If you followed along while Deb and I were on the road full-time, you know that we purposely avoided big cities and sought out small towns. I know that’s a relative thing, a subjective thing, and naturally Second Chance Ranch was our reference point — a bedroom community of 21,000 between Lancaster (population 40,000) and Columbus (1 million city, 2.2 million metro).
That context might help explain why cities like Harrison, Arkansas (13,000) and Mitchell, South Dakota (16,000) felt refreshingly small to us.
We lingered in much smaller towns, of course — like Winterset, Iowa (5,300), Polson, Montana (5,000), Crow Agency, Montana (1,600), Deadwood, South Dakota (1,200), Pender, Nebraska (1,000), Bandera, Texas (650) and Midland, South Dakota (125).
And then there were those tiny “unincorporated communities” and “census-designated places.” We spent a week in Garryowen, Montana (2), we went out of our way to visit Swett, South Dakota (2) and we laughed our asses off in Uranus, Missouri (25). While Polebridge, Montana may have been home to 100 or so people while we were there, it claims only a half-dozen permanent residents.
I developed a personal aversion to cities when I worked in New York, and I cultivated an affection for The Small Places while traveling the country by motorcycle. I’ve included a couple of images from a nine-day October tour through the Mojave in 1998 — at Roy’s Motel & Café in Amboy, California (5) and along Historic Route 66 outside Oatman, Arizona (43).
But in the end, I love small towns ’cause that’s where I come from. When I was a kid, nearby blue-collar Massillon had a population of around 30,000. Four miles west of the city limits, however, was farm country — East Greenville (135), my hometown of North Lawrence (200) and Dalton (1,700).
Beyond a stack of numbers, it’s all about people — there’s a reliable correlation between small numbers and good people. Sorry, city folk, but The Real America lives in its open country and small towns.
Last night Deb remarked that when we move into our humble home on The Mountain, it’ll be the first place she’s actually chosen to live. The same’s true for me. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our new ZIP code is a town of 1,200, with another town roughly the same size six miles away. Should we require something that a “city” offers, Harrison is just 45 minutes west. Mountain Home, with a population 12,000, is a half-hour drive east.
We’ll be living the next chapter of our American Life in the country, right next to the beating heart of small-town America. Honestly, we can’t imagine anything more perfect than that.
One year ago today: We made the most of our one full day at Lakeview on Bull Shoals, going for a hike with the dogs (and coming back with ticks). On the ground near our campsite I found a flight feather from a bald eagle. We ended the day with a campfire, burning wood generously provided by Deb’s cousin. It was the kind of day that reminded us why we’d hit the road.
Take care of yourselves, Patriots. Stay calm. Stay sharp. Stay free.