Another successful Bayfield vacation is in the books. Eight friends. Four couples. Six of us barely knew each other that first year, all of us only having one couple of friends in common. We never thought we’d make it an annual thing, but here we are, all these years later and always looking forward to doing it all over again. We remember how young our kids were when we first started vacationing together. We had to arrange for childcare while we were away back then. These days our kids are living their own lives and we talk about their college graduations, jobs and weddings. We joke about our gradually declining vision and physical ailments that come with being this age.
For the past several years, the question always seems to be, How many years have we been doing this?
We figured it out again this year. Two of us have boys whom we remember were just getting ready to start seventh grade the first year we went. I remember because Jake was leaving the Catholic school he’d attended since Kindergarten and transferring to the big, scary public middle school. He survived. I was probably more scared than he was. That was 2003. So this was our thirteenth annual trip.
We’ll ask the same question and have to figure it out again next year, I’m sure.
It’s been enough years that we now look forward to returning to familiar haunts. But we still manage to find new places to explore.
We still manage to find new restaurants at which to eat. We stopped on the way to Bayfield at the Anchor Bar in Superior, Wisconsin. It was dark, a bit claustrophobic, and jam-packed with old nautical decor. And the hamburgers were amazing. I tried an olive burger for the first time – a hamburger patty topped with a green olive and cream cheese spread. I’ve found my new favorite burger!
My favorite part of the vacation? I could say it was the food. All diets were off and the meals we cooked were better than anything we could have found in any old restaurant. But it wasn’t the food.
I could say it was having time to read an entire book, one that I couldn’t put down and which moved me to tears. But it wasn’t that.
It might have been the abundance of lake and beach scenery …
The lake and beaches were beautiful as usual, but they weren’t quite my most favorite part of the trip either.
There was plenty of time out on the boat, loads of time to relax, to talk and laugh together, to sit out on the deck and enjoy drinks. The ducks came to visit and we leaned over the deck railing to feed them endless bits of bread during the course of our days in Bayfield. We visited apple orchards, did a little shopping and played noisy, rambunctious card games at night. We went to Madeline Island, spent time at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe and listened to a pirate band play and laughed as they engaged with the crowd, even inserting themselves into our group photo.
But my favorite part, I think, were the morning hikes along the Brownstone Trail, which weaves its way along the Lake Superior shoreline. I needed some time away each day. I’m sure there’s a label for my kind of personality. I enjoy being social … for a while. But I also need my space. I found myself suffering from too-much-togetherness. I can’t be “on” all of the time. Those morning hikes? They saved me.
The benefit of having done this so many years together, is that we’ve established some routines. Mornings are for doing your own thing. Three of the guys go out every morning on the boat and do some serious fishing. Mark and two of the girls hit the local casino at the same time. Julie W and I? We hike the trail. Like me, Julie needs to take a daily breather from all of that structure and activity and busyness.
It’s funny. I’ve known Julie for as many years as we’ve been taking this vacation together. Outside of this vacation, I don’t see her but a handful of times during the rest of the year, and almost always only when the whole group is getting together. But she and I? We connect in Bayfield. She feels like the closest of friends, in spite of the fact that we spend time together merely a handful of times every year. I don’t know what it is about us, but we’ve discovered a connection with each other, a trust, a kindred-spirits kind of thing.
The trail is three miles, starting a few blocks away from the condos where we stay, and ending in the town of Bayfield. Every day, Julie and I would walk to town, take in the view, and walk the three miles back again. During that time, we talked. We talked about our jobs, our lives, our kids, our dreams and wishes… her new stand-up paddle board which she wants me to come try one of these days … and just everything. Some of our kids have had parallel experiences, such as the heartbreak of a broken engagement, or the struggle of being that sort-of lost middle child. We both have a somewhat creative side and I like her down-to-earth attitude. We’re both semi-serious about the way we eat and trying to stay fit. Somewhere within all of that hiking and talking, we’ve found that we encourage one another. Those morning walks? They refreshed us. Gave us the energy for a day filled with activity and for all that time we’d need to spend being “on.”
I think those hikes along those three miles of lakeshore, the stunning views, the fresh air and the chance to unwind with someone who just gets me … I think that was my favorite part. And it made everything else about the vacation so much easier to appreciate. I knew the same was true for Julie. As we hugged goodbye upon arriving back at home, she hugged me hard and thanked me for the “walks and talks.”
Year thirteen is over too soon. I’m already looking forward to fourteen.