sailing

Author Jennifer Julia, with her husband Travis, children Hudson and Vivian, and dog Sadie. (Courtesy photo)

Editor’s note: Local Jennifer Julia and her family chose a life on the water in 2015, only to recently return home to Telluride. Below is why they decided to take the leap.

If you would have asked me five years ago, “Is it possible to make a decision that will change your life forever, without really giving it much thought or consideration? Is it possible to just say ‘yes’ to something as a knee-jerk reaction, an impulse? And is it possible to stick to that decision, after it’s all sunken in?” I would have internally rolled my eyes. I would have politely explained, “Some people might be that spontaneous, but me? Never. You see, I am a Type-A, highly organized, think-things-through kind of person. I make pro and con lists … on index cards! You can set your watch to the steady beat of my predictable heart.” 

But that was the old me. Here’s what the new me knows: Everything you think you know about yourself can change in an instant.    

June 14, 2015, was the day that everything changed. It had been a better-than-average weekend, but not the sort of weekend that you’d think would forever alter the course of your life. My husband Travis and I had set out on a sunny Friday afternoon with our two children, mountain bikes, sweet rescue dog Sadie and a car full of haphazardly packed camping gear. Our kids (Hudson, then 8, and Vivian, then 4) were wildly pumped that we were headed to Fruita, the high-desert mountain biking wonderland. For the next two action-packed days, we would pedal trails with fun names like Chutes and Ladders, cook dinners on a fire, and sleep in our tent with Sadie splayed out at our feet like a giant, furry starfish. It was one of our favorite weekend adventures.

The outdoors is always where our family feels most connected and content. Relaxing by the campfire that weekend, listening to Hud and Viv’s spooky stories and happy chatter, everything felt right with the world. Our kids were kind, curious and healthy. I was married to my childhood sweetheart, the adorable goofball who had captured my heart at age 9. Said goofball was enjoying a satisfying and productive career period; his property management company was thriving. As for me, my job as artistic director of the Sheridan Arts Foundation Young People’s Theater, a program I had lovingly founded, was so fulfilling and brought me so much joy that I couldn’t picture myself ever having any other occupation. We loved our home in Telluride, we loved the culture of our ski town, we loved our friends and our day-to-day-existence. Some might say we were leading a charmed life, and we were absolutely grateful for it. 

So it came as a total surprise to me that, on our drive back from Fruita late Sunday afternoon, I suddenly burst into a fit of ugly tears. Trav looked confused. This wasn’t like me.

“What’s wrong?”

I didn’t know what was wrong. An inexplicable feeling of sadness and longing had gripped me for no reason. I took a gurgling, snotty gulp of air and tried to explain.

“I guess it’s just that ... that I don’t want to go back.” I wrestled with my emotions, which I was trying to understand. “I don’t … don’t want to go back to our regular routine. I just want to be outside, all the time, with you and the kids. Not just on weekends or vacations, but every day, all day. Does that make sense?”

My words shocked me, because moments before saying them, I had no idea that I felt that way. What came next shocked me even more. Travis got a crazed look on his face and started talking really loudly, as he tends to do when he gets excited. He banged his fist on the steering wheel and yelled, “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go sailing!”

The idea of sailing was not foreign to me. For the past few spring breaks, we had chartered sailboats in the Bahamas. Traveling as a family on a boat was a dream of ours, albeit a distant one. We had talked about going sailing someday. We’d go when the kids were older. We’d go when our savings accounts were better padded. We’d go after we had remodeled the kitchen. Someday. My weird emotional outburst had opened up a door to unconsidered possibility and bold, gutsy thinking. The atmosphere was charged with a new energy, something I’d never felt before.

Something big was happening.

Travis asked me, quite seriously, “Can you commit, right here and right now, that we’ll buy a boat, leave Telluride and go sailing as a family, one year from today? In one year, Jen. What do you think?”

I didn’t hesitate. I said, “Yes.”

We spent the rest of the drive and the rest of the day and night crunching numbers, creating budgets, brainstorming to-do lists and sketching out crude timelines. We talked to Hud and Viv about our plan, asked them how they felt about it, and got an enthusiastic thumbs-up from both of them. Trav and I decided that we’d keep our plan a secret for the time being, and we only told our families. From the get-go, it all felt solid; we had committed, we would do this. It felt right. 

Some might say that this out-of-the-blue decision was a sign that Travis and I were having some sort of mid-life crisis. By the way, I hate that expression! It reminds me of people that go on talk shows and discuss the affairs they’re having, plus it implies that at age 43, your life is half over. I don’t think the word “crisis” had anything to do with our impulsivity. I believe that deep down, in our innermost hearts, Travis and I knew that our lives had become too damn neat and tidy. Perhaps our inner-selves knew what our outer-selves did not — that we were due for a challenge. Maybe for that reason, our innocuous little weekend away became an earth-shattering event that rocketed us into an entirely new way of thinking, living and prioritizing. 

We didn’t end up leaving a year from that day. We left one year, one month, three weeks and one day from that day. We bought a Mason 43 sailboat, a monohull, and named her Moxie. We sailed over 5,000 nautical miles, visited 24 countries and island nations, and had two seriously terrifying mishaps at sea that still give me nightmares. Through squalls and storms and healthy doses of serendipity, our sailing and traveling spanned more than three years and ended last month, when we returned to our home in Telluride. We have so many stories to tell. The most salient of all of them is this: A change of heart and mind can be instantaneous, and this is not something to be afraid of. It can be the very best thing that ever happened to you.

Oh, and we never remodeled the kitchen.