Every year someone asks, “How many years is this now?”
No one ever seems to remember exactly when we went on our first annual vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin as a group of four couples, most of whom barely knew each other at the time. But I’m pretty sure this year was our eleventh. I remember because that first year, Jake was going into seventh grade, and that sticks out in my mind because he was leaving the Catholic school our kids had always attended and was getting ready to start a new school career in the big, scary public middle school. And that would have been 2003.
So this being 2014 would be our eleventh year. I don’t think any of us thought this would become an annual event. It was kind of weird that first year. The only thing three of us couples had in common is that we were all friends with Bill and Tammy. But we had fun. And the next year, Bill and Tammy proposed we do it again. And so here we are, eleven years later and it’s become something kind of special.
This vacation is steeped in equal parts tradition and new adventures. We always take turns cooking a couple of dinners. There is always a Sequence game tournament during which Dennis is always my partner because once, long ago, Bill assigned game partners and they have remained unchanged ever since. We always visit Madeline Island at least once and while there, we always spend some time at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe. This year, there was an awesome band on stage, the Buckthorn Brothers. It was a quiet night at Tom’s, and one of the Julies first noticed the lead singer before we knew he was the lead singer. He had come into the bar presumably from the beach, wearing only a pair of board shorts. He disappeared into a trailer and came out fully clothed and sat down at the bar to have a drink.
“He’s good looking,” one of the Julies noted.
“Mmm hmmm,” the rest of us girls agreed.
“…even though we’re all old enough to be his mother,” I added, a little embarrassed that we were admiring the young man purely for his physical attributes.
“He has good dreads,” one of the Julies remarked and we all contemplated his hair style. I don’t usually care for dreadlocks, but she labeled them “contained dreads” and I had to agree. They suited him. Not long after, he stepped up on the stage and began tuning a guitar. A guy with a cello (I think) joined him. And they rocked!
Bill thought we should call it a night. It was getting dark and he still had to drive us all back to Bayfield in the boat. One of the Julies said not yet and we ordered another round of drinks while Tom’s began to fill up with people wanting to hear the band and dance. A few songs later, we left… reluctantly.
We had dinners out. The guys fished in the mornings while one of the Julies and I walked the Brownstone Trail along Lake Superior. I ran it alone one morning, just to see how far I could actually go. When downtown appeared in front of me, I knew I’d made it to the end and I turned around and ran back to the condo. Five and a half miles. Didn’t know I had it in me. Now I do!
Tammy, the other Julie and Mark went to the casino a few times. Mark came back with more than he contributed and was gleeful! We boated over to Ashland for an afternoon, checked out a car show and had a few drinks on the deck of a huge, old hotel with a view of Lake Superior.
I read a book. We hung out in downtown Bayfield. Visited several apple orchards. We boated to Stockton Island, hiking across it and cooling our toes in the cold water of the lake.
We went to Big Top Chautauqua to see a show. Didn’t really know what we were going to see. The other Julie had bought the tickets, telling us only that it was a sort of season-end show. There was music. There was comedy of the pants-peeing variety. And there was this guy telling funny stories and talking about a new book he’d just published. I’d never heard of him before, but he’d said book so I was interested. He said that during the intermission, guests could visit the gift shop (a smaller tent) and buy his books if they’d like and he’d even autograph them. I was interested, but the crowd was thick and I didn’t make it before the comedy act began. After the show, after having had a fabulously fun time, we all eight of us piled out from under the big top into the cool Wisconsin night. Hovering outside the gift shop waiting for the crowd to thin before we headed back to our cars, Mark nudged my arm and nodded into the open doorway. I saw the stacks of books and he suggested, “Let’s go look. You want one, don’t you?”
I did want one. The gift shop was now wide open and I could go peruse the selections without battling the crowd. But I was embarrassed because the author, Michael Perry was standing there and I had no idea about his writing whatsoever. Didn’t know if I liked it or not and I didn’t want this to be obvious. But his stories on stage had been funny, so I was pretty sure I wanted one of his books. So I picked out the first one I saw with intriguing cover art and gladly accepted Mr. Perry’s offer to autograph it for me.
I began to read my new book back at the condo that night when I went to bed. And I quickly realized that it was the kind of book I’ll try to force myself to read slowly because the words are woven together with such artistry that I find it hard to put down and won’t want it to end.
Once again, our Bayfield days proved to be memorable, fun, unwinding and rejuvenating with a side of gorgeous scenery. Aside from Bill and Tammy, we Bayfield vacationers don’t spend much time with each other outside of the annual trip and maybe a dinner date once or twice throughout the year. One of the Julies and I were discussing that fact this weekend. She’s the kind of person with whom I think I could be really good friends. We get each other. But for some reason, we stick to connecting only these few times a year, particularly connecting during our morning Bayfield walks. It’s families and work and schedules and life that we claim as excuses for not making more of our friendship, but the reality is, our friendship and this vacation just work as is. Julie was the one who first said it. It’s something special. And I imagine I’ll be telling fond stories about it for years to come.