Moving Across the Country on a Rash Decision

This is Sam's second feature on the blog, and I'm happy to share another
story from him. In this piece he recounts how and why he chose to move across the
country and what he found when he got out West, after a slight hiccup on the
drive out. We love hearing people's stories here on Rock Meets Soil.
What have you got to share?

Find and follow Sam's photography, writing and adventures on his blog
Mountain Man Photos and his social handles
@sam_j_conley and @mountain_man_photos.


The last year and a half of my life have been made on very rash decisions. So far everything has worked out too well for me to learn anything else besides everything works out in the end and there is no need to stress. At the end of January something happened in my life that made me realize that where I was living was very boring, and there was no longer a need for me to be there. That night I applied to photography and guide jobs in locations all over the western US, as I've always wanted to go there. DATA, a friend from the Appalachian Trail, made it sound like a place I would fit right into and love; he was correct, but I'll get into that later.

the job options

I got a few callbacks from ski mountains in Vail, Colorado. Sounded like a few great options until I realized that the pay was bad and I didn't get a season pass to the mountain. Why would I move to Colorado and not snowboard? I sure as hell couldn't afford a pass with the pay they offered. As I was about to give up and go back to accepting that I would be living my boring day-to-day life catering and being a waiter in the greater Boston area, I got a call while at work. "Hey, this is Jess with Aspen..." blah blah blah. Holy shit, this sounds amazing. A job on top of a mountain to take photos and snowboard? Free season pass? I told her I was extremely interested. A few days later she called back for an interview that went extremely well, and I told her I could drive out to Colorado in four days.

the trip to colorado

So there I was about to move across the country in my 2006 Subaru Legacy GT wagon. Car's all packed up and ready to go. In a span of 10 or 12 days I went from wanting to move across the country, to having my car packed and on the road. All was going well; the trip was going to take 31 hours, about three days and 2,400 miles. No problem! Or so I thought. 

The second day when I was in Ohio I got hit with the worst storm I have ever seen and ending up hydroplaning into the median going about 45mph. I hit the front left of my car, spinning around hitting the back right, then hitting the front left once more before coming to a stop facing the wrong direction on the the highway. Thankfully I was perfectly okay besides a little shaken and scared that I would have to go back to to Massachusetts. One guy pulled over behind me to make sure I was okay; he let me get into his pickup while we waited for the highway patrol and AAA to tow my car.

While waiting I was able to call my mom and tell her what happened. You can imagine how a mom would react to you just totaling your car in the rain 700 miles away from home in the middle of nowhere Ohio. She drove out in ten hours to meet me at a motel room and make a plan to get me to Aspen. Without her I can't say this would have been possible. No matter how much she wanted me home, she let me follow what I wanted no matter how insane.

So three days in a motel room in Norwalk, Ohio and we found a truck, a 2000 Chevy Silverado with a camper shell. My plan was to get this and then sell it in Colorado to buy another Subaru as I fell in love with them, but this car grew on me. Two more days of what was the most anxiety provoking driving after signing the title I hit the Colorado border in what seemed to take forever, but boy did that feel amazing. I remember pulling over next to the "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" sign and just grinning ear to ear.

That night I drove through some of the scariest mountain roads I had ever touched, maybe my nerves were getting the best of me from my recent car crash. I pulled into and slept in a gas station parking lot in Silverthorne, Colorado in the back of the truck in -4 degrees Fahrenheit at close to 9,000 feet above sea level. I went from just outside of Boston close to sea level where there's nothing around besides a few small hills, to the most beautiful mountain range I have ever seen in my life. The next morning I woke up in the ice-covered cab of my Silverado. I guess over night when its -4 degrees out condensation will stick to everything inside and freeze into ice which took close to an hour to thaw. While I waited I checked Craigslist for apartments and lucked out big time. I found a room for rent very cheap in Carbondale, Colorado. The moment I saw Mount Sopris I knew I would love it there. I showed up after calling them and got the room right there and then.

After the weekend I went to Aspen for the first time to meet my new boss and see where I was going to to work. I was stationed on top of Buttermilk Mountain, one of Aspens four ski mountains. The view was incredible.

why it felt right

First off I was surrounded by mountains bigger than I have ever seen 360 degrees around. Ever since I started hiking, the mountains have been where I felt most at home and this was perfect for that. Although I never got to summit a 14er or any large mountain due to my fear of avalanches and lack of knowledge of hiking in the backcountry, I didn't mind. Standing at the top of Buttermilk with my camera all day just looking out into the glacier-carved valley below was enough. 

Then after a week I went to the rock gym there as I needed to sign up for a gym and climbing is a huge addiction of mine. I would go nearly every day of the week with maybe only one or two days off. I started to meet people and they started to invite me to climb outdoors. There was so much climbing around this area. Three hours to the west is Moab, Utah which has mind blowing hiking, rock climbing, biking and just all around scenery. Thirty minutes South is Aspen which I've already covered. Three hours east is Boulder with the Flat Irons and a very big history of rock climbing. And then within an hour in any direction there are countless numbers of rock climbing crags.

Then what made me really fall in love was just the all around lifestyle of the area. On the East Coast when people learned I had spent five months hiking the Appalachian Trail, I got a lot of, "Wow, that's so cool. You're crazy." And stuff like that. Out West, people weren't calling me crazy. 

It was a lifestyle they also lived in some sort of way; whether it was living out of vans year round or just in the Summer for road trips to go rock climbing. It may not be the same but when you break it down to having only the necessities, it really is. A van is no different than a backpack and a tent besides getting you from point A to B a whole lot quicker.

People were more active and a whole lot nicer. I heard maybe three car horns the whole time I was there, and within being back in Boston for 15 minutes I heard at least ten. From what I've gathered, people in cities seem to be a whole lot less happy and less willing to try new adventures. My new goal is to get a van to live out of as that's the lifestyle I connected with and it just feels right. Currently my truck will do. As of the time of this writing, my mom and I have spent countless hours measuring and cutting too many pieces of wood to outfit the back of my truck into a livable space.

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