Category: vacation

A Peaceful Weekend

I’m back at work after a nice, restful three day weekend. Well, not entirely restful. I still worked on writing, which I do pretty much without fail, because at this point, I don’t feel like a day was a good day if I didn’t get my 1,000 words in. Can you write yourself into an addiction? I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to.

We took the family off to a vacation home on Springy Pond, about 45 minutes away from Acadia National Park. The original plan had been to go to Acadia while we were there, but the traffic . . . did not bode well for a trip out there. Acadia isn’t the biggest park to begin with, and between gorgeous weather, the long weekend, and the fact that the leaves in Maine decided to wait to change color until just barely, and it was a perfect storm for big crowds.

So instead we did a couple of outings. Went down to Ellsworth, checked out Woodlawn, did some shopping, and ate some good food. (Big G’s on the way home, and 86 This! on Saturday. I can heartily recommend either.) We also played a bunch of games at the rental house we were staying in, and went kayaking on Springy Pond.

I wasn’t on Facebook much at all, and I have to say I felt a lot better for it. Before the weekend, there’d been another garbage fire of a conversation on my Facebook wall, and it left me with a very sour taste. The vast majority of people I interact with online are respectful and considerate. I believe there are some people who don’t have that gene, or they somehow didn’t have it properly develop during their upbringing. But interacting with people who are blatantly rude can be very depressing. I hate just walking away from someone who’s saying obnoxious things, but I feel like sometimes that’s just what I need to do.

Which of course begs the question, “Why do you still post to Facebook?” I know plenty of people who have stepped away from the venue, or they’ve locked down their posts so only friends can view them. I continue to believe that if my posts are just read by people who agree with me, then they stop really filling a purpose. I want people of all mindsets to read them. I just wish they’d all be polite in their responses.

Perhaps the real answer is just to do what I did this weekend, and unplug for a while now and then to remind myself that mouth-breathing trolls on the internet just don’t matter.

In any case, it’s time to head back into the fray. The semester is practically halfway over, believe it or not. Better yet, there are no conferences between me and Thanksgiving break, so maybe I can catch up on just about everything.

A guy can always hope, right?

A Camping Report

As I mentioned last week, the family and I headed to the great outdoors to go camping for our first time in five years. I really wasn’t sure how the trip would go. It was MC’s first time. DC’s second. And while I always would tell people that I liked to camp, I clearly haven’t done much of it recently. Plus, this wasn’t just going to be a camping trip. It was going to be a Camping Trip. I mean, we weren’t going to drive up to a camping spot, throw up a tent, and eat food out of the cooler we stored in our car. We were going to drive two hours, load all our stuff for three days into a canoe, and then paddle for 1.5 miles to our camping site, far from wifi and electronics.

This might not have been the full Lewis & Clark experience, but it was at least a Lewis solo record.

So we had to be sure all of our important things were in bags that would keep them dry. I’d like to say that I prepared like a professional for this trip, figuring it all out and becoming a camping master in the process, but that would be a lie. I just have a friend who’s a Maine guide (his wife is too), and he pretty much did everything for my family on this trip other than pack our bags. He picked the spot, planned the menu, brought the food, brought the tents, gave me the right bags, brought the right mats, brought the canoes, brought the fishing poles.

I bought my own fishing license. Does that count as preparation? Probably not, since I forgot to do that until we were already almost out of cell range and had to pull over to the side of the road to do it.

But this is the sort of thing he does professionally on his summers, and I’d always wanted to do it, so I’d planned this with him for quite some time. I wanted to see what it was like, and he was gracious enough to agree to take on the Bryce family for a few days.

I’ll admit that I’ve been stressed out enough the past few weeks that I didn’t leave on the camping trip in the best of moods. I have this writing deadline that’s taking up all my free time, and plenty of chores at home that needed doing. Why was I leaving to go do nothing for three days? Not only that, but I had to pack those wet bags oh-so-carefully. So as I was cursing under my breath, packing said bags, I really wished I’d never scheduled this thing in the first place. It was just one more thing to do.

Thankfully, that’s exactly why I schedule things ahead of time. Because past Bryce knows that future Bryce will be really happy he did cool things, even if present Bryce is a real stick in the mud.

We went on the trip, and we had a glorious time. It was an entire lake, and there were literally only two other groups on it. We canoed, swam, read, played games, ate like kings, fished, and explored. The kids paddled around on solo canoes. Tomas lit a fire from scratch without using matches. We picked wild blueberries and ate bass that we’d caught hours before. I even managed to stay on track with my writing goal, typing on my iPad during a brief rain break. The weather was cool, not hot, and it only rained a little. We went to sleep listening to loons calling on the water, and I woke up each morning to watch the mist clearing from the mountains around us.

It was about as Maine as you can get without having a wild moose walk through your camp.

Better yet, the whole family loved the experience, and they all wished we could have stayed longer. (Pro tip: always leave wishing you could have stayed longer. If you’re on vacation and are really wishing you could be home, something’s not going right with the vacation, and you’re blowing time off that could be better used at another time. I’d much rather my kids leave a camping trip wishing it could have lasted another day than come home wishing it had ended a day earlier.) I believe we’ll do this again next year.

In the meantime, if any of you out there is considering going on a camping trip of the kind I just described, exploring the Maine wilderness for a few days, either canoeing down a river or paddling over to a site and settling in, let me know. Like I said, my friend does this professionally, and I can now say without a shadow of a doubt that he provides a wonderful experience. He knows just what to do, he has all the equipment you’ll need, and he makes a mean sweet and sour chicken dinner. The only down side is his schedule fills up fast, so it’s kind of first come, first served.

I think it would make for a fantastic family vacation, especially if you’re not from Maine in the first place.

How Busy is Yellowstone the Week of the Fourth of July?

Every time I told someone I was going to head up to Yellowstone, they were initially excited. “Awesome!” they’d say. “When are you going?”

“July 1st.”

And almost to a person, that’s when the excitement would fade. Instead, their eyebrows would raise, and their tone would change to one of polite concern. The sort of tone you use when someone tells you they just opened a LuLaRoe store and wouldn’t you like to come to an in-home boutique session next week. “Oh,” they’d say. “You and everybody else in the nation, right?”

It was as if there were some unwritten law somewhere that stated that the week of July 4th, everyone would descend on Yellowstone en masse and make it as hellacious for each other as possible.

After this conversation played out with enough different people, I began to doubt my life choices. Perhaps going to Yellowstone that day was a bad decision. Maybe I should do something more reasonable, like skydiving without a parachute, or swimming with Great Whites. But after consulting my schedule, it was clear that if I was going to go to Yellowstone, it was then or not at all. Surely it couldn’t be that bad.

I’m on the flip side now. I have been to Yellowstone the week of the Fourth of July, and I am here to tell you all that all those people who were concerned for my sanity . . . didn’t need to be.

Don’t get me wrong: There were plenty of people in the park. Parking was bad for Old Faithful, the Paint Pots, and Artist’s Point. But “bad” in this case means “I had to wait for 5 minutes at the Paint Pots, walk for 5 extra minutes for Old Faithful, and wait for 20 minutes for Artist’s Point.”

If these were ride wait times at Disney World, everyone would be amazed at how short they were. The weather was gorgeous, too, so it’s not like we can chalk it up to “people just didn’t want to go.”

Basically, anywhere that was easy to get to and didn’t involve hiking at all was mobbed. Anywhere that was even remotely strenuous? Not that bad. If I’d gone on any real hikes, I’m confident I wouldn’t have seen many people at all.

So if you’re ever in a similar situation, and you’re wondering if you should give it a go, don’t let the naysayers dissuade you. We had a blast in the park. The only bit of advice I would give would be to leave your hotel early. We left Jackson Hole at 7:30am, and all was well. Also, download the cool Geyser App they have for the park. It’ll let you know when the geysers are scheduled to go off again. Just update it before you go into the park, or do it at Old Faithful. Cell coverage everywhere else in Yellowstone is pretty crummy.

And because I kept quoting him time and time again, and my kids have never seen him, here’s a Yogi Bear clip to show them what I was talking about.

The Best Things are Often Outside Your Comfort Zone

I’m a person who loves his comfort zone. One of my favorite vacations of the year is the one I take around Christmas, because I go nowhere. I stay at home and play games and watch movies and eat food. It’s lovely. But as anyone who’s been following my life lately can tell you, I do many more trips and vacations than that, and most of them end up requiring a whole lot of planning and travel. Each time one of those vacations comes up, I inevitably wonder what in the world I was thinking that made me think it was a good idea.

Because I like my comfort zone. I’d happy stay at home each day. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s easy.

But often the best things in life are none of those. The things I remember for years after are the things that brought me out of that zone. That forced me to do things I’ve never done before. My mission to Germany. My semester abroad in Israel. Family vacations to Dublin, Paris, London, Germany, and Slovakia. Situations where I was frantically scrambling around, trying to piece things together and then hoping for the best as we headed off to the airport.

Of course. one could say those experiences are the most memorable because they involved the most pain. They were hard, but as time goes by, I forget the hard parts of them and only remember the good parts. And that’s true, no doubt. But it’s also true that the times that I have struggled the most have also been the ones that have had the biggest impact on who I am as a person.

This is strange. I’m trying to just talk about “hard” vacations, and I somehow keep being drawn to make a connection between hard times and hard vacations. Clearly there’s a difference between the two. Going through turmoil in life is much different than bringing it upon yourself because you want to go to Europe for a few weeks. But I’m reminded of rollercoasters. They’re terrifying, really. You strap yourself into a machine that’s going to whirl and loop and race you all over the place. It’ll jostle and rumble and shake you. Why do we love them? It’s chaos, and far from comfortable.

But I think we like them because it’s a way of having those tough times without having to have too many of the baggage that goes along with them. It’s controlled terror. Constrained.

And maybe that’s why I love these vacations, as much as I dread them and panic as I wonder if I have everything under control before we leave. (How will I get from the airport to the hotel when we arrive? What will we do? Where will we eat? How do we get tickets?) The lead up to the vacation is the same as getting in line and waiting for the ride to begin, listening to the clack clack clack as the coaster approaches the top. And then the big day arrives, and it’s whirls and loops and races all the way to the finish.

Chicago starts tomorrow. Then comes Utah, Yellowstone, family reunions, and more. It’ll be a fun ride, and I don’t know how much I’ll be able to post to my blog for the next while. Apologies in advance.

Wish me luck.

Dealing with Disney at Busy Times

There are all sorts of sites out there that will tell you when to visit Disney World. What time of the year the park is least crowded. And that’s all fine and good if you have little kids who can miss a week of school and no one cares, but once your kids start getting older and school actually matters, much of that goes out the window. You’re locked into the same time periods everyone else in the country is stuck with: Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, summer vacation.

Sometimes you just have to go at a busy time if you’re going to be able to go at all.

I’ve just come back from a Disney trip that was by far the most crowded I’ve seen the park. I’ve been at spring break before. Magic Kingdom last Wednesday evening was pretty insane, for example. The park was just overflowing with people. Lines were 2 hours plus on the popular rides. Busy busy busy. And that was par for the course the whole time I was at Disney last week.

I looked at all those poor people, jammed in line as they went from one wait to the next, and I just felt bad for them. Not bad enough that I got into line with them, of course, but bad that they just must have thought that was the only way to do Disney.

The longest line I was in all trip? 25 minutes for Pirates of the Caribbean. And the only reason I waited in line all that time was that I’d just eaten Thanksgiving dinner, and I wanted to just sit around and chat for a while instead of doing something that would upset my already stretched stomach.

I wasn’t sure if my planning would pay off this time. I used Ridemax again, and I was disappointed that the interface hadn’t been updated in three years since I used it last. Maybe it wasn’t the way to go anymore. Touringplans was a new site I’d heard a lot about. Had I made a mistake?

But just as in previous years, the planning all worked like a charm. Ridemax has a dated interface, it’s true. But the plans it made for me were reliable and easy to use on a mobile device. My sister used Touringplans for her Universal trip the day before Disney, and the estimates were off by an hour at times. That’s some serious flaws.

I’ll admit I miss the old golden days of the original Fastpass system, where you could send runners off to the far reaches of the park to pick up Fastpasses as soon as possible, and then store them up and use them whenever you felt like. It was much easier to abuse that system than the current one. But even with Fastpass+, as long as you pick the right rides to reserve times for and pick the right times of the day to show up, you’re going to be fine with Ridemax on your side.

A few special bits of advice and experience from this trip:

  • Coming first thing in the morning is so important. We showed up at EPCOT 45 minutes before the park opened. As soon as we got through the gates, we headed to Frozen (in Norway), knowing the only way we’d avoid a 2 hour line was to get there first. We got to the ride 20 minutes before the park technically opened, and they were already letting people on (no doubt anticipating the long lines later). We practically walked on. Easy peasy.
  • When we showed up at Magic Kingdom early, the same thing happened: we were able to go on Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, Little Mermaid, Barnstormer, Dumbo, the Carousel, the Tea Party, Small World, and Haunted Mansion in under 2 hours. If we’d waited an hour or two to start that, it would have taken 5 hours to get through them all.
  • With little kids, we’d show up for the park’s opening, go on rides, have lunch, and then go back to the hotel and take a nap. We’d then go back for dinner and more rides. This let us skip the busiest part of the day and still have some energy left in the tank for more rides and fun stuff at night.
  • With the new Fastpass+ system, if the ride you have a Fastpass for breaks down before you can use it, Disney gives you a replacement Fastpass that’s good almost anywhere else in that park, anytime that day. Yay! However, note that this does NOT work for Frozen in Norway. Trust me. I tried.

When Disney’s really busy, you basically have two choices: go without a plan, get on half as many rides, and spend most of your time in line OR go with a plan, get there early, go on everything you want, and skip most of the lines. Each of those options costs the same amount of money.

I know which one I’ll be sticking with.

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