In case you blinked we jumped ship on everything we knew, loved, and hated in Houston to plant new roots in Fort Collins, Colorado, for few other reasons than proximity to mountains, bike friendly infrastructure, and the promise of nearby grandparents upon their eventual retirements.
We landed at our sight-unseen duplex at 11 pm on Sunday, April 30th. The following is a recount of the frantic, exhilarating, and harrowing 48 hours leading up to this much-anticipated arrival.
T-minus 48 hours: 11 pm, Friday April 28th
Aaron, saxophone in hand, is playing his heart out to a packed room. The 8-piece horn group he is playing with, Free Radicals, is celebrating their 20th Anniversary. He has spent the better part of the past week either actively preparing for or fretting about the event, which was plagued by an unexpected and last-minute venue change due to a double booking with a trap/EDM music festival.
In this moment, the stress of packing is gone, the stress of the show is gone, the band is locked in and giving the kind of show that only hundreds of hours of practice and performances and 20 years of band history will yield.
Allie, Freia in hand, is attempting to soothe this colic-ridden baby on a mattress on the floor of the room that she was born in. Boxes are everywhere.
T-minus 45 hours: 2 am, Saturday April 29th
Aaron has just returned home, riding on the wave of euphoria and nostalgia that comes with playing a final show with a group of musicians that have had a profound impact on his musical career. The U-Haul sits in the driveway, far from being fully packed. His sister Hannah and her friend Andy join him as he looks in despair at the swaths of empty space in the U-Haul, the piles of oddly shaped boxes, the unpacked furniture. They tell him that time will not stop moving and that he needs to leave tomorrow. Hannah has helped immensely up to this point but is physically exhausted. As she slumbers on the couch on the front porch, Aaron and Andy begin to construct the three-dimensional puzzle that is the entirety of Aaron and Allie’s belongings.
The packing is beautiful and creative and relentless.
T-minus 42 hours: 5 am, Saturday April 29th
The packing is not complete, but the packers are finished. They retire.
T-minus 40 hours: 7 am, Saturday April 29th
Allie wakes up and surveys the progress. There is some amount of packing left to do, but it is impossible to determine whether it will take several more hours or several more days. Planned departure time is noon. Necessary departure time is sunset. Allie nurses the baby and waits.
T-minus 38 hours: 9 am, Saturday April 29th
Allie awakens Aaron. Desperation has set in. Allie’s parents have arrived with coffee and gumption yet are skeptical that they will be able to leave before sunset. Allie is able to pass baby Freia off to a receptive grandmother. All hands are on deck.
Two of the three cats have been drugged and are stumbling around the bedroom. The third knows something is deeply wrong. The scene is hilarious.
T-minus 35 hours: 12 pm, Saturday April 29th
The scheduled departure time has come. The possibility of departure has not. It seems days, maybe weeks, potentially years away. Two friends who came by to bid the movers farewell were wrangled into several crucial hours of deconstructing beds and moving mattresses. Multiple pieces of furniture have already been marked to be abandoned. The U-Haul, packed as it is to nearly absolute capacity, is just not large enough. It can be reorganized, Aaron asserts. The puzzle has been put together well but not perfectly. Perfection is achievable.
Morale is tumultuous.
T-minus 33 hours: 2 pm, Saturday April 29th
The cats are yowling in their cages. Water and cat food has been scattered everywhere. Allie is trying to get in one last feeding session before hitting the road. Freia is yowling in her arms. Someone else is probably yowling too, tensions are high.
Near perfection has been achieved in the U-Haul. Still, an abandoned couch sits on the front porch. Lonely potted plants hide in empty rooms. Forgotten tupperware is strewn about. These discarded memories would later prove to be a point of contention between our movers and their former landlord, but there is no time to think of that.
The movers depart. Papa Aaron, Mama Allie, Baby Freia, Grandma Beth, Younger Cat Chisos, Older Cat Kilgore, Stressball Cat Tiny Tot. A 15-foot U-Haul and a Subaru Forester full of a life to be realized leave Houston for good.
T-minus 30 hours: 5 pm, Saturday April 29th
The travelers stop at Buc-cees, the place that promises clean restrooms, weirdly vulgar beaver puns, and Texas-sized kitsch. It delivers on these promises.
While part of the group wanders through the rows upon rows of flavored beaver nuggets and hunting apparel, Allie sits in the car, urging milk into a hungry Freia. The sight of a bottle appalls Freia, so this would be the first of many roadside nursing sessions.
T-minus 25 hours: 10 pm, Saturday April 29th
Wichita Falls, Texas. The temperature has fallen over 40 degrees since the travelers departed Houston. It is decidedly chilly.
A hotel is found that allows pets. When Aaron walks to the counter to register, the nice women at the front desk ask him whether he is here for the local dog show with his three pets. He tells them instead has three stressed cats. They are the opposite of dogs, and the opposite of show. The nice women can’t help but laugh as he sprint-ferries them, one large meowing cage at a time, through the lobby and up to the second floor. Their cages are unceremoniously stacked in the unclean bathroom, and they are released to eat cheap cat food and use the small litter boxes that have been clustered into the bathtub. They are confused and distressed but they are not angry, so they eat and litter with gusto.
The humans, meanwhile, drink cheap red wine out of styrofoam cups and dine on stale peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Allie’s milk satchels have not been pumped and have only been minimally dined on, and she is developing serious fears of boobsplosion. She spends the evening draining her liquid gold into hotel water cups.
Freia, ever the traveler, does cute things for the camera and falls asleep with no fuss. Conversation is cut short by exhaustion.
T-minus 20 hours: 3 am, Sunday April 30th
Baby Freia awakens Mama Allie for their routine middle-of-the-night feeding. As they sit, awake and alone, Allie listens helplessly to the throes of passion resonating through the walls from several rooms down. These unknown lovemakers are surprisingly, almost comically vocal. They are the background singers of the cheap hotel.
T-minus 16 hours: 7 am, Sunday April 30th
The slumberers stir. Allie feeds Freia. Beth compiles belongings. Aaron ventures to the continental breakfast. The cats meow from the bathroom. The television in the lobby is running a feature warning its viewers of a storm system causing tornadoes in Louisiana, peppered with stories that also remind them of the dangers and inherent social decay associated with living in urban centers.
The television is very alarmist in tone. Any real merit contained in its stories is obscured by this narrative tactic. An old couple eats breakfast close to the television, fully accepting and commenting on each insight as it is presented.
The coffee is weak and the breakfast is bland, but they provide the base levels of caffeine and nutrients that our travelers require. Well rested, they feel distinctly more prepared for this day than the previous. After several frantic trips out to the cars hauling suitcases, baby, and wire cages full of stressed cats through a generally amused hotel lobby, the caravan is ready for departure.
T-minus 13 hours: 10 am, Sunday April 30th
The travelers stop at their first gas station of the day. It is very cold and very windy.
Several gallons into filling their gas tanks, the pumps display a garbled error message and gas flow shuts off. Confused, Aaron and Beth wander inside to investigate. They are told by a friendly but concerned attendant that the wind blew an electric sign off of the roof of the gas station and she had to briefly turn off all power in order to shut off power to the exposed electrical wires. They buy snacks and more coffee and return to their pumps to finish the job.
T-minus 12 hours: 11 am, Sunday April 30th
The travelers are driving into the strongest headwind any of them can remember.
In the U-Haul, Aaron is driving with the accelerator floored yet barely keeping freeway speed. He can feel the wind buffeting the boxy machine, and is gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles, reacting to the gusts like a captain at the helm of a ship sailing into a typhoon. He had been listening to music on his phone but the tinny sound has been completely drowned out by the sharp whistle of air slamming into every surface of the vehicle. There is nothing to do but focus on staying on the road. Tiny Tot has turned over the litter box in his cage and is hiding under it, meowing.
In the Subaru, Beth and Allie are driving in tense silence. Baby Freia is asleep, and both are fearful that even thinking above a whisper will wake her and invoke her ear-piercing screams. All hopes of intriguing podcasts are dashed by this somber reality.
A later review of National Weather Service data would show that this area was experiencing sustained gale-force winds of up to 45 mph and gusts of nearly 60 mph.
T-minus 11 hours: 12 pm, Sunday April 30th
The travelers are sitting at a taqueria in a supermarket. They are cold and starving and waiting while the man in front of them orders no less than fifteen uniquely filled burritos and varying sizes of every type of side the taqueria carries. He is jovial, laughing and cracking jokes. He flirts with the women behind the counter. He flirts with the women behind them in line. He comments on baby Freia, pinching her cheek.
Every attendant has stopped what they were doing and are frantically filling this unexpectedly large order. The line has stopped progressing. Time has stopped. He has commanded the full attention of the taqueria.
Outside it has started sleeting. The combination of wind and precipitation has made even walking in a straight line across the parking lot difficult, even dangerous. The travelers reflect on this danger as they wait for what seems like an eternity in the line. They reflect on the fact that they are somehow still in Texas, mere miles away from a town called Panhandle. They cannot conceptualize the amount of distance they still have to cover, but they reflect on it anyway.
They wonder whether there will be taquerias in Colorado. They wonder what their life there will look like. They wonder who the jovial man is buying all of this food for. They wonder if time will ever start again.
It does start again, and they sit down to eat their hearty, spicy lunch. Allie, sitting at a long bench in the middle of the brightly light taqueria, fearing judgement but unable to avoid it, pops out a milky nipple for a grateful baby. The patrons either pretend not to notice or give her an approving nod for shamelessly fulfilling that sacred duty. Before long, the travelers are bundled back up and ready to brave the treacherous walk across the parking lot.
T-minus 8 hours: 3 pm, Sunday April 30th
The travelers are in New Mexico. While it had been sleeting it Texas, it had been snowing here. At the last gas station, everyone was talking about the road closures up ahead but no one was able to suggest a definitive alternate route. After hearing snippets of group speculation while wandering to and from the restrooms, the travelers decided to rely on Google for navigation.
Two miles down the road, it became apparent that Google had not received the appropriate updates when they ran into a police barricade blocking off an undriveable highway. The friendly officer told them to turn around and follow a specific road until they ran into another specific road, and that specific road would take them to Denver. Those were all the specifics they received.
T-minus 7 hours: 4 pm, Sunday April 30th
There has been no cell phone reception for nearly 30 minutes now. The last time they had cell phone reception, Google was repeatedly telling them to turn around and drive past the police barricade, onto the undriveable road. Google clearly did not approve of their current navigation decisions.
The travelers are on a two-lane highway that is a solid line of cars forward and back as far as the eye can see. Every so often, an impatient sports car cuts across the double yellow line to pass four or five larger cars, then darts back in to avoid ramming headlong into oncoming traffic.
On the horizon, the mountains loom, snow-covered and ominous. In every other direction are seemingly endless plains. It is impossible to tell distance. The travelers begin to doubt the friendly police officer’s directions. Perhaps they will keep driving on these rolling plains for hours, the hulking mountains never coming closer, until they run out of gas or resolve. Are they in Colorado yet? Are they still in New Mexico? Has Texas somehow entered their trip once more?
No one knows.
T-minus 6 hours: 5 pm, Sunday April 30th
What was foretold has come to pass, and the travelers are screaming northward on I-25.
As they cross the state line into Colorado, the travelers yearn for the romance of a journey where they could pull over and take a cheesy touristy picture in front of the “Welcome to Colorado!” sign. This is not that kind of journey. There is no time to be tourists. There is no time for romance.
Up ahead is the last rest stop for 50 miles. The caravan prepares to stop.
T-minus 5 hours: 6 pm, Sunday April 30th
Allie is nursing the baby. Beth and Aaron are running frantically around the rest stop.
Nearly 30 minutes ago, he absently put his phone down in the restroom and now it is nowhere to be found. He has seen the same heavily tattooed man wandering in and out of the rest room and finally confronts him. The man offers his condolences but denies any wrongdoing. Aaron wonders whether a phone is worth a fistfight, and also wonders whether the man is armed. There is no attendant at this rest stop, and they are on the precipice of 50 miles without civilization. It is not the place or the circumstance to get in a fight with a stranger over a phone. The phone is only money, he tells himself.
While he ponders his options, the man disappears. Defeated, the travelers pack back into their respective cars and continue northwards.
T-minus 4 hours: 7 pm, Sunday April 30th
Aaron has spent the last hour on the phone with his various financial institutions, the local police, and his dad, who has logged in remotely to his Google account to relay information. Google location services identified the phone over ten miles north of the U-Haul. An unauthorized IP address based in Chicago has attempted to sign into his Google account. The phone has clearly been stolen by someone who knew what they were doing. The local police begrudgingly took down these details but clearly did not care. There may be more phones being stolen from this same rest stop as you read this.
Fortunately, before any other damage can be done, Aaron and his dad are able to change all relevant passwords, disable his SIM card, and remotely cause his phone to do a factory reset. Aaron temporarily suspends online access on all of his financial accounts.
It seems he is only out the $300 for the phone. Things could be worse. He is also in the process of moving to a new city with a new child without a job. Things could be better.
T-minus 1 hour: 10 pm, Sunday April 10th
Fatigue has set in.
Freia is screaming. It is the first time in the past two days that she has been upset for any substantial duration. All things considered, one hour of red wailing infant out of 48 potentials is not too shabby. Allie is proud of her. In this moment, however, she wishes she would fall asleep until they arrive.
Aaron is anxiously trying to keep the U-Haul within the dotted lines. They are terribly marked.
The Arrival: 11 pm, Sunday April 10th
The travelers have made it to the destination. It is empty and cold but it will be a good place to create a life.
The locked box unlocks. The lights turn on. The toilets flush. All will be well.
They drag the mattresses out of the U-Haul and lay them in the living room. The blankets are far back in the mess, covering pieces of furniture. They drag the cats out of their cages and let them run amok.
The cats have been trapped for too long and it seems that something deep in their feline brains has broken. They cease to be three discrete pets and are instead one whirling, bounding streak of fur. They leap over the travelers. They try to climb the plaster walls. They claw frantically at the mattresses, sliding themselves along the perimeter like jittery furry race cars. They do not let up until morning.
Despite this, and despite the blanketless cold, the travelers slumber. They are fully clothed for warmth and fully prepared for the next phase of the journey.
Freia slumbers best of all.
The Journey through the eyes of Allie’s spotty instagram story.