My wife and I are both native North Carolinians. We both spent much of our early years in the Mount Airy, NC area.
We are now living on the coast but have spent much of our time living in the mountains. Our experiences might help others make the decision as to where to live.
In Mount Airy, the Blue Ridge Mountains were just a few miles away. A trip up to the Blue Ridge Parkway was a normal thing to do on a hot summer day. The temperature was often ten to fifteen degrees cooler.
Taking a picnic up to the Parkway was a great summer activity. Then there was the trip to Mount Mitchell with it spruce forests which were like another world.
Living on the side of the mountain was a dream for many of us in the Piedmont of North Carolina. It drove up land prices in the mountains.
Still North Carolina is a state with many treasures, and its beaches are among the best. Each summer from the time I was only two, we were off to beaches. I think salt water ran in my veins from early in my life.
For years, we ran a cattle ranch in Canada near Fredericton, New Brunswick. Though the hills there were not quite mountains, we had a wonderful view and more snow than any of the southern mountains ever see.
At the back of our Canadian farm was a stream filled with native brook trout. Much of the vegetation was reminiscent of the Blue Ridge mountains and Mt. Mitchell. Both before and after our time on the farm we lived along the shore of Nova Scotia, one of the most beautiful places on earth, and a place with a climate more like the southern mountains than the southern beaches.
After living in Canada for seventeen years, we have spent most of the last twenty years living that mountain dream in Roanoke, Va.
Roanoke is the downtown in the picture at the top of the post. Our home is actually in the foothills of Twelve O'Clock Knob, one of the mountains surrounding Roanoke.
Roanoke was a wonderful place to live and bring up our three children. It is hard not to be humbled by the beauty of the mountains when you are surrounded by mountains. I took thousands of sunrise pictures from the porch just off our bedroom.
We joined a wonderful church, Covenant Presbyterian and our children attended exceptional neighborhood schools through middle school. The high school was not perfect but ended up better than most.
I felt fortunate to live on the side of a mountain high above Roanoke. I was able to maintain two miles of trails on the mountain until it was sold to a developer a few years ago.
Those trails were a wonderful escape for us as we walked our Lab, Chester. We could watch spring morph into Appalachian summer. We knew exactly where certain wildflowers would show up each year. A few years we were even able to use snowshoes on the mountain. In the summer the cool canopy of tall trees was a great escape from the heat.
We even battled the bears for blackberries which my wife turned into wonderful blackberry jelly. For a time it was like having the best of urban and rural living. We were close to services, but ten minutes of hiking up a hill got us away from the city a couple of times a day.
It was a great period of mountain living. We even had a crystal clear mountain lake, Carvin's Cove, to enjoy with our kayak.
Unfortunately people and places change. I have come to believe and accept that change is the one constant.
We have changed and our mountains have changed. The Roanoke Valley's air is not nearly as clean as it was when we moved here. The thousands of trucks passing through the valley each day might have something to do with that. Property taxes in the Roanoke Valley have gotten well beyond what I think is sustainable.
In spite of that, the jobs have not come to the valley. All three of our kids moved away after college to find jobs.
Also I have come to admit that living in the mountains takes some effort.
Where I used to not mind loading my bike on the back of the car and driving for a few minutes so I could ride it, now I do. Our hill outside Roanoke is too steep for all but the most fit bike riders.
We also were country club members for a while, then members of the local fitness club, and eventually the Salem YMCA. All those were mainly for access to a swimming pool where I could swim some laps.
Swimming always meant at least 10 to 20 minutes of driving each way.
These are all minor things but they play a role in deciding where to live.
At some point, the mountains became more of a challenge than a paradise for me.
Roanoke has had very little snow over the last few years, but some pretty good ice and wind storms have paralyzed the valley.
If you live on the side of a mountain with a steep access road, you quickly learn that getting up the mountain isn't the challenge. Going down the mountain on an icy road is what really separates the idiots from the rest of humanity.
Now after nearly eighteen years enjoying life on the side of a mountain, we find ourselves on the coast much of the time.
Before we made the decision, we looked long and hard through the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. We also traveled up and down the Virginia and North Carolina coasts.
On the shores of the White Oak River in Carteret County, I have found plenty of good walking by just going out my front door. There are also walks on the beach and trails in Croatan National forest that are just minutes away.
I have a great place to ride my bike, and I never have to load it on the back of the car. I just have to slide the kayak in the water to go for a paddle.
The community swimming pool is about 150 ft from the end of driveway. An indoor one at the fitness center is six or seven minutes away.
Overall taxes and insurance are about 35% less than they are in Roanoke. Our utility bills are much less because the average temperature in Carteret County is pretty close to comfortable much of the year.
We haven't given up our mountainside home yet so in certain respects we have the best of both worlds. Still the beaches are slowly winning us over.
Perhaps we did not look hard enough in the mountains, but what we found in Carteret County turned out to be just what we were looking for in a new home. We found a year around community with lots to do, pleasant weather, and most of all friendly people.
I think almost all of the beautiful mountain homes we looked at were isolated. Having lived n some fairly remote spots over the years, we were looking for neighbors, we found them in our small subdivision near Cape Carteret and Swansboro.
I am sure there are mountain communities that have the same feeling, we just didn't find them.
Finding a place where you are going to be happy means figuring out what will make you happy. For some people it is sitting on a deck and enjoying a mountain view. For others like me, it is being able to hop on a bicycle or walk on a beach. It is not so much the place that makes you happy, it is what you can find in a place that will make it right for you.
Try to imagine living in a place. Living somewhere is far different than visiting.
There have been lots of people who moved to twenty acres in the country only to find out that it wasn't the place for them. I suspect the same thing has happened to people who get a home at the beach or in the mountains.
Understanding your own needs and wants is the most important part of the equation. If you don't figure that out first, you likely won't be happy in the mountains or on the beach.