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Remember when all we had was a map, a full tank of gas and Strawberry Pop Tarts? That’s all we could afford, but that’s all we needed. Our lives had become so filled with meaningless jobs that we forgot what it felt like to drop everything and run as fast as we can just for the heck of it. Waiting tables and serving ice cream pays the rent but going through motions isn’t living. Growing up too fast left us with too many worries. Middle aged teenagers with bills and schedules. We needed to get away so of course the only logical thing to do was to jump in the car and just drive. Everyone thought we were crazy. Maybe we are crazy but I will never forget that trip. We grew up in Northern Minnesota so the roads were familiar, but this time we drove a little bit farther.
The western sky was turning brilliant shades of orange and pink by the time we backed out of the driveway. It was much more thrilling navigating strange highways with only the stars to guide us. St. Louis to Canada is a twenty hour drive and we planned to knock it out in one night. Around midnight the scenery was Iowa cornfields, so we had to stay awake by opening all the windows in my car. All the summers spent with my grandma in Iowa got me used to the farm fresh air and I breathed it in deeply. I reached my hand out like I was trying to pick the corn from my window, and played with the wind. The wind tried to blow away my fingers, but I just laughed at it and let the breeze rush into me. The air was so thick and strong I could have grabbed it and dragged it all the way back to St. Louis.
I didn’t want to stop, so we ate Pop Tarts out of a box and drank bottles of warm iced tea. The combination was so gross I don’t think I’ve looked at another Pop Tart since. You fell asleep so I drove until my eyes glazed over and the only thing keeping me conscious was Bob Dylan songs. If it hadn’t been for Blonde on Blonde we might have ended up in the Atlantic Ocean.
I did end up getting us lost, but not until northern Minnesota. It was about nine in the morning and I was incapable of rational thought and had lost all ability to properly read a map. I decided to take the road to Duluth and we ended up driving around Duluth, Minnesota until I was so frustrated I wished we had taken the bus. It would have been a lot less stressful if someone else could have done the driving for us. After two hours of driving around in circles we found something better than the Atlantic Ocean.
Raindrops were making tiny streams down the windshield and I couldn’t see more than a foot ahead. I decided to venture down one of the less crowded streets; you know how fighting through traffic makes me nervous. We were both getting a little delirious from lack of sleep and I knew we would have to get out of the car very soon. You always had a sixth sense that drew you to water, and you started hitting me on the leg and pointing eagerly towards the lake that was barely visible past the end of the street. I parked the car on the side of the road and we sat for a minute.
“So what do you want to do?”
“We have to go check it out!”
“Uhh…I don’t want to get wet!”
“Do you take showers?”
“Yes, but not with my clothes on.”
You just smiled at my girly hesitation and your big brown eyes were so filled with excitement that I knew there was no way I could convince you to stay in the car.
We slid down a muddy hill that brought us right to the edge of Lake Superior. The thrill of making it down the hill without breaking my neck energized me and suddenly I felt like I was finally getting a taste of the freedom I had been craving. We flew over the hard packed sand straight into the waves. The water was uninviting and each wave tried to fling us back out onto the shore. You laced your fingers through mine and we stood defiantly challenging the lake to give us its best shot. The water and sky blended together so seamlessly that I couldn’t see anything but one giant mass of gray. My slippery grasp tightened so forcefully I probably nearly broke your hand. I couldn’t hear or think of anything except the water pouring over every inch of our skin. I felt so strong, yet so invisible. Ultimately the lake got its way and managed to push us back to the comparatively dry land, leaving me feeling like I really did take a shower with my clothes on.
Standing in the middle of Lake Superior was simply childish enough to help me remember how liberating it can be to do something completely irrational. Being safe and dry is no way to live; especially not for people like us who will never be content with average. If siblings can pass traits to each other, I would guess that you gave me your adventurous gene. Sometimes I’m just so wrapped up in myself that I forget it’s there.
We found our way back to my Honda Accord and found our way out of Duluth. There was only a hundred miles left till Canada and we flawlessly navigated the remaining towns and freeways, although I can’t say I regretted our early morning side stop.
Fort Frances was the first town we came to once we crossed over the border. The streets made perfectly straight lines so if we got lost all we had to do was go back the way we came. Normally staying in a hotel requires reservations, credit cards and paperwork. We didn’t even think what we would do if someone bothered to question us or turn us down. The run down dark wood and chipped green trim looked just shabby enough to welcome two young American travelers. We walked in the door like we had been doing it for years and handed the lady at the front desk sixty dollars in exchange for the key to room eight. You told me, “If I pretend like I know what I’m doing nobody will guess that I’m really just making it up as I go.” When we located our room we discovered that the exterior was the nicest feature of the building. It looked like they had run out of furniture or maybe they figured all we needed was two beds and a bathroom. That is all we really needed, so we unloaded our baskets full of clothes and CDs and washed our faces. Now all that was left was to explore.
Four years of French class was put to good use as I translated the street signs. Eventually we found a brick sidewalk that followed the river. You played the guitar so we had Simon and Garfunkel to keep us company as we walked. Talking wasn’t necessary. Nothing needed to be explained or argued because we understood each other perfectly. Life is too full of empty conversations and this was our chance to be content without even trying, letting our minds fly with the seagulls.
The spotless brick path started to crumble into dusty gravel and the manicured grass border was replaced with wildflowers and dandelions. We kept walking with the river by our side, certain that we would find something worthwhile if we just kept going. The dust turned my legs and feet as gray as the clouds shielding us from the sun. The wind was being playful again, and it blew through my hair until I was left with nothing but a tangled mess. Your hair was longer than mine, but you were smart enough to pull it back. We must have looked like two wandering unwashed hippies, strolling along, singing, not paying attention to anything but how peaceful the world felt that day.
I know that we have long since returned to our lives in St. Louis and very little has changed. I still scoop ice cream and you still serve hamburgers. I know that we are both getting restless and want to feel as free and at peace with ourselves as we did on that trip. I wanted to remind you that you were the one that taught me to be spontaneous and daring; you were the one who showed me how to be carefree and savor every second. Next time you feel like today is going to be the same as every other day get out and do something about it. Don’t get stuck again. Go jump in the nearest lake.