Travel tip # 34…stretch your season

When you have kids in school, you sort of know when you’ll take your vacations.

Summer’s good. You can ski or hit the beach in that little window between Christmas and New Years. Spring break is a given, and then there are a few long weekends sprinkled throughout the year when the schooled masses migrate to happier lands.

Of course, Disney is crowded during spring break. Beach discounts vaporize based on school vacation dates, and odds are good you might bum into your neighbors as they “escape” to your very same destination on the very same dates.

The school calendar is the reason I’ve been to Rocky Mountain National Park 10 times, but it was just last year that I first saw the aspen in their autumn splendor. Nobody should visit the Deep South in August, but if that’s when you have time off, you just have to sweat it out.

The relentless march of time is what makes it even sweeter when you can squeeze in a shoulder season trip…even when you are on the downward slope of that shoulder.

Karen and I visited the Greek Islands in November. They were essentially shut down but the one café that was open on Antiparos took us in like family.

Our family had a busy summer this year and it was late September before I realized my daughter and I hadn’t taken the kayak trip we wanted. Then a weekend presented itself in late October. The peak colors had passed. The weather was unpredictable, but it was our one and only chance.

My brother has more kayaks than I have ties (ok…that’s not hard to do) so with Jeff as our outfitter, and another Jeff as friend and paddling companion, we set out for a stretch of the Wisconsin River at the Wisconsin Dells.

This little bit of natural beauty is the reason the area became a tourist destination to begin with…but these days the landscape has been overshadowed by kitsch as the bustling tourist town raises a modern crop of water parks, mini-golf, and go-cart tracks.

We snuck out the backside of town…just a few miles beyond the developed strip…slid our boats into the water and explored the river. The current was strong and there was a bite to the fall air, but the sun came out to warm us and we had the place to ourselves.

A few weeks earlier and we would have shared the river with tour boats, jet skis and pleasure craft, running the gauntlet with our hand powered vessels. A few weeks later and it might have snowed on us. We rolled the dice and won. Of course, if we had lost, we would have come away with a good story… which means we still would have won.

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