Colorado Rocky Mountain High

August: I visited my friend Brian in Boulder. When I had first had the idea to visit, in February or so, I thought I would come to check out different neighborhoods in Denver, to see where we wanted to live. But by the time August came around, I knew I didn’t want to live in a city. I had just come from my Yestermorrow experience, very hype on my tiny house community center dream. Brian happened to be living with a couple who had built their own tinys in the past, and they were kind enough to tell me about the experience. I told them about my vision – buying land, building on it, creating Art for a New Society – and said, where do I go to do all this? They replied “Paonia,” and I said “Great! Where is that?”

Brian, bless him, was game for an impromptu 3-day road trip to this teeny mountain valley town. When we arrived we felt the vibe immediately: very creative, very positive, very synchronous. We parked in front of what turned out to be an artist residency in Terence McKenna’s old house, if that tells you anything. There’s a diner! And a movie theater! And a Thai food truck! We were convinced pretty quickly. We decided that day to move to Paonia in the fall. Elbow, bless them, was excited that I was excited, and not only willing but delighted to move to a small town in the mountains. 

I had heard that housing was difficult to come by here, so back in PA I was continually scouring the town Facebook group for potential rentals. The few that I did see all declared “no pets!” – prospects seemed grim. Then one day I saw a reply to a post someone else had made in search of housing. The reply-er had an off-grid tiny house on the Gunnison River, 30 minutes outside of town. It sounded perfect!

We talked, he said he’d be happy to have some cats to keep the mice away, and gave me the hard sell about the cabins being “very popular, lots of people have been coming by, I can’t hold one for you without a deposit…” We had rented an apartment sight unseen before, when we moved to Flagstaff, and it had worked out well then, so surely the Universe would provide for us again with this house?

Long story short: we paid him 2 months’ rent for a cabin that was just a frame at the time, with the promises of “it’ll be done in a couple weeks here, just a couple more weeks…” Every couple weeks it was going to take another couple weeks. There were warning signs but in our excitement we/I chose to ignore them.

September: After a couple months of searching and test driving busted up old trucks, I flew to Nashville to pick up a truck that Elbow’s dad had found for us in Indiana. If we were going to be rugged mountain adventurers, and I was going to be doing construction work, certainly we would need a pickup truck! I drove back to Philly (only running out of gas once, on I-81 in Virginia), took 3 days to build a shell I had designed over the bed of the truck, crammed lots of our possessions in the back, set the cats up in the cab, and took off for Colorado. (Elbow would follow me out a month later, after finishing up their work with the Census.) The first drive to Pittsburgh was harrowing – would this thing I had built from 2x4s and plywood, that I’d glued and screwed every inch of, make it down the highway without breaking apart or flying off, and causing certain death for the poor fools who were driving behind me? It did! It stayed securely fastened and in one piece all the way to Colorado, much to my relief and semi-amazement.

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