It all feels a bit weird, but in an exciting kind of way, just as this entire move has felt.
When we told our friends and family that we were moving eight hours away, to a small city in the mountains of western North Carolina where we didn’t know anybody — and without one of the standard reasons, like a job, that generally causes a move — the responses varied pretty wildly.
Some people thought we were crazy. Some were sad (and of course, so were we to leave them).
But a few people told me how inspiring they thought it was that we would move so spontaneously, and not because we had to, but simple because we wanted to.
And that’s why I’m writing this post about our move, and about Asheville. Not just to explain our reasons for moving, but to (I hope) inspire others who feel stuck where they are but are afraid to make a change.
You’ll see that it’s not terribly far off topic for No Meat Athlete, either — as far as vegeterian- and vegan-friendliness goes, Asheville beats any other city I’ve ever visited.
From Baltimore to Asheville, via San Diego
2011 was the first year that I did any considerable traveling. I went to Austin, Portland, Cape Cod, Boston (twice), San Francisco, and San Diego, and discovered that the world — actually, the country — had a lot more to offer than did Bel Air, Maryland, the nice, suburban town outside of Baltimore where I grew up and had moved back to a few years after college.
And so we decided that we’d move. Maybe not permanently, but since running a business online affords us a lot of geographical freedom, it seemed a shame not to try living somewhere other than the default option before our son reached school age and we’d want to settle down.
The funny thing is that we were within one day of signing a lease on a place in San Diego, after several weeks of planning the move. But two things caused us to abort that plan at the very last minute:
- The pain of moving our two-year-old son 3,000 miles away from his grandparents, and of being so very far away from our friends and family.
- The cost — we discovered it would take $10,000 just to get out to California, before even considering the higher cost of living.
Just two months ago, I hadn’t heard of Asheville more than a couple of times. I knew it as a funky, hippie-ish city somewhere in North Carolina, and one that consistently showed up in those “Happiest Places to Live” lists that magazines and websites post every so often.
But the night we changed our minds about San Diego, Asheville was the first place I thought of as an alternative. (By this point, the idea of staying put after so much planning and anticipation wasn’t one we were willing to consider.)
Two days later, I was in the car driving to Asheville, on a dual mission to check out the city and find a place to rent if it felt right. This was immediately following a 20-mile run, so I can’t say it was the most enjoyable ride I’ve ever taken, but my mom came with me and helped out with the drive and finding a place. Thanks Mom!
It took a day for me to come to understand what it was about Asheville that made people so happy, but sure enough, I did.
The next day, I found a place to rent, and we signed a lease and made it official just two days later.
Here’s what we love about Asheville so far, in our first week of living here:
- The local food scene is amazing. Besides tons of farmers markets and a few co-ops, there are local producers of all sorts of things, even tempeh and kombucha. And lots of beer — Asheville has 11 breweries and has been named Beer City USA three years in a row.
- It’s extremely vegetarian- and vegan-friendly. I’m not exaggerating when I say I think it’s even more so than much larger cities like Portland, Austin, and San Francisco. Granted, I’ve only explored these cities for a few days each. But a major difference I’ve noticed is that here, although there are plenty of all-vegetarian restaurants, even in the restaurants that aren’t specifically vegetarian there are always several options for us on the menu. Some even have special vegan menus. And the servers have all been very helpful and have even reminded me when I ordered something that is non-vegan (caramelized onions on pizza, for example).
- We live in a quiet, woodsy neighborhood that’s very hilly and great for running, with a park right behind our backyard. And we’re only a mile from downtown, a combination I never thought I’d find anywhere.
- There are street musicians all over the place. Not just playing guitars, but also violins, banjos, cellos, basses, harmonicas, drumsets, trumpets, accordions and even crazy stuff like saws. My son, who is obsessed with music, absolutely loves this. If only they would play Weezer covers for him…
- Everything is eco-friendly. Pretty much every restaurant recycles and composts, and any coffee I’ve gotten to-go has come in a special, compostable cup. (I won’t pretend to know why this is better than recycled paper, but I imagine it is.)
- Lots of dogs. They’re even allowed in some stores and restaurants, and there are tons of pet-centric businesses.
- There’s a thriving arts scene, and lots of nationally-known artists, bands, comedians, and authors come through this relatively small city (80,000 people or so). Chi Running author Danny Dreyer and well-known vegetarian cookbook author Deborah Madison will be in one of the bookstores this month. And if I knew more about art and read more fiction, I’d probably recognize a lot more of the names.
- We’re surrounded by some serious mountains! We went for a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway this weekend, and within 10 minutes we had some amazing views. And of course, there are lots of trails for running and mountain biking, but we have yet to explore any of them, other than a tiny one that’s a just quarter mile from our house.
Underlying all of this, there’s a friendliness and slowness to the city that we’re really enjoying. I’m one of the most laid-back people I know, and yet in the coffee shops here, I feel like I’m the high-strung northerner who can’t relax. But there’s an acceptance of all different types of people (“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a businessman or a hippie,” as one person told me).
All in all, it feels like this is a place where one can be centered, be creative, and find time to focus on things that really matter.
The move itself
To finish up this post, I want to write just a little bit about the moving process that we went through (and, in some ways, are still going through).
Before this experience, I had never seriously thought about what goes into transplanting your family from one place to another. I imagine that this post will stir up the urge to move in some people who have the desire, but perhaps bring with it a feeling of overwhelm at the prospect. So my hope is that laying out our experience might make it all seem a little more feasible.
Here are the most significant things that went into our move.
- At first, it seemed like it would be impossible to line up three things, all of which had to happen around the same time: a place to rent in Asheville, renters for our house in Bel Air, and a job for my wife (she works part-time as a pediatric occupational therapist). But it turned out not to be so hard — we started all three processes at the same time, and had a little faith when we made each commitment that the next opportunity would present itself soon enough.
- My job is what you’re looking at, so that part was convenient and I recognize that our situation is different from most people’s. If we were more typical and had needed to find one or two full-time jobs here, we probably would have started with that and only lined up the other things once the jobs were taken care of.
- We made all of this happen in about a month’s time. But we had laid the groundwork with our San Diego false start, placing ads to rent our house and selling some of our stuff.
- We sold and donated a ton of stuff to become more mobile, and it feels great. I bet we got rid of about 25 percent of what we owned, and we fit everything into a 900 cubic-foot unit from PODS plus our two cars. The experience of reducing our possessions was liberating and wonderful, and I’m inspired to go further with it and own less and less. Karol Gajda, Adam Baker, and Leo Babauta were major inspirations for this start down the minimalist path, and I owe all three of them a huge thank-you.
- Once you account for the cost of the POD, the people who helped us unload it, the gas to get here, cleaning expenses at our old house, a pet deposit fee, the cost of restocking our fridge, and some basic home improvement stuff for the new place, I estimate the move cost us around $4500 to $5000. That sucked, but it’s better than $10,000, and think it’ll be more than worth it.
- What sucked even more than the cost, though, was saying goodbye to our closest friends and family in Bel Air and Baltimore. We’re eight hours away by car and it’s actually a nice drive through the mountains, so that’s way better than being across the country — but still, we won’t get to see the people we love nearly as much as we used to. There’s no getting around that. I’m holding out hope that the time we do get to spend with loved ones (in person or via Skype or by phone) will be more deliberate, savored, and enjoyable than ever.
- We know almost nobody here. Jason helped me get my bearings here when I first visited, and I believe that Adam from Man vs Debt, whom I met in both Austin and Portland when his family was touring the country in an R.V., also lives here now. But we don’t know anyone else in Asheville except our realtor! Fortunately, my wife is way more outgoing and less shy than I am, so I’m sure in time we’ll make friends, especially in a place with so many like-minded people.
- Nobody says it has to be permanent! We signed one-year leases, so if we decide after a year that we want to come back, it’s always an option.
Looking back, it was a ton of stress. I don’t know how moving a family can’t be. But we took it one step at a time, and now we’re here, in an exciting new place, with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.
Finally, I’m excited to be back to work, and to get into the swing of things again with this site. This was the first time No Meat Athlete has gone 10 days without a fresh post, and not having any time to write sure made me realize how fulfilling this work is and how much I need it!
I know this move will be a great thing for the site, and I hope that as I feel more inspired in our new location it will come through in my work. NMA has a lot to look forward to.