Let’s say that you’ve been thinking about moving to a little town called Leavenworth. The pros are obvious: Endless outdoor adventures. Being constantly surrounded by trees and wildlife. You’ll have a driveway. You’ll casually talk about “the property.” Your gear can have its very own house (or “barn,” whatever). You can make noise of any kind, any time of day—your neighbors won’t hear you. It’s a dream!
There are a few drawbacks, too—or at least things to consider—and they’re the kind you can’t really anticipate if you’ve never lived rurally.
The basics: Your home
The first thing you’ll notice are the utilities. Getting your accounts closed in Seattle will take an hour or two of touchtone menus and being on hold—but getting them connected in Leavenworth? When you call the city, a person will answer the phone. They’ll welcome you to the community warmly. When you call Waste Management you’ll be, in a tone of excitement almost unfathomable to a Seattleite, welcomed to “the Waste Management family”, and you’ll be somewhat stunned when you’re asked if you’d like to opt for recycling. Wait, opt? Yes, opt. And not everyone will, either.
Water is scarce in the mountains, so it’ll be expensive. And that’ll really suck when that pipe bursts this winter–It’s happened to every single one of your neighbors, at some point, over the last ten years. The frost tears your pipes apart, sometimes even if you leave them dripping (side note: definitely leave them dripping), but nobody will tell you that.
You’ll think that you live alone, until a deer mouse (they’re so beautiful and cute!) runs right over your velvet chaise. And another one. And another one. There’ll be a family of them, perhaps two—and the pest control guy will joke that people around here are “lifelong customers.” Lovely.
Snow, ice, and other adventures in mountain roads
Oh, the snow! The romance! The sports!
The snow is magic until you realize you can’t make it down your driveway past December unless you plough it—and ploughing will be so much more expensive than you ever realized. You’ll be offered a $75 rate for about 50 feet of driveway. You’ll want to have it done every time there’s more than six inches of snow, and that happens all the time.
One day, after a series of snow-thaw-snow-thaw days, your ascending driveway will be an un-fun ice skating rink, and the only way to make it up is to put on your crampons and climb. You’ll have a moment re-thinking the meaning of “good gear”—and whether that’s luxurious or just plain essential.
You’ll notice there are deer on the road constantly. So beautiful! Majestic! Soft-looking! You’ll go from being fascinated and pulling over to being mildly afraid of them jumping in front of you on the highway, as your circle of friends with tales of totaled cars widens.
Cars are so much of a necessity, it’s a little scary. There’s no transit to speak of, so no car means literally being stuck in the snow—a notion only romantic to the vacationing or independently wealthy. You begin to understand why people own trucks. Sure, they’re inefficient, but they come through on these windy, hilly, icy roads, and besides, nobody seems to drive them very far.
Despite that, people will complain about traffic. Except, out here, when people say “traffic,” they mean the presence of other cars on the road. Any cars at all.
Your new friends: The people.
It’s important to make friends with your neighbors, if nothing else because they might own snow ploughs or extra cars—and when you’re friends, they’re going to come up your driveway and knock on your door. As a former apartment creature, with doors and floors to protect you, that may feel very invasive.
These neighbors will have landlines instead of cellphones, and the only way to get a hold of them will be to call them. Like, on the phone. With your voice. Live. When they give you their phone number, they won’t include the area code, but don’t worry if you forget it—you’re going to get an actual phonebook in the mail. When you chat, people won’t ask you where you’re from, or what you do. Instead, they’ll ask where around here you went to high school. They’ll say things like, “I don’t own a computer.”
There are a few surprising, but common, habits. Before leaving the house, for ten minutes or so, cars will run in the driveway, “warming up.” The city-slicker environmentalist in you will shudder. The mean travel time to work in Wenatchee is a leisurely 17.2 minutes.
Some important demographic notes: While Seattle is pretty lily-white at 67 percent, 86 percent of Wenatchee identifies as white. Fewer than 1 percent of the population is black or of Asian descent, although 31 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino. The per-capita income is lower, though: Wenatchee’s is $27,000 per year (compared to $55,184 in Seattle), and the median household income is $48,000 per year ($83,476 in the city). Leavenworth isn’t that demographically different from Wenatchee, although it’s a bit older, with a median age of 46.
When the small town is the big city
Maybe you’re thinking: I won’t live in Wenatchee or even go there much. I want to be in a cute town, like Leavenworth, or Cashmere. (Have you been to Cashmere? It’s so cute!). The truth is, you kind of have to spend time in Wenatchee. There isn’t even a pharmacy in Leavenworth—there’s a Safeway and a natural food store, which is wonderful, but small. For a significant slice of your errands, you’ll have to drive over to Wenatchee. Hardware needs? New sheets or an extra throw blanket? Would you like to go to a bar one night that isn’t themed? You get the point. It’s off to box-store heaven.
One day, after a successful mixed visit to the Fred Meyer and the Grocery Outlet (there isn’t a PCC or Whole Foods anywhere), you’ll find yourself at the light—almost used to the four channels of country music or Christian radio available—behind a truck, with an actual hay bale in the bed, the driver smoking a cigarette in a cowboy hat. Suddenly, you’ll realize: This isn’t REI anymore. This is Cabela’s.
The countryside is wonderful, mountainous, and gorgeous, but not every day is Christmas, not even in the winter wonderland of Leavenworth. If you’re ready to skip town and live rurally, I understand. It’s a different world, just a mountain and a half away—that’s probably why you want to go. But before you do, remember: Rent might be (a little!) cheaper, but there’s no accounting for the unexpected.