It’s finally summertime again and folks will be hitting the road from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu for vacation trips — or, as they say in Europe, people will be on holiday. It’s a great thing, although we Americans don’t travel nearly as much as our European counterparts. They get tons of vacation time and most people use it to hit the road — or rails, as the case may be. I guess you have more money for such frivolities when you don’t spend any on ice or toilet paper.
I am lucky enough to travel for a living these days and have expanded my horizons a bit. Over the past eight or nine months I have crossed the ocean more times than in the previous 62 years combined — but there is still no place like home and I am glad I took time to see America first — although I didn’t take the advice of Dinah Shore, who, back in the ’60s urged us to “see the USA in a Chevrolet.” I saw it in a Dodge Caravan — but I really saw it. Now I get to show it to other people. It’s a great country, isn’t it?
Folks are always asking me what state I liked best in my travels, which is a little bit like asking which of your kids you like best. It’s really kind of hard to say. There is much to be said for each one, but as I begin another summer of travels I thought it would be fun to share with you my favorite U.S. travel experiences.
The one thing I usually put at the top of such lists is walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, in San Francisco. My lovely wife, Lisa, and I were there for a conference one Memorial Day weekend. We got up before the sun on Sunday morning and took a bus down to the park adjacent to the bridge and walked across.—.and back.—.as the sun rose through the heavy fog that covered the bay. The clouds were under the bridge. The air was crisp and the whole experience was quite exhilarating. I don’t think I’ve ever had anything top it.
Riding the Maid of the Mist, right up to the edge of Niagara Falls is pretty darn exciting, too. As a matter of fact, San Francisco and Niagara Falls are two of my favorite places to visit in general. I always tell my buddy, Clay, “I’m not afraid of anything or anybody.” I will admit, however, that standing near the edge of Niagara, especially on the Canadian side, does make me a little nervous.
Whale watching off the coast of Maine gave me another huge thrill. I wasn’t really expecting much. I thought the guide would take us out on the boat and give us a spy glass, like Captain Jack Sparrow has been known to use, and point out whales spewing water far in the distance. No, sir. We had giant whales jumping out of the water all around our boat and even diving under our boat, only to leap out of the water on the other side. It was a thrill a minute.
And, yes, I have been lucky enough to stare out across the Grand Canyon at sunset and I felt like we were on top of the world when we stoop atop Hurricane Ridge in Olympia National Park. I don’t see how anyone can’t doubt the existence of God while staring at a giant Redwood tree along the California coast, and Lisa thinks that Jackson Hole, at the foot of the Grand Tetons, in Wyoming, is heaven on Earth.
Those are mountaintop experiences, of course, and you are blessed if you get to do any of them even once in your life. You don’t have to see such things to enjoy traveling, however.
Some of the very best travel days of my life have involved riding the surf all day with my kids at North Myrtle Beach — while Lisa sat on the beach and built dream castles in the sand — and then heading up to Calabash, N.C., for supper.
Nothing makes me happier than riding my bike under the live oak trees along the marsh at Jekyll Island and then cooking supper, chasing the sundown and roasting marshmallows over an open fire late at night. You don’t even have to leave Georgia to do that.
Vogel State Park is even closer.
When I used to be a schoolteacher, in a previous life, it seems, I would always advise my students that once they were making their own money and could decide how to spend it, to see the world. It is a wonderful place.
I hope you get to go somewhere this summer. And if so, happy trails to you.