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The Time-Distance Paradox

December 28, 2016

time-distanceThere are a thousand benefits to country living (or more; we’ve only been here five months, so we’re still learning). One of the strangest effects I’ve noticed, however, is something I’ve come to think of as ‘the time-distance paradox’.

To get pretty much anywhere from our home here in the country, we have to travel further than we had to in the city. And while it seems like we’ve been driving for a much longer period of time, we usually get where we’re going in the same (or a much shorter) amount of time. It’s a very odd sensation.

trafficFor example, when we lived in the big, busy city, we were just 2 miles (3.1 km) from the nearest grocery store. Google Maps states the trip should take ‘6 minutes without traffic’ (at the stated speed limit of 30 mph / 50 kph). However, the journey was never ‘without traffic’ (even during the early morning hours, I would be one of hundreds of drivers navigating the busy residential streets and major east-west arteries that led to where I was going; I also had to get through two four-way stops and four sets of traffic lights on the way). I might have averaged 15 mph (if I was lucky), and would arrive fifteen or twenty minutes after pulling out of the driveway (it took much longer than that during the mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and all day Saturday rush periods).

The nearest grocery store here is in the next town, 5.1 miles (8.1 km) away. The posted speed limit on the major east-west artery leading there (that sees maybe two dozen vehicles an hour passing along it) is 50 mph / 80 kph. Google Maps states the trip should take ‘7 minutes without traffic’. I can be there in six (provided I don’t have to stop at the single traffic light in the centre of town); oftentimes I don’t see a single other car on the road as I drive there and back (and the scenery is fantastic!) The drive ‘seems’ much longer than it did in the city (admittedly, I am covering more than twice the distance, but I’m going much faster), yet I get there in a third of the time. It’s a bit disconcerting.

walmartparkingSimilarly, the nearest Walmart to my former city home was 2.4 miles (3.8 km) away; I had to get through two four-way stops and seven sets of traffic lights to get there (all the while being squeezed on all sides by hundreds of other cars and drivers, all in a mad rush to get somewhere, but inevitably travelling at not much more than a snail’s pace). The trip nearly always took at least twenty minutes (and then there was the lengthy walk across the parking lot past a hundred or more cars that had arrived ahead of me, and the crush of hundreds of shoppers inside the store to deal with).

The closest Walmart to me now is in a city 20 miles (32 km) away. Again, the posted speed limit is 50 mph / 80 kph (mostly; I do have to slow down when I pass through the town where I do my grocery shopping, and two more small communities along the way; there’s a total of three traffic lights on the journey). If I don’t get too distracted by the gorgeous scenery along the rural roads between here and there, I can pull into the parking lot (where there might be 20 or 30 cars parked at most) in around 25 minutes. That’s five minutes longer to go nearly ten times the distance. And while it seems like it’s taken much longer (I suspect the illusion has to do with the scenic aspect of the drive – the wide open spaces and lack of traffic), I can honestly say it is always an enjoyable journey getting there (and shopping – fewer people means fewer headaches and more choice of goods available, especially around Christmas-time).

countryroadI am gradually getting used to the idea of travelling ‘great distances’ (which really aren’t that ‘great’ if you think about it) to get to where I need to go (shopping centres, the hardware store, the drugstore) and to getting there in less time than it would have taken me to drive a shorter distance to similar stores in my ‘previous life’ (as I think of it now), even though it seems longer. Still, it seems like it should be taking me longer to go further, not the other way around. (And pretty much everything we need is within a 20 minute drive – to one of two city centres [each city being less than one-quarter the size of the one we moved from] or two lovely little towns with delightful main streets and unique shops). Yes, I am putting more miles (kilometers) on my car, but my blood pressure is certainly much lower and I’m actually enjoying the experience of ‘going shopping’, instead of returning home totally stressed out and determined never to venture out again.

wine_lcboSPECIAL NOTE: as an ‘added shopping experience bonus’ to living where we are now, stores are far less crowded and the people who work in them are infinitely more friendly and helpful than what we experienced in the city. For instance, last year, I went to the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario – our government-controlled liquor store) a week before Christmas to pick up some wine for dinner, and a couple of ‘sample packs’ of craft beer for the boys as gifts. The store was packed and even through all six cash registers were open, there are seven or eight people lined up at each one (most of whom were grumbling or complaining about the crowds, the cost, the lack of inventory …); it took me almost forty minutes to buy the four items I wanted.

And when I went to the grocery store on Christmas Eve (early in the morning!) to pick up a few last minute items for Christmas dinner and Boxing Day brunch, I couldn’t even get into the parking lot (cars were lined up on the street, waiting for someone to pull out). I ended up driving to another grocery store (that is rarely busy), parking at the very farthest end of the parking lot, and spending almost a half hour in line trying to get through the check out!

This year, I went to the little LCBO in the next town a week before Christmas and I was the only person in the store (except for the exceptionally friendly lady who works there, who chatted with me for several minutes about the advantages of living and shopping in small towns). The grocery store on Christmas Eve WAS busy – there were perhaps fifteen people TOTAL in the store and two or three people customers in line at each of the two check outs. I was in and out in half the time it took me a year ago just to get through the check out!  And everyone said ‘Hello’ or ‘Merry Christmas’; you didn’t hear a single person grumbling or complaining about anything.

travellingincountryWe knew (years ago) it was time to get out of the city and find ‘our place’ in the country. We knew there would be challenges and discoveries and unexpected hurdles to face. However, we didn’t expect quite so many wondrous experiences (or truly scenic drives). It makes me wish we’d made the move long before we’d reached … the other side of 55.


  1. December 28, 2016 5:27 pm

    It sounds wonderful!

  2. Margie permalink
    December 28, 2016 5:09 pm

    I know exactly what you are saying, and are very glad we made our move to the country 25 Years ago! Superstore, Canadian Tire and Tim Horton’s – 5 minutes. Home Depot, Michael’s Crafts and London Drugs – 10 minutes tops! Busy? Hardly ever.

    In contrast, the nearest big mall is only 15 minutes away on the freeway, but it gets the traffic from a major city. On Boxing Day, it took our family an extra 20 minutes to get to our place because the traffic on the freeway was backed up by people trying to get into the mall!

    • December 28, 2016 5:19 pm

      I admit to originally being a bit ‘nervous’ about where we’d shop and how we’d get there, but its been an easy adjustment! The best part is that the stores are far less busy and the people are much more friendly. It’s been an amazing ‘transition’.

  3. December 28, 2016 4:44 pm

    We moved all the way across the USA to leave the suburbs/city and live in the country over 18 years ago and we’ve never regretted it. I love being in the country and don’t miss the city busyness one bit! Sounds like you too have found your little slice of heaven. 🙂

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