You Can’t Go Home Again

You can’t go home to a trailer park and farm in North Carolina again, not after living the simple bicycling lifestyle in Chicago for three years. It’s not that folks from my hometown read my blog and hate me for portraying them as bumpkins, a modern and predictably crappy remake of Thomas Wolfe, simply that my way of seeing the world has changed dramatically in the past few years.

A Vanity Fair article I read years ago aptly described my military hometown as a mix of strip bars and Baptist churches. Growing up, I itched to get out of my city; it was an ill-fitting sweater that took 16 years to wrestle off, catching my limbs, pulling my nose, tangling my hair and finally releasing me as I gulped for fresh air. My yearnings were basically the cliche teenage feeling that there is a big world going on without me – not a world of parties and glamor, but a world of pedestrians and cafes. I had fantasies of sidewalks, which I knew existed from TV and rare visits to family in Massachusetts, and a hazy idea of “culture” that my city lacked.

My hometown is a pod world, where the city functions only as a series of tubes to travel from pod to pod. Pod 1 – house. Pod 2 – friend’s house. Pod 3 – Walmart. Pod 4 – chain restaurant. Each pod may be lovely, filled with laughing family and home-cooked meals and loyal pets, but there is no in-between. No journey, all destination. Walking and bicycling are abnormal, left only to the most desperate populations. Nashville looks like Copenhagen in comparison. If this all sounds a bit too Kafkaesque, then I’ve described it accurately. Unless I’m a pretentious city girl who’s forgotten where she came from, which is possible.

I sometimes idealize my in-laws’ farm as a country sanctuary, and while I sit at my work desk, in my head I loll on a porch swing twisting grass with my toes and talking to earthy great-grandma Lula who lived to 100 years old, but I’m not prepared for what lies outside – a narrow 2-lane country highway with no shoulder leading to truck stops and gas stations. The stark reality is that I would have to create my own culture: cook my own Thai food, bake my own to-die-for Bavarian cream donuts, perform plays masterfully in my own head, be my own yoga teacher, grow my own bouquets and fill my own time. A thrilling fantasy, but a daunting and lonely reality. What makes for a wild, free-range childhood would make for a suffocating adulthood.

Everyone’s different – and I’d love to hear from the country mice out there – but I say: Give me a train outside my window, different languages whirling around my head, throngs of people, bright lights, buses, sidewalk cafes, neighborhood pubs, theaters with Shakespeare and ballet, art museums, and – most of all – bicycles. I belong in the city.  I’m home again, simply to a new home.

66 thoughts on “You Can’t Go Home Again

  1. amsterdam13 says:

    lovely and awesome photos…Nice work
    marcel hotel new york

  2. Interesting. I had to spend a lot of time in Puerto Rico this year, and while I’ve always lived in the city, the contrast almost matches what you describe here. I was so dependent on my loaned car the months I was there, when I got back my bike was like a foreign object I had to relearn to ride. PodtoPodtoPod. Miami may be a backwards city as big cities go, but yeah, I know exactly what you mean with this being home now.

    You’re getting really good with that camera, btw.

  3. Beany says:

    I knew you were a good writer…but this was really outstandingly written.

  4. chelsea says:

    I love your writing style. I appreciate your honesty. I think there are charming country towns (in New England , perhaps?) where some of that city culture mixes with country charm but the kind of town you are describing sounds difficult to live in full time. I’ve been yearning for some type of utopia lately. A combination of all the things I love about a city and the open spaces and fresh air of the country. I am guessing Portland is as close as I will ever get to that.

    P.S. You two are an adorable couple!:)

  5. Anne Hawley says:

    Beautifully written and illustrated. Some people are just natural-born city folk. You and I appear to be among them.

  6. Stephen says:

    Very good writing. Honest, moving, and brilliant photos. I know those places and those towns well, having married a former “country bumpkin” who got educated and had the resources and gumption to move away. Don’t feel bad–it’s an old story, and it’s the reason why we are an urbanizing planet.

    There are some small towns where you can walk, where there are what the sociologists call “third places,” and where sprawl-mart and fry-pit culture hasn’t obliterated the natural charm. But they are rare, isolated, and endangered. The internet will not save these towns because people like you want a better life. And thank gawd you followed your heart, mind, and dreams, in part only to give the rest of us who follow your writing such heartfelt, stylish inspiration.

  7. Johnny says:

    These photos are nothing short of stunning. And, you and Mr. D do make a very lovely couple. :)

  8. Cherilyn says:

    Excellent writing, as usual, and beautiful photos. Since your blog sticks so closely to the central topic–city commuter biking–I was surprised to see such a personal piece, but you blended it beautifully into the blog.

    I think your feelings are pretty much right on for people your age who have come from a rural/ranching/farming background. Some that I’ve met have remained hip urbanites, and some, after burning out on the professional success they thought would bring them happiness and escape from the demons of their past, have found a home that reminds them of the best of both worlds.

    Sometimes the best part of traveling is coming home and realizing it’s a place you love with your whole heart. Glad your travels allowed you to have that experience.

  9. danqi says:

    I guess it’s a case of one man’s food is another man’s poison. I live in Singapore, a small country and island. The population here is 4.5 million and counting. There is hardly a decent place where I can sit down to enjoy a good meal without some kind of TV or pipe-in music blaring away. Patron have to talk above all that noise in order to be heard. And when everyone does that, you get chaos. Shopping malls are packed, loud music everywhere, bright light,neon lights, traffic lights, people everywhere. Some call this happening, some call this exciting, I call it pure crazy. Home isn’t that a paradise either. Cars in the carpark honing, engine reviving, neighbours’ TV booming, babies or children crying, some neighbours banging on floors or walls… the list goes on. If I was 20 years younger I might love all these but now, just peace after a day’s work would be lovely. At least you have a place to turn to if you need peace, here, I have no escape.

  10. This is one of my favourite Let’s Go Ride a Bike posts. The writing and the pictures are surreal and I found myself going back to this post several times before I could comment.

    I have always felt torn between urban and rural environments. I feel deep attachment to the Northern New England countryside (which is not nearly as cute and civilised as people imagine), but I have spent a lot of my life living in cities – both American and European. Given all my interests and education, I really should be a city person, but I feel myself yearning for the countryside whenever I live in a city for too long. And by “countryside” I do not mean some place filled with strip malls and “developments” of single family houses, but proper country with rural roads and 20 miles from the nearest chain store or restaurant. In my mind’s eye, I see myself cycling there – though the last time we visited such a place (a couple of weeks ago), my husband pointed out how impossible that would be, as the country roads are way too narrow and winding, and the trucks routinely go 20 miles above the speed limit.

    As for the pod-to-pod living you described that I associate with strip-mall-centered areas, that sort of thing just makes me feel desperate and claustrophobic. I try to pretend these places don’t exist, even though I know that the reality is that they make up most of the US at this point. I do hope that the trend we see to stop “sprawl” and create more walkable, individualised town centers continues. I was ecstatic when several years ago several towns in Maine outlawed chain stores and restaurants from the town limits, making it basically illegal for any businesses with non-independent ownership to occupy town space. I hope other small towns in the US follow suit.

  11. alex says:

    The sad thing is that rural North Carolina could be a bike-able place if they wanted it to be. There is enough population density and rural destinations that it would be a great place to bike, if only it didn’t have a vicious case of the american automotive dependency.

  12. Lee says:

    I grew up in the country too, in Maryland. I’ve always felt I could live in the country or the city, but never in between, and for this period of my life at least, I’m much more interested in the city. I grew up on 20 acres of forest. My grandparents lived next door on a larger piece of land, and they grew most of their own food in a large garden. And my aunts and uncles lived across the street on a street named after our family, as did several of my second cousins and their families. I would walk through the woods and through a horse field to visit my grandmother as a kid. My dad and his brothers owned a construction company that was just down the street, which I would walk to when I worked there in high school. And my brother and I would ride our bikes on paths in the woods. Otherwise, there weren’t many places to walk or bike, and I mostly felt like I was captive to my car when I lived there. The exurbs also began encroaching on the area when I was a kid, and the first subdivision replaced a farm by the time I left for college.

    My grandfather would tell us how a trip to town was a rare adventure when he was young. He was the first in town to get a model-T. But they were more self-sufficient back then. My grandmother knew how to can the food from her garden, forage for mushrooms and make her own clothes, and my grandfather knew how to carve a canoe from a log, but none of that knowledge was passed on to our generation.

    I think as rural residents like us stopped farming/gardening and became less self-sufficient, we became much more dependent on our cars to take us the 20 miles to the nearest real town.

    The city and the country have a lot in common in that both were originally developed around the human machine. I think real cities in a sense still maintain that old way of living that has mostly been lost in rural areas.

    • Good point about not passing on knowledge and rural dependency. Modernity, made the old ways look stupid, so hooray for the shopping center. Corporate/business interests pushed people off the land and now rural areas are dependent on urban areas for all kinds of utilities, such as roads.

  13. Excellent post! I’ve had many of the same thoughts.

    I, myself was born in the city, but spent my teen years exiled to a big, small town. It was a difficult experience, because I had a concrete sense of what I was missing. The one I loved was full of variety. It was busy, but had parks everywhere. The other was insular, homogeneous(white) and had a utilitarian ugliness. I couldn’t get out of that town fast enough. In hindsight, I’m sure my reaction obscured my view of the good things the place offered, but my return to the city is without regrets.

    The trailor pictured, looks like my deceased uncles home. He lived “up north” in a town, just outside of the Red Lake Indian Reservation. When I was kid going up there, was like going back in time, to the 50’s. I really felt like I had arrived in mystical land. Today, not so much. Commercialism has taken over. Now you can drive from your suburban cocoon to your identical cabin cocoon, while seeing some tall pines on the way, unless a billboard blocks your view. Maybe it’s good that some people(the Indians? not so much) are making a better living, now. But, they are more car dependent than ever. A two-lane highway is involved in every trip. I’m amazed at home much driving my country cousins do. 60 miles is nothing. No wonder two of my relatives from that family have died in car crashes.

    Thanks for taking a chance and sharing your experiences.

  14. Graham Z says:

    Thanks for the great writing and pictures….now back to my blog which needs some updates..

  15. Doohickie says:

    Mrs. Doohickie grew up in a rural area as well. I view her family’s home as idyllic, but she says you got it exactly right.

  16. Dave says:

    I think a lot of small town America has been kind of destroyed by both the national highway system and the advent of big-box retail stores. I assume it’s similar in the rest of the country, but in Oregon, many small towns at this point are almost nothing but a highway lined with strip malls, offering fast food, walmarts, chain grocers, etc, and then a couple small residential areas. We do thankfully have a lot of farms left, but the towns themselves have kind of withered away, many sit with empty buildings, closed shops, etc.

    Contrast this with the average small town in Germany, France, The Netherlands – where the shops in a small town are locally owned, produce and meat comes from local farmers, towns have small streets, low traffic, and highways pass near the town, rather than replacing the main street. In the Netherlands you can even get all over the country between towns and cities easily on bike paths.

    For these reasons, I think I could, and would actually love to live in a small town in Europe, being largely self sufficient, baking our own breads, preserving foods (pickling, fermenting, cheesemaking, canning), growing a small garden, etc. Much of that we do here in Portland, but I think it would actually be harder in a small town in the U.S. As far as places to live in the U.S. go, Portland is right up at the top of the very short list of places I could live, but my own personal preference and ideology are still much more in line with that of the European city/town.

  17. Jen says:

    This is one of my favourite posts too. I live at the foot of the Pentland Hills on the southern edge of Edinburgh in Scotland. My bike commute is a 30 minute forest trail and canal ride into the city centre. Edinburgh is so small and compact that it is possible to live in a relatively rural area but still enjoy all the beauty, culture and liveliness the city has to offer.

  18. miss sarah says:

    First. Lovely photos.

    Second. So jealous of your Betsey Johnson!

    Third. Is that your door at the end? Don refuses to let us decorate the house with Christmas stuff (humbug) but your wreath is so pretty!

    Fourth. I hear you about the sidewalks and transit and all that good stuff. My Dad comes from a farming village outside of Hong Kong proper, but even there it’s just a 40 minute train ride into the heart of the city. I went out for lunch with a friend from Brandon, Manitoba a few years ago and he had never had a California roll. And miso soup. He couldn’t stomach it;( There’s so much deliciousness out there (literally and metaphorically), I wish everybody were as excited to experience it as we are.

    • Sox says:

      A few years ago Brandon may not have had any sushi places, but many people are just ‘white bread’ and aren’t interested in eating different food even if it is presented to them.
      I grew up in rural Manitoba on a farm; I loved it. The small town where I went to school was (and probably still is) very easy to walk about in, and is quite bike friendly. Probably a huge exception to some of the places described in the other comments. While there are many things I would miss about living in the city, I vey much miss the farm.

      Lovely post, Dottie. Happy New Year.

  19. G.E. says:

    I think it’s fun to know that we all came from “somewhere.” It may seem like it’s a nowhere kind of place to you now, and you may find it difficult to imagine living there in adulthood, but it must be interesting to return and have memories of being a kid running around, or, as you described, just going from point A to point B. I grew up in a farm town in California, and while it wasn’t nearly what your photos have depicted (quite beautifully too, I might add), I understand the feeling of wanting or even the need for city life. Even living in the ‘burbs for now, I know the city isn’t far and I can’t imagine going to live again in that same farm town now. I do appreciate the fact that it taught me so much though: to be grateful for the things we have, to smile and say good morning to people you pass, to help people in trouble when you have the ability to do so, to appreciate family (and all their oddities) while we have them with us… and of course, it’s always good to come home again.

  20. Mamavee says:

    I’m a born and bred city person. Growing up I took it for granted and during my teen years idealized country living and would at times long for a trip to new england which my parents did fairly often.

    It wasn’t until I was a 3/4 into my freshman year at a small college in MA that some friends and I took a trip to boston to the MFA for an art class project. Driving into the city ( small by NYC standards) I became breathless. ANd ever since whenever I go to a new city I feel overwhelmingly happy. Now inthe suburbs, simple things make me happy like hearing sirens down the street at night. Or the sound of the commuter train rumbling by in the middle of a church service.

  21. grambev says:

    I love both your writing style & your photography & that I love doing those same things too. :)

  22. grambev says:

    Greg’s photography is wonderful as well. :)

  23. Doohickie says:

    Hmmmm…. it seams the link I put in my earlier comment goes nowhere. Let’s try again:

    Mrs. Doohickie’s parents’ home:

  24. Charlie says:

    I think it’s interesting that you call cycling in Chicago a ‘simple lifestyle’ compared to a rural farm.

  25. Trisha says:

    I like what you have to say about making your own culture. That’s the way I feel about living outside of the city, although as Lee noted upthread, I admire the self-sufficiency that a truly rural life requires and think there are some aspects of it I would really enjoy. The in-between “pod” places like your hometown (and mine) are what I can’t handle anymore.

    p.s. cute dress. :)

  26. Pete says:

    I like Greg’s beard.
    A beard may be the ultimate winter cycling accessory, or at least an excellent place to keep your icicles.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      Best thing I’ve found about having a beard in winter, other than keeping my face a tiny bit warmer, is that it helps keep cold wind and rain from getting in under a raincoat collar. I highly recommend one to cyclists, both male and female. If you’re ladybeard impaired, you can wear one of those fake ones from the stoning scene in The Life of Brian.

  27. Dwainedibbly says:

    Excellent post! Take some time to expand it and explore your thoughts in more depth and you’d have something that I bet you could get published. I love the photos, too.

    I’ve often ruminated on the same dichotomy, and I think I’m reaching the same conclusions.

  28. Ian says:

    Lovely photos and a very interesting article. What a massive contrast with Chicago, hard to believe it’s the same planet.

  29. Richard says:

    Since moving to the city in July, I’ve come to the realisation that I’m not a city person. Once my wife graduates, we’re moving away (we have discussed this; I’m not a dictator!) to somewhere that I can replace my 50 miles / week commuting with > 50 miles / week recreational cycling! To each their own; and long may it continue.
    Great pics and prose.

  30. Elisa M says:

    love this. the last photo made me smile!

  31. I have to agree with Elisa: one of, if not the, best posts you’ve done.

  32. Deborah says:

    I enjoyed this post quite a lot, but can’t help feeling that there’s an important factor that’s not really addressed here: money. It appears you’re living in a reasonably prosperous part of Chicago (which is great!), and have sufficient income, education, and time to enjoy the cultural amenities that part of Chicago has to offer. But as you know there are other parts of Chicago that are considerably less amenable to a simple cycling (and theater-going) lifestyle, that are not all sidewalk cafes and parks and beautiful cityscapes, that are “pod-oriented” for reasons of personal safety if not of infrastructure, and whose state of decay easily rivals the pictures you’ve posted… It seems to me that it’s not as simple as urban vs. rural, no? (Though I do of course get it that where you grew up, the amenities simply aren’t there no matter how much discretionary income you have.) I live in a city too, and enjoy it, but I live in a “transitional” neighborhood where I am frequently reminded that we’re not all having the same city experience…

    • dottie says:

      Absolutely. My personal experience is based on being a middle-class, able-bodied, child-free woman. I don’t know how I would feel if my situation were different.

    • dukiebiddle says:

      Heh. Pod-to-pod is exactly how I used to feel walking home at night dodging muggers. Cycling has liberated from that feeling. In fact, that’s why I took up cycling again in the first place.

  33. Dottie, this is a wonderful post and fantastic writing. I am also visiting family in the South (Georgia) and although I love visiting them, the podtopodtopod living is far from satisfying. I miss my bike. I miss getting places under my own steam while going slow enough to really “see” things and take nature in. To me, being tethered to a car for the simplist of needs-heck for EVERY need! is not *living* to me. Visiting has helped me to see that while I love many aspects of my rural upbringing, city or college town life is for me.

  34. Step-Through says:

    City is great. Country is great, but in a totally different way. The enormous swaths of suburbia in between…that has no redeeming quality in my opinion.

  35. Catherine says:

    I see it as less of a problem of infrastructure (though it is) and more of a problem of the large national chains and (in a larger sense, though it’ll make me sound like a far leftist, which I’m not) of unbridled capitalism.

    Economies of scale allow the Wal-Marts and Applebees of the world to offer more for less. Simple business sense makes it clear that it is vastly less expensive to have one giant store every 30 miles and have the customers come to you than it is for you to go to the customers by having one store every 5 miles and you carry the costs for six times more rent, employees, deliveries, inventory costs etc.

    In theory this works for the customers who get convenience, choice and lower prices (for example, I’ll bet you can get many “upmarket” brands of things in the rural south that were unheard and unaffordable to most local consumers even just 5 years ago). They eventually lose, though, because small businesses die taking with them jobs, community and quality of life.

  36. Keri says:

    Wow! Stunning photos… and excellent post!

    I grew up in rural PA, surrounded by farms and trailers. Couldn’t wait to get out of there. I rode my bike through there last summer (detoured past the old homestead and wished I hadn’t). “You can’t go home again” is so true.

    I wasn’t bright enough, 23 years ago, to move to a city with Culture. But the trip distances and flat terrain are working for me. Right now I’m happy with the weather. And I cook better Thai food than any of the restaurants in town ;-)

    • Doohickie says:

      There’s something to be said for flat rides, Keri.

      I always thought Fort Worth was flat until I started riding. Now I always know where the river is. If I’m climbing I’m riding away from it, if I’m coasting I’m heading toward it.

  37. Emma J says:

    The photos really captured the mood. I always enjoy your sensible, right-now posts about bike-commuting, but it was interesting to read this more introspective piece.

    I’d have to chime in with Deborah above that some of these differences are economic. And others are regional. My grandparents’ small town and the two or theree towns nearby where the local grocer and other necessities can be found has always been wonderfully bikeable.

    My dad and his brother who grew up there, my cousins who live there still do make their own culture – it’s not Shakespeare and opera, but singing in the evenings to the guitar, horses, cattle, mountain, desert – and all the stories passed down of those adventures. It’s not for everyone, but it’s something real and deeply satisfying.

    I’m torn between that ideal and the eco-urban. I grew up in a pod-suburbs in Ohio, Wisconsin, and California and my family is scattered from East to West Coast, from small truly independent towns to large cities.

    I love having fields around me. I love having libraries and art museums not too far away. I ‘d like to see bikes everywhere. But like Step-Through, I can’t see any value to suburbs at all.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post!

  38. Mike says:

    Wow, you put into beautiful words things I have felt and experienced as well! I couldn’t wait to leave my hometown, even before I had been anywhere else. I have now lived in and around Chicago for, geez, 20 years or so. No looking back. Even moving to a town out past the ‘burbs has a different feel than “back home.”

    Thanks for the lovely post.

  39. Stephen says:

    Speaking as a geographer, it was the car that killed a lot of rural areas and small towns. Wal-Mart wouldn’t exist without the car, and w/o the Interstate system. Many small towns don’t even have sidewalks outside the old “downtown” area, and rural areas are horrible for walking or bicycling. The U.S. ain’t England–you can’t just hop a fence and follow a trail. You’re likely to get shot or bit by dogs. Higher fuel prices may get some people in cities and suburbs to decide to walk or bicycle more, but the rural folks will be screwed.

    Truly beautiful photographs…

  40. Great, great, post, Dottie.

    I was born in London but raised mostly in the Connecticut countryside but my father’s family is originally from the South and I went to college in NC so I really recognize a lot of your beautiful images. When I went down to NC for college, the pod culture was really new to me! Lots of students did bike at my school, but the people in the town didn’t, even though the town was actually perfect for it.

    There isn’t such an enormous difference between how I grew up and how my small family lives now in a social class/finances sense but our life in NYC is wildly different (bicycles are no small part of this). Cities are just different. Rural and suburban areas of this country certainly need their Jane Jacobs-esque champions.

    I had a meeting in Greensboro, NC not that long ago and my hotel was 1/4 of a mile from where my meeting was and the people with whom I was meeting told me they would send a car for me. When I replied that I would happily walk, they told me I couldn’t. And they were right. My hotel was across an unofficial highway — just a road with an intersection but without a crosswalk or even sidewalks where the traffic moved so quickly that people felt, and indeed were, safer driving the 1/4 mile. That really said it all to me. It was majorly depressing.

    Anyhoo, great post!

  41. horace says:

    Great post, lovely pictures.

    Regardless of where you want to live right now, it always seems like a blessing to me the experience of having lived somewhere else.

  42. academichic says:

    What you described and showed could have been word for word or image for image life in the Mississippi Delta, where my husband lived for two years. While we were long distance for the majority of that time, I spent a few months living and working there with him, and I would honestly dread each visit and each stay. If it weren’t for him, I would have never returned after my first glimpse of it. No sidewalks! Only fast food, one huge super walmart, churches, and big*** pick ups. I really disliked it because I had to give up all the things that make me happy, pretty much a synonymous list to yours regarding life in Chicago. So I can definitely understand your sentiments and am really happy for you that you have found a place that makes you really happy and feel like you’re home at last.

    Happy New Year Dottie, to you and Trisha and Mr. Dottie!! :)


  43. nuliajuk says:

    It’s just rural areas that suffer from the pod-to-pod-to-pod syndrome. As someone else pointed out, designing around cars makes big-box culture possible.
    I live in a neighborhood that was built in the late 50s through mid 60s, and it still has walkable features such as straight grid streets, garages off the back alleys (no slippery sloping driveways cutting through the sidewalk every 30 feet), and shops and services within the community.
    From the mid 70s on, neighborhoods here have been built as twisting mazes of crescents, closes, cul-de-sacs, circles, etc. There are usually only one or two roads leading in and out of the maze, and shops and services are located in their own maze about a mile away on a road that’s too busy to comfortably walk beside or bike on.
    My step-daughter lived in such a neighborhood for three years and I hardly ever saw her kids playing outdoors. When they wanted to ride their bikes, she loaded them into the back of her suv and drove them to a park.
    Only recently have urban planners finally started to “get it” and design new neighborhoods to be more like old ones – but they’re still usually accessible only by very busy freeway type roads.

    • nuliajuk says:

      Whoops, meant to say that “it ISN’T just rural areas that suffer from pod-to-pod syndrome”.

  44. Christa says:

    Wonderful story and beautifully written! Thank you for sharing.

    Yes, the suburban planning in the last 50 years has been atrocious on so many different levels – community, health, environment, etc.

    Stories like this remind us of our need for a greater connection, a need for beautiful public places in American cities.

    Certainly the bicycle plays a large role.

  45. Christa says:

    Oh, and where can I find this bicycle necklace? Adorable!

  46. Ann says:

    I agree with the others. This was very nicely written and the photos really added to the content of your essay. I can understand your feelings. My journey has been the reverse of yours. I am city born and bread. I practiced law for most of my career in Washington, D.C. (I feel honored to have lived in that beautiful city before it was transformed by the events of 2001). Although I loved the beauty of D.C. and it’s cultural attractions, the stress of the logistics of living there was beginning to wear me out (I learned to loath driving while living there). I opted for early retirement and moved as “far from the madding crowd” as I could get–far N.W. Montana, west of Glacier National Park. I must say that this very rural area is more bike friendly than D.C. was during my residency (from what I read, things are beginning to change in D.C., if somewhat slowly). I’ve enjoyed the change of pace and have been able to “recharge my batteries:” This city girl is now seriously considering relocating to a city in a milder climate. Whether I’ll be able to ride my bike as much, I’m not certain. I’m clearly factoring in the “bike friendliness” of the communities I’m considering.

  47. It isn’t just a rural phenomenon. I grew up in the Sunset District of SF. Right out at the beach. While that sounds like a hoot, back then (the 70’s and early 80’s) it mine as well have been the boondocks. There was nothing to do but get drunk, watch other people get drunk or think about how to get beer the next time you wanted to get drunk. You could take a bus out but it took an hour to get anywhere. It was racist and xenophobic and ignorant. The goal of every kid there was to graduate from high school and get a job with the City, preferably one that involved a truck and lots of unstructured time.

    There were good things- it was very safe, I could skate and ride a bike all I wanted, I could play outside with the neighborhood kids and everyone looked out for us. We all walked to school and could eat the apples we were given at Halloween.

    But it was a place to escape. I will never forget the day I left and I have never wanted to return, even though it has changed a great deal. I live just 6 miles away from it, still in SF and yet, I mine as well have moved cross country.

    Not only can I not go back, I don’t want to.

  48. d. says:

    I find your entry extremely interesting because it mirrors my own experience. I am from the upstate of South Carolina and I moved for a teaching job to The Netherlands. I love to travel however, the more time I spend outside of my “pod world” that I grew up in, the more I yearn to be back there in my safe little sphere. I think you are right to travel however, I also think that we create our own sense of “culture” wherever we are. I personally don’t mind living in a small town but I hate cities. I have to travel through farms and countryside to get from town to town here and I absolutely love that break from European city life. I trick myself and imagine that I am riding this “new train” among the foothills of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ve never missed my home so much before and I was always the one lamenting the ignorance of the South, the lack of culture and idealizing how great it would be to live in a “refined” European city. Well, I’m here now and it’s not more refined than the country “bumpkin” school where I used to teach. Others say they “can’t look back and don’t look back” however, I find that I have an increasing neck pain from staring beyond my shoulder into what was and longing to go back the way I came.

  49. Chandra says:

    Hi Dottie,
    I can associate with you on how you feel about going back to your old setup. Several moons ago, I too decided I had had enough, hopped on a plane and left my old setup for good. I remember taking the vow of never returning to the old setup soon as the plane was airborne.

    While I flirt with the notion of visiting my old setup (or what’s left of it) from time to time, I do not have any desire to become a part of it again. I left because of my desire to do something with my skill set which wasn’t valued in my old setup, at least back then.

    I am sure there will be others who may not like my decision. But I learned long time ago not to run other people’s races. I am happy with my decision.

    I commend you on your decision and I wish you the very best. I hope we never have to regret our decisions to move on.

    Peace :)

  50. philippe says:

    Brutaly honest and bitter. And well written.
    For this euro city guy, it sounds, of course, pretty idealistic. But to each his own.

    And great photos.

  51. ksteinhoff says:

    I left my home town of Cape Girardeau, MO, when I was 20 and have lived in three states since then, but I still make it back home at least once a year to see my mother and to recharge my spiritual batteries.

    Here’s a blog I started recently looking back at small-town MO in the 60s.

    I spent a month back there in the fall trying to shoot updated pictures of my old haunts. Many of them are gone or changed, but many remain.

    It’s not like down here in FL where everything is transient. I remember shooting the first service in a new church, then going back 10 years later when the country fire department used it as a practice fire so it could be replaced by a McDonald’s.

    My family church was torn down because it had become structurally unsound (or the pastor simply wanted a new one), but it had a good run of about 100 years.

  52. country mouse says:

    In rural areas, it’s what’s in between the pods that’s interesting, if you’ve got eyes to see. I don’t mean that as an insult or to sound exclusive, – it’s not, it’s just what it is.

    Either you know that you’re looking at cedar waxwings or you don’t, and that is either important to you or it isn’t. That’s all.

    But missing out on the whole Bavarian cream donuts thing, that’s something to ponder.

  53. […] You Can’t Go Home Again […]

  54. 2whls3spds says:


    Awesome job Dottie. You have summed it up perfectly. Your pictures could have been taken in our back 40!

    One major problem we are experiencing is the encroachment of suburbia with all of the associated problems. While somethings have more accessible by bike, like groceries, the massive increase in single occupant 3000# ICE’s has been very unpleasant. Traffic counts on our rural road have increased by over 300% in the past 5 years.


  55. kristin says:

    fantastic post!

    this is something i think about A LOT. i grew up in a suburb of San Francisco, and lived/worked in SF for a bit. i also lived in Las Vegas and a small area in Oregon. currently i have no car, and bike or take the train everywhere. but i hate it here. i yearn to get out to the country (like where my mom is in Oregon) but the one thing i always think about is “i don’t want to have to buy a car” and in areas like where my mom is, you have to. she has to drive 20 minutes to get away from ranches and into a business/downtown area.

    as far as diversity, it is wonderful, and having spent so much time in SF, i didn’t realize how spoiled i was with all the great ethnic food until i started traveling. BUT… there is also something to be said for when you need customer service, to speak to someone who speaks English. sorry if this sounds rude/racist, but cultural differences can also be a huge pain in the butt. it was said best by a friend of mine who moved to marietta ga. when he came home to SF, he needed help at the airport. he explained his situation to the customer service person who said “so, what do you want me to do about it?” his response? “I’M HOME!”

  56. SM says:

    Wow! So beautifully written. First time I took the time to read this post. You need to write a book.

  57. … [Trackback]…

    […] There you will find 60704 more Infos: […]…

  58. […] walks anywhere. And now it is the 8th most obese state in the nation. I am often reminded of an older article that struck a cord with me, from Dottie of “Let’s Go Ride A Bike”. She discusses […]

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