West Ain’t Best: An Ode to the East
The pull of the West tugs at the heart of the young. It isn’t new to my generation; author Horace Greeley first coined the phrase, “Go west, young man,” when promoting Manifest Destiny. The dramatic snow-peaked mountains and clear, steep granite rivers beckoned my friends and me when we were in our twenties, seeking adventure.
But if it’s a strong hurricane-force gale that sweeps us off our feet in search of paddling the biggest drops and skiing the steepest mountains, it’s a gentle breeze that later whispers to us to return home. When something more lasting and sustainable replaced the quest for the biggest and best, I headed due east.
Some things just feel like home – the sweet smell of honeysuckle, the quick blink of a firefly, and the refreshing feeling of a summer afternoon thunderstorm. Returning East after a stint out West is more than a primal homing instinct. Putting down roots in the Southeast just makes good sense.
The lower cost of living in the Southeast makes it feasible to rent or buy a house in an outdoors-friendly town. Many say that East Coasters live to work, while West Coasters work to live. But the myth of the laid-back attitude is dispelled when hunting for a rental out West, where the rental market can be a full contact sport. Now with the real estate market rebounding, buyers are once again experiencing bidding wars on starter homes in California. That translates to living farther away from the epic outdoor opportunities and the like-minded people that many moved to be close to in the first place.
If the stereotype of East Coasters existing in a bubble of work and routine ever rang true, that time has passed. An afternoon driving around D.C. will dispel the notion that East Coasters don’t play hard. Every other car has a bike or kayak strapped to it for a post-work ride or paddle. With all the festivals, races, and music on offer in the Southeast, the problem becomes one of choosing between so many good options.
And the best part of a lower cost of living – folks don’t have to bust their hump as hard to make ends meet. Less time in the office means more time in the saddle exploring that mountain. It also means that more friends will be available for an early evening run. The technology crazed West Coasters often have dual screens competing for their attention. The good manners in the South help to remind people that there’s a place and time for technology, and that’s not on the trails.
Good outdoor play is simply closer to home here in the East. When I lived in California, I expected to drive four to five hours to paddle or ski every weekend, and I wasn’t alone. Here good rivers are often just outside of town, making it possible to paddle a few times a week and hold down a full-time job. Mountain biking opportunities abound just a few minutes from the office, making it easier to get in the ride and eat dinner with the kids.
Consistent scheduled dam releases coupled with year-round rain means it’s possible to paddle almost every weekend. From Maryland to Tennessee, the Youghigheny, Gauley, Green, Cheoah, Tallulah, and Ocoee rivers all have predictable dam releases, making it easy to plan kayaking excursions. This year, the West Fork of the Tuckaseegee River joins this list, with seven scheduled releases. Summer-time paddling in the East provides an experience unheard of out West – bare-armed paddling.
Even the mountains are more accessible in the East. What the mountains lack in jagged peaks, they more than make up for with their rounded curves, surrounding towns like a soft embrace. World-class climbing destinations including West Virginia’s New River Gorge and Kentucky’s Red River Gorge provide even diehard climbers ample challenging routes.
My single biggest fear about becoming a reverse transplant was that I’d miss the dramatic views I so enjoyed out West. When I first moved to California, I often pulled over on the side of the road to soak up every bit of the setting sun.
Turns out my fears were completely unfounded. The Southeast boasts spectacular scenery all her own. The first time I encountered a white rhododendrum blossom floating in the current of my favorite river made me think of my vacation to Fiji, the flower was so exotic as it perfectly floated downstream. And when I climbed a multi-pitch route at Linville Gorge, the view of Appalachia’s soaring mountains reminded me of just how small and wonderful my existence is in this magnificent world.
The greatest gift of my move back East is rediscovering the green that abounds in the temperate rainforest climate. In California, golden hues dominate the horizon. Returning to the lush canopy feels comforting, and its constant companion, humidity, a welcome sidekick. I use to overlook the benefits of humidity. After bundling up for a summer’s night out in California, I welcome hot summer nights where I can wear a sundress or tank top without worrying about freezing—not to mention the benefit all that moisture in the air has on my skin. Humidity is nature’s very own fountain of youth. Humidity gets me good and sweaty during a workout, letting me know I put in a decent effort.
It seems almost daily that another friend announces she’s moving back East. When the illusion of the promised land disappears and the novelty fades, many of my friends return to the Southeast. And they all feel as lucky as I do to be home.