Where next?

I have three favorite places in the world.

The first is Flathead Lake, Montana. It’s an enormous lake outside Kalispell, with Glacier National Park just to the east. On our epic family trip in September 2001, we stopped by Flathead Lake to look around and enjoy a sunset. Zaque was only weeks old at the time, but Alex and Kyra enjoyed running around on a few docks. Here’s a picture I took with my ancient Sony digital camera:

For a long time, I felt like Flathead Lake– and, by extension, Glacier– was the most beautiful place in the world. Then I went backpacking with Thom and Katie in the Enchantments, which are a tiny part of North Cascades National Park. I’d been there with Thom a couple of times before, but on this particular trip (their wedding), for some reason I was captivated by its true beauty. Although it was October, the weather was absolutely perfect. The larch trees were turning colors, the towering grey granite was inspiring, and the lakes and streams were crisp and cold. It was amazing. Enchanting, I guess, heh.

This was the view from our campsite:

For the next year or so, I kept thinking about making another trip out there; it wouldn’t be difficult to talk Thom into it, as it’s one of his favorite places too. But I worried that the weather wouldn’t be as nice, or the trees wouldn’t be changing, or there would be too many bugs, or whatever, and it would ruin my memory of that breathtaking place.

Then I went to Hawai’i. It left everywhere else I’d ever been in the dust. Again, I wonder if my timing was lucky and the weather was perfect just then, but I suspect the weather in Hawai’i is nearly always perfect. Although I enjoyed the entire trip, it was Maui that really captivated me. The ocean and surf were incredible, the climate was a stunning mix of humid and arid, and the landscape was unbelievable: rain forest, desert, lava formations, waterfalls beyond count, an extinct volcano.

The waves on the north shore were awesome.

The Road to Hana, well-traveled as it is, was certainly the highlight of our trip, and probably one of the highlights of my life. I loved the crazy curves (white knuckles and all) and stopping over and over to hike into the rain forest to another waterfall. I can’t wait to return next summer with the kids.

All this brings me to the point of this post.

As I contemplate my retirement, I often find myself thinking about where I’d like to live. We’ve been in Longmont for sixteen years now, and it’s a fine place, but I can’t help but feel it’s time to move on. Colorado is fantastic, and in a way I’d hate to leave, but there are so many other places we could go. I’ve been hinting to Laralee for years that perhaps we should hop around the country, renting places for a year apiece before moving on to another state. She’s a bit of a homebody, so she’s definitely not thrilled about the prospect, although she’s been warming to the idea, so maybe it’ll happen.

They say everyone has a “dream house”, and I suppose it’s true to some extent. For me, it’s not so much about the house as it is the location. Proof: we’ve lived in our current house for sixteen years but still haven’t painted many of the walls. There aren’t curtains on the windows, and our yard is essentially a huge plot of plain old grass. Neither Laralee nor I are much for decorating– we just enjoy “home” and don’t care too much what’s on the walls. So when I think of a dream house, I think more about what’s around it.

Just for fun, I peek at Zillow now and then to see what sort of houses we might find. To be clear, I’m not looking for rentals– I’m looking for a place for several years at least. And to be even more clear, my searches are quite narrow in focus: I look at Maui and Flathead Lake. (There is, of course, no housing up in the Enchantments, or I’d look there too.)

If I had to choose a dream house, it would be this incredible place in north Kihei, which is the southwest shore of Maui:

It sits on a big plot of land, a few hundred feet from the ocean, looking west. Like many houses I’ve seen in Hawai’i, it’s very open and has more windows than walls. I guess when you have views like those on Maui, you want to drink them in.

So I love this house, but it comes with a hefty six-million-dollar price tag. That led me to look at a few other (less expensive!) places in Kihei, but unfortunately it’s a prime location in Maui and therefore the “affordable” places tend to be (1) not on the beach, and (2) more like oversized shacks. Heading northeast, I found a magnificent place on the north shore, just outside Hana:

It sits atop a cliff overlooking a rocky shore, and even has a guest house. And it’s much more affordable: only half the price of the Kihei house, hah! As I continued thinking about living in Maui, though, it occurred to me that it would be tricky to see our kids (and, eventually, grandkids) very often. And although Kihei is close to shopping and culture, Hana is pretty much a tiny town on the edge of civilization. Living out there would be beautiful, but everything we’d need would be an hour away along one of the craziest roads I’ve ever seen. As they say in real estate, it’s about location, location, location.

And that brings me to Flathead Lake, a much more practical place to retire. Last night as I was surfing Zillow, I found this majestic house:

It’s a good size, sits right above the lake, and has a nice boat dock… which means I may be able to convince Laralee we need a sailboat. And it’s even more affordable than Hana or Kihei. Our kids and grandkids and family and friends could all visit– it’s a bit of a drive to northern Montana, but certainly easier than a cross-Pacific airplane trip.

Laralee isn’t crazy about the prospect of winter in Montana, so I suggested we rent a place in Maui during the winter months. She didn’t shoot me down instantly, so I can hold out hope that plan might work.

Is all of this just fantasy? Maybe. But how cool would it be to retire and live in one of my favorite places in the whole world? I just need to remember my new mantra