Darrell Berkheimer: Travelers tell remote working plans
In these days of increasing desire to live and work remotely, accentuated by the global virus pandemic, I have a few stories and ideas to share.
Mary and I returned to Montana this year to visit friends. The trip was postponed for two years – first because of her knee replacement and then because of the pandemic.
One of the friends we definitely wanted to see, perhaps for the last time, is returning to the Gettysburg area of Pennsylvania. She spent the past 29 years in her idea of paradise: the 55-acre Little Blackfoot River Ranch, about 30 miles from Helena, Montana’s capital. It is along a stretch of dirt road next to the Helena National Forest.
Now 83 and turning 84 in September, she realizes that she can no longer maintain the ranchette satisfactorily, even with several annual maintenance visits by her children and friends every summer and fall.
She found her paradise 30 years ago, after selling a small RV park and riding stable next to Gettysburg Battlefield. She has many stories to tell about her experiences then and in Montana, and I encouraged her to write memoirs after she settled back in Pennsylvania.
She is also an artist and has sold numerous oil paintings from the small Avon Café, nine miles west of Elliston. The food and cakes there attract many locals, as well as others driving across the MacDonald Pass from Helena.
A judge on vacation bought one of her paintings and returned on a second trip to buy another.
We spent two nights nearby at the small Last Chance Motel in the village of Elliston off Route 12 west of Helena. There I met a guy named Rob who buys a ranchette near our friend. He said the sellers are a couple who are also in their 80s.
Rob spent most of the past 20 years working for a plumbing company in Bozeman, home of Montana State University. He writes up quotes for the company’s major projects.
His drive to the office takes at least two and a half hours. But Rob said the pandemic revealed he only needs to go to the office about two days a week.
He will spend most of his time in his outdoor paradise, he said. He added that his son and daughter, now married, will visit regularly.
And for others who enjoy outdoor activities and nature, who are now looking for small towns or villages from which to work remotely, this trip has added a few Rocky Mountains suggestions to my list.
At the top of my old list was the small town of Hamilton, of about 5,000 inhabitants, in the Bitterroot Valley, an hour south of Missoula, home of the University of Montana.
But real estate prices in that area have jumped a whopping 45% in the past year, perhaps in part because of the close-by shooting of the Yellowstone television series. We visited with friends 17 miles south of there in the town of Darby.
Mary’s former physical therapist, Craig Balser, moved from Nevada County to Hamilton a few years ago. He and his wife, both physical therapists, now have clients in that area.
From there, I wanted to visit one of the few corners of the 48 states that I hadn’t seen yet. It includes the northern panhandle of Idaho and northeastern Washington.
That’s where I added two more suggestions for cities that would provide some of the best outdoor living for remote workers: Thompson Falls, Montana, and Sandpoint, Idaho. Both are quite scenic with the availability of many water activities.
Thompson Falls borders large flat water stretches of the Clark Fork River. Sandpoint, plus the smaller nearby communities of Ponderay and Kootenai, offer the best water activities from the northwest corner of massive Lake Pend Oreille.
On an afternoon cruise on the lake, I met a couple who were planning to move to that area from a suburb of Portland, Oregon. They plan to make the switch after their high school kids graduate. He said he expects to work remotely.
From there we visit the small towns in Washington, Newport, Colville, Republic, Okanogan, Twisp and Leavenworth. Maybe I have another story to tell about those areas.
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a regular contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen Western travel and photo essays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.