The word makes me cringe. It grates on me to the point that I'm looking forward to seeing it included in Lake Superior State University's annual list of banished words - those neologisms so overused that their value plummets like a dollar at a foreign-exchange booth.
Staycation. In the few months since I first heard it uttered, it has grown more aggravating with each repetition.
But with gas prices approaching an average of $4 per gallon - and with flying as unreliable and unpleasant as it is cost-prohibitive - vacationing close to home carries undeniable appeal. So I decided to try it, and see what happened.
Thunderstorms rained out the first day, so I took back that vacation time and went into the office for a couple of meetings and work. Try finding an airline or long-distance road-trip itinerary that can accommodate such a significant change in plans without great fuss.
The storms persisted into Friday, so my two travel partners and I devoted ourselves to gathering a week's worth of provisions at Jenifer Street Market and Woodman's, and filling the tank at our neighborhood BP station - keeping much of our vacation budget in Madison. We packed books, magazines, a couple layered changes of clothes, two kayaks, a few small electronics and other accessories.
On Saturday, we pointed the car north. First stop: Devil's Lake, for a morning of rock climbing with other family members. I lacked the nerve, so I watched and took photos. The weather was windy but otherwise gorgeous. Great fun in a spectacular setting.
Then back on the road, up Highway 51 toward our ultimate destination near Antigo, less than one tank north of Madison.
This drive brought us to a little cabin on a quiet little lake in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. It served as our base.
Days began down at the dock. We sipped coffee and watched the sun burn the dawn mist off the water. One morning, an alpha goose marshaled a handful of others with an echoing monologue of commanding honks. Assuming a V-formation, they took off in the direction of another lake somewhere west. Magic.
Sunday, there was a fine inexpensive brunch buffet at Buettner's Wild Wolf Inn, overlooking a stretch of whitewater on the Wolf River, followed by a stop at the Bear Paw Outdoor Adventure Resort. One year after a tornado wiped out its buildings and the dense stands of trees surrounding the property, the resort is rising from the splinters and on the verge of reopening. To mark its resurrection, the owners have transformed the lone remaining upright, if denuded, pine into a "Kayak Tree" sculpture that stands as something more than another roadside attraction.
The next day, we ventured into the woods seeking geocaches. We found two, along with a handful of wood ticks. Over the course of five days, we lost count of the wood ticks we picked off each other. Their numbers suggested the possibility that the species has developed a taste for deep-woods bug repellent that borders an oenophile's appreciation of fine wines.
Trillium were in even greater abundance than ticks. I'm the sort of ignoramus who struggles to tell a rose from a pine tree. But once my wife pointed out a couple of trillium plants, I started seeing them almost everywhere I looked. Less numerous but no less striking were the more diminutive and delicate-looking star flowers she pointed out.
On a visit to nearby Lakewood, we stumbled on an unexpected wine-tasting opportunity at Woodland Trail Winery. Nearby, at Sweet Memories Candy Shoppe, we found a temple of nostalgic confections - home-made fudges and chocolates, saltwater taffy in dozens of flavors, lollipops galore, licorice - in room after room of sugared and unsugared delights. Stunning.
A few days into our vacation, I lost track of days. Was this Tuesday? Did it matter? I read Andrew Pham's memoir, Catfish and Mandala. My wife read The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. Her younger sister blazed through four books she found on the shelves at the cabin.
If there were no Prados or Pyrenees on this vacation, there were opportunities for relaxing siestas. If we checked off none of the 1,000 places to see before you die, raucous games of Trivial Pursuit took us all over the map. If there were no opera or rock festivals, there was an iPod Nano piped through portable speakers.
And there was this, the hallmark of all great vacations: not feeling quite ready to leave for the return home. Wishing instead - at least for a few more days - to stay.