The itch usually starts in February, a slight irritation that emerges from under the folds of cold, dreary days.
This sensation shyly seeks my attention but struggles to compete with the various worthwhile distractions that dominate my time. Working. Writing. Parenting. Running. Commuting. Reading. Socializing. Watching Netflix.
Even though my focus may be diverted, I know this yearning cannot be ignored. The lifeless trees, frigid temperatures and long nights create a sort of prison, confining me in one box or another, be it a house, building or vehicle, as I strive to prevent the cold from getting deep into my bones.
Essentially, I am just not a winter person.
Then I have a quiet moment. Drinking a large cup of hot coffee. Listening to the faint rhythm of clothes tumbling in a dryer. Daydreaming about my son and me fishing. My mind relaxes. My diversions are gone.
In this calm space, I can feel the itch — and I scratch.
My fingers gently but quickly traverse the keyboard, imputing hopes for a great deal on a summer escape into various Internet searches. Scrolling down the screens, I note the cascading possibilities: beautiful accommodations, bayside and oceanside locations, and generous amenities.
A few years ago, my scratch led my son and me to Mount Gretna in Pennsylvania for a memorable trip. A few of my coworkers described this community as charming and lovely and mentioned its lake, which was quite popular among the locals. Sold, I reserved a two-night hotel stay and we were off.
Mount Gretna is a tiny community situated in a forest of oak trees and evergreens. Summer vacationers reside in houses with varied and eclectic architectural styles under a lush green canopy among native flora and fauna. The featured entertainment includes an ice cream parlor, art shows, concerts and lectures.
Having vacationed in Ocean City, MD, for the past few years, my son and I decided to try something new — and less expensive. The costs for renting a beach house or condo or staying in a hotel were simply beyond my small budget. And Mount Gretna aroused our curiosity and offered something comparable to a beach with its lake.
The day we left for Mount Gretna I plotted a route using the Google Maps app on my cellphone and learned that we would be traveling through rural Lebanon County. The route seemed fairly straightforward — a right here, a left there, etc. — along clearly marked roads for a little more than an hour.
We were so naïve.
I quickly realized how inexperienced I was with driving in the country. My employment, shopping and social life had, thus far, been reached through frequently traveled roads and congested interstates and routes. People were always around, gas stations were within blocks of each other and dead zones for cellphones simply didn’t exist anymore. I am definitely a city girl, and I had only just moved to Pennsylvania a few years ago.
Once we left the main route, Joseph and I found ourselves driving among country fields with not a human in sight, except the occasional driver passing or following us. At this time, the app on my phone did not communicate directions out loud, and Joseph struggled to keep up with our movements so he could tell me when and where to turn.
My eyes occasionally glanced at the gas meter as it slowly fell. Fortunately, I had filled the tank before we left, but the journey seemed to take forever. Would we have enough gas to get there? Would we even find a gas station? How could 48 miles seem like 1,000?
And then we reached a detour — yes, a detour. Our route was rudely interrupted, and my app failed to extend the courtesy of rerouting us as my current one does. After a major freak-out, we pulled into a church parking lot and figured out some way to get to our hotel, a destination marked only by a flashing red dot on my cellphone screen.
“Are we getting closer to the dot, Joseph?! Are we getting closer?”
As we drove toward the dot, the sunny weather that accompanied our trip yielded to a torrential rainstorm that darkened the sky. It was a mad rain that beat down on my car, making it difficult to see at times. The winds brought down loose leaves and weak branches once we reached the forested area near Mount Gretna, creating treacherous road conditions. But we were determined and finally arrived at the flashing dot nearly two hours from when we left our home.
Beautiful sunny skies accompanied our optimism for our plans the next day: We were going to the lake. The hotel attendant gave us easy directions and we arrived there without a hitch. We even found a sweet parking space near the entrance. The lake had not opened, so we joined the line, which was steadily growing. We commented on the beachfront, surrounding grounds and the lake, and complained quietly about the wait.
“Well, if we have to wait, let me clip your nails.”
Joseph and I quickly looked at each other and then behind us to find a woman with a nail clipper in one hand and her child’s hand in the other. And she was clipping and chatting, clipping and chatting. The sound continued from child to child as she decided to publicly groom them. We just stood there in disbelief and tried not to laugh. Was this behavior appropriate? Was I going to be subjected to more culture shock?
Once the lake opened and the line moved, we paid our entrance fee and snagged a spot on the beach near the water. The lake was calm — no waves, sadly — and rather dark, but it was inviting. Children built worlds in the sand and waded in the shallow water. Older ones swam into the lake where they climbed up wooden platforms and jumped off them into the water below. I watched as my skinny son climbed the ladder of one of these platforms and jumped off a few times; he seemed to be having fun, so I laid back to read.
“I wanna leave now!”
I looked up from my book on economic injustice and saw my son’s freaked-out face.
“I’m done swimming here. I wanna leave.”
“I swam into a dead fish. It was disgusting and I wanna leave.”
“Oh, honey! This is a lake . . . with fish in it. I’m so sorry, but it’s just one fish. And there are fish in the ocean too.”
“I know but the ocean is moving and this lake doesn’t. And the fish . . . was there. Look, I just wanna leave.”
And we did. Joseph was clearly upset and having fun at the lake turned out to not be in our actual plans.
For the remainder of the day, we strolled among the houses and along the paths throughout the Mount Gretna community. It was indeed lovely and charming, a wonderful distraction from the trauma-inducing dead fish and the horrendous drive there. However, it no longer had the allure of its lake to engage us and the entertainment options were limited and a bit expensive, so we decided to end the trip early and go home.
After this brief excursion, we realized that we preferred the comfort and congestion of urban areas and the rhythmic movement of the ocean. This sense of not being alone and estranged from our surroundings and others turned out to be very important to us. Recognizing this need would have definitely satisfied that itch, so instead of renting a house and reserving a hotel, we plan on taking some day trips to the beach this year.
And Mount Gretna? Well, that’s definitely a day trip — and we’ll pass on the lake.
Editor’s note: The photos from Mount Gretna were taken by Elizabeth Thomsen and posted on VisualHunt.com.
On Thursdays I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
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