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Summer and vacations are synonymous, especially with my family. Does Chevy Chase and summer vacation ring a bell? With a family of six, anything is possible. There are two types of excursions that we take every year. I refer to one as my family vacation and the other as my family trip. My family vacation to the beach is an annual event, but my family trip destination is always different. This past summer my family and I went to Wyoming. Both experiences were the highlights of my summer but for very different reasons.
We begin packing for our beach trip shortly after my grandmother arrives from North Carolina. My dad's twenty-five-year-old surfboard is securely tied on top, and we are stuffed like sardines into the car with the week's groceries packed in every nook and cranny. My dad always insists that we take everything with us; it would be a sin to spend good beach time at the grocery store. The trip down is uneventful, and we make our traditional one and only stop at the Subway for lunch and gas. I was taught early on that there are limited drinks on travel day because bathroom breaks are unheard of. After an early start we arrive to find our three-bedroom, three-bath condo just as we remember it. We especially enjoy having a VCR in each bedroom, After unpacking the car, my family and I head for the beach. The familiar smell of the salty air, the rhythm of the ocean waves, and the gentle breeze across my face are like long-lost friends. The beach routine begins.
Just as we do on the day we leave for the beach, my family and I wake up early to prepare to leave for Wyoming. My dad says that getting my family of six ready to go is like launching the space shuttle. For this trip, luggage is limited to what we can each carry. We all convince my dad that there will be grocery stores in Wyoming. After a quick trip to the airport, we board a jet to Atlanta and take a connecting flight to Denver. The highlight of our plane trip is the long-awaited lunch, which is a real disappointment. My mom and dad nap, while my sisters and I watch a movie.
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Beach days always begin the same way. Around nine o'clock, the two tents are set up front and center as close to the water as possible. ( We spend twelve hours on the beach each day, and shade is a must for all of us). The coolers, packed with drinks and snacks, are carefully set under the tents. Next come the chairs, shovels, books, surfboard, and of course the Wall Street Journal. My dad travels untold miles each morning to make sure that he has his favorite reading material. With the adults under one tent and the children under the other, we begin a daily regimen of reading, sleeping, eating, and maybe a game of cards. Exercise might include a slow walk on the beach, a swim in the clear blue water, or digging a hole. For some strange reason, we always dig a hole so deep that we think we might reach China. We all gather at the end of each day to watch the sunset over the ocean, and so it goes for seven slow, lazy, relaxing days.
Unlike our lazy mornings at the beach, mornings in Wyoming begin at the crack of dawn. There is so much to see and do that my parents want to take advantage of our time. This trip is not for the faint of heart. Each day brings new experiences such as horseback riding, rodeos, hiking, white water raft trips, and much more. It is an exhausting schedule, especially when my dad leads us on a three-mile hike that turns out to be seven miles. We spend evenings listening to the babbling creek outside our door or watching a neighborhood moose graze near the creek. Did I mention there is no TV? My family passes the time by talking to each other, playing cards, or reading books for entertainment. My sister says she is going to frame the book she reads, claiming that it is the longest book she will ever read. So our days in Wyoming begin and end, never two days the same.
Seafood is the beach, and we take full advantage of its availability. We go to the local market and purchase shrimp, fish, and scallops to cook and eat as we please. A trip to our favorite restaurant, The Toucan, is always on the agenda. We leave early in hopes of making it back before the sunset. As soon as we step out of the car, we smell the aroma seeping from the kitchen. After two hours of waiting, we finally sit down, elbow to elbow, and enjoy our seafood dinner. One night like this is enough!
Wyoming, on the other hand, holds a wide variety of dining experiences. Quite by accident, we stumble across a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called the Buffalo Valley Cafe. We enter cautiously and find that we are the only customers. Seating capacity in the cafe is around twenty, so we all spread out. Surprisingly, the food is wonderful, and the desserts are even better. We decide to go back a second time for buffalo burgers, only to find that it has closed for the season. We prepare picnics daily for lunch so that we can enjoy the beauty of the land while eating. The rangers tell us that picnics for hiking are not wise because bears are everywhere!
Adventure and routine are two adjectives that I cannot characterize as good or bad. Routine is familiar, comfortable, relaxing, and traditional. Adventure is new, unknown, unpredictable, and exhausting. Thus our two kinds of vacations are entirely different, but each is meaningful in its own way. Spending time with family in familiar surroundings is a long established tradition. Spending time with my family exploring new places is unforgettable. It is difficult to decide between one or the other, and luckily we did not have to make this decision. Variety is the spice of life.