Summer in the West: Big Sky, Montana

We picked Big Sky, MT somewhat at random. We were also looking in Bozeman and other city type places within an hour of Yellowstone to stay. Settling on Big Sky for the summer was the single best decision we could have made. If you haven’t been, Big Sky is on the South Western edge of Montana near the border of both Idaho and Wyoming. The town itself is actually split up into three different segments: Canyon, Village, and Mountain. We didn’t know this at the time of booking, but we booked a place in Mountain. Because of that random chance we were in the shadow of Lone Peak and walking distance to the ski resort attached to it almost all summer. You can see some of it here in the background of the totally not instagrammed photo of Giselle the Travel Corgi!

Lone Peak

The town itself is pretty small and isn’t exceptionally busy in the summer. That meant we had the trails on and around Lone Peak all to ourselves. The ski resort has what seems like hundreds of miles of running and cycling trails encompassing two mountains, all of which are open all summer. It took me a few weeks to feel comfortable running on the trails. Needing to carry bear spray while running was a new experience. Once I got out there and saw cyclists and runners training for The Rut, an ultra marathon on Lone Peak, I felt a little better. That gave me the confidence to run on some of the best singletrack trails I have ever been on.

Running on Andesite Mountain looking over to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness


Nearby, you have hikes like Beehive Basin, one of the most popular hikes in the area. Popular means something entirely different in Big Sky, though. Where you would normally be walking single file with people all weekend, the remoteness of the hike and the limited parking make it a fairly lightly populated hike by White Mountain or Rocky Mountain standards.

Looking back on Beehive Basin from the base of the Spanish Peaks

Just outside of Big Sky is the Gallatin National Forest. The hiking in this area is easy from an East Coasters perspective. Lots of switchbacks with dirt packed trails at a nice easy incline. The trails in GNF were just as underused as the trails in Big Sky. It made for spectacular hiking in midsummer with the crowds of shoulder season back home. The best hike in the immediate area was Storm Castle, a nice 5 mile out and back with some spectacular views of the surrounding area. It also sounds cool to say: “I hiked Storm Castle today”

Lookout on Storm Castle


In both the village and mountain parts of town there were events during the week like free live music and food trucks in the village park every Thursday. We also had a few higher brow events, notably the Big Sky Vine and Dine. This was an outdoor festival of all things fancy wine and cheese. We don’t always indulge, but when we do, it’s a fancy wine and food fest. It helped that business casual dogs were allowed.

Business casual dog who is always ready to party

One of the best features of the town though, was it’s proximity to Yellowstone. In Mountain Village, we were 20 minutes from the border of Yellowstone and about an hour from the West Gate. We spent a few weeks staying in the park because of this. We hopped in and out of the park regularly finding trails that regular visitors to Yellowstone would and did overlook. If it’s on your list, and it should be, book it sooner rather than later. Eventually people are going to start figuring out Big Sky is a great place to be and it’s going to get crowded. Until then, enjoy the great sparsely populated trails and impeccable weather. Did I mention it was no hotter than 80 F the whole time we were there? Yeah…I miss it already.

Little dog and a big mountain

Montana (and also Wyoming)

It’s been quite some time since I’ve written anything here. In the time I’ve been gone, we’ve been wandering around the country a lot. As noted in the previous post, selling your home and moving into a small condo gives you tons of options. A big option is simply not needing to be home all the time. In the winter, I had minor but annoying surgery so big backpacking adventures were off the table for a while.

We snowbirded all the way down to Orlando for a few weeks and then halfbacked to Asheville, NC to ride out the rest of winter in Pisgah National Forest. I like Florida just fine, and Asheville…well the town wasn’t my jam, but man is Pisgah awesome. After that we went back to Estes Park, CO where we may end up after all our travels are over, it’s just that nice. The thing is, none of those things made me feel like I needed to dust off the old site.* Until Montana (and also Wyoming) .

View from the top of Storm Castle in Gallatin Nat’l Forest

Our summer destination was all the way up in Big Sky, MT where we would be for July and August. The drive North through Wyoming was one of the single most amazing drives I have ever been on. There were amazing rolling hills and mountain scenery that dropped our jaws every damn mile. Just when we thought things can’t possibly be any better, we saw the Tetons for the first time.

The Teton Range from Jackson Lake

This was the first indication that my preconcieved notions about Wyoming and Montana were way off and about to be blown away in sepctacular fashion.

As anyone who has driven this way can tell you, Grand Teton is just the appetizer. The main course is Yellowstone. I’m going to talk more about Yellowstone soon, so I won’t get into much here. Our first experience with Yellowstone was driving from the South Entrance abutting Grand Teton through the Rockefeller Memorial Parkway to the West Entrance. On the way we saw waterfalls, canyons, and Bison herds.

The first, but not last Bison herd we saw at Yellowstone.

Leaving Yellowstone was hard. We had a dog in tow and National Parks really don’t want you bringing your dog with you. There was just so much to do that we had to drive by. Drive by we did though, up through the Gallatin National Forest (more on this later as well) which finally brought us to Big Sky, Montana. If this was what we got out of just the drive up…holy crap.

There’s so much of the last few months that I’m going to try to write about, but if the experience we had this summer was just the drive from Colorado to Montana, it would have been an amazing summer. We made it to Big Sky the first week of July, and one of the best summers ever got started in earnest. Stay tuned for details, I swear I will actually post for at least a while.

Lone Peak from Big Sky Moutain Village, our summer home for 2019

*To be fair to Colorado, we were mostly there to do some really hard and physical work. We’re headed back to close out the summer hiking in RMNP, so I’ll have some stuff to talk about then.

Minimal Monday

In the spirit of the minimalist part of this project, I wanted to start writing about what we’re doing to simplify our lives. However, to tell that story on the day to day small things, we need to talk about the big thing; the house. 

The house before we added all the fruit trees

Making conscious decisions to have a smaller lifestyle started with getting rid of our 2200 square foot house on 2 acres in Southern NH. It was by both our reckoning a great house. Hell, we loved it. It was big enough for all of us to have our own floor (wife, dog, and myself). It had space for two offices, a home theater, 2 whole porches, a whole room for plants, a massive outdoor garden, a whole room for stuff we didn’t need, a whole other room specifically to store more things that we rarely used, a whole section of that room just for brewing supplies, a room that contained nothing but a giant wood stove, a garage to store more stuff we barely used, and a shed that contained stuff we stored primarily as a condo complex for various rodentia. 

House back
Handbuilt garden beds made in my wife massive woodshop

There were whole spring, summer, and fall days spent at this house hanging out on one of the porches, migrating to the back yard, and then down to the theater. I absolutely loved lazing around in the backyard with the wife and the dog. It was a great pattern, but it wasn’t used all that frequently. We mostly spent time in the theater and in our vacation condo in the mountains. 

What we really spent time on in the house was working out the problem of just how stressed out a human could be. It needed: a new roof, all new windows, a new driveway, new siding, landscaping (we tried ourselves and failed), persistent attention to the lawn, constant vigilance against wasps living in our friggin walls, and the never-ending battle against the mouse army that threatened to take over our domicile for nefarious rodent activities, one assumes. All of this in a single year could cost $40-50k easily. That’s not even counting the $8000 tax bill and the ridiculous cost of heating/cooling 3 floors when we barely used one.

So here’s the calculation that made me rethink the concept of living in a house I loved: We needed, let’s call it $40k in updates so our house wouldn’t turn into the slanty shanty and fall apart. If we were to take all of the $40k we invested into the house and toss it into the stock market, by retirement time(27 more long years for me), we would have a not insignificant sum of $250k(roughly 7 percent returns compounded annually)! If you make the median salary in NH that pile of repairs turns into 3.5 years of your working life! Tack on the $8000/year for the taxes and we’re adding in an additional $645k! So let me get this straight… we have a house that we love, but use less than 10% of at any given time. It will cost us nearly $900,000 until I retire, or 12 whole years of working life but only if nothing ever needed repairs again and our taxes didn’t go up.

As I was making this calculation for the first time, we moved into winter. Did I mention that the driveway was around .1 miles long total and on a hill? No? Well if you ever wanted to know what it’s like to attempt to snow blow a foot and a half of snow uphill in a blizzard I can tell you: it’s awful. Pretty much what you expect. Once the driveway was clear(1 hour minimum) we had to shovel the roof on the porch, which made it so we could roof rake the roof. Then we would have to shovel the roof raked stuff off the porch roof. Then we would have to snowblow the snow from the roof that was raked onto the driveway. Then we would have to clear off the bulkhead and gas tanks so we wouldn’t die horribly like rats in a well appointed theater that was sinking into the…something…I lost the metaphor but you get the picture.

Not the last storm of this season

So much of our time in the winter was spent dedicated to watching the weather, preparing for the weather, drinking fairly heavily, and then dealing with the weather. One year we spent a thanksgiving week without power curled up around the fire pits in the house with headlamps on. It was a great place to live, but at times it really felt like it hated us.

Playing D&D by headlamp during the great outage

Even with all of the issues there, we still loved it. The trails around the house were great. I ran my first ultra on a trail at the end of our street! All seasons except winter were pretty great. At some point though, we figured out that keeping the house was a purely emotional decision. Owning a house will never be a good financial decision, and we finally realized this. So we started unloading stuff at an alarming rate. We filled two dumpsters (maybe three?) sold, gave away, or threw out a metric ton of things we barely remember and simply do not miss and then sold the house.

We have since moved into our 1100 square foot condo in the heart of the Western White Mountains and realized we still have tons more stuff than we actually need.  Instead of pounding all our savings into the stock market we have decided to also travel. It turns out without a house you have spare cash for both. That’s what spurred this site on: Living in the mountains and minimal living. When we realized we missed none of the things we gave up (except the house, we do miss it occasionally), we realized that there’s probably still more to part with. The plan is to keep removing unnecessary items from the condo and our lives to see how we can further uncomplicate our already fairly uncomplicated lives. 

View from the condo at night

Lincoln Woods Chapter 1 – The Lincoln Woods Trail

We spend a ton of time in Lincoln Woods. It’s 5 minutes from the house, there are plenty of places the dog likes to walk, and it can be flat and easy. It’s also insanely picturesque in very accessible spots. We’re here so much, I take it for granted. 

After we returned from the more than a month long “great Colorado/Dallas/Kentucky sojourn” we ended up with a duct taped bumper, thousands of new miles on the car, and a burning desire to return to Colorado immediately. I figured it was time to explore the most basic of things that attracted us to NH before really deciding if leaving the North East was something I wanted to do. So, I ran 7.5 miles in a place I see every day. It turns out, it’s pretty special up here too.

The Lincoln Woods trail starts traversing the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River on what the wife and I call Selfie Bridge. It’s a gorgeous little spot right off the parking lot, so bus loads of tourists take selfies on the bridge all day, every day, hence the name. I run, walk, or hike past this spot daily and somehow lost my appreciation for it. We have pictures from when I first discovered the Whites taking pictures off the bridge and selfies with the wife. At some point I started scoffing at people doing the same. Fuckin tourists. I mean, they don’t really appreciate this place right? I’m not a tourist…I moved here a whole year ago!

The View from Selfie Bridge

Once you get over Selfie Bridge (did you take a selfie?) it’s a straight shot into the wilderness. That’s actually pretty literal. The Lincoln Woods trail is a former railroad bed for the East Branch and Lincoln Railroad and like most places in the forest, was a logging camp in the late 1800’s. That means that you have a very flat, very straight trail that has, at most, a gentle uphill. It’s perfect for a good long run in the woods.

Along the trail there are several spots to stop and look around (and take more photos). The trail follows the East Branch for a good three miles over hundreds of old railroad ties before you cross over the river again and into the Pemigewasset Wilderness. From there, the Bonds, Galehead, Garfield, and the Franconia ridge all make up the Pemi Loop and are open to you, so long as you have the feet to traverse it. Hell, if you wanted to, you could connect with the AT and walk to Georgia, all from this parking lot 5 minutes from town.

Railroad ties from the East Branch and Lincoln RR


Figuring I would save the 30+ miles of the Pemi Loop for another day, I went to Franconia Falls. Just before you cross the bridge into the wilderness you can hang a quick left for a short single track run/hike out to a small waterfall. Because of the ludicrous amount of rainfall the past week, the falls were humming along. The best part, I got out early enough to be the only person enjoying the sights. 

This is where Lincoln Woods really shines, and it does so just for the people who live here. Because of where we live, we can get up early on any weekday and walk, run, or hike, to this:

Franconia Falls

As I said before, we spend an ungodly amount of time this trail. I ran more than I expected on this day, but it refilled my appreciation for this trail in particular. I’ve walked it at the end of a nasty and brutally mind numbing hike at the end of a 13 hour out and back 18 mile slog of Owls Head. I’ve hiked it to to the gentle uphill and amazing views of Mt Flume. But I haven’t really looked at it the same way since we came up here in 2009.

It’s close, and it can be full, but it’s amazing just the same. There’s solitude to be found in the Lincoln Woods trails leading to most of the major attractions, if you know where and most importantly when to look. To be fair, even at it’s most full, it’s less crowded than most Rocky Mountain National Park Trails. 

The comparison between RMNP and the WMNF are really something I need to do. Am I idealizing RMNP because it’s a new place? We saw tons of great things out on the trails in Colorado, but they were packed to the gills with other people most of the time. Were they truly better than what is right out the door? I’m still not sure. I had a new experience in an old (for me) place today and it shows how much this area still has to offer me. Still, somewhere in the back of my head there’s a voice that says: but you only climbed one 14er… 

Up next…Mt Washington.


Who we are

My wife and I are aspiring Dirtbags, or maybe even Desk Monkey Dirtbags. We want to spend most of our time hiking in the mountains, exploring new places, petting our dog, feeding our dog, and in general paying attention to the dog, but you know…outdoors. We’re from the Live Free or Die state, and we live in the White Mountain National Forest which makes day to day hiking very easy. We’re both AMC 4000 footer club members as of this year. We are however, not discriminating in the outdoor experience and will hike any mountain or any trail!

What we’re doing on the internet

Mostly this is so we can remember the process. We fell into the same trap most people do: buy/rent tiny condo/apartment when you’re young, fill it with stuff, make more money than before so you can buy/rent bigger house that fits more stuff, get more stuff, make slightly more so you can buy more stuff, get even bigger house, and so on and so on. George Carlin it turns out was spot on, it became a place for our stuff. 

We decided to break that cycle last year and get rid of the house. That kicked off a massive pairing down of things as we moved to a much smaller space. 6 months later we realized that we missed almost none of the stuff, and in fact may be happier as a result of a decluttered life.

We’re documenting the process of downsizing so we can look back fondly at the piles of stuff we used to have and gaze upon the money spent on and space taken up by said things while slowly working less, needing less stuff, and having more experiences.

We’re also using this as a bit of a travelogue. As we get older I expect to have a proper old person memory. That means yelling all my family members names in succession before arriving at the right one, but also it means not necessarily remembering a particular hike, or the feeling associated with a place we were at any given time. Writing it down will help us remember the feels associated with time, which will hopefully help us examine how said feels change over time.

What you can expect

Sporadic updates…at best. My plan is to take the things in our lives and take a hard look at them; do we need them, do they add value, should they be removed? Those I expect will almost always be reviews of weird stuff we own. I want to think critically about the process of removing more “stuff” from our lives. These reviews will be my meditation on removing something from our lives.

The other and likely more frequent use of this site will be thoughts on our travels and the outdoors. Writing about it will help us process the experience. When you’re neck deep in Type 2 or 3 fun you don’t always have the same memories as you might days and weeks after the experience.