My skin burned in the subzero January wind as I stood soaking wet on the snow-covered beach smiling for my parent’s camera. I had definitely picked a good year (2013) to do the annual polar plunge in Lake Michigan—the worst in fourteen years some said. I bundled up as other people ran out onto icy Lake Michigan to dunk into a hole of water that the firefighters had cut away. I ran to the car as fast as I could. Fortunately, God created the body with amazing survival skills, and I managed to warm up faster than even my parents. I looked at my legs, bleeding from running through the icy water. I would definitely have a story to tell my friends when I got back to Florida. Yes, it might have been extreme and maybe even a little crazy—stupid was the word Grandma used—to jump into Lake Michigan in the middle of winter, but after growing up thinking that my life was extremely boring, I realized it didn’t have to be boring; and in fact, maybe it wasn’t.
I was homeschooled my whole life, and I was pretty sure that I had the most boring life a person could have. I mean I had no special talent. Twelve years of piano lessons had only taught me how to play “Mary had a Little Lamb.” I really had nothing to brag about. Sure, some people were impressed that I had eight siblings, but I knew people who had ten, twelve, and even fourteen siblings. I hadn’t even really done anything impressive. Yes, I’ve won hundreds of dollars in essay contests, but it becomes less impressive when you find out that you were the only one who entered.
I had watched movies and read books. Life was supposed to be an adventure, and it seemed it was for everyone except me. Every day was the same—same video teachers, same Gilligan reruns every night, same family vacations every fall, even our dinners were the same.
One night, as we sat around the table, eating the same grilled chicken that we had eaten for the past eighteen years, Dad asked me if I wanted to go duck hunting the next morning with my brothers. I pictured myself falling out of bed at four o’ clock in the morning, putting on my sweatpants, and stumbling around the house until I made it to our van. I remembered last year, shivering in the river with numb feet, unable to stomp them because my chest waders were five sizes too big. And I knew that just like every other year, we wouldn’t see any ducks. I knew I’d be half dead and crabby by ten in the morning. I moaned.
“Come on, we didn’t pay $13 for a license for you not to go hunting. Where is your sense of adventure?” Dad placed a piece of grilled chicken on my little brother’s plate, as my little brother wrinkled his nose at the meal that we had had only five other times that month.
I turned back to my own plate. Adventure? Adventures are exciting, and there is nothing exciting about hunting. I thought back to previous hunting excursions. I knew Dad would make us carry the boat again—that was a struggle. My brothers and I would drop the boat in the middle of the cornfield, but we would laugh even as our dad yelled at us the whole time. Sitting in the water was cold and boring, but man, when I looked up, there wasn’t a spot in the sky that didn’t have a star. So maybe hunting was a little bit exciting.
Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Well, my life was certainly nothing, but I realized that I could make my life a daring adventure. Our boring, same-old vacations at Eau Claire Dells weren’t just hiking on trails, but climbing on rocks and scaling cliffs over the Eau Claire River. Deer hunting wasn’t just getting up early and sitting on a frozen log all day, but it was exploring woods, seeing wild animals, and seeing gorgeous Wisconsin landscape that I wouldn’t normally have seen otherwise. Giving our dog a long walk wasn’t just another chore, but it became a time of catching frogs, swinging from wild grapevines, and playing hide-and-seek in the forest near our house. I realized that I had gone on many adventures. I had just looked at them with the wrong perspective. I had visited the largest freshwater lake in the world, the longest cave in the world, and toured one of the most beautiful capitol buildings. I saw many historic sites in the north Midwest, met famous politicians, swam in the largest American river, and went to the top of what was the tallest building in the world at the time, all without having really done many exciting things in my life. And just when I got content with my many “adventures,” my writing teacher said something that really added to my meaning of adventure.
“Bad things don’t happen to writers; it’s just another adventure to write about.” Now that opened a lot of doors for me. Why even a drive home from grandma’s house could be an adventure. That is when one gets lost, in the ghettos, at midnight, when there are police cars everywhere. I was driving home from a city south of Milwaukee to West Bend which is twenty miles north of Milwaukee. Now normally, I would take the bypass around Milwaukee, but when you are too busy jamming with your favorite song in the middle of the night, sometimes you don’t notice that the dotted lines on the freeway become tiny and suddenly you’re on an exit ramp. I kept heading straight anyway as the sign said “41 North,” which was the direction that I needed to go. Female driver logic told me that that looked like a good road to take. In fact, I was confident that I was headed in the right direction. I kept driving. However, the speed limit went from 55 to 35 really quickly.
I looked to my left. Blue and red lights flashed on buildings that were barely standing. On my right, people milled around. They had their hands in the pockets of their sagging pants, and the bills of their baseball caps hid their faces. The police cars ahead of me blocked the side roads, and police tape hung around the posts outside the bars. That’s when I realized that this wasn’t anywhere near the freeway anymore.
Although Milwaukee may not necessarily be considered the most dangerous city by any means, it was ranked as having the fourth highest murder rate in the nation. And just recently, it was named the seventh most dangerous city in the America. I gripped my steering wheel.
I had no clue why so many people were milling around, but I was fairly certain they were all looking at me. As I stopped at the red light, I pulled my little pocket knife out of my purse and placed it on my dashboard. No one was going to break in my window and steal me away without a fight. I double checked my locks, praying for dear life. Police cars were at the end of every street. I knew that if I didn’t get out of there, I would probably be the next victim. Two more red lights and I was at the end of the road. I had to head east or west. I wiped my sweaty hands on my pants. Where did the northbound road go? I drove around the police tape. Now was not the time to worry about such things. I found the closest police car and rolled down my window. “Where is the freeway?” I squeaked out.
“What?” The police squinted and looked in my car.
“Where is the freeway going north? I want to go home.” I knew I looked as pathetic as I sounded.
“Uh, go to that light and turn left.”
Just my luck, a large sign displaying the words “no left turns” sat at the front of the busy intersection. The light turned green, and in that split second, I chose life and made the illegal left turn and sped toward the freeway. By this time my knuckles were white, and I could barely breathe. I found the freeway but didn’t recognize any of the directions—so I just got on. It was already 1:00 a.m.
I followed the freeway till out of nowhere, I was once again in a sketchy residential area. The flickering lights showed houses with peeling paint and missing shutters. I pulled over and took out the family cell phone. Unfortunately, we had a phone out of the Stone Age and clicking the map application was not an option.
“Dad, I’m lost in Milwaukee.”
“Lock the doors,” he said.
“I did. I’m on Miller and Greenfield.”
“Hold on, I’m booting up the computer. If you get on the freeway, head west toward Madison.”
That’s when I heard the beep.
“Dad, the phone battery is almost dead.
“Remember, head west toward Madison. Okay, I’m on google maps, where are . . .”
And that’s when I was alone.
I sped back onto the freeway, passing everything I had just passed. I swerved in and out of cars, hoping to see any sign that could help me.
After a few minutes of driving, I saw my salvation. “94 Westbound.”
Home, here I come. I drove and drove.
After a while of driving, I passed GE Healthcare. That’s where my dad worked in Milwaukee. But after passing a couple more signs, I realized that I wasn’t in Milwaukee anymore, I was in Waukesha, a city still 50 minutes away from my home—way more west than I wanted to be. I stepped on the pedal, hoping for once in my life to be pulled over. I found a sign for restaurants. One of them was bound to be open at one in the morning.
I drove down the wooded road and kept my brights on. All I needed now was to hit a deer and total my car. I finally pulled into a Denny’s. The waitress allowed me to use her phone to call Dad. After reassuring him I was still alive and in Wisconsin, I got directions from the waitress and left. As I went out the door, I noticed some guys hanging around the car next to mine. Perfect place for a kidnapping and murder, I’m sure. I fumbled with my keys, unable to unlock my car. I heard laughing. They were probably picturing how funny it would be to feed me to the wild animals in the woods. The stubborn key finally fit into the hole, and I made it into my car still breathing. I pulled out and headed home. As I went down the freeway that I had just exited, I saw the flashing lights of a cop. In the exact spot that I had been trying to get pulled over, the police had pulled someone else over—figures.
Finally, at two in the morning, I pulled into my driveway. Since that night, the GPS and women driver jokes have accompanied me on all my trips. Though looking back on that night, I realize it had been an adventure—one I hope to never relive—but an adventure nonetheless.
And if I add up all my so-called bad experiences together—almost missing plane flights, surviving cross country, passing out from blood donations—along with my good experiences, I realize that maybe a girl who ate meatloaf every Monday night could have stories to tell. Maybe life isn’t so boring after all. Maybe life really is an adventure.