Taking Crested Butte to the world
The 200 block of Sopris Avenue is old Crested Butte. The cottonwoods tower high above the street and some of the houses date back to the very beginning of town history. And on the south side of the street there is a small and entirely unassuming log cabin. It was there that Brendan Starr was born in the spring of 1983. It’s a fitting setting for the beginning of a life that is so inextricably bound to this little town.
Like it or not, there is an unspoken hierarchy of belonging to Crested Butte. There are locals and there are locals. The latter of which, though few and far between, have every right to wear their status as a child of Crested Butte as loud and proud as they care to. Brendan Starr is one such native child. “I was born here. Literally, born in Crested Butte. Not many people get to claim that,” Starr says. While most of his friends growing up were born in Gunnison, Brendan takes a little bit of pride knowing that his very first breath was breathed right here in town.
His father, Jim, first moved to Crested Butte in the ’70s when the streets were dirt and no one had yet heard of full travel mountain bikes, much less mountain bikes. Brendan was a member of the first high school class to come up entirely at the new Crested Butte Community School. And he spent his entire childhood at that small cabin at 222 Sopris (where I was fortunate enough to be his neighbor).
If it takes a village to raise a child, Starr’s parents sure chose a good one. Brendan is a product of this town, with the alleys and trails and mountain passes a part of his marrow. And what better way to grow up?
As Starr puts it, “This isn’t exactly a diverse place, but growing up here you end up with a diversity of relationships.” Being raised by a village will do that to you. One minute, you’re eating vegan food at your best friend’s, the next you’re watching MTV and sucking down pudding pops at your neighbor’s (that would be me, the unhealthy one). It’s the beauty of a childhood spent in Crested Butte. This town crawls into your psyche and can come to define who you are. As anyone who has fallen in love with this town can attest, there’s some unspoken part of you that carries it with you wherever you might wander. According to Starr, “It makes your heart tick a certain way, so it’s not surprising to see Crested Butte’s broader effect globally.”
It’s that global reach that Brendan and his girlfriend, Brittni McCorquodale, will be carrying on as they spend the next seven months traveling throughout the world. After graduating from the University of Texas, Brendan and Brittni started dating while working at an advertising agency in Austin. The city was vibrant and fun and they enjoyed their work. But after 10 years in Austin, Starr and McCorquodale started feeling a need for change.
It was about a year ago that they both began dreaming about the idea of taking a trip together, though not a trip like most people talk about that involves a week off at the beach with colorful drinks that have alliterative names. There would be no cabana boys delivering frozen coconut concoctions underneath an umbrella of palm fronds, no room service, no cable television. Their trip would be something entirely different.
One does not lightly decide to travel around the world for a big part of a year and as might be expected with such a venture, “The decision to go was the biggest challenge,” according to McCorquodale. Once the decision had been made, however, the hard part was over. According to Starr, there was no cognitive dissonance or second-guessing. “That was really affirming, actually. The lack of conflict came as a surprise to me but I took as a sign we were doing the right thing,” he says.
“It didn’t really sink in until the tickets were purchased,” Starr says. Brittni took the morning off work when the final purchase was made just to wrap her mind around what they were doing. “Before the tickets, the trip had always just been floating there. But once the purchase was made there was no going back and the stake was in ground,” she says.
That night they had a champagne toast in front of the world map they had used to plan their travels and the next morning they went in to work to give their notice. The die had been cast, the Rubicon had been crossed.
Then came the planning, followed by planning. Once the planning was done, more planning was in order. “The Internet was our best friend,” says McCorquodale. They scoured through blog after blog and researched every location they could imagine.
The answers didn’t come easily but they did eventually come. “Where are we going?” (Africa and Southeast Asia.) “How much are we packing?” (A carry-on.) “Seriously? A carry-on?” (Seriously.) “When are we leaving?” (August 6.) “What are we going to do when we get back?” (Who knows?)
Starr and McCorquodale both have a refreshing outlook to their trip. Yes, the journey is a salve to some deep-rooted wanderlust they both carry, but it is more than just an opportunity to be self-indulgent. At the very beginning of their time away, they will be spending time volunteering in Kenya with an Austin-based non-profit called CTC International, working on curriculum development for those the organization serves. “We’re going to be trying to gain some perspective,” says Starr of his time in Kenya. “We don’t want this trip to be about us.”
After Kenya they will bounce from Tanzania to Zambia to South Africa, where they will finish their African leg by spending an extended time with Brendan’s mother, Mary Hegarty, who lives in Cape Town. The structure of the trip kind of falls apart after that. All they know is, they’re going to Southeast Asia. “The traveling infrastructure over there is much more developed so we felt more freedom to leave things open when we get to Asia,” says Starr. “Too much definition can cause you to lose the focus of the trip.”
Brendan and Brittni’s trip, though global in scope, is local in its focus. Starr knows he will come back with new friendships from around the globe and McCorquodale would expect nothing less. “It’s like the six degrees of Brendan Starr living with this man. Everywhere he goes, he knows someone.” Brendan smiles and credits Crested Butte for his relational nature. “How can you not be social when you grew up in a place like this? One minute I’ll be at the Talk hugging it out with a friend who stayed in town to work construction and the next I’ll be catching up with a friend who designs shoes in Brooklyn. I’m friends with all types.” It’s that equal opportunity friendship that Starr offers to all he meets that he will surely be giving out plenty during his travels.
Forget carbon footprints. Think of emotional footprints. This town has a mighty big one. Just this past week we gathered around our computers and TVs to watch one of our own shine on the world stage. In a week, we’ll be welcoming world-class athletes from throughout the globe. And for the next seven months that little boy from Sopris Avenue will be a global ambassador of this valley.
“Crested Butte makes you shake your head,” he says. “Growing up here, you take it for granted, but as you mature you realize you grew up in Paradise.”
You can follow Brendan and Brittni’s journey (and give to their efforts at CTC International) at happygolucky.squarespace.com.