To start with, I’ll spare you the painful details of our drive back to the east. We saw Devils Tower, we saw Mt. Rushmore, we stopped at Wall Drug and the Mitchell Corn Palace. After that, it was just driving and talking about what we had seen and experienced.
As for the big picture, we met all our goals. First, I managed to safely conduct my family across the continent and back, for which I’m truly thankful. While we were out there, we explored Idaho with the intent on discovering whether it’s a place we can live. The answer to that is a resounding “Yes!”
I was really worried that we’d end up hating something about Idaho. That first hour or so, when we crossed over Lookout Pass and drove down into those depressed little towns along the Silver Valley, I figured we’d made a big mistake. Looking back on it now, I probably didn’t give those towns a fair shake. Every other town we actually visited, as opposed to driving through on the highway, proved to be more than we expected.
That area is probably worth a second look. But for my part, it’s going to be hard to beat the Palouse or the Panhandle. I really fell in love with both areas, for different reasons. The Palouse, with those rolling hills and wide-open spaces, is literally the land of my dreams. The forests of the Panhandle feel more like home to me, though, and it seems somehow better suited to our style of homesteading there. We’ll need to do a lot more research on details, like climate, economy, potential for growth, cost of living, etc., before we make a final decision.
Most of that can now be done remotely. Now that we’ve actually been there and seen the land from ground level, met the people, shopped in the stores, ate the food, and breathed the air, we can better assess the area from web searches. There’s no substitute for that boots on the ground experience, and that would have been worth the cost all by itself.
But, did we really need to drive there? That’s a question my wife and I tackled during those long, tedious miles across South Dakota. We came to the conclusion that we made the right call. If we had gone with one of our early plans, which would have had just the two of us fly out there and drive around for a four-day weekend before flying back, we would have seen pretty much everything we saw of Idaho and Washington, and maybe even most of western Montana. But we would have missed the context of where Idaho is relative to the rest of the country. That might sound silly – just look at a map and there it is between Washington and Montana. But a map can’t impress upon you the scale of the Rockies. We drove west toward them all that fourth day on the road, and they never seemed to get any closer until all of a sudden, you’re climbing a pass and you’re at 6000 feet. Google Earth can’t really show you what it’s like to drive through wheat fields that are 10 or more miles long and 2 miles back from the road. Had I not experienced those things and a hundred more details, I wouldn’t have gotten the idea how different a place Idaho is compared to the east, if for no other reason than by virtue of the geographic difficulty of getting there from the east.
Maybe that’s what the trip boils down to for me: I want a divorce from the east. It was a good run, we tried to make it work, but we drifted apart over the years and now we have separate interests. Best to make a clean break. I’ll take my family, my dog, my truck, and my guns; the east can have everything else. We’ll put a continent and a mountain range between us for safety and make a fresh start in Idaho.
There’s another benefit to having made this trip the way we did. Had it just been my wife and me, we would have had to convince the kids that Idaho is the place for them to be. I may have considerable powers of persuasion, but I can’t compete with the simple act of driving through scenery so painfully beautiful that we all got tired of saying, “Wow!” When every bend in the road reveals something new and unexpected, it pays to have the kids see it with their own eyes. As I told them at the outset of this trip, we’re all in this together, and they are intended to be the main beneficiaries of the move. After all, we’re doing this so they have a chance of a future that the northeast can no longer provide, and so we can stay together as a family. All three of them loved it there, and they all want to move now.
Finally, this trip had a really unexpected benefit: it really did make us closer as a family. Locking five people in a small steel box for 12 consecutive days with at least 10 hours of driving each day seems like a recipe for disaster, especially with two teenagers and a red-head. It could have turned nasty at any moment, but it never really did. And since we’ve gotten back, I’ve noticed that we’re all much nicer to each other, and that we seem to really enjoy each other’s company much more. Dinners are friendlier, we’re laughing more, and everyone is just getting along better. Amazing! Maybe the western personality suits us already.
We’ve been back home in Occupied New England now for about a week and a half, and the trip already seems like it was last year. Fall is in full gear here, and it’s a seductive season. Even for a native New Englander who has seen the annual riot of color for the better part of half a century, it never gets old. Giving this season up will be one of the many things I’ll miss about New England. But I’m sure Idaho has its seasonal charms too, but even if it doesn’t, it’s where our future lies.
Now, on to the next project: engineering an orderly escape from behind enemy lines.