Off the Grid or Out of Your Mind?

The big houses, the Humvees, the SUVs, all of that is just the same here and in a way, people are really conspicuous consumers here in the country just like in the city.“

Self Reliance: escaping Laguna Beach, building a cabin in the Durango wilderness.

An excerpt from Book Three in “The Knowledge Path Series” dedicated to helping you find the place of your dreams.

Christopher Sowers made me do it.

Or more accurately our conversation triggered a connection to a chapter I hadn’t even yet scheduled for my rewrite.

From his “How to Miss Out on $100 Million of Warren Buffett Money and Still Be Happy” I linked two things together.

David Petersen’s tale of fleeing Laguna Beach, California, years ago out of his fear of what it would become.

With recent news that Mr. Buffet is selling his beach front mansion for about $11 million.

Ready or not, here’s the chapter.

It’s about how Birds-of-a-Feather (BOF) can find each other in new quality-of-life neighborhoods and live authentic lives.

We zero in on the lower left-hand corner of the Colorado map.

Basecamp (Page 135)

If you read this far (in the book) you will notice only Pagosa Springs, Silverton and Telluride made the BOF bucket lists — not Durango.

So why Durango?

It is centrally located, even though it’s located in a different travel region than Pagosa Springs (South Central Colorado).

There’s that.

And, a little later you’ll discover a lifestyle surprise.

But, enough for now.

Durango, Silverton and Telluride fall within the same Southwestern Colorado travel region.

From Durango take US-550 north to Silverton for just under 50 miles or just over an hour’s drive depending upon weather and road conditions, or … take the narrow gauge train.


From Durango to Telluride take CO-145 north for just under 115 miles or just over a 2-hour drive — or follow 550 north from Silverton and cut back on Sherman St.

From Durango to Mesa Verde National Park take Highway 160 west 35 miles to absorb its spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo with its 600 cliff dwellings.

So, let’s pick Durango as our “Basecamp” and take day trips to explore all the remaining outposts.

But, first a seasonal precaution, similar to the one issued to travelers attempting to navigate the Tioga Pass short cut out of Yosemite valley on their way to the Eastern Sierra portion of the Sierra Nevada travel region.

The heavy snows force road closures.

You travel on Highway 160 from Pagosa Springs to Durango for about 60 miles which will take over an hour based on traffic, weather and road conditions.

Locals will tell you the trip north on 160 from Pagosa Springs to Alamosa, CO can be treacherous during all seasons as you drive through Wolf Creek Pass.


The road receives heavy snowfall and is often closed during the winter.

Many people die each year when driving through the steep grades and tight switchbacks.

So,be especially careful when driving during the winter.

And, if that’s not enough.

While Highway 160 west to Durango, CO is safe except through the pass, be extremely wary of wildlife at night and icy roads in winter.

There is no cellular service from Aspen Springs to Bayfield (30 mi).

And, some long-time, self-sufficient Durango residents living on the wild edge really, really like it that way.

Thomas Curwen writing in the Los Angeles Times at the end of spring in 2005, “Lives set to a wilder rhythm” profiled authors who stepped outside the gridlock of modern life and set up in the woods.

Curwen interviewed David Petersen who purchased an acre and a half of land now some thirty-three years ago 15 miles outside of Durango, Colo.

Petersen had built a cabin, and at the article’s publication date, had lived there all this time with his wife.

The cabin served as a home base for his lifestyle business.

Then 59 years old, a 55+ Baby Boomer, he worked for the conservation organization Trout Unlimited, and wrote “On the Wild Edge: In Search of a Natural Life”

In it he explored the satisfactions and dilemmas posed by wilderness and self-sufficiency in the world as it was a decade ago.

Like the Whitefish, Montana, ex-Californians — Dudley from Woodland Hills and Arthur from Chino — Petersen became eager to leave the Golden State.

Having spent the ’70s when he was in his ’20s, the age of today’s Millennials, living along the California coast in Laguna Beach.

Back then, what could have been better?

Laguna Canyon Road attracted kids like him in their 20s looking for self-expression following the human potential movement.

Struggling artists, musicians and surfers hung out on the beach next to the Hotel Laguna. But, then …

“Real estate prices tripled, it got too crowded, too noisy.”

Here, then is a snapshot first taken in the summer of 2008, three years after Curwen’s article, describing Laguna Beach’s more permanent physical profile.

Location At-A-Glance

Region: Western United States, Pacific Coast Region

State: California

Travel Region: Southern California, South Coast Region

County: Orange

Town: Laguna Beach

Real Estate Phase: Late Maturity

Population Density: Town and Country, Suburbs

Three decades earlier, Petersen feared the worst for Laguna Beach.

And, for his like-minded, long-time resident friends it did.

In 2008, roughly 30 years after he settled in Durango’s wilderness, Laguna became the home of artists, Wireless Resorters and Wealthy Influentials.

Profile At-A-Glance (Summer 2008)

Zip Code: 92651

Life Stages: Singles, Couples, Midlife, Baby Boomers

Ages: 30–44, 45+, 55+

Community Neighbors:

Wealthy Influentials

Affluently Elite — WIAE

01M1S1, Upper Crust, 45+, Couples, Affluent Empty-Nests, Elite Suburbs, WIAE Affluently Elite, Wealthy Influentials (Half Moon Bay, CA)

03Y1S1, Movers & Shakers,  30-44, Couples, Midlife Success, Elite Suburbs, WIAE Affluently Elite, Wealthy Influentials (Scottsdale, AZ)

Exurb Society — WIES

08Y1S2, Executive Suites , 30-44,  Couples, Midlife Success, Affluentials, WIES Exurb Society, Wealthy Influentials (Mission Viejo, CA)

14M2S2, New Empty Nests, 55+, Couples, Conservative Classics, Affluentials, WIES Exurb Society, Wealthy Influentials (Indian Wells, CA)

Community Neighbors:

Wireless Resorters

Maturing Resorts — WRMR

11Y1T1, God’s Country, 30-44, Couples, Midlife Success, Landed Gentry, WRMR Maturing Resorts, Wireless Resorters (Boulder, CO)

Laguna Beach had become home to the top 14 status and income generating households.

(Buffett is asking $11 million for the 6-bedroom, 7-bath home, which boasts a separated family room with a large sundeck facing the ocean- Zillow)

And like Rafael and his restaurant family in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, anticipating the inevitable — the impending development — signaled it was time for Petersen to move on.

Relocating from the Southern California coast to the mountains was more of an escape — a running away, of a trying to flee something instead of trying to go toward something

He didn’t target Durango, Colorado, though.

I didn’t have any goal in mind other than just living in a clean, wild place and trying to construct a life that would allow me as much personal freedom and control over my time as possible.

He could have chosen any of the other authentic towns on the California BOF bucket list like in:

Southern California — Idyllwild, 92549; Julian, 92036 and Lake Arrowhead, 92352 in the local mountains; or

Sierra Nevada — Oakhurst, 93644; North Fork, 93643; Bishop, 93514; Squaw Valley, 96146; Tahoe City, 96145; and Truckee, 96161; or

Central Coast — Big Sur, 93920 along Pacific Coast Highway in Monterey County near the Esalen Institute or the Camaldoli Hermitage.

But, once in Durango, he built the cabin using post-and-beam construction because it was easy.

“You sink upright posts 3 feet in the ground as the main supports, then string the wall beams horizontally along those.

One day I realized I’d cut a post a couple feet too short, but rather than pull it out and do all that work, I just went along the line and cut all the other posts off to match the short one.”

That short-cut came back to haunt him.

“I must have had sunstroke that day because losing that 2 feet of roof along the high edge reduced what was to have been a loft room to a crawl-space attic and reduced the slope of the roof sufficiently that it doesn’t slide snow well.

It is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.”

While some lifestyle business people pursue the magic of living off the grid, Petersen had something else in mind.

My primary aspiration has been self-reliance more than self-sufficiency. I find self-sufficiency an impossible dream in this modern world. You can’t get away from it entirely, and frankly, there’s a lot of good stuff there that you don’t want to get away from.

He set up “Basecamp” before it became easy to open a Knowledge ATM, so he told Curwen there’s a lot of bartering that goes on here as well.

I will trade labor and meat and things like that to people who have orchards and people who do have great gardens.

The important thing, no matter where you live, is for a self-directed life, a recognition that by choosing simplicity in whatever ways you can, you reduce your reliance on materialism.

When he chose the title “On the Wild Edge,” what he wanted to get across was we’ve become slaves to our possessions.

It’s not a dropping out.

It’s positioning yourself where you can pick and choose.

He was careful not to paint a picture that this is the best way to live. Especially encouraging even more people to come booming out of the cities.

As you’re talking about your new high-end development, that’s the same thing that’s happened to this place since the mid-’90s.

And there’s just not enough room for everybody to live in the country.

It seems the majority of people that have moved here in the last few years are bringing their city attitudes with them.

The big houses, the Humvees, the SUVs, all of that is just the same here and in a way, people are really conspicuous consumers here in the country just like in the city.

Only Moab is a bigger mountain-bike capital than Durango, he said.

I pass them — the mountain bikers, that is — on the trail up in the forest, and it’s not just that you shouldn’t be here because I don’t like it, it’s because you’re going so fast, you’re not seeing anything, you’re not hearing anything, you’re not smelling anything.

Just get off that thing and relax, walk, go sit under a tree somewhere for a while.

You get so much more out of it.


22. Selectively evaluate the best quality-of-life communities to live in and weigh the tradeoffs of risk and rewards for accruing real estate appreciation along a progression of rural and small towns that meet what your pocket books can afford.

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