There are few things better to do on vacation than take a road trip. It's a chance to take in the beauty of other places in this vast country of ours. Always surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of the Upper Peninsula, it's easy to forget that other places in America can take your breath away as well. (Though, of course, no place will ever compare to here.)
So when my first vacation of the year began July 10, I hopped in my car with a bottle of water, some road trip snacks and a lightly packed suitcase and hit the road.
I was on my way to Waterloo, Iowa to visit a friend I hadn't seen in two years, not since the day she got married up in Houghton. We've been friends since we were both 11 years old, and I can safely say that two years was the longest time we had ever gone without seeing each other.
But that's what happens as you get older and begin to carve out a life for yourself. Time absolutely flies by.
In the two year span since we had last seen each other we both bought houses, found jobs in our respective career fields and she and her husband had welcomed a baby girl to the family.
I was pretty excited to get down there to see everybody. So a road trip that would end at my best friend's front door step was a double bonus.
At this point in my life, I could probably drive to Green Bay with my eyes closed, so that part of the trip was rather uneventful.
But heading down through southwest Wisconsin was a first for me and I couldn't get enough of the scenery. Miles and miles of farmland stretched out on either side of the highway, but while Iowa also boasts an amazing amount of farmland, it doesn't have the rolling hills of Wisconsin, which are stunningly beautiful. With each cresting of a hill the blue sky stretched out over cornfields rustling in the mid-afternoon breeze. The radio playing lightly in the background and the sun streaming into my car, I couldn't help but smile.
Few things bring on that feeling of freedom like a stretch of empty road that goes on for miles.
A few hours later I crossed the Mississippi River, which was a real treat. I had never seen it before. It was quite the sight to take in.
And then I was in Dubuque, my first ever visit to Iowa. It was a short drive from the state's border to Waterloo and a few turns through a residential neighborhood later there was my friend, sitting out on her front stoop drinking a glass of cool iced tea.
It felt like it had been about two hours instead of two years.
That's the thing about old friends, they make you feel more like yourself than anyone else can and you find yourself slipping into the old, easy habits of the place you grew up.
She showed me around her house which was strikingly similar to my own, and then her nine-month old daughter woke up from her nap.
That is an experience I don't think I'll ever forget. I knew she'd had a baby, but I had never really pictured her as a mother. She would always be the daredevil I knew her as when we were kids. And then I saw her standing there in the hallway with her sleepy-eyed baby gurgling happily in her arms.
As an honorary aunt, that little girl took right to me, which was pretty great as well.
I stayed for the weekend, leaving the following Monday for the drive back up to my home.
I've never been a Girl Scout, but I think they got it right with their song about friends.
"Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other's gold."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Chocolay Township resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.