For as long as I can remember, I have been a “homer” (for a less nuanced term, see provincial, or even townie). I was born, raised and went to college in Pittsburgh. The only time I ever lived outside of Allegheny County was when my long distance girlfriend (now wife) was pregnant with our first son and was living in Woodbridge, VA. I was there for a grand total of 6 months before the Steel City drew me back in.
Growing up, I often felt a certain level of disdain for those of my generation who left town, whether it was after high school to go to college somewhere else, or after college to get a job somewhere else. Maybe this feeling was passed on from my parents in some indirect way as much of their generation left Pittsburgh after the steel jobs went away.
As the late 2000s / 2010s rolled on and things started looking up for the region as more medical and tech jobs flooded in, I often felt like I was being proven right for staying. We still had a low cost of living (Pittsburgh still does now compared to many other places as well) and there was opportunity for career advancement that certainly wasn’t there before. (I realize I am viewing this from the perspective of someone who works in tech and had help from privilege along the way, but I can’t be someone that I am not) With all that in mind, I never once thought about leaving, certainly not anymore than I had before.
When we moved out to our current house in Gibsonia 4 years ago, we really felt like we found our long term home. We didn’t even really fall in love with Gibsonia itself but our neighborhood specifically. We loved the fact that it was convenient to most things, but far enough out that we had our space. We loved the fact that there were a lot of young families in the area, so our kids would always have someone to play with. We loved the large yards and smaller reasonably sized (thus less expensive to heat and cool) houses. We loved being able to walk around our neighborhood safely.
I have been thinking about this next part for a while, because we have visited “out West” on 4 trips now. I don’t think it was our first trip (Mt Rushmore / Yellowstone / Rocky Mountain NP; with Denver as a base) in 2016 that really planted the seed to move. In fact we were still in the process of moving into our current home and expecting our fourth child, so moving somewhere else was the furthest thing from our minds.
The more that I think about it, the aftermath of my mother passing away in 2018 was the genesis of my thinking of moving to another city. A strong desire to just get away from all of the hurt led me to thinking about what life would be like somewhere else.
However, just to be clear, while this may have been the event that set slowly but surely things in motion for me, it is not the reason or even a major factor now. Grief is sharp at first and luckily we didn’t rush any decisions as a result.
We visited Colorado on a whirlwind tour through the southern, central and eastern parts of the state in June 2019, and even then the idea in my mind was hardly more than a thought. It’s funny to remember now us driving from Salida to Great Sand Dunes NP and remarking to our kids “Wow aren’t the mountains beautiful, wouldn’t it be neat to live here?” and getting a sharp immediate “NO!” from one of them. Opinions are still mixed from some of the kids, but are not as severe anymore.
We have made an annual ritual of our “adventure trips” – where we fly to a city, rent a van and then drive around seeing various national parks and the like, while staying in hotels along the way. It could get expensive, but we got into the travel rewards game a few years back and that usually reduces the price of trips, sometimes up to 50%! It’s a pretty nice ROI for just paying all of our normal bills on a credit card. Travel has always been a high value item for us, and we make reductions elsewhere in our lifestyle and budget to fund it.
What if, instead of booking 6 roundtrip fares, renting a van and staying in hotels to visit Yellowstone (or Moab or Bryce or Zion), we could just get into OUR van, and sleep in our popup trailer? That is not only more of an adventure, but being within driving distance makes seeing these places more of a “long weekend” type of trip rather than needing to take off 5-7 days from work every time we want to go. We could then focus our travel rewards on getting us flights back to Pittsburgh (and other places… likely by way of PIT) to visit.
In the months after our 2019 trip, Kat and I talked many times about what things would look like if we moved there. We would both still be employed, so it’s not like we could just hop in the car and go off on adventures whenever we wanted – we needed to have a good stable life for all of the year.
Colorado has all sorts of different towns – if we didn’t have 4 small kids, somewhere like Montrose or Grand Junction (over the mountains, on the western side of the state) or maybe a small mountain town just over the Front Range would be nice. But for now we needed a good sized community with decent schools, close and easy access to a major airport (for travel back to the East Coast when needed).
We had a trip planned to visit Yosemite NP in California this past June, but due to COVID-19, we decided that it wasn’t really possible to experience Yosemite the way that we wanted to, so we scrapped the trip. We still had the time off and the travel rewards, so we instead opted to fly into Denver and visit three towns along the Front Range – Colorado Springs, Loveland and Longmont – to see if they could work for us. Instead of just sightseeing, we walked and drove various neighborhoods in each of the towns, taking notes and trying to soak in as much as each place could offer in 3 days per stop.
Colorado Springs had some neighborhoods that checked alot of our boxes but the houses were just too small in those – mostly sub-1000 square foot 2 bedroom bungalows. From what we could see, the rest of Colorado Springs was all very suburban, not walkable at all.
Loveland was a little different and a little bit more walkable. It also had quite a few lakes in town, though unfortunately for most you weren’t actually allowed on the lakes unless you lived there. A small part of the downtown area went through a revitalization in recent years, but most of it still had a ways to go. Overall it was a nice little town and some areas of it were high on our list.
However, Longmont checked most if not all of the boxes in what we were looking for in a place to live. It has many areas with the style of house that we were looking for (no 1990s / 2000s construction for us, sub-1985 please). Longmont is pretty walkable and has decent bike trails to get around town (and is continuing to work to improve this). Also, you can walk to just about any intersection, look West and see breathtaking mountain views! Despite being only 10 miles from the Rockies, Longmont is pretty flat. As a native Pittsburgher, I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to that!
Although home prices in Longmont ($418k) are slightly cheaper than in the Denver metro ($450k) and much cheaper than Boulder ($800k ????), they are much higher than here. In Pittsburgh proper the median home price is $179k and where we are in Gibsonia they are closer to $300k. While on the surface, this doesn’t really fit in well with our plans for financial independence, there are other non-financial reasons that need to come into play.
The next reason is a 1-2 punch of comfort and mental health: the climate. Longmont gets roughly 15” of rain annually, compared to Pittsburgh, which gets about 38” of rain. Not counting this summer (which was very dry for Pittsburgh), there were weeks where I had to avoid mowing parts of my lawn because it was so wet and swampy that my riding mower would sink. Planning out neighborhood walks was often a question of when the next break in the rain was going to be, and one needed to have an umbrella on hand at all times. Residents of Western Pennsylvania, even those who live nowhere near a river or creek are familiar with water getting into basements, just as a result of how rainy it gets here.
In contrast, every house listing for a rental or sale in Longmont makes mention of a sprinkler system for the lawn (to be honest I’m not sure how I feel about paying for extra water to grow grass). When we visited in June, there was a fairly heavy yet average storm that rolled through the one afternoon. At a meetup in town that evening, some folks that we met were talking about it like it was a hurricane.
Longmont averages 247 sunny days a year, which is a net increase of 87 over Pittsburgh’s average of 160 days. When our last daughter was born, I didn’t get to show her the sun until she was 5 days old. Like not “it was cloudy” or “oh it’s overcast” – just a blanket of soul-crushing grey for days on end.
I’m not a doctor, but I am fairly certain that season affective disorder (SAD) has become a big problem for our family in recent years. There is nothing like waking up after a good night’s sleep and looking outside and having all that energy and determination drain out of you instantly. I don’t expect to never have a rainy or grey day in Longmont, but the difference in climate is going to be a big positive change for us.
Lastly, have you ever had the feeling that you just need to do something, and if you don’t, it will nag you for the rest of your life? Like having an itch that you just can’t scratch, something just under the surface that you can’t put your finger on. That’s pretty much where I am at with this move.
Yes, we could wait until all of our kids are out of high school, but that’s fifteen years from now. We could even wait until our oldest graduates high school. Due to age differences, the younger kids wouldn’t be in high school yet – we aren’t trying to move kids while they are dealing with high school BS. But even that event is six years away, and things change fast. There will always be another reason to stick around, and we felt that if we didn’t take this opportunity to jump now, we likely wouldn’t.
I will admit that there are still nights that I wake up in the middle of the night, with a sinking feeling that we are making the wrong decision. That we are going to go to all of this trouble and then get out there and it’s all gonna go sideways. Then I wake up a little and calm down and remind myself that this isn’t about what we are leaving behind, it never was. It’s about what we are moving towards – the start of a new chapter in our lives. We aren’t dying, we aren’t going to disappear from the lives of our family and friends. If the COVID-19 situation has taught us anything, it’s that we can still stay close with people even though we are apart.
With my family here, Kat’s family a short drive away in VA, and all of our friends (new and old) here, this was a tough decision. One that we took months to ponder. Although many spreadsheets were created in service to planning this move, none of the big decisions were made by formula, but by feeling.