Headwaters

ESCAPE FROM L.A.

One of the Valley’s new faces traces the path that led him here.

ANDREW KROP

“T he mountains are calling and I must go.” Though John Muir was writing about Yosemite, the Flathead Valley exerts that same inexplicable gravitational pull. This place has an intoxicating energy that beguiles all types of people, drawing them to its grandeur. Montana’s call in my life was undeniable and I finally answered it with “and I must go.”

My name is Andrew Krop. I’m a married gay millennial and a native Californian. I’m one of the many new faces in the Flathead, and this is my story.

In 2016, I was well settled in Los Angeles when I met Eric on a dating app. He was living 1,300 miles away in Whitefish, performing with the Alpine Theatre Project. On our first “date” he visited me in L.A. for a weekend, then he came back to spend two weeks together. For our third date I came to Whitefish, where we fell in love, and I fell in love with Montana.

Before we met, Eric had already been planning to move to L.A. for his music career. A month after our first date, he moved in with me, and we’ve been together ever since. In 2018, we returned to Whitefish for our wedding at Cypress Yard.

During our four years together in L.A., work frequently brought Eric back to Montana. Even though I worked full time, I would scrape together the vacation time and money to join him whenever I could. I wanted to be free in the open air, to wander hiking trails, to marvel at the towering mountains around me, and, most important, to stay by my husband’s side. Every time we returned, we fell in love with Montana all over again, like a renewal of our vows to one another, and we both felt it calling.

“The mountains called. I came.”

In his years coming here, Eric had forged a tight circle of dear friends, people who became my friends as well. There was always a warm bed to crash on, a vacant lakehouse to stay a week in, plenty of songs around the fire pit, sushi dinners at Wasabi, pub crawls through downtown, floats down Whitefish River, and deep talks under the stars. Though we inevitably had to return to the drudgery of everyday life in L.A., we always kept up with our Montana family.

Montana may have started as our escape from city life, but before long it felt like our home away from home. We had planned to spend this July in Whitefish, but within 24 hours of arriving, we would decide to move here permanently.

On our drive across Montana’s southern border from Idaho, a freak supercell storm dumped the most rain I’ve ever seen in my life on us. As this Southern California boy delighted in experiencing actual weather, a saturated and vibrant double rainbow stretched out from the Montana foothills all the way across the flat Idaho plains. It felt like a cleansing of all of the chaos and stress and craziness of the year, a sign from the gods welcoming us home.

We stayed overnight in Butte before driving into Whitefish, and within a few hours of our arrival we were lounging on our friend Tanya’s boat on Whitefish Lake. Tanya is a well-loved and respected real estate agent and has been Eric’s friend for years. When Eric and I first fell in love on the lake, it was on Tanya’s boat. So it was only appropriate that the next twist in our life came on that same lake when she mentioned she had a two-bedroom apartment available to rent. No pressure, but would we like to look at it?

When we walked in, we instantly knew we were going to move. It was perfect: a modern building with quiet neighbors and thick walls, a huge primary bedroom with a walk-in closet (which has since been converted into Eric’s recording studio), and a whole other bedroom (roommate-free, unlike our L.A. apartment) for my office and game room. And the panoramic top floor view of Big Mountain sealed the deal.

“I cried. It felt like home.”

But almost immediately, doubts raced through my head: What about my job and our life in California? How was I going to survive winter? I’m a worrier. My brain immediately went to all the worst-case scenarios and started on a zillion contingency plans. The idea of uprooting after a decade in L.A. was more than enough to put me into panic mode. After taking a step back and a deep breath, though, I realized we could do this.

Eric and I have never been rich men, but we were paying a rich man’s premium in rent, bills, and parking tickets to have the privilege of living in L.A. Despite the culture and excitement of the city, from its top-notch food to the beautiful friendships we’d cultivated, something had always been missing. The happiest times in my life have been when I had wide-open natural spaces to play in and explore, clean air and cool breezes, changing weather, and four seasons. Not things L.A. is known for. After a decade of barely surviving paycheck to paycheck, the overcrowding, the constant noise, and the pollution filling my lungs every day, the city just wore down my soul. Couple all that with the 2020 shitshow and I didn’t feel safe or happy in my own home anymore. I desperately needed this fresh start.

Recent world events have pushed all kinds of people out of cities and into smaller communities like the Flathead Valley merging a diverse spectrum of political ideologies and outlooks on life. Many locals may grumble at the idea that us “big city folks” are settling our new lives here, defensive of their space and wanting to protect their way of life from outsiders. But I believe we all deserve a safe place to call home, and I humbly offer my thanks for sharing this place with us. We appreciate our little slice of the Flathead and promise we won’t abuse it. “The mountains called. I came.”

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