I shut the car door and sighed. “I don’t want to go back,” I said, stuffing my mask in the cupholder. We were about to get back on the interstate as we wound our way through Montana toward Washington state, our home.
It wasn’t a decision, just how I felt. But saying it out loud set us on an unstoppable course. Just a few months later, we were traveling back across the I-90 to the Black Hills of South Dakota—and this time, we wouldn’t have to go back.
My angst about the situation in Washington had been growing for some time. By late April 2020, I was frustrated I still couldn’t go to church. By May, I was indignant enough to rip the caution tape off the playground. By summer we were less “closed” but the new, ever-changing rules somehow made even less sense.
My in-laws had to restrict their café’s dining space to adhere to pseudo-scientific diktats from unaccountable public health officials. I was ordered to cover my face any time I was indoors in public, even when I had a preschooler and a baby with me and wasn’t near other people. My family’s whole life hung on arbitrary and capricious edicts from a power-hungry governor who constantly gaslighted about a virus that wasn’t deadly to the overwhelming majority of people and wasn’t overwhelming hospitals.
By July we decided it was time to start looking at moving to another state. Washington was being strangled not just from COVID policies, but leftist ideology more broadly. Leftist control was affecting in everything from taxes to the explosion of homelessness and rampant drug addiction, to riots and defunding the police, to indoctrination in the public schools.
By contrast, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem had advertised her hands-off COVID policy and the natural beauty and business- and family-friendly climate of her state while Lockdown America was hurting in both economy and morale.
Rapid City, settled at the foot of the Black Hills in western South Dakota, looked appealing on paper: a smallish city with an array of shopping and cuisine, not too much traffic, and a police department that was fully funded. The landscape was gorgeous, and the unpredictable weather and above-average number of sunny days sounded like a refreshing change from the Northwest’s constant cloud cover. A road trip to the Black Hills to look around couldn’t hurt, could it?
The area surpassed our expectations. We knew it might just be lockdown fatigue making the region look rosier than it really was, but at this point, almost any red state was better than where we were. We had the savings and my husband had the portable work-from-home office job. We had nothing to lose by moving here except being close to family.
We wanted our kids’ grandparents, aunts, and uncles to continue to be a big part of our lives, though, so moving became a joint decision. My husband’s parents considered our proposition with surprisingly little pushback for a couple who’d built and run a local restaurant for five years. Two of their locations had been starved out by COVID restrictions, but they’d have to give the whole thing up to move (barring finding the perfect location in the Black Hills, which they didn’t).
After their weeklong visit to the Rushmore state, they were just as impressed as we were with Rapid City. It was settled. We were all leaving Washington.
We wasted no time in selling our houses and securing housing in our new home state. By late autumn, all 12 of us had made the final 14-hour drive to land permanently in the Black Hills. Our families were finally free of blue state COVID tyranny, although my in-laws’ once-thriving business continued to suffer for several months before being sold.
My husband’s grandparents had already made plans to join us later in 2021, but we had no idea that, over the next year, five other households on both sides of the family would decide they wanted in on the easy-going, wild-weathered, picturesque area of the free state of South Dakota, too (although for some, it was even more important to be near the rest of their family). Four of those five households would come from Washington.
We shouldn’t have been surprised. Everyone from realtors to furniture salesman to church leaders all said the same thing: people from the West Coast and other lockdown states like Michigan and Minnesota were pouring into the area. Those of us who were fatigued from the punishing and arbitrary restrictions saw South Dakota like a man dying of thirst sees a glass of water.
That’s exactly how it felt when we dropped our suitcases on the stoop of our new house: like we’d found an oasis in a desert of hysteria and insanity. It didn’t matter that the house wasn’t even finished yet, and we had to stay in a hotel for a week.
It didn’t matter that we were exhausted from the biggest move of our lives, or that I had left behind the only state I’d ever grown up in. We made it. We were free from the vast majority of public and private restrictions that made life in Washington intolerable and were now in a community that warmly welcomed “blue state refugees” like us who shared their values.
One of the most refreshing changes was the mood of people in the community. The Washingtonians we interacted with in daily life were usually either keyed up, depressed, or antisocial. The second week in South Dakota, my husband Cody went to pick up a pizza and came back overjoyed that someone in line had asked him about the design on his T-shirt. That’s how starved of friendly human contact we’d been.
One year later, two dozen relatives, from siblings to cousins to great-aunts, from both sides of the family have joined us in the area, and more are still planning to come. Some took more convincing (not from us, really, as the area sells itself) and more time than others to get here, but none of us regret leaving Gov. Jay Inslee’s medical dictatorship.
An amicable community and a network of nearby family is certainly not a blessing everybody gets. I can’t tell you everything will turn up roses if you decide to move, and I can’t tell you dear family members will want to go with you. Moving is expensive and monumentally difficult for most people, but freedom is precious, as is living in a culture that isn’t constantly at odds with your values.
The lockdowns may be “over,” but COVID tyranny like vaccine passports and other insane leftist policies are not. If you feel smothered and helpless in Blue America, plan a trip to a free state and give relocation some serious thought. At the very least, you’ll get a reprieve.