Have you ever noticed that the last few miles of a trip are the longest? I have, and I really noticed that this week.
The drive from Hesston to Newton, the last few miles of our vacation, took forever in my mind. While those miles represented less than 20 of the more than 600 traveled that day, they seemed to take as long as the other 580. I was emotionally tired as I came closer and closer to fulfilling my big goal of the day: get four of the most important people in the world to me home safely. Return them to their own beds, where they had not rested for about a week.
The kids were excited about getting home — that showed. They chattered (read yelled with joy) from the back seats. I turned off the radio, as one can only handle so much noise when precious lives are in your hands.
It's not that we had not had a great week. We had. The week was amazing. GOals set and realized.
This trip, to a village in Wisconsin that was recognized on google maps but not in some other travel apps I use, started with a simple premise. Go find some of my wife's dearest friends in the world and celebrate the graduation of their daughter.
This trip was planned after we received an invitation in the mail. I was with my wife when we received it. She did not open it, but I knew it was an invitation. Of that, there was no question. The envelope type, paper used and size pretty much told me it was an invitation. To what, I was unsure.
When it arrived, my wife was visibly upset and very unhappy. She was very sad. Like reading the cues of the envelope, I could read the cues pretty easily as our van pulled into the garage that day. I knew. I didn't press, the time was not right.
I think it was the next day that I asked what she was invited to. She spilled that it was a graduation party. I had to push a little to find out when it was planned.
About a day later, I asked my wife if she had given any thought about when we would go to visit her parents this summer. She really had not.
The next day, I sprang on her that the kids would be out of school, and the baseball season not started yet if we wanted to head to the Land of Cheese for a couple of days, then go see her parents for a few days. Goodness, I said, we could even be home in time for the Day Out With Thomas in Baldwin City — our family's annual outing that I had bought tickets for back in November.
At that moment, she wasn't buying it. But she called her friends anyway. There would be places to stay if we could go. I put in for vacation at both of my jobs.
It was then she started smiling more, and my goal was reached. The next was to make the trip.
In Wisconsin, my children made new friends. All older kids, they all kind of took to each other like ducks to water. Our families had a great time. We went to a Wisconsin petting zoo one day — and that was pretty amazing. My children were able to not only touch but feed, whitetail deer. (I got hungry. Venison is a much too rare treat for me. I really need to find a hunting spot and buddy this fall)
On our way to grandma and grandpa's house in Minnesota, we stopped at the Crystal Cave, another amazing experience. One of my children really geeked out as we ventured underground looking at rock formations and minerals. He is thinking that 4-H geology is something he wants to try. Another liked the rocks, but was kind of fearful of being underground. All three of our children later talked about how much they enjoyed the experience.
Once in Minnesota, we did our standard trips — the historical museum, walkway over the rail yard and antique car and tractor museum. We also tried out a new playground — an amazing place. A community group in Willmar, Minnesota, came together to build a huge inclusive playground. They used privately donated funds and volunteer labor to build a playground designed to be a place for all kids to play — including the mentally and physically challenged. My kiddos played so long I was able to play a full nine holes of disc golf in that park. They played so hard they slept like rocks that night.
It was a good vacation, despite the long drive home.
— Chad Frey is managing editor of The Newton Kansan. He lives in Newton with four generations of his family.