This August has been a frantic blur of work sprinkled with a healthy dose of change. In the span of three weeks, I turned all my energy towards home improvement projects and preparing for the coming school year. My floors are refinished, walls are painted, and light fixtures are installed. Free time has been spent preparing for a new teaching partner and setting goals with students to achieve during the year. To save for a new bow, I started picking up extra work and can be seen moonlighting as the scorekeeper for the local junior high baseball team. My fishing holes have been neglected, my turtle trap is empty, and my shooting is far from perfect. One week into the new school year, and I needed to escape, recharge, and decompress. With a cooler full of decidedly unhealthy snacks, duffle bags quickly stuffed with whatever clean clothes were nearby (and without toothpaste, as it turned out), and a fistful of state maps and atlases, my dad and I hit the road on our first father-daughter road trip as the dog days of summer stretched thin. I think my blood pressure dropped ten points the minute the car turned north at 3:25 on a Friday afternoon. We had no reservations, no itinerary, no checkpoints, no responsibilities--just a couple of poles and 60 free hours together.
I had a sneaking suspicion that our destination-less trip would happen to lead to the lakes when, after three hours, we crossed the Illinois-Wisconsin border and made an immediate stop at The Grotto in Dickeyville, a regularly-visited site in my family on all trips northward. If you have never been, go, absolutely go. The assemblage of shells and glass shards into a religious sculpture garden was just as fascinating as I remember as a kid, made even more meaningful when I realized the last time I had been there was with my dad, almost 27 years earlier to the day. I am slightly taller, my dad is slightly grayer, but the little tourist trap was just as shiny and captivating as it was all those years ago. I smiled like an idiot the entire time.
After our pit stop on memory lane, it was back to the open road. Four lanes turned to two and straight stretches grew further and farther between. Cute little town after cute little town passed as we headed further north, eventually stopping on the border of the Northwoods, where you truly can't see the forest for all the trees and corn is refreshingly absent from the view. Thanks to some great friends who had no problem with us crashing their weekend, we pulled into Little Spider Lake outside Arbor Vitae with rods and tackle boxes in hand, quick to jump from car to boat, wasting no time in getting to the launch. Oh, how my little soul loves the water!
Everywhere we looked, there was fishable water--lakes, ponds, rivers, streams. We counted 35 boats passing us on the road in 30 minutes; I swear, the watercraft far outnumber the cars for our neighbors to the north. Cruising around on the Sea Nymph had me fishing with both hands--topwater baits cast into lily pads to scour for bass, neon green mini mites under a slip bobber for panfish. Frantic lure changes were made to jigs tipped with pork fat, to not waste time when we trolled from spot to spot. Leeches, Senko worms, swimbaits, and frogs all made their way out of my Plano cases in quick succession, a veritable kaleidoscope of fishing options to try in the clear deep water. It was like Christmas, and I couldn't have been happier. I caught perch, watched a bald eagle dive for prey in the water, was captivated by a loon surfacing 50 yards from our boat, crooning a haunting call over the water. We fished in the mist until it was too dark to see, milking every last minute out of the day as possible. Every cast may not have been perfect, but it was perfect for me. I could have been eight again, hair tangled in the wind and fish grime under my fingernails, back in the boat with dad.
Somehow, he knew exactly how bad I needed this trip. The eight hours we spent fishing was worth the 16 spent in the car, the imbalance of time made right by quality time spent with friends, a new deck of antique fishing lure playing cards, and a shiny musky crankbait as long as my forearm, purchased from a hole-in-the wall bait shop, that is begging to be used, and soon. I hear winter comes to the Northwoods in October, and I need one more trip before ice fishing season. In the meantime, dad and I are planning a new adventure, maybe westward this time, perhaps creating a new tradition for the years to come. And we have pinky-promised to own our very own boat in the very near future, just you wait and see.