GPS and Country Roads

Reader Contribution by Mary Niehaus Ralles

It’s nearly “go time” for selling my house and moving one step closer to that red dirt road I joke about all the time, where I’ll branch out into a more rural Midwestern view.

I live close to a decent-sized, metropolitan area with a population of about 300,000. I get that this might not sound like a huge number, with other similar nearby cities enjoying more than double that size. But city is city, and when you’re seeing more sidewalks than fence posts, you know it’s time for a change.

Growing up, I lived on my Granny and Pop’s farm. It was in rural Northern Kentucky, in an area with a population of about 24,000. I’m using that as my starting point for searching for a place where I can enjoy a small community while still being close enough to my job to commute each day.

So, my initial search factors for my “right-sized” community are as follows: a commute of no more than 45 minutes one-way, good public schools, scenery that includes split-rail fencing, barns of all kinds, farm equipment kicking up dirt in the fields, two lane winding roads, and a homestead I can drive up to and feel as though I have been transported to my own slice of heaven.

I used to love driving back roads with no purpose or direction in mind. It’s kind of hard to explain, but driving through the country, and listening to country music is one of the most relaxing escapes for me. Of course, my actual search required a little more discipline than just driving mindlessly down winding roads; I couldn’t take off and get lost driving until I found a “for sale” sign, and I didn’t want to drive too far out without logging miles and commuting distances. Thankfully, I have GPS and could easily plug in addresses I found online … or so I thought.

It never occurred to me that, while technology was a lot different than my younger days, the appeal for being further out also presents a challenge in mapping out with GPS. I learned this the hard way as I began following directions to one of the first houses I chose to look at. I picked it because it had 19 acres, a fishing pond, and beautiful level, cleared land. Realistically, 19 acres is probably more than I can take on. If I’m honest, the right size for me would be about an acre (cleared) or between 3 and 5 acres (if mostly wooded, with a fishing hole).

About twenty minutes outside of town, I jumped off the interstate and began following the street-by-street directions. As I started down a long and winding road, about halfway down, my trusty GPS told me to make a legal u-turn as soon as possible. I was on road with no shoulder and a deep ravine. I went with my instinct and chose to continue cautiously driving forward.

Continuing on the current path, the GPS eventually self-corrected, and I was able to find the destination, which, by the way, was a little rough around the edges. The house turned out to be a fixer-upper, and while I’m okay with rolling up my sleeves and digging in, I feel like there ought to be a barn to go with any homestead I have to put that much elbow grease into. So I decided that was a pass.

Before venturing out for the day, I’d done quite a bit of research online about populations in neighboring towns and came across an interesting distinction for these little pockets of rural towns represent. Apparently, when you are moving farther out than a typical suburb, you are looking at something called an “exurb”. I’m not sure this buzzword fits with my homestead quest, so I think I’ll stick with my own vision of what living outside the city limits means to me!

I am still searching and didn’t expect to find that perfect spot on Day One. I am more excited, though, having driven around several communities where I can see familiar fence posts, some rusted and distressed from use and wear. And while my GPS failed me in keeping me on the right path, I know I’m on the right track, and it’s just a matter of time before this dream becomes a reality.

Mary Niehaus Ralles

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