When I first moved to Eau Claire I had some of my neighbors in the Third Ward a bit puzzled. Was I connected to the university? No. Did I have family in the area? No. Did I move here for a specific job. No. Was I part of a witness protection program? I, actually, had multiple people ask me this and when I answered “no” they always gave me a skeptical look. My neighbors couldn’t believe that a person from the Seattle area, where apparently everyone on the planet wants to live, would move to a small city in Wisconsin, that western Wisconsin might be preferable to western Washington was a completely alien thought. I thought this first post would be a good chance explain how I got here and why.
In 2013 I was living outside of Seattle and caring for my father who was terminally ill. I was also realizing that someone like myself with a pretty whopping dose of Seasonal Affective Disorder and severe mold allergies living in the darkest, moldiest part of America wasn’t really the best of options. I figured after my dad pased away I’d take a cross country road trip and check out a few different places to live.
First I had to figure out the parameters of where a good place for me would be. The first parameter was light. I did a little research and discovered that there were rankings of cities based on the amount of light they receive and as long as I wasn’t in one of the ten darkest areas in America I’d probably be fine. The second parameter was cost of living. I wouldn’t have a job for a bit and I didn’t know if this experiment was going to end in total disaster or if I’d end up moving more than once, so cost of living had to fairly low. Third: Crime. I’m not that great about locking stuff up and since I do a lot of getting around by bicycle and don’t want my bike to get ripped off or things stolen off of it a lower crime rate was a must. The fourth parameter was outdoor recreation, was there easy access to hiking, paddling, biking, maybe some skiing. Last, but not least, bicycles. Could I do most of my getting around on a bicycle.
Blogs were read. Google maps was consulted. I spent several evenings on Craig’s List looking at apartment prices in different cities around the country. Much to my surprise places in the Midwest kept cropping up. I started making a list of places to visit and it ran heavy on the upper midwest. Then I picked up a newish Kathleen Edwards CD and read a few interviews with her and it turns out that most of the songs were written and recorded in someplace called Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She raved about the place in a couple interviews. Looking up Eau Claire online I found great biking, low crime, a low cost of living, a river running right through town, and cross country skiing right outside of town. I had front runner.
My dad passed away at the beginning of July in 2013 and later that year headed out on my cross country trip. I drove a zig-zagging course taking me all over the country, but while driving from Dubuque, Iowa to Eau Claire though the Driftless Area I figured I’d probably found my new home. The Driftless Area is just crazy pretty. I camped at Lake Wissota State Park for a couple of days and rode my bike down the Chippewa Trail to Chippewa Falls and Eau Claire. I got off the trail on the UWEC campus and explored the Third Ward a bit and that was pretty much the end of my search. I loved the old homes and the big trees. I loved the river and the ease of getting around on my bike and everyone I saw seemed open and friendly, a big change from the more private and passive aggressive Pacific Northwest.
My trip lasted another month or so and took me all over New England and the South East, but I knew the whole time that I’d be swinging though Eau Claire on my way back to the Pacific Northwest and making things final in Eau Claire. Everyone else can have Seattle. I’ll take Eau Claire with its whisky bright winter mornings, air that I can actually breathe, ever changing river, and some of the friendliest people that you’ll ever meet.