I have been getting over a bit of writer’s block lately. Plenty of thoughts, but just not connected. In the midst of that, a title came to me and after a lot of searching for inspiration, I think I am ready to tackle this piece.
Deb and I just returned from some long awaited travel. We started the winter with a two week stay on Kauai and Maui in the Hawaiian Islands, returned home for a quick two week catchup, and then went down to Cancun for one more week. Hopefully you are not judging me for my irresponsible galivanting, but we had saved up for this and Covid-19 had left us longing to start traveling again. Regardless, we took both trips looking forward to the memories we would make. And we made memories.
These two trips, in some ways similar, had marked differences. Hawaii was activity driven. With my faithful travel master friends, Larry and Annette along for the journey, we never lacked purpose on any of the days. There were waterfalls to hike into, zip lines to tackle, whales to watch, and fish to snorkel among. Every day had a hike planned for at least part of it. Cancun, on the other hand, was meant for soaking up sun, walking the beach, and eating at a different restaurant every day (we were in an all inclusive so why wouldn’t we). Where our purpose in Hawaii was exploring and, as it turned out, exercise, Cancun was about down time.
We met random people throughout our stay in Hawaii, but they were usually “one and done” as we moved on and so did they. Cancun was different. As it was an all inclusive resort, it was like being held in this exotic, beautiful, prison. There was no need to venture outside of the walls and the food and the guards were incredible. The offshoot of this kind of vacation is that all the guests are traveling in the same circles. We were all there together and seeing a couple multiple times a day was the norm and offered the chance to make new friends, which we did. Though there were multiple couples, Chris and Sammy, Kristy and Chuck, not Paul (inside joke), half the state of Nebraska, and a very friendly group from Green Bay, Wisconsin, there were two couples who deserve a shout out.
Marcello and Julianna from Sao Paulo, Brazil were there to do a recommitment of their marriage vows on the occasion of their fifteenth wedding anniversary. We met them one of our first nights. They had come into one of the lounges and Julianna’s beautiful wedding dress caught our eye. Something told us they were looking for company. They had, like us, made the trip alone. As we started a conversation, we discovered that Marcello was able to speak some English but Julianna could only speak her native tongue, Portuguese. After spending some time apologizing to each other for not being able to adequately speak each other’s language, it was decided that we could fill in most of the gaps and we would not let it get in the way of what instantly felt like a friendship in the making. By weeks end, I was improving my very limited Spanish, and Marcello, his English. We had spent hours learning about each other and forming a friendship that just might, with the help of Facebook, last beyond our week in Cancun.
On night two of our stay, we sat across from a couple playing cards and talking with each other. As is the way with me, my incessant belief that people want to join in a conversation, I asked what game they were playing. That is all it took. By the end of the evening, we were making plans for breakfast the next morning. Erin and Alex, as it turned out, were from St Louis, a city we visit often and, by the end of the week, a city we now had a new reason to visit.
In our every day lives, we pass by so many Marcello and Julianna’s, so many Erin and Alex’s, but we never get to meet. When we travel, it seems so much easier to take the risk and start that conversation. In the case of Marcello and Julianna, we had to overcome the language barrier, but I will tell you that the challenge made the friendship all the sweeter. With Erin and Alex, the conversation was easier, but we still had to take the risk and put ourselves in play. In both cases, we formed a friendship that just might last long after the vacation ended. That is, of course, if both sides make the effort to keep the conversation going.
We are home now and the world is back to passing us by on the street, but what if we just once in a while mustered up the courage to talk to that person across the aisle or at the next table over. Who knows whether or not that is a friendship waiting to be formed. Don’t be afraid to take the chance. After all, can we ever really have too many friends?
Growing up on a small Wisconsin dairy farm in the 50’s, I constantly had chores to do, among them, cropping the fields, stacking the mows, filling the cribs and silos, and the main one, milking twenty three cows twice a day. Because my dad always believed that music would keep the cows content and that they in turn would produce more milk, meant that he would play the radio with the station tuned to WGN out of Chicago. This was an am radio station with a wide assortment of music, news, and talk shows. Thus, I and the cows were treated to a wide variety of programming. Two of my favorite programs were Let’s Go Fishing and Hawaii Calls. Let’s Go Fishing, as the name implies, was a half hour show about fish and catching them. The catchy little tune they would play, totally intended that pun, has never found its way out of my brain; “Let’s go fishing, for a day and a half, and a half a day, for a day and a half a mile.” Don’t ask me why they ended it with “mile” and I will leave the melody to your imagination. The second program was entitled “Hawaii Calls”, a show that took you through the music and stories of the Hawaiian Islands. As I listened, I would imagine one day getting to go there, but to my ten-year-old self, it seemed an impossible dream.
This memory has remained so vivid to me, and I have recalled it countless times over the years. I am happy to report that sometimes the impossible dreams of our childhood do in fact come true. As I write this blog, I am sitting in the Denver Airport waiting to board our flight to Hawaii. We will be spending the next two weeks Island hopping between Kauai and Maui. I say waiting, waiting because our flight is delayed for a technical issue, hopefully one that has nothing to do with the guidance system as I really want to get where we are meant to be. If not, I fear I will have the wrong wardrobe packed. Though this is not my first trip to Hawaii; Deb, my daughters, and I made the trip in 2008, it will be looked forward to no less than my first one. This time, my wife and I are traveling with two dear friends and looking forward to a shared experience as we explore the attractions and enticements of the Islands. There will no doubt be several Mai Tai and other fruit laden cocktails mixed in with hikes, waterfalls, and dinners on the beach.
Travel has always been an integral part of who I am. It started all those years ago as I poured over my National Geographics and listened to radio programs like Hawaii Calls. During my college years It grew into trips outside my home state. Eventually, it took me both north and south of the border and even across the ocean. It has introduced me to new friends and new places. It has allowed me to experience the cultures of people very unlike me and my travels have created memories everywhere I went.
It was just a radio program that planted the seed, but now, all these years later, Hawaii actually is calling and by the way, we just got the call to board our plane.
The time is just a few minutes after 3:00 am. John is already up and carbo loading on a breakfast of pancakes and syrup. In a little more than an hour he will be starting off on what will be a 240-mile trek by bike across Wisconsin. The ride will start here in Lacrosse, Wisconsin and work its way southeast across the state eventually ending on the waterfront in downtown Milwaukee. He will be accompanied by 700 fellow bike riders, some as lone riders like John while others will ride for teams of several riders. The trek will take them through nearly 70 miles of gravel trail and tunnels, with another 170 miles on backroads as they rise and fall over 6500 feet of total elevation. While the ride starts with hundreds of riders, only about 160 will cover the entire 240 miles in a single day. John has trained all year for this ride, but today will be his distance record as he joins the group to cover it in a single day.
I will be driving the sag wagon for John’s trip, accompanied by my daughter Bailey who is John’s spouse. Our job will be to meet him at the designated checkpoints along the way where we will refresh his water bottles and provide him with the snacks and food he has planned out for each stop. This honor had fallen to my younger daughter, Kathryn, last year, but is mine to experience this year. I am honored to be on his sag crew and a part of his journey.
It is now 4:30 am and we are with John as he awaits the start and continues to check and recheck everything on his bike. The start is only minutes away now and bikers are coming from every direction to find their starting positions. The start area is marked off in intervals that closely mimic the starting paces the riders intend to keep. The faster pace riders are placed near the beginning, while slower starters will take up positions further back in line. The last thing any rider wants is to be involved in a collision within the first mile of the ride due to an uneven start. John will take a position in the top third of the riders with a chosen pace around 15 mph. My first impression is of how focused John is. If he is to be successful, he must maintain a sustainable pace, pay attention to his times as he has planned them out, and be able to break the ride into segments. He will likely be on the bike for up to 17 hours and he has to find ways of avoiding thinking about how much he still has left, as opposed to focusing on the segments as he finishes one and begins the next. Only if he thinks of them as a bunch of shorter trips, will the totality of the trip not take its toll on his emotional energy.
It’s 5:00 am, the start! John gives us a cursory glance and a wave, and he is off into the dark. By the time Bailey and I have made our way back to the hotel, the app on her phone shows John already 6 miles out. Sparta is our first check point some 30 miles away. We decide we better forego breakfast and get on the road to meet him. It’s amazing how this feels like a sacrifice for us and then we remember, John’s on the bike, we are in a car. Way too easy to lose perspective. We vow to toughen up, but not without a cup of coffee to go.
The weather last night was dotted with torrential downpours. We are worried as John approaches the Sparta Elroy trail, as to the condition of the gravel bed. How messed up will the tunnel surfaces be. One of those tunnels is nearly a mile in length and there are no lights. The riders will depend on the collective light cast by their bike lights. As John prepares to leave this first pit stop, he expresses concerns about switching from pavement to the gravel trails but grabs fresh water and a couple bananas and heads back out. He will repeat this action up to ten more times throughout the day. At least the rain, forecast to be off and on all day, has so far held off. We pick John up as the trail crosses through the next three villages. He does not stop at any of these, but I can feel the relief in Bailey as she waves him through. Each crossing shows he is riding strong and has chopped off another ten miles here and another fifteen miles there. His next planned stop will be Elroy.
We are there waiting in Elroy. It is amazingly only 9:45 in the morning. It seems so much later but then we remind ourselves that John has now been riding for almost five hours. Again, with the perspective! This is the point where he will switch from the Sparta Elroy trail to the 400 Trail as it winds its way down to Reedsburg. As it turns out, we were able to pass John a slice of pizza and pudding cup at the old train depot in Kendall. He warned us that he may not stop at Elroy and as he approaches us on the trail, he gives a thumbs up and rides straight through. I guess we catch him at Reedsburg.
We wait at the depot in Reedsburg and eventually we start seeing riders we know have been coming through the previous checkpoints around the same time as John. Bailey’s app says that he is about 2 miles out and so we wait. Then suddenly we see him making the corner leading into town and the end of the 400 Trail. He reaches the depot covered in mud, gravel, and grease. His black bike is barely recognizable, but John just wants a quick refuel on some snacks and heads back out. We will meet him in Wisconsin Dells where he will take ten minutes to wolf down a burger and fries that we are to pick up while we wait. The good news, he is off the gravel trails for the next few hours and the sun is out. The bad news, the Baraboo Ridge lies dead ahead and that means the hills have begun.
The stop in Wisconsin Dells goes well and Bailey and I hide our shame as we finish off our McDonalds burger, fries, and a shake, oh the humanity! John wants to get right back out so his hamburger will wait. Fries and a pudding cup are all he takes time for, and he is off for the climb over the ridge. Once he clears the ridge, it will be mostly downhill to the ferry crossing at Merrimac. As Wisconsin Dells was designated as the halfway point, over 400 riders have now disappeared from the ride. But John and about 160 others will trek on. As we wait for the ferry to complete its trip across and back on the river, John gets a well-deserved half hour rest. But time can become his enemy if he is to finish by 10:00 pm in Milwaukee. The ferry barely drops the gate and John and about 30 riders are headed down the road.
As nice as the sunshine was at the ferry crossing, the blackening skies on the other side of the river bode nothing but bad news. John had barely reached the next village at Lodi when the skies let loose. The rain came in torrents. Bailey and I are on the road when the storm hit and are barely able to keep driving. We catch ourselves complaining about the rain when the reality hits us that John is somehow continuing to ride in this. We know that because we are tracking his progress on the app. He has slowed considerably but he is still moving south. We stop complaining and once again regain the perspective. We say a silent prayer and wish him God speed.
We reach the next checkpoint at Bristol where a group of friends and family will await John’s pass through at the Sassy Cow Creamery. John is looking forward to seeing his children at this stop. Jackson and Adela have made posters and will be there to cheer him on to the finish some 90 miles ahead. This will be his encouragement for the final push. The problem is the rain. It is coming down so hard that we can barely see across the street. But then we all catch a break. The rain lets up just long enough for us to spot John’s light blinking through the gloom. It is around 3:30 as he crests the hill and we all clang bells and rush out to welcome him to this briefest of stops. Hugs from Jackson and Adela, encouragement from the friends and family that are there, and John gets back on the bike and heads on down the road. As the rain starts back up, we can just catch a glimpse of the red light on the back of his bike fading into the distance. I will forever hold that image of that solitary rider disappearing into the gloom.
This is where I left the sag wagon. I needed to drive my wife and our grandkids to the hotel in Milwaukee where we would wait for John to finish the ride. Bailey would see him through the next two stops at Waterloo and Lake Mills. At Lake Mills she would wave John through as he had to enter gravel trails once more for 25 more miles on the Glacial Drumlin trail to Milwaukee. The next time she would see him would be the finish line in Milwaukee. As we found out later, this was one of the worst legs of the trip if not thee worst. The trail was littered with tree branches and water running in the ruts. This leg alone would do in the casual rider, but John must push through this ever mindful of the distance remaining and the approaching darkness.
The call came in from Bailey at 9:30. She was at the finish line and John was 9 miles out. The goal of finishing before 10:00 was in jeopardy but he was pushing as hard as he could. As the minutes ticked down, we waited at the finish line, Jackson and Adela with their posters, and the rest of us with fingers crossed. At 10:00 the app said 1 mile out. At 10:05 we saw bike lights crossing the avenue three blocks down and at 10:06, to the screams of “you made it”, and 17 hours after leaving Lacrosse, John finished the ride. I should add this note. At that 1 mile out mark, John had called Bailey and said I need a hamburger when I come in. My wife immediately headed to the restaurant only to find out the grill had been shut down for the night. Upon hearing the story and seeing John’s children waiting, the chef said I am going to fire up the grill and make him the perfect hamburger, which in John’s case is plain, no condiments just the meat. The least we can do after 240 miles.
I would never have fully understood this ride or my sons-in-law’s obsession had I not been able to be even a small part of it on his sag crew. My deep respect for what he accomplished goes without saying. You are the toughest guy I know. Now get on that bike and start training for next year.
Can you really have too much of a good thing. Let’s take ice cream. I will unashamedly admit that on more than one occasion I have literally licked the bottom of the bowl and it may not have even been mine.
For the past three weeks, we have been at a condo we rented on the gulf in Florida. Every day has been sunny with temps in the 80’s. When we weren’t basking in the pool just outside of our lanai, we were at the beach, with our toes in the water. And every evening, ah, the sunsets.
Sunsets on the ocean are spectacular. Weather permitting, and it was, the sun arcs toward the water’s edge in a blazing orb that gradually deepens in color from bright white to blazing yellow and eventually to deepening shades of orange. As the outer rim touches the ocean’s edge, the march below the waves accelerates, or so it seems, and in a matter of minutes, its gone. As the last sliver of the sun disappears, the skies light up in an explosion of deep oranges and soft reds, but not before this halo of light seems to erupt into the dusk sky. The strange thing is that no two sunsets are ever exactly the same and no matter how many photos you have snapped, you find yourself taking one more.
As I said, we were here for three weeks. Our first week was shared with my daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren. To say the energy of two young grandchildren kept us busy would be an understatement. Daily trips down to the surf, hours of swimming in the complex’s pool and long walks down the beach shelling, the sport of finding the best seashells, filled our days from dawn to the evening sunset. Sadly, they had to go home at the end of that first week leaving my wife I to keep each other entertained. Near the end of week two and missing our grandchildren, my wife asked the question, was three weeks too long? Were we in fact ready to go home? As the question hung there and the sun began its descent to the ocean, the answer was obvious. Were we in a hurry to return home where spring was waging a losing battle to push away winter? Where it had snowed the day before and temps still hovered near freezing?
Let’s not be hasty. We deserve a few more days of falling asleep to the sounds of the surf rolling onto the beach. To walk with sand tickling our toes. To just gaze out at the ocean as sail boats go by first following the wind and then alternately tacking against it. To catch a few more amazing sunsets. And there you have it, you really can’t get too much of a good thing.
I’ll have to wrap this up. The sun is dipping toward the ocean and I can hear the mellow sounds of the conch shells beckoning me out to watch.
What is it about packing that makes my blood run cold? We are set to leave for our next vacation Sunday morning, just two days from now. Truthfully, I should currently be packing, but I have chosen to write about why I’m not packing instead. My wife and travel mate, Deb, was packed a full two weeks ago, but I just can’t seem to start. It’s not that I am not looking forward to the trip, I am in fact really excited to get away. But none the less, my habit of packing procrastination is on high alert, sort of def con 3.
I have created an entire handbook full of reasons for not packing ahead of time. What if before we leave, I need one of the pieces of clothing I packed? What will the weather be where we are going? God knows you can’t trust a forecast more than a day out. What am I going to do with those last minute items? I would have to unpack just to get them in the ideal position within my suitcase. And what if TSA makes a new requirement I will have to pass? My list is limitless and the bottom line is that there is always tomorrow.
My m. o. has always been to pack about one hour before we leave. Much to my wife’s chagrin, she has been repeatedly unsuccessful in trying to change me. Even so, she has never had to leave without me, close calls a few times, but I’ve always come through. There was that one time. We had a 6:00 am flight to catch which meant pickup by our Uber driver at 4:00 am. My wife likes to have a full hour getting ready in the morning, so our wake up alarm was set for 2:45 am. Plenty of time for me to dress AND to pack. Everything should have worked except for one tiny hitch, daylight savings time began that morning. The result, a record setting run for both of us. My wife showered and dressed while I literally threw everything into my suitcase all in 15 minutes. This experience should have been a wake up call, no pun intended, but instead, became my new benchmark.
The art of packing is just that, an art. Some, like my wife, view it as a planning activity. Others a means of extending their vacation anticipation period. I view it as a track meet. Sort of a 100 yard dash at most. It’s not just a question of can I finish the race, but how fast can I do it. I have been looking forward to this trip ever since we laid the initial plans, but the packing, that’s another thing.
Fear not. We leave at 7:00 am Sunday morning, plenty of time to pack that suitcase. Though I will for sure be seeing the sun rise that morning, I promised Deb, my suitcase will be in the car by the deadline. Am I packed? ……………. Not yet.
The road trip has been talked about for generations. When I was growing up the best road trip one could take, was Route 66. This one was so famous, they wrote books about it and even made a TV show with Route 66 as the premise. The idea of a road trip offered a chance to see America close up and if you really wanted to see the out of the way, you had to take the by ways and avoid the free ways.
During my lifetime I have taken my share of road trips. The first road trips were relatively short in that they didn’t even leave the state. Later, my road trips expanded beyond the borders of my state and several took me all the way across the country. I have driven to San Francisco on one coast and New York on the opposite. One trip reached the tip of Cape Cod, while another the tip of the Florida Keys at Key West. Two took me out of the country to Quebec City on the Atlantic side and Edmonton, Alberta on the western side of Canada. Each and every one of these trips hold very special memories. Memories of driving with my small children. Bonding trips with friends from college. Several long trips with my wife as copilot. In the end, I brought home lots of photos and souvenirs, but more importantly, incredible memories of the places and views as well as new friends made along the way. I could never pick one favorite trip, but there certainly were some great ones.
There is one trip that does stand out from the rest for it’s sheer audacity. It was the summer of 1977, I had just resigned from my first teaching job and had moved back home before I would start my new one that fall. My brother had some vacation time coming and asked if I were up for a road trip. We would load the car and head west eventually reaching Sacramento where we would drop in on our sister. We had zero plans but big ideas. With my little red mustang loaded with the few things we thought we might need, we said good by to our mother and headed west. We reached Omaha, Nebraska sometime in the wee hours of the next morning and passed Lincoln around sunrise. Some small Nebraska town out in the middle of nowhere became our first pit stop. It seems the Nebraska State Patrol believes one should drive slow enough to truly enjoy the amazing scenery their state has to offer. After paying for our share of that view, we were back on the road. We eventually crossed the Rockies, the Great Salt Lake, and the Sierras arriving at our destination, my sister and brother-in-law’s home in Sacramento. It had taken us most of two days and I am not even sure I remember where we stopped for the night or even if we did. All in all, we spent the better part of two weeks on that trip. We toured Sacramento, took in one of my brother-in-laws stock car races, made several new acquaintances curtesy of the Sacramento night scene, and re-established our significance to our sister.
Our return trip back across the country was equally noteworthy. Safe to say, we still went more or less by the seat of our pants when it came to planning. Night one found us rolling out our sleeping bags under a moonlit Oregon sky only to be awakened soon after by rather large animal sounds, at least they sounded large. Back in the car, we decided we were not cut out to be cowboys sleeping under the stars. We reached Yellowstone by morning and actually made Mt Rushmore in time for the evening lighting of the monument. I still remember Keith asking if the one day park sticker we had bought that morning in Yellowstone, also got us into Mt Rushmore. The look on the ranger’s face said it all. I believe his exact words were, “You’re covered on the park entrance fee, but maybe I should be giving you a speeding ticket instead.” After a good laugh, we were granted entrance to the park. Our intent that night was to pitch a tent and start back on our trip home the in the morning. Our intent was valid, but after a night out in Keystone, two more new acquaintances, and a trip to an abandoned gold mine at three am, it was already dawn when we got to our tent. Our camp ground neighbors commented on how impressed they were with our being such early risers. We left them believe that.
That trip sticks out in my mind as being the event that re-bonded me with my brother. Sharing all that time, and yes, adventures with him, renewed our brotherhood. That is what road trips are meant to do. We get to reacquaint ourselves, we discover new places and new people, we adventure. The open road cannot be seen from 30,000 feet up. It needs to roll beneath the tires of your vehicle. It needs to be seen from the windshield of your car and it needs to invite you to pull over, get out, and experience it first hand. Every road trip I have taken has afforded me those priceless opportunities. Next time someone offers you the chance for a road trip, don’t hesitate. Throw a few things in the back of the car, buckle your seatbelt, and hit the road.
Queet’s Beach, Washington. One of many great road trips with my daughters
I write a piece each week for a project called Story Worth which my daughters purchased for my birthday. It seems they actually want my memoirs, go figure. This week’s assignment was to write about the farthest trip I ever took. What follows is my answer to that question.
This is an interesting question as there are two different answers. If we consider total distance, regardless of the means of transportation, it would be our family trip to Italy in 2006. We flew into Rome for that trip and then over the course of two weeks, traveled to Positano in the south of Italy, and then crisscrossed the country ending up in Venice. From there we crossed again to Siena and Florence, and eventually returned to Rome. This trip was an incredible adventure and a cherished family memory. We discovered so many things and both viewed and learned an incredible amount of history as we traveled from city to city. Along the way we formed a friendship with the families who accompanied us on our tour. These were people we had not known before entering our hotel in Rome. People whom we never would have known except that fate had put us together. The beauty of travel is not just the scenery and the history you experience, but the people you meet along the way, fellow travelers on the journey.
That trip was by far the farthest distance wise, but if I think about the longest driving trip I ever took, it would be my drive to California and back in the summer of 1977. That summer, my brother and I loaded up my 1974 Mustang compact and headed west for California. It would take us three days and numerous stops along the way before we would arrive in Sacramento, but we made it. I could tell you of the adventures along the way, but most were sworn to secrecy and the statute of limitations has not yet been lifted. I can tell you that among some of the records set, one was touring both Yellowstone and Mt Rushmore on the same day. Even the park ranger questioned how we accomplished that one. Along the way, we slept under the stars, that was until we thought we heard a bear, explored an abandoned gold mine at two in the morning, and met countless characters along the way. That trip was a bonding experience for my brother and I that will forever entertain us each time the story is retold and would establish a friendship that has lasted to this day.
Never discount the value of travel. The world is such a large and diverse place. Each new place you visit and every new person you meet adds to the whole of your being. Take time in life to travel, whether it be to far off lands, across your own country, or just in your state, look for the beauty, make new friends, and always enjoy the ride.
I admit this is a travelogue, but I’ll make a point. Long, well long long ago, I was given the dare by a college friend on an all too many libations evening, to drive home for the weekend with him and another friend. No big deal except that we were in Wisconsin and he lived in Connecticut. We would leave late Thursday night and be back in time for our Monday classes. I took the dare and immediately started to worry about how my parents would feel if something happened and they would not have even known I had gone. The morning before we were set to leave, I caved in and called my dad. Totally expecting him to shoot down the idea as crazy, ill formed, and paid for how?, I awaited the big NO! To my utter surprise, my conservative, sensible father said, “I have given up so many things in my life and travel was one, you should travel every time you get the opportunity.”
I took the dare and we were off late that Thursday night, snow bound on the Ohio Turnpike at 2:00 in the morning, stranded in a truck stop till dawn and one whole day of driving, but we made it to Connecticut. Two days later and another all night drive and we were back at UW Oshkosh for my 10:00 am class. To this day, this opportunity remains an incredible memory.
A month or so ago, we were invited to the wedding of my next door neighbor’s son. The catch was that it was in Pittsburgh and I am sure the thought was would they really come? If my Connecticut trip all those years ago taught me anything, it was never pass up an opportunity to visit a city for the first time. I had never been to Pittsburgh so there really never was a hesitation, we were going and we would travel by car. Travel by car, as I have written about in other blogs, is the best way to really experience a trip. We split this trip in half, spent a day in Sandusky, Ohio and arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania early on Thursday afternoon.
My opinion of Pittsburgh, as my title states, was one of steel mills, heavily industrial, and well, likely poor. Granted we stayed in the downtown, but my opinion changed immediately. The city has been working very hard on regentrification and the impact is everywhere in the downtown area. Pittsburgh sits on the confluence of three rivers, the Alleghany, the Monongahela, and the Ohio. Their meeting point is marked by a beautiful park surrounded by the bluffs on either side. Just across the river sits the Pittsburgh Steelers football stadium and just down the river the Pittsburgh Pirates ball park. The bike trails run everywhere and food, entertainment, and sports bars dot the area. In short, so much to do and see and in my case not much time to get it done. But I have two more days and I am confident I will leave here with not only new memories, but another city added to my completion list and an opinion changed.
Travel can never be discounted due to what it does for the traveler. If one travels with an open mind and a good dose of curiosity, you will come home with better understanding of how our uniqueness is in our differences and that our common bond is found in our humanity.
We left Madison three days ago after a year and month of COVID isolation. The temp that morning was 20 degrees and a high of 38 degrees was forecast for the day. Our first night was spent in Cincinnati, OH and our second in Asheville, NC. Late this afternoon we reached our destination on Kiawah Island, SC. The temperature, 75 degrees. I am, as I write this, sitting on the screen porch of our VRBO with a local brew in my hand, watching an alligator sunning in the canal below. Warning, before you put two and two together and conclude our house is unoccupied and easy pickings, besides our ever watchful neighbors, did I mention the eight foot python we recently purchased.
It was quite the drive to get here but so scenic and so refreshing after a year of vacationing in my back yard, putting a mere 500 miles on my vehicle in the course of the entire year. I swear I could hear my jeep purring as I turned towards the interstate and began to put the miles behind us. There is a lot to be said for a road trip. A road trip gives you the chance to bond with your fellow traveler or plot where to leave them, just kidding Deb. A road trip gives you the opportunity to experience Americana and to just take in sights on a whim. It is the adventure Jack Kerouac alludes to when he writes, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” Never discount the road trip.
For the next week, I will attempt a round of golf on a course light years beyond my ability to play it. I will walk the beach and maybe manage to catch a few sunrises over the Atlantic. I will put as many miles as my legs can handle on my bike. And I will generally put the world of stress and COVID behind me. I will regenerate. For those of you who know me well, know that I have traveled often, sometimes with detailed plans and sometimes by the seat of my pants. This trip feels different. I would be a liar if I said the isolation of this past year hadn’t left me damaged. This trip is the beginning of my repair.
We have arrived. All that is left now is to be: stress free, plan limited, senses alert, and open to the healing that time away can bring.
It would be a gross misstatement to say that this was a typical summer. As I write this blog, we are in the process of wrapping up our last week of cottage time. My wife shares the cottage they inherited from their parents with her two brothers and that means her time share amounts to five weeks every summer. In a normal year we might, at most, use parts of two or three weeks and then embark on more distant trips to all those places we dreamed our retirement would take us. Not so in the summer of COVID-19. All big travel trips had to be put on hold and with many of our local haunts closed or limited, the cottage proved to be the our only get away and this year saw us at the cottage for all of my wife’s five weeks.
I will be the first to say it, thank God for the cottage. We spent hours reading, hiking, kayaking, biking riding and if you are a regular reader, you know there was a lot of time spent watching my grandchildren fish, which by the way, is pure joy. There were evening campfires complete with the typical word games, stories and s’mores. There was the simple pleasure of spotting the lake’s two loons, the eagles as they soared above and the deer that would quietly visit our cottage as we sat stone still observing them. My grandchildren and I even invented several games, Road Golf being their most popular. With Road Golf, we took it so far as to write up the rules and then refine them as the game demanded. Note to my readers, send me a request via email and I’ll send you a copy of the rules. Equipment is minimal, a good rock and a pair of old shoes.
The five weeks spread out across three months flew by and here we are, a few days away from Labor Day and the traditional marking of summer’s end. The cottage will be closed up for the season as soon as my brother-in-laws’ final two weeks are logged. And then it will sit, silently enduring the long winter months and heavy snows of northern Wisconsin. But spring will eventually arrive and the cycle of family visits will start anew. The question will be, how will 2021 compare to 2020? Let’s hope more like the old normal we are all longing for now.
But it is what it is. We all traveled afar, far less. We visited our family and friends less in person and far more virtually. We reinvented our traditions, our birthdays, graduations and family celebrations. We read more and socialized less, we ate in way more than we used to eat out. Like it or not, COVID has changed us. Some of those changes may become permanent while others will have been just for now, just for the pandemic. Summer is not really gone, it actually has another month left according to the calendar. In this year, it might feel like it never existed, especially if we only look at what we didn’t get to do. But, if we can reflect on what we did do, especially those things that were different, well then it might have actually been a great summer.
Patience will see us through this. Paying attention to personal habits and keeping each other safe will make it pass quicker. Summer is ending, but it was never gone. And it will come again. Here’s hoping it will be COVID free next time around and that some of our new traditions and activities will survive the test of time and be part of it.