As part of an annual ritual, I recently participated in one of those asphalt regattas that take place every summer weekend in Minnesota.
On a steamy Saturday morning, I packed up some gear and left the bachelor pad for a week up north.
It wasn’t long before I found myself swept along among a flotilla of boats of all sizes. Most were on trailers, and some were strapped to the tops of cars. There were giant pontoon-style party barges, imposing fishing or ski boats, and personal watercraft of all sizes. Cars and SUVs carried graceful kayaks and stately canoes.
This weekly recreational parade also included an assortment of campers.
Some were modest pop-up models, while others were pulled along like trailers, and some were self-contained units, the largest of which were about a city block long, and pulled other vehicles behind them.
The sights along the highway were like a living advertisement for the things people love to do in Minnesota. Even the signs and billboards along the way welcomed travelers.
I left the regatta when it reached the City of Grand Rapids.
The small family-owned resort where members of my family and a few old friends have spent a week every July for the past 27 summers is located in Cohasset, just up the highway, and I made a few stops in Grand Rapids to pick up supplies. As I went about my business, I was struck once again by how easy it is to tell the tourists from the locals. Here, as in vacation communities everywhere, the tourists stand out.
There are exceptions, of course, and some people take longer to get into a vacation state of mind than others, but even without the funny clothes and silly hats that tourists in some vacation meccas wear, one can usually spot a northern Minnesota tourist by his appearance.
Most tourists have a sparkle in their eyes and an extra bounce in their steps. This is due to the fact that they have left their offices and their daily routines behind them, and they are ready for some fun.
This newfound freedom can turn the most taciturn worker into a gregarious wayfarer. People on vacation are happy with life, and will engage complete strangers in conversation to share their happiness.
Their opening remarks often include keen observations concerning the weather or a wide range of other topics. The point is, people who might never talk to strangers at home will do so on vacation. They see everyone they meet as participants in their latest adventure.
The other thing one can see in the face of a vacationer is a kind of peaceful glow. The lines of stress soon fade away when one is on vacation. Vacationers smile more and get upset less often than other people.
When there are no meetings or appointments to remember, and when there is no urgency about being at a specific place at a certain time, clocks become superfluous.
One soon gets used to coming and going as one sees fit, and doing whatever seems right at the time.
Perhaps the reason this comes so easily to us is that it is a more natural state of mind.
One wonders, sometimes, if humans were intended to follow the rigid schedules most of us keep today. Even if we enjoy what we are doing, being locked into a schedule for every minute of every day can be stressful.
In the distant past, people followed the rhythms of the earth much more closely. They got up with the sun, went to bed when it got dark, and adapted to the changing seasons.
Today, artificial lighting and improved technology allow us to keep going at all hours of the day and night, which causes many people to burn their candles at both ends and in the middle.
Vacations give us an opportunity to get back to life at a more leisurely pace.
We can sleep in if we want to, we can eat when we are hungry, rather than at some pre-determined time, and we can go wherever want to go and see what we want to see.
Most of us haven’t had this kind of freedom since those long, blissful school vacations we enjoyed when we were young.
It is surprising that doctors don’t prescribe vacations more often. Taking a vacation and getting out of our normal routine is healthy in many ways. Vacations can reduce stress, lower blood pressure, provide educational and creative opportunities, and give us a reason to work the rest of the year.
Whether we enjoy fishing, or golfing, traveling, or any of a million other activities that people enjoy while on vacation, it seems that the only real problem with vacations is that they are too short, and too far between.