Moving on after 26-year detour

Couple saying goodbye to Steamboat

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They never meant to stay this long, but Steamboat Springs has a way of holding on to those it wants. It molds them into members of the community and weaves them into the fabric of the place. And then, as unexpectedly as it took hold, the town lets go.

So it is for Rick and Deb Fuller, who are saying goodbye after 26 years.

They arrived on bicycles, 3,000 miles into their cross-country honeymoon. Deb Fuller was 22 years old. The trip started in Southern California, stretched up into Montana and down the western edge of Wyoming.

While camping outside Jackson, Wyo., one night, they decided to drink water out of the river. That decision brought them to Steamboat.

"We got dysentery," Deb Fuller said. "By the time we got to Green River, we were miserable."

A man from Boulder saw them on the side of the road and pulled over. He asked where they were going, and they weren't sure -- somewhere in Colorado, maybe Georgetown. The man suggested he could drive through Baggs, Wyo., and drop them off in Steamboat.

"He bought us two nights at the Ramada Inn and bought us dinner," Fuller said. "We had $50 left and a Visa card." They did the math and decided they had four days to find jobs before they went broke. They found jobs and a place to live as dorm supervisors at the college, a perfect job to save some money during the winter and continue their trip.

Then the spring came, and Rick Fuller was offered a maintenance job at the college, and Deb Fuller was offered a job at the Timbers Condominiums on Rabbit Ears Pass.

"We got lodging and a salary. We took the jobs thinking we would stay another year," Deb Fuller said. But in April 1981, Deb Fuller found out she was five months pregnant. She gave birth to a girl, Jennifer.

And that's how it happened that the Fullers found themselves where they are now -- central members of the community -- Deb Fuller as the longtime executive director of Yampatika and Rick Fuller as a business leader through TCD Inc. and active Rotary Club member.

Saying goodbye

As they prepare to leave their jobs and the lives they built here, Deb Fuller said the thing she will miss is not just the beauty of the place, but also the surrogate family they created here.

Throughout the years, and especially when they were in their 20s, people in the community took them under their wings and mentored them. Deb Fuller remembers such people as Dorothy Wither, Hazie Werner, Eleanor Bliss and Katherine Harwig who gave her advice, took her in for meals and taught by example.

"They embraced us and nurtured us as we matured," Fuller said. "They believed in us and helped shape who we are today.

"I would encourage my generation to do the same and take care of the young people just moving into the community. Give them a sense of belonging and ownership. They will raise their families here and shape the future of this valley."

More of the journey

The two-year, around-the-world trip the Fullers will embark on Dec. 10 is another leg in the trip their started on their honeymoon and the trip they took 13 years ago with their daughter.

When Jenn Fuller was 8 years old, they took her out of school for a year and traveled through Asia.

They put their life into backpacks and visited Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

"It was a real spiritual experience for us," Deb Fuller said. "We like to study people's belief systems, and we would have the most interesting, deep thought provoking conversations with people.

"The common thread was that the basic necessities of life are the same. We all need food and shelter, and we all want a good life for our families."

As they traveled through remote villages and were invited into homes, the phrase "it takes a village to raise a child" started to have meaning for the first time in their lives.

"Our culture is so sterile," Fuller said. "We're so cut off from our neighbors."

When they returned to Steamboat, the adjustment was difficult, she said. "Rick had taken over 3,000 photos, but all people wanted to see were the mountain pictures and the photos of sandy beaches.

"Rick took one photo of a boy we met at a train station in India," she said.

"He was emaciated, almost skeletal, and we gave him an orange. We hung that photo on the wall and people would ask us to take it down during dinner, because they couldn't eat."

That photo represented a thousand experiences in Asia, where the Fullers met people who had nothing and yet shared their food or offered the Fullers a place to sleep.

"Those experiences were what prompted us to give back to the community when we got back," Fuller said. Fuller joined the staff of Yampatika in 1998. She had been working for LIFT-UP of Routt County, getting the Oak Street thrift store up and running when she was offered the directorship of Yampatika, a nonprofit environmental education organization focusing on the natural and cultural resources of Northwest Colorado.

"When we got back from Asia, Rick and I both said we would never get caught up in the frantic pace of life again," Deb Fuller said.

"You hold onto it for as long as you can -- that peace and the balance you gain from traveling, but you get swept up after a while."

Full circle

With their daughter grown, the Fullers have decided to travel again. They quit their jobs, put their house on the market and taped a "For Sale" sign to their car. They packed their belongings into a trailer, including the two bikes they brought with them to Steamboat.

"It's interesting to look at that 8-foot by 8-foot by 40-foot trailer full of sporting equipment and things we accumulated in 25 years and look at those bikes and the panniers that once held all our belongings," Fuller said. "Since we decided to leave, our motto has been 'Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.'"

The Fullers' last day of work is Friday, and they leave Steamboat for good Dec. 10.

"We are disconnecting the phone, and we won't have cell phones," Deb Fuller said. "We're making a clean break. There won't be a goodbye party. We're just fading to black.

"This is a new chapter in our lives."

The couple is flying into Costa Rica and flipping a coin to see which direction they will travel.

"We don't want to limit ourselves," she said. They plan to travel for two years and then settle near the Pacific Ocean. "We don't know where."

-- To reach Autumn Phillips, call 871-4210

or e-mail aphillips@steamboatpilot.com

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