How I Spent My Summer Vacation
(or: 2800 miles in nine days with two kids in the backseat)

It must have been something all prospective teachers were taught in college. Either that or they did it because their teachers had done it to them, and their teachers before them and their teachers before them and no one knew how to break the cycle. I'm referring to the "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" theme you always had to write for one of your first assignments in the fall when you went back to school. More than twenty years later, the ritual continues. And, since I don't feel quite up to accepting the role of a "lone voice crying out in the wilderness," I guess the cycle will not end with me.

We left Grand Rapids, MN. on a Friday after work.

The first leg of our pilgrimage (244 miles) led us to Eau Claire, WI., land of the giants. I'm sure you thought Wisconsin was the land of cheese - which it is, since you can't pass through the state without purchasing some Real Wisconsin Cheese (they stop you at the border and check your vehicle with specially trained badgers to make sure you aren't trying to sneak through without buying some) - but this city in Wisconsin seemed to be the land of giants. On our one-night stopover we saw a giant rat next to a Dairy Queen (no idea), a giant steer at a Heckle's restaurant, a giant chicken atop a fried chicken place (one with no colonel), a giant Ronald McDonald (guess!) and a giant bowling pin over the bowling alley. Luckily there were no nuclear accidents that night to bring the giant statuary to life. (244 miles)

The next portion of our sojourn (492 miles) brought us to Colon, MI., which I assumed would be just south of Large Intestine, MI. Actually just outside Colon at a local lake for a family reunion on my wife's mother's side. The theme of our get-together was a Hawaiian one, so naturally there were more grass-skirts than you could shake a weed-whacker at. Of course, you can't have a luau without a roast pig. So we had lots of food, lots of sun and lots of fun. A delightful time was had by all. Honest. The best part - for me, anyway - was not having to drive anywhere for a whole day! Well, OK. I actually drove a few miles to nearby Coldwater, MI. when my son and I needed a break from the grass-skirts and muumuu's. So 55 extra miles. Total so far: 791 miles.

Interesting side note: Colon, MI. is the magic capitol of the world, or at least the upper Midwest. According to the large sign outside the library, Colon was home to Harry Blackstone Sr., and each year they have a magic week. Magicians from all over the world come and set up their acts on townspeople's lawns (for a small rental charge, of course) and put on shows all week long. We arrived a couple of weeks too late for the festival. Maybe next year.

We encountered a little rain on Monday morning as we were leaving Michigan, but were able to drive out of it. The day turned out to be sunny and warm, and brought us closer to our destination: Gettysburg, PA. This stretch (432 miles) ended at New Stanton, PA., with our merry little band tired and hungry but glad to be alive. They really should mark some of those curves a little better, especially when missing one could send you sailing off a cliff. Thanks to good brakes, our guardian angel, and reflexes not quite totally numbed by the number of miles in the last few days, we avoided an impromptu aerial view of a valley in Ohio. We were not able to avoid the world's largest cuckoo clock (allegedly) and a self-guided tour of a cheese factory. In fairness to the good people of Wilmot, OH., I'm sure the cheese factory is quite a sight when something is actually going on, but it's a real yawner when you go through the doors and all you get to see is an Amish man with a hairnet on his beard sweeping the floor. As for the cuckoo clock, I guess we got our twenty-five-cents worth.

What we really enjoyed on this day's traveling were the hills. Most of Minnesota is extremely flat by comparison, so for a bunch of flatlanders who have never seen anything resembling mountains, entering the Allegheny's was breathtaking. We all agreed a trip to the Rockies is somewhere in our future. Total miles: 1223.

Tuesday dawned extra early. Our 15-year-old son, Adam, is a Civil War enthusiast, and Gettysburg is like mecca to him. And mecca loomed on the horizon this hazy, humid Tuesday morning. New Stanton to Gettysburg: a short jaunt of only 150 miles. He was the first one up, showered and dressed, and even went to the hospitality room at the motel to get coffee and rolls for the rest of his family. He had been planning this day for two years or more, and it was about to come to fruition. Before he finally laid his head on his pillow at the Howard Johnsons that night, he would have walked where Armistead, Hancock, Pickett and Longstreet had walked. Total miles to reach his lofty goal: 1373.

What he had foolishly omitted from his dream was his family. This was not a solo mission, and our plans did not align perfectly with his. How could we think about eating and checking into the motel when we had finally arrived at Gettysburg? There was so much to see and do! Charge around Cemetery Ridge, where the battle had begun that hot July 1, 1863! We had to find Devil's Den, the Slaughter Pens, and Little Round Top where the 20th Maine had made their famous downhill charge with bayonets drawn, their ammunition nearly spent. We had to find the Copse of Trees where Pickett's charge had faltered, and the monument marking where Armistead fell leading the 14th Virginia on July 3rd, 1863. Spangler's Woods. Culp's Hill. Seminary Ridge. Big Round Top. The Peach Orchard. The Wheatfield. Pitzer's Woods. But most of all, more important than anything else we could do, we had to walk Pickett's Charge. The Highwater Mark of the Confederacy. The last offensive the South made in their bid for independence.

Part Two of: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Copyright 1996 Mike Zimmerli

A Ramblings Special Edition in Three Parts:

How I Spent My Summer Vacation
(2800 miles in nine days with two kids in the backseat)

[Part One] [Part Two]

And don't miss Part Three:
Of Pillows and Continental Breakfasts
(Our Review of Our Lodgings)

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