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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Geek on an Island

by Ken Newquist / July 1, 2008

 The View from the IslandI'm back from the island. No, not the Island but rather, an island on Lake Champlaign on which our family friends own a cabin. We headed up there last week for a five days of sun, water and mosquitos, and while I can't say it was particularly relaxing, it was a lot of fun.

First, the setup: the island is only reachable by boat (as in, one of those aluminum boat deals with the outboard motor, which seats 4 comfortably, 4 and their camping gear less so). There is no electricity, no air conditioning, and ahem, no indoor toilet. There is, however, a cabin.

It may not seem like much of a geek retreat, and hell, most people who know me did a double taken when I told them I was going to spend a week without Internet access.

A geek ... on an island?

I was skeptical as well, mostly because I figured our retinue of one 5 year old and three 2 year olds would preclude me from doing what I love to do most on an extended vacation: read.

But it worked out well. I got enough freetime to take a nap or two, and read Phillip Pullman's The Subtle Knife (the sequel to The Golden Compass). Combined with time spent reading at my sister's house before we headed out to the lake, I was able to knock off two books in one week, which isn't too bad.

Geeky pursuits on the island were, of course, limited. There was my book, and the Into the Cage: A Guide to Sigil that I'm reading for my D&D 4th Edition Planetorn campaign. There was also my trusty old Nintendo DS, which I didn't get to play much: Jordan used it far more than I did (buying us all some much needed sanity). I did get in a little Zelda the day before we left, confronting (but not defeating) the Temple of Wind boss.

Mostly though, I hung out with the family, spent a lot of time playing with the kids, and delved into a little home improvement by helping our hosts rebuild their outhouse.

I even got to use a nail gun. Without hurting myself.

What really made the vacation a vacation, rather than a week of misery, was the cabin. It had two rooms for the kids, two beds in a common area for the grown-ups, and a cozy little living room with a futon and some Adirondack chairs. It was infinitely better than spending a week in a tent, because it gave us a refuge from the more extreme weather (rain, winds) as well as the buzzing hordes of insects that would occasionally launch suicide missions to feed on us when the breeze died down. I haven't read by lantern light in ages (probably since I was a kid) but there was something magical about reading Pullman's alternative history fantasy novel using such a flickering light source.

It was good for Luke to spend five days with two boys his age (and thus being forced to share his cars and trucks with other kids), and Jordan had a blast playing in the lake.

All in all, it was a great vacation, and I'm looking forward to doing it again next year (assuming our friends invite us back). The only thing I might do differently is to see if I can get my old G3 iBook working again, and bring that so I can do some writing. Jotting down notes in a notebook is fine, but I could see knocking out a few short stories or maybe a chapter or three in a new book if I had a laptop with me. Or maybe not. Forceably downshifting from the always-on geek life style has its appeals and advantages, and if I leave the laptop at home, I'll have more room in the boat for books...

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Yeah, it was a pretty great family vacation. Truth be told, it makes me want to take the canoe down to the Delaware River, but I think Jordie needs to be a little older for that.

The three 2-year-olds did make things challenging, but it was great watching Luke interact with the twins. By the end of the vacation they'd come up with their own "ready, set go" game on the swing set's slide. Very cool. :)

Wow - sounds like a real adventure. Interesting venue, and I'm a bit envious.

I've been trying to talk Heather into taking a family trip to a mountain cabin for several years now, but she doesn't seem to be able to grasp the concept of a vacation not including the word "beach". Bleh. :)

The nice thing about the cabin we were at is that it was next to the lake, so you get that "cabin in the woods" vibe with a body of water nextdoor. That said, it's not "The Beach" (with all the advantages there of, in terms of activities) so if what she really wants is the boardwalk, hanging out on a remote wooded island really wouldn't help. :)