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Kelton Wright Moved to a Cabin in the Mountains (and Now She Can't Stop Breaking Her Teeth)
Nomading isn't the only way to live an unconventional life.
In 2016, Brent and I decided to leave America and indefinitely travel the world as “digital nomads.”
Which is not entirely unlike how, in 2019, Kelton Wright walked away from a high-profile Los Angeles career to live in a log cabin 10,000 feet high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
Whereas she once worked on the global launch of Xbox One, she and her husband Ben now live with their two cats, surrounded by 13,000-peaks that are so prone to avalanches that five people died in them last winter.
And much like Brent and I chronicle our lives as nomads in this very newsletter, Kelton writes about her new high-altitude life in her own newsletter, Shangrilogs.
There, she writes about loneliness and trying to fit into a town of 180 people skeptical of outsiders; her fears of being left behind both professionally and personally; and simply dealing with the physical challenges that come with living somewhere where snow can completely bury your home.
I recently chatted with Kelton from her log cabin — yes, an actual log cabin. She doesn’t disclose exactly where she lives lest she earn the ire of her neighbors who are very protective of their privacy.
MICHAEL: For people who don't know your newsletter, how would you describe it?
KELTON: Shangrilogs is a whimsical, slow read about high altitude remote living.
MICHAEL: I have to say reading it doesn’t feel slow to me at all. Was living in a log cabin something you’d thought about doing for a long time?
KELTON: I’d always dreamed about a more nature-focused adventurous lifestyle. But I had a lot of hesitation about this area, because Google Maps told us the road into town was closed in winter, and that it was snowmobile-access-only. As much as I love all of the great outdoors, for a person like me, who is accident-prone, I didn’t like the idea of needing a snowmobile to get around in winter.
MICHAEL [laughing]: The medical care being for your broken teeth? [In May, Kelton wrote about breaking several teeth while mountain biking. Alas, this wasn’t even the first time she’d broken her teeth.]
KELTON: Yeah, it seemed a little dangerous. So that was my primary hesitation about this area, but it ended up being fictitious. You do need a high-clearance vehicle and probably four-wheel-drive, but it can be done without a snowmobile.
And so with that in mind I was like, okay, I think I can handle this, and then moving here, it turns out I love shoveling snow, and I love avalanches, and I love the mindset of having to be prepared for danger.
Well, for the most part.
KELTON: That was this winter. So, I opened the door and you can see there's like six feet of snow blocking the door, and there's just this one open bit at the top to peer out.
One of the things that affects this area pretty dramatically, since we're so high, is alpine wind. The winds in winter are vicious, and they do this sort of swirl effect around your house.
So one door is completely blocked, but another door will be completely windswept where you can see the bare dirt. So despite that picture, we had other exits. But our neighbor across the street has been here for some twenty years. She was telling us that she has photos of our house where you can no longer see the kitchen window, because the house is just buried up to the roof line with snow. What are you gonna do?
MICHAEL: I'm picturing The Shining with Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
KELTON: It's kind of a hoot. But I really do love all of that shoveling.
MICHAEL: I want to check back with you in ten years and see if it's still a hoot, or if you're like “Um, this isn't so hooty anymore.” Speaking of which, in a recent newsletter, you sort of challenged people about their fantasy of following in your footsteps. What prompted you to write that?
KELTON: A lot of people have expressed to me that they wish they could leave their life in the city and live in a cabin, or just a smaller life out in the middle of nowhere.
And I think that's a really great thing to want. But it has been romanticized to such a point that I felt like it was necessary to bring in some realities about the life. You do have to change your lifestyle to live in a number of these places.
MICHAEL: What were the most surprising changes you had to make?
KELTON: What I found most surprising was actually how few changes I had to make. We went from living in a cabin in Topanga, thirty minutes from the grocery store, spending most of our time riding bikes to doing exactly that somewhere else. All that changed was the type of bikes. That, I think, is what made it the right choice for us.
Though I will say, I have been taken aback by how quickly people here buy all the dairy. It is a race to the grocery when they restock Half n' Half and cream cheese.
MICHAEL: What are some of the other drawbacks to living in a log cabin up in the Rockies?
KELTON: I had a friend of a friend recently move to the same valley that I'm in and he stayed here only for about a month. One of his questions to me was “So do you and Ben just cook dinner and hang out every night?” And I was like, “Yeah, that's all we do.”
We make dinner together, and then we hang out in our house, and we walk the dog, and we go for night hikes and night skis, and we almost never go into town at night. And for that friend that lifestyle was not sustainable. He was so bored, he was losing his mind.
MICHAEL: Just like nomading, not everyone is cut out for it even if they fantasize about it.
KELTON: Exactly. He wanted the interest of the city and the restaurant scene and connections with people happening all the time. And that is a great life for some people, but it wasn't what we wanted.
MICHAEL: You are obviously a very physically brave person who mountain bikes and does avalanche rescue and climbs mountains. Is writing the newsletter a different kind of bravery? Is it hard for you to expose so much of yourself?
KELTON: It's very difficult to do in person, but I find that I desperately want to express those things about myself, and I love doing it through writing. It's such an incredible outlet for me to express myself in that way.
But yeah, if you talk to me at dinner, it's a different story.
MICHAEL: One of the things I love about your writing is that you are often laugh out loud funny. Is that something you strive for or is that just Kelton being Kelton?
KELTON: Acknowledging that you're funny is sort of like a person saying, "I know I'm very attractive." Of course most people know if they're funny or they're hot, but saying it out loud negates it — sometimes completely! So I'll just say there is no compliment I hold more dear than when someone says I am funny, because most of the time people do not think I'm funny. They think I'm weird.
MICHAEL: Well, I think you’re absolutely the best kind of weird. I also feel like your weird lifestyle is like our weird lifestyle, and both spring from a desire to live a non-conventional life. Does that resonate with you?
KELTON: Yes, absolutely. Moving here really felt like a huge adventure. But what I did not anticipate was the sort of the emotional adventure that would come with it. For instance, I was really worried about this move impacting my career.
MICHAEL: In what way?
KELTON: What I didn’t anticipate was that moving here would change how I wanted to grow in my career. Being here, took me out of that career growth mindset, where prior to this I've been like, “Okay, become director, then become VP, and then become CMO.” But as soon as I got here, I was like, well, I don't want that.
MICHAEL: What did you find you wanted instead?
KELTON: Living this lifestyle enabled me to realize I wanted enough money to pay my bills, but then the rest of my time to be dedicated to climbing mountains, and learning how to do wheelies on mountain bikes, and going rafting and backpacking trips. It just realigns my priorities by taking me out of the rat race.
MICHAEL: Except when the mountain biking leads to you breaking your teeth. You also wrote that as a kid, you filed your own teeth for a class picture!
KELTON: Yeah, that is a true story. I had already knocked my teeth out before. And so, I had caps on my teeth, and then I chipped one of them. I was like, well, I can't look like this, and I can't tell mom and dad, because they seem very upset every time we have to go to the dentist.
So I went to the garage and got an industrial file out of my dad's toolbox and just filed my teeth down.
MICHAEL: Where does your sense of adventurousness come from?
KELTON: I think it stems from an ache for expansion. This is going to sound dramatic, but I've always felt a little bound or caged by life as it's been presented to me — as if I'm in a room that's too crowded, and I'm just fed up with people touching me, and talking too loud, and breathing in my vicinity.
What a surprise I moved to the mountains, huh?
Physical challenges release me from that feeling. That can mean skinning up a mountain [or climbing a mountain on skis], or it can just mean shoveling the driveway repeatedly during a snowstorm. Those types of tasks or adventures take my brain from, "Is this it?! Is this all there is!?!?" to, "This is it, this is all I need."
MICHAEL: I love that sentiment. And I think that if we hadn’t become nomads, we might have wound up living somewhere remote like the Colorado Rockies.
KELTON: You’ll have to come visit us here some day and see what you think.
MICHAEL: It’s a deal! In the meantime, don’t break any more teeth.
KELTON [laughing]: My pleasure. And I’ll try not to.
Be sure to subscribe to Kelton’s newsletter. I promise you won’t regret it.
And for our paid subscribers, here is Kelton reading a selection from her newsletter: “So You Want to Live in a Cabin in the Mountains…”