Why I Traded Beaches for Mountains

I moved to South Florida in 2001 on a total fluke. Coming off a divorce at the age of 24, I felt as if I needed to put as much space between myself and my former life in Montana (quite literally.) I packed what could fit into my little car and drove across the United States to start my new life in the Sunshine State. I planned on giving it one year to start over and enjoy the beach life for a bit before moving on to Chicago; a place I wanted to sow some roots.

And then I went scuba diving.

My one year plan turned into thirteen because I was addicted to diving. I took scuba lessons my first week after moving to Florida and never looked back. I tried out several hats with diving. I was your basic tourist on the reef looking at all the pretty coral and fish. Then I decided to try cave diving, something less than 1% of divers do and less than 1% of the 1% are female. It’s the top gun of diving that was extremely dangerous and thrilling. I think I loved it and was terrified of it at the same time. I got into wreck diving and explored nearly every artificial reef from West Palm to the Middle Keys. Eventually I found my way into spearfishing. One can only dive the same reefs over and over every weekend before you transition from tourist to participant. I was in heaven; I certainly never imagined leaving Florida.

And then I met my husband.

I was 22 when I married my first husband and divorced by 24. I was young and made a mistake. After going through a divorce, I couldn’t imagine legally binding myself to someone again. Marriage was something I never considered putting back on the table. I was a serial dater; always preferring to be in a relationship than single, but I never entertained going down the aisle again.

My husband was a long time friend and dive buddy; someone I put in the “friend zone” when we first met and he stayed there for a few years. Then the universe sent me several signs. Many people…good friends…family members…co-workers started commenting on how perfect we’d be as a couple. I had never moved someone out of the friend zone before, and frankly wasn’t sure it was possible. I asked a friend, who had made a similar, successful move, what the secret was. His advice was genius. “Drink the perfect amount of wine…not too little and definitely not too much. It will all be fine.” To this day that may be the best advice anyone has ever given me. I made the switch and we quickly fell head over heels in love. We were living the perfect salt life in South Florida…residing in a condo on the beach, diving every weekend, spending time with some of the best friends I’ve ever made, and never wearing anything but flip flops.

And then my husband met Colorado.

We spent a long weekend during the holiday season in Fort Collins, my family’s new home town, celebrating an early Christmas. As I stood in the boarding line at the Denver airport crying silently over saying goodbye to my family, he hugged me and said “I think we should move here.” Wait…what? I thought he was nuts. How can we leave the ocean? How can we leave our best friends. No!

And then I slept on the idea a bit. Colorado has a lot of pro’s and very few con’s. Yes, there’s snow, but most of the front range temperatures stay in the high 40’s-low 50’s during the winter. I could deal with that. More importantly, my parents are in the best years of their lives. They were fortunate enough to retire in their late 50’s and quickly began traveling the world. They are still young enough to do anything they want. They are not yet struggling with illness or all the little things that old age eventually springs on you. I had the opportunity to spend significant quality time with them. In the end, I decided that I had lived enough years away from my family, so I said “yes”.

And once again, I packed up my things and drove across the country.

We’ve been in Colorado for two years now. I have traveled to many corners of this state, but there are still several places yet to discover. I traded my scuba fins for hiking boots, and you will find me up in the mountains nearly every weekend year round. I threw myself into downhill skiing and snow shoeing. Last summer I started climbing 14ers (mountains higher than 14,000 feet), and now I have reached the summit of five of them.

Hiking is about as different from scuba diving as one can get, but they produce the same results. There’s a sense of peace you get while immersed in Mother Nature. There’s a thrill you experience when you’re about to spear a fish that is similar to the thrill of reaching the summit of a peak. There’s the realization just how small your space in the universe really is when you watch the sun rising before a dive or as you sit and stare at the magnificent views below you from atop a mountain. But, most importantly, it’s quality “me time”. My phone is off; I am unplugged. There is no email or Facebook to answer to. I am alone with my thoughts and am present in the moment.

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