In August 2015, Washington Post data reporter Christopher Ingraham was looking for story ideas when he stumbled upon a gold mine: a U.S. Department of Agriculture study—the Natural Amenities Index—a list of America’s more than 3,000 counties classified from ugliest to most scenic. In covering the rankings, he wrote a sentence that would change his life: “The absolute worst place to live in America is (drumroll please) . . . Red Lake County, Minn.” The story immediately went viral.
Ingraham’s piece received hundreds of responses from angry but polite Red Lake Falls residents, including a local businessman who invited Ingraham to visit. Curious, Ingraham accepted the offer—and was pleasantly surprised and charmed by the warmth, humor, and hospitality these ordinary Midwest folks extended to a big city East Coast journalist who had insulted their home to millions of readers.
The trip changed Ingraham and inspired a crazy idea. Living in one of the most expensive areas in the United States, he and his family were stretched financially—and running out of options. Crunching the numbers, Ingraham realized Red Lake County offered an opportunity they could not pass up. After careful planning, Chris, his wife Briana, and his young twin sons picked up their lives and moved from the nation’s busy, cosmopolitan capital to a tiny hamlet in rural Minnesota. It was the beginning of a chapter of incredible lifestyle changes and important life lessons.
In Red Lake Falls, Ingraham meets people for whom politics are a passing conversation, not an obsession, experiences the intensity and power of small-town gossip, embarks on a futile quest to find a decent cup of coffee, and suffers through brutal winters with temperatures of thirty degrees below zero. But more than that, he discovers that statistics and numbers do not tell a complete story, whether in politics—witness the 2016 election results—or in life.