Retirement continues to creep a little closer, and with it the decision about where to live. Flathead Lake, Montana has been at the top of my list for a few months, and I finally convinced Laralee to drive up there with me to look at some houses and get a feel for the area. Kyra tagged along, which was a lot of fun.

We wanted to go in the dead of winter, to see how things were in the worst part of the year, but our schedules didn’t allow us to head up there until mid-March. As it happens, this year saw some record snowfall during February, so everything was blanketed in snow. After two days of driving, we stopped for our first up-close view of Flathead Lake:

Yeah, it was frozen over… something that’s apparently pretty rare. Parts of the lake were thawed, but large areas were covered in ice. Regardless, the weather was actually quite pleasant: sunny, in the upper 40’s, with beautiful blue skies. We grabbed some lunch and then started looking at houses.

There’s something a little weird (and admittedly deceptive) about calling real-estate agents to set up showings of houses we don’t actually intend to buy. Then again, there’s something a little weird about driving literally a thousand miles to look at houses we don’t actually intend to buy. I called this a “fact-finding trip”, because our real goal was to see what sorts of places are available, and what the area is like.

Kyra enjoyed touring the houses.

At one point, we were driving along the west shore of the lake and I shouted, “Hey, stop! I know that barn!” I jumped out of the car to snap a picture.

Sure enough, when I looked through my photo archives I found my earlier shot of it. This was taken in September 2001.

I remember our trip to the Pacific Northwest back in 2001– it was probably the time when I decided the Flathead/Glacier area was one of the most beautiful places I’d been. And it still is.

I’d poked around Zillow for a few weeks, choosing about 20 houses I really liked. I handed my list to Laralee and Kyra, and they whittled it down to eight. As it turned out, we looked at ten, because two of the realtors wanted to show off some of their other listings. It was fun to go through houses whose main floors are larger than my entire house, or see kitchens the size of most of my downstairs.

Not surprisingly, many of them had fantastic views of the lake. We ended up touring one house way up in the wilderness (many miles from the lake, due to a mistake the realtor made when he listed it). It was on five acres of private forest land, without another house in sight and only the quiet sounds of the woods for company. The woman who owned it explained that she and her husband had custom-built the house fifteen years before, and she had literally hand-picked stones used in the chimney and kitchen, and carefully aligned the grain on the wooden drawers and cabinets. It was absolutely stunning.

One of the houses is literally known as “The Castle” by people who go boating past it.

As it turned out, the interior of The Castle looked more like an Italian ristorante. What would it be like to eat dinner in this little alcove?

Another house was so fancy we couldn’t figure out how the toilets flushed. We suspect it had something to do with the little knob on top.

That same one had a great room that looked like one of those fancy home magazines you’d find in the reception area of a real-estate agency.

Apparently people really live like this! Several had amazing views of the lake, which looked like a frozen wasteland. Still, we were walking around without coats because it was so nice. It only looked cold.

In any case, we thoroughly enjoyed our tours. Throughout the process, I was asking each of the agents about the area, the weather, the town, and all sorts of related things. Although it was helpful to see the houses, it was even more helpful to hear about what the Flathead Lake area is like. As we were driving home today, I apologized to Laralee… before, I’d been sort of considering moving to Montana, but after this visit I’m convinced it’ll be awesome.

Now I have to convince her. Oh, and at some point we need to actually buy a house…