A dude-turned-dad reflects upon his unexpected urban existence in the Emerald City and finds a silver lining around the crowd.

These days I lead two lives. there’s the one in my head that still backpacks and bikes to far-off places, skis four days a week and only uses the latest technical equipment and clothing. Then there’s the real one, the one that just got glasses to keep its eyes from going buggy while staring at a laptop 40 to 50 hours a week.

That’s what living and working in a city like Seattle can do to you. Though my heart and body are firmly planted at my desk, not far from the Space Needle, my mind constantly wonders if the hiking trails are snow-free on Mount Rainier yet, where the freezing level at Baker is, and how sunny it is at Hood River. You’d think being within sight of mountains and saltwater would soothe the psyche of an outdoor-loving city dweller. Yet on most days, especially when the sun comes out, it can be pure agony knowing the bounties of nature are near — yet so far away.

When I gave up a flourishing freelance career a few years ago to go back to full-time work, I knew the transition would be tough. Those midweek trips to Alpental ski area for pow turns while the rest of Seattle was creating spreadsheets? Buh-bye. I had it good, and I knew it. But when the right job opportunity came along, I said “yes.” And although I don’t regret my decision, the trade-offs have been tough.

Back in my twenties, I moved to a small town in the Rockies and worked for pennies — just enough to pay rent and eat decently — in exchange for biking, hiking and skiing as much as possible. The ski-bum lifestyle was great, but living near the poverty line hurt. It was part of the deal, of course. Yet, while some hold to the ski-bum ethic of shunning materialism at all costs, I’d have taken a higher paying job if I was qualified or if one was available.

I eventually moved away from the mountains and returned to the Emerald City for good. Through it all, I held onto the alpine ideals and images that shaped my life from a young age. My experiences make me question the real meaning of being a dedicated skier or surfer or climber: Is it just about where you live or how many days you spend doing those things, or is it a state of mind? Or am I just trying to make myself feel better for trading ski days for “security”?

Here in Cascadia, we have the intoxicating allure of big mountains and big economies. And while not exactly utopian, our urban centers provide channels to navigate the corporate and natural worlds, should one feel compelled to do both.

And so I’m learning to accept my new weekend-warrior status. Yep, I’m now competing with you for the last weekend parking spot at Whistler or Alki Beach. I hate trying to cram into the same space with the masses, but it’s better than not doing it at all. This new post-Friday adventure lifestyle fits well with family activities anyway, since my two young kids aren’t able to skip school and ski midweek either.

My day job has tons going for it. The office feels like Mad Men set inside Dwell magazine. Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market and the green, foamy swell of Puget Sound are practically next door. Every day I get to work with incredibly smart and creative people. And the work itself — managing the creation of websites for big companies, including a certain local software Godzilla — is both
exciting and challenging.

So here’s my advice. If you’re considering going off the grid to do what you love, do it. Living in a small community is something that will stay with you forever. And when you’re ready to spread your wings a little bit, simply pick the right city. It won’t be perfect, but you can make it work. Just know that on certain days, when the mountains and saltwater sparkle and beckon, you might go just a little bit crazy.

Story by Kris Kaiyala. Illustration by Ryan Schmies