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An SF PR director finds a dream house in the redwoods and trades working in fashion for local government

Cati & Ryan in Arcata, CA

Growing up in a small agricultural community in California, Cati Gallardo couldn't wait to move to the big city. Born with a love of creative expression and fashion, Cati quickly climbed the ranks and worked her way towards her dream job - working in PR for clothing brands. She was living her dream life and never imagined leaving behind her beloved San Francisco.  

 

It wasn't until the birth of her daughter, Indigo, that she began to imagine a change of pace and scenery. Living in one of the most expensive cities in the world necessitated Cati return to work when her daughter was a few months old. This felt incredibly unnatural and heartbreaking to her. She longed to spend more time with her child during first few years of life. Cati's job as a corporate PR executive was all consuming and she worked around the clock. 

 

When Ryan's own mother died shortly after Indigo was born, it sent their world into a tailspin. Ryan and Cati felt more in need of prioritizing and valuing their precious time together as a family. Cati was not fully on board with leaving the city right away, but the cost of living necessitated that she wouldn't be able to spend time at home with her daughter.  Ryan on the other hand, was excited at the prospect of living closer to nature. After many years in the city, he had tired of the traffic and noise. All this, combined with the reality that they could never afford to buy a home in San Francisco, made them decide it was time to make a change. 

Weekend trips outside the city to explore the outdoors got the couple familiar with a few small communities in Northern California. They settled on Humboldt County as the place they wanted to move and began looking at real estate listings to see what was available in their price range. Cati and Ryan expected the move to take around a year, but they struck gold when finding their current home after only a couple weeks. It needed tons of renovations, but it was the beautiful Redwood hand-built home of their dreams.

"I like to play in the forest. I love our trees. I like to share our forest with the wild animals that live there like the bears, the moles in the ground, the deer, the raccoons and the forest kitty. I want to feed the deer but I’m not supposed to." - Indigo (Cati & Ryan's daughter)

When they first moved, Cati struggled with the isolation of their forested home as a stay-at-home mom, but she realized embracing their new life would require a shift in expectations. When Indigo began school, Cati looked for ways to integrate herself into the community. She settled on taking a part-time job in communications at their local city hall. 

As time has gone on, the family has become more acclimated to their life and home in Arcata. They've made their home their own, and are working their way down their never ending 'to do' list of projects. While Cati and Ryan have much different experiences of the tradeoffs present in small town versus city living, they've found a sense of peace, belonging, and fulfillment by choosing a life that prioritizes family, health, and the luxury of time together. 

 

Q & A

 

What motivated you to leave the San Francisco and move to Humboldt County?
Cati: I moved to San Francisco with the intent of staying there for the rest of my life. I spent 17 years there, and it will always be my favorite city in the world. I never would have considered leaving had I not become a mother. After our daughter was born, like most working moms, I went back to work when she was only a few months old. I was working a corporate job as a senior PR executive, which meant I was never really off the clock. I cried every morning on my way to work because I was going against my primal instincts to stay at home with my child. I was pretty miserable.

 

Then Ryan’s mother died unexpectedly and that made things even harder on us. Basically, our family was struggling to find happiness. We considered buying a cabin outside of the city to get away on weekends, but it was pretty clear that we needed something more. Ryan already despised living in San Francisco prior to us becoming parents and I was ready to quit my job, so he suggested that we leave the city to slow down and enjoy life more. At that point, I had to put the needs of our family before my own desire to live in the city. We decided to move to Humboldt because we both really love the beauty of this place, and we knew it would be an ideal location for our daughter to grow up. I went to college here for a bit before moving to the city so it was a familiar place that I always had love for.

 

Ryan: Living in the most expensive city in the United States and knowing we could never own the house we were living in was not how I wanted to spend my future. We had outgrown our place and there’s no way we could have afforded a bigger one. Trying to cram-in weekend warrior trips to Marin, Humboldt or the Sierras was not going to cut it. Cati was working too much, and I wanted to raise our daughter somewhere she could gain a true understanding and love of the magic that is in our world. The thought of her being a pre-teen riding BART or Muni alone in SF still makes me nauseous, and the idea of settling and moving to a suburb made me want to rip my hair out. Cati says I’m a forest critter. I’m one that needs to be connected to the earth, sea and sky. This place has all of that.


Did you consider a lot of other locations before moving here? What made you decide to settle in this particular community and area?
Cati: We really didn’t consider any other options after deciding to leave San Francisco. Leaving California was never an option for us, and neither was Southern California. Ryan is a real forest critter, and I’m happiest when I’m near the ocean, and you really get the best of both worlds here in Humboldt County - the redwoods and the coastlines are so damn beautiful. I knew I wanted to live close to Arcata because schools are great in the area, and that was a big priority for us as parents. Our plan was to take as much time as we needed to find the most ideal home for us somewhere in northern Humboldt. I honestly thought it would take us at least a year to find a house that we could agree on, but it ended up being only a month, maybe two, before we found this one. 

What initially was the hardest part about making the transition from city to rural? What challenges came later?

Cati: I wasn’t mentally prepared to leave the city as quickly as we did. I didn’t think we’d find a house so fast, and leaving our old life behind was really hard for me. Ryan spent six months gutting and renovating the house before we officially moved in, but we moved in a little too early as far as I’m concerned. Adjusting to living in a major remodel in the dead of winter, with no central heat or insulation, no hot water or a fully working kitchen was kind of a rude welcome. It was freezing and the rain was nuts that first winter which meant Indigo and I were stuck inside a lot while the work on our kitchen was being done. It was dusty, loud and damn cold. In retrospect, we should have waited to move until spring. 

After the initial shock of being here wore off, the most challenging thing about living here for me became the isolation. Being a stay-at-home parent is an incredibly solitary life as it is, but being stuck in the woods with no cell service when it’s pouring rain outside and WiFi is down can really make a person feel trapped. Cabin fever is real.

Ryan: Adjusting to life up here has been pretty easy for me, but remodeling this house has been a challenge for sure. Living in a remodel is rough at times, and it’s harder with a toddler. That adjustment has been harder on Cati I think. 

How have your professional lives changed since moving away from the city?
Cati: I didn’t think I’d ever go back to work outside of the house when we moved. After we were here for about 9 months, Indigo started preschool. We were worried about her being isolated and not having enough opportunities to play with other children. Eventually, after a few months of feeling a bit useless while she was at school, I realized that I needed something outside of the house to do with myself. I knew wanted to be more involved with our community in some capacity because giving back and helping others is really important to me. I ended up getting a job as the communications specialist for the City of Arcata. I never imagined myself working in local government, but I love it. I go to work part-time while Indigo is in school, and I really enjoy my days. Being able to use my professional experience to serve the community we live in doesn’t feel like work.

 

Ryan: I spent most of the last two years working exclusively on our house and got burnt out. It was time for me to take a break and get out, so I just started working as a Superintendent for a local commercial contractor. It’s basically what I was doing in SF without the stress of being in the city. 


How did you/do you overcome any feelings of uncertainty and fear when it comes to making decisions and taking risks?

Cati: I really just trust my intuition, and it hasn’t failed me yet. I think as humans, we all have our own set of challenges meant to help teach us more about ourselves. To really learn more about what we are capable of in this life, we have to be open to expanding our growth even if it scares us.

Ryan: I don’t really overcome feelings of uncertainty, but I feel ok knowing I’ve made decisions based on what my gut and heart have said. I try to do what I believe we can actually accomplish. We aren’t the kind of people who buy a piece of land and slowly build a house while sleeping in a trailer for years - that’s going too far for us. Do we know people that have gone that route? Yes, and I admire the hell out of them for it. There’s always worry or doubt, and things are always much more daunting than you’d expected. That’s life. Things always change as we go along and I try to be open to the changes. With a little luck, things work out for the best. John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans,” and I live knowing that life kind of just happens to us and I have to roll with it.

Where do your draw your creative inspiration from for your work?

Cati: It’s so cliché, but I’m more inspired by life in general after becoming a mother. Do you know the movie Harold & Maude? Watch it if you haven’t seen it. Anyway, I think was more like Harold when I was much younger, but now I’ve moved on to my Maude phase. I love to watch things grow and evolve. It’s beautiful and surreal. I like watching our life grow here even though it’s not always easy. I’m much more grateful for my experiences and for the people I’ve been able to share my life with. They inspire me.

Ryan: It’s inspiring here. I love the dark quiet of the night, broken by an occasional bellow from a dog. One of my favorite things on our property is a murder of crows that roost in our trees. We have them here all year, but even more show up in the fall and leave to migrate in spring. They head out in the morning and cruise around all day. Come evening, they flock together and work their way up the hill to sleep in our forest. When they come back, you can feel the air buckle from their wings as they swoosh overhead. Kind of makes the hairs on my neck stand up.

 

Have you been able to foster more friendships and meaningful relationships here or do you feel more isolated socially?

Cati: I feel much more isolated. Between chasing Indigo around, daily life, working on the house we don’t get out much. We spend time with our old friends who live here occasionally, but definitely not as often as we’d like. We’ve met some really wonderful people, but it takes time to create meaningful relationships in a new place. I left behind a strong emotional support system in the bay, which I miss terribly when I have an extra tough day.

Ryan: People, especially here in Arcata, are real nice for the most part. You lose your anonymity here though. You see the same people all the time, and you feel like you know them even if you don’t. In the city you have your guard or blinders up. It’s less friendly. I felt so isolated in SF, I was in a sea of people and none of them were friends.

Do you feel like you have more creative opportunities in the country or less?
Cati: Things move slower here, which frustrates the hell out of me sometimes, but we definitely have more time to explore creative outlets if we make them a priority. Like in the city or anywhere else, you have to manage your time well to get creative time in. Our creative energy has been really focused on fixing up our house, but living in the forest means that time-consuming and sometimes costly things pop up that take us away from the creative side of the process. Our practical needs have to be met first, which isn’t always fun but that’s life. Random things happen like the generator busts or the pellet stove stops working. We lose power out here a lot and warmth is a must, so those things have to get done before we can buy art or new furniture. At one point when I was just starting to feel more settled living here, a fucking bear decided to show up and drag our trash can up the hill and we were like...holy shit. Suddenly, building a garbage shed to keep bears out became a priority. It never ends.

 

Ryan: I have way more opportunities to create here. I didn’t have many creative opportunities in the city because we didn’t own our house. 


What do you appreciate most about the life you’ve created here?

Cati: Being able to spend most of my time playing with and teaching Indigo about life. That is a priceless gift.

Ryan: I appreciate the quiet ageless beauty that we are nestled in. The colors here are just striking. This time of year especially (winter) the sun is low and the whole world is glazed in a clear dreamy filter. Everyday is another vision. Sometimes I lose sight  of that - I get wrapped up in the day-to-day, but something always makes me stop and say to myself, stop. Enjoy it. Remember it. 

Indigo (Ryan & Cati's daughter): I like to play in the forest. I love our trees. I like to share our forest with the wild animals that live there like the bears, the moles in the ground, the deer, the raccoons and the forest kitty. I want to feed the deer but I’m not supposed to.

Is there anything you miss about living in a more urban area?

Cati: I miss our friends and family most of all. I also miss the cultural diversity you get in the city, real Mexican food, Indian food, museums, my favorite little shops, fast and reliable WiFi and my old nail and hair salons. I will also admit to being spoiled and lazy as hell when I want to be, so I miss the convenience of having GrubHub or Postmates delivery. I actually miss any kind of food delivery service. No one delivers to our house, and I really took that luxury for granted. I took hot water for granted before we moved here.

Ryan: I started living the urban life in my early 20’s. The older I got, the less it had to offer except headaches, traffic and debt. I don’t miss that. 

Indigo: I miss my friends David, Collette, Joe, Rosie and Mian. I like it when they come to our house or we go to their house. I wish my Grandma lived closer to our house.

Would you ever consider moving back to a city?
Cati: I left San Francisco knowing that I’d be leaving for good. I love our home and little town, and I can’t imagine leaving the life we’ve just started. I do love the energy of the city...I’m pretty sure I always will.

 

Ryan: Definitely not.

Can you walk us through a typical day in your life here?

Cati: Our daily life probably sounds pretty boring to most people. On weekdays, Ryan gets up around 5 am and wakes me up with tea before he heads off to work. Indigo usually wakes up sometime during my morning makeup ritual, we have breakfast, I drop her off at school and go to work. I pick her up in the early afternoon and we embark on running errands or some other adventure. In the spring and summer months, we spend more time playing outside and working together in the garden. Ryan gets home from work, we have dinner, he usually works a little more on the house, we play music, dance around and watch a movie before bedtime. On weekends, we work on the house or go out and do something as a family. Sometimes we’re just lazy. We have a pretty simple life, and I’m grateful for each day we have together.

Ryan: I wake up early, work all day and come home just to work a little more at the house. I try to spend as much time as I can with our family when I’m not working. We go on hikes or have a beach day when the weather’s good, which is nice.

What advice do you have for people who want to leave the city but don’t know how to start planning their exit strategy?

Cati: Research the area you plan to relocate to as much as possible. Take what is important to you and your lifestyle into consideration. I lived here previously, but that was when I was in my late teens and early twenties. My priorities were drastically different back then. Online shopping didn’t exist, and I was mostly concerned about not having a decent makeup counter at the mall. When we decided to move, I became worried about school district lines, healthcare and property taxes. When we were looking for homes, I knew I wanted to be close to town and a hospital in case of an emergency. The idea of getting hurt way up on some mountain with no cell service didn’t sit well with me. I was also clueless about how hard it would be to receive basic healthcare services in a rural area, even though I did the research and knew there was a doctor shortage up here before we moved. Actually experiencing it has been eye opening, so try to prepare yourself for those kind of things. Also, living in a rural area has different expenses that add up like the cost of wood or pellets for heat in winter, making sure the propane tank is full and dump runs if there is no garbage service in your area. Think through what you what you might need every month financially, so these things don’t come as a shock once you’re settled. Come up with a solid budget and don’t rely on the county to be a cheaper alternative. It’s guaranteed that you’ll never find a job that pays a city wage unless you’re able to work remotely, so being prepared for that is important.

Ryan: Come up with a plan and do your best to stick to it. Get your priorities in check and take on as much as you think you can handle. You’ll make some mistakes along the way, but just go for it if you really want it. 

How did your friends and family respond to your move? Have you convinced any to follow in your footsteps?
Cati: My friends who are still in the bay or in SF are pretty accustomed to people leaving because so many have been priced out, but they were surprised when I told them we were moving. I’d always been pretty adamant about my desire to remain in San Francisco, but they understood how much our lives changed when Indigo was born. My college friends, who I met while living in Arcata the first time, couldn’t believe it either. I was the first of us to make a run for the city from this place. My mother was concerned that I might have regrets about leaving my career behind at first, but she and the rest of my family were really supportive. They were sad for us to be moving farther away because they didn’t want to miss out on Indigo’s growth, but they visit often. 

We’ve had a lot of friends visit from the bay or LA because Humboldt is an ideal place to visit and relax or enjoy nature for a few days. The drive north from the bay is a really nice road trip and there are so many things to explore on the way north. Our visitors always mention how fresh the air is up here, and it really is. These trees are powerful. We haven’t convinced anyone to follow our lead, but that really isn’t our style. Most of our friends who have left the bay have headed to other cities because that is the path they have chosen to explore.

Do you notice a trend of young people wanting to leave city life behind? If yes, why do you think that is?
Cati: I’ve had a few people ask me about what it’s like to leave the city behind who seem interested in the possibility, but I have no clue if it’s a trend. I believe that all city dwellers need to escape to a slower pace to clear their heads and recharge sometimes.

Ryan: I know nothing about trends. 

What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?

Cati: I think a big misconception is that life is somehow easier in a rural area. In general, things are much more convenient in the city. Anything you could possibly want is right there at your fingertips, like literally - there is an app for everything. I really had to get used to living without modern techie conveniences that most people in the bay take for granted. There definitely aren’t as many resources available for people in rural areas, especially for those who are in crisis.

Ryan: It’s not easy or convenient to live in a rural area, but life isn’t supposed to be easy. Humboldt County is a beautiful place full of good, hard working people. It’s not all stoners and hippies just dancing around like most people think when they hear the word Humboldt, but that does exist here for sure. A lot of those stoners or hippies you hear about are actually working their asses off, just like the more conservative folks up here do.

What are your future plans/goals for the coming year? 
Cati: We have the longest to-do list that is pretty daunting at times. This spring, we plan to get our garden together so we can start growing our own food. I really want to attempt to grow a big ass flower garden, and I’m hoping Ryan can find the time to get a new greenhouse up and running. The ground level of our house has some major drainage issues, so we have to get some serious repair work done there, and I’m hoping we can manage to get it done this summer to avoid another leaky winter. Indigo will start elementary school in the fall, so that will be an adjustment for us all too. Aside from all that I’d like to travel a bit, go a pilates class once in awhile and spend as much time with Ryan and Indigo as possible.

Ryan: I want to keep our life simple this year. I’m going to try not pull myself in too many directions and stay focused on what I’m working on. Enjoy the moments. Take Indigo mushroom hunting. Have more campfires. Get a decent amount of work done on the house.

Indigo: I’m four now, but I’ll be 5 this year. I get to go to a new school for bigger kids and that is exciting. 

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