught me that it’s okay to pursue dreams that are only half-formed and figure out the rest as you go. They taught me that a person is continually evolving, and that who you were yesterday is not who you have to be today. They’ve taught me that sometimes it’s okay to give up on something and start again.

Chicago taught me humility, but also hubris.

We’ve both known for a while that our time in Chicago was drawing to a close. This summer has been one full of goodbyes: celebrating birthdays with family not often seen, having one more burger at Beinlich’s, finally going to see the Art Institute. Each one has been loaded with the thought that we may not pass that way again.

At least not soon. The mountains are calling. It’s time for a new adventure.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.”
— John Muir (From “Our National Parks,” 1901)

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