A Return to the Wyoming Plains

Where the hell did that last two years go? Oh yeah… another baby to kick things off. I met my second daughter in October 2016. Somewhere along the line in that year, with our family about to grow to four, my wife and I started thinking it was time to say goodbye to Alaska. We’d both been there for going on nine years at that point, and we were already facing the realization that traveling to visit our family “down south” was going to quickly become more complicated (and more expensive) with baby #1. With the exciting news that baby #2 on the way, we made the decision that it was time to move somewhere south of Canada. But where to go?

My wife’s family is still deeply rooted in eastern Iowa and Wisconsin, though her sister long ago established her family down in New Mexico. My parents were still in Laramie, Wyoming, with the rest of my extended family clustered around southern Nevada and California. The main goal was go get closer to family, but we also hoped to find a location where the company I work for has an office so that I could transfer internally and not be starting over completely with my career. My wife was freelancing, having recently left her agency job, so she was a lot more mobile in that regard. My wife and I are also small-town people at heart, so we wanted something smaller than Anchorage. After a lot of what ifs and fanciful discussions, the choice became clear. We were heading for my hometown. Back to Wyoming.

Somewhere on the Wyoming plains.

I never thought I’d end up back in Laramie, but life is funny like that. Not that I held anything against Laramie – I loved growing up there – but I just figured after Alaska (if there was an after Alaska – a couple years ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever leave) I’d end up somewhere else. But Laramie fit the bill best, all things considered. It’s a day’s drive (albeit a long day) from Iowa, New Mexico, and Nevada, and just a couple hours from Denver and an international airport. Of course, having my parents in town is a fantastic perk – we get to see them regularly and have free, enthusiastic babysitters ten minutes way. With its mix of mountains and prairie, high desert and farmlands, my wife thinks of a Wyoming as an appropriate mix between Alaska and Iowa. And since I already know the area, we were well prepared to start taking advantage of the vast opportunities for fishing, hunting, camping and exploring.

Getting in one last float on the mighty Kenai. And giving my brother a crash course in rowing a drift boat.

We put our house on the market in early 2017, waiting to get through the first few months of settling into a routine with our second daughter. I took some FMLA time to assist with the kiddos, and also spruce up the house (I feel like I repainted every flat surface in that place) prior to selling. The goal was to be back in Wyoming by May to get out of Alaska before another summer could put its hooks in us (and so we’d qualify as residents for Wyoming big game hunting tags in 2018). Packing everything you own to move 3,000+ miles is no small feat, and it was awfully overwhelming, but somehow, we got it done. Fly tying materials alone filled the remaining space in the plywood crate I built to ship down my mule deer shoulder mount. By April we’d shipped out via freight all but the bare essentials (nearly 6,000 pounds on nine pallets – how did we accumulate that much stuff?!?), wondering if we’d ever see it again. (And we nearly didn’t – but that’s another long story I’m not excited to relieve.) The house sold, closing in May right on schedule.

My wife flew up to Alaska when she moved there in 2007, and had always promised herself that if and when she left, she was going to drive. So when it was time to leave, my wife hit the road in our trusty 2001 Tundra for the long drive back, her parents having flown up to make the trip with her; they took their time with no real schedule to keep and enjoyed experiencing the Alaska Highway for the first time. My wife took our youngest, while I took our oldest (plus the dog and cat) and made the quick trip via Alaska Airlines. I’d made the drive before when moving to Alaska, and keeping a two-year old toddler content in a car seat for a week straight was not a challenge I was ready to face.

Somewhere on the Alaska Highway.

And just like that we were in Wyoming. 2017 flew by in a blur as we got established in our new life… buying a house, getting kids into daycare, settling in to work, and setting up bank accounts, insurance, and all that fun stuff. We moved into our new house in July, staying with my parents until then. Being able to live rent-free at my parents’ place while house hunting was a tremendous convenience, but after two months that house was feeling awfully small (with four adults, two kids, three dogs, and three cats coexisting).

Leaving Alaska, and all our friends and family there, was hard. I still have plenty of Alaska adventures on my bucket list, but looking back I can honestly tell myself that I took advantage of as many opportunities as I could while I was there. And having lived there for nearly a decade, planning a trip back now seems easy. On top of that, my brother still lives there, having moved up in 2013. He recently married a wonderful Anchorage girl, so I imagine them being there for the foreseeable future – that alone makes for a good reason to visit often. Then there’s always the fishing. My wife is already making plans for a June trip to put some salmon back in the freezer.

An impromptu bush plane flight with family and great friends was a terrific way to say goodbye to Alaska.

Selling our first drift boat was also hard, but the logistics of moving it with us didn’t outweigh our sentimentality. So we compromised and sold it to my brother and his wife, keeping it in the family, with the condition that we get full rights to its use when visiting. They’ve already put that beautiful wooden boat to good use, so it couldn’t have worked out any better.

A proud new drift boat owner.

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