Jan and I are in the process of redoing the main bathroom in the early-1960s vintage house we recently purchased in Jefferson Iowa. This is a big job…not something I do everyday and so it’s very much a learning process. We still have an apartment in Des Moines and so what we typically do is stop at the big box (Home Depot/Lowe’s/Menard’s) to get most of the stuff we need on the way out of town . Yesterday it was cement wall board and insulation and screws and such.
But the big box has 200 different varieties of screws and once I started attaching the wall board I realized that I had picked up the wrong ones. I needed to find replacements. As it was Sunday, I wasn’t sure if the Ace Hardware store on the square would be open, but I decided to hop on the bike and find out. It was my first “official” vehicular cycling trip in our new home town and it was a thing of beauty. No fuss, no muss. I didn’t even lock my bike while I went inside.
Most people I know are car-dependent. I was for a long time. I’m working on that. I want to be car-independent. I want to be able to go just about everywhere I need to go without a car. I don’t dislike cars. They are useful in some circumstances, but more often than not there’s a better way that costs a lot less. That’s what I’m after.
Most everything in Jefferson is either on the square or within two blocks of it one way or the other. This includes the four “not-so-big boxes” of Hy-Vee, Fareway, Bomgaars and Shopko. Our phone company, insurance agent and the recreation center are there. That’s also where all the city & county offices, restaurants, banks, library, movie theater and the bowling alley are. It’s a surprisingly healthy and vibrant square for a small town on the edge of the Great Plains. So many similar towns are drying up and blowing away. Not Jefferson, at least not yet.
The front of the Ace Hardware store was partially blocked with plywood yesterday. This was new. They’ve started to renovate the facade. This is going on with a half a dozen buildings on the square right now. It’s a beautification project that will make it even nicer and more pleasant than it already is. There’s a local not for profit group that is spearheading this effort. My new neighbors drive process. I like that.
The square will soon be the epicenter of our universe. This is a good thing. We’ve wanted to live closer to home for some time now, and this is absolutely the best opportunity we’ve had to do so. It’s only one-half mile from our front door. The simple truth is that it’s really faster to cycle most places in Jefferson than it is to drive to them even before you factor in things like parking and buying gas and manufacturer recalls and everything else. The roads here are quiet. Speeds are low. It’s a good environment. No special infrastructure is required in order to feel safe here.
If we want to go further afield, the Raccoon River Valley Trail runs two blocks east of our front door. It connects us with the state capital in Des Moines and about 15-20 other towns along the way. It’s a 100+ mile round trip to the edge of the metro, fully paved and in really good shape for the most part. The RRVT is a big part of the reason why we bought a home here.
But there are also hundreds of miles of virtually deserted gravel roads to explore as well. They start right at the edge of town and will take us to any point on the compass. We could head east towards Ames, west towards Omaha or north towards the Twin Cities.
When I started on this journey a little over four years ago, I had no idea where it would lead me. I knew I wanted to move better…car-independent, so to speak. I know you can do that anywhere, but most people don’t and I can’t help but think that environment has a lot to do with that. In Jefferson, the environment is right. I can’t imagine an easier place to cycle rather than drive. Who knew?
Happy Independence Day to you and yours.