I love that Northwestern University is located in Evanston, IL, on Chicago’s North Shore and a shuttle ride away from the city of Chicago. I love that my morning run could take me north along Sheridan Road or south along Lake Shore Drive. But sometimes I feel like getting out of town and driving out of the city, away from the crowds, to paraphrase Taylor Swift, and I love that I can do that, too.

Some of my favorite places to go are the state parks throughout southern Wisconsin, Illinois, and northern Indiana, and one of my favorite trips is the one that I took to the Illinois Beach State Park on the Illinois-Wisconsin border two-and-a-half years ago.

I had been chairing a committee within my fraternity, and the board and I decided to do an off-site leadership retreat. We called ourselves the “surgeons” – I don’t remember why; may have been because a few of them were on the pre-med track – and we were going to plan our operations for that fall quarter.

We rented sleeping bags and tents from our student center on campus, rode the train from Evanston to Waukegan, bought food at a local grocery store, set up the tents, and lit the grill, and we were camping.

We did get some work done that weekend – we planned the Pajama Races, which would be our largest philanthropic event to that date – but we also made memories that have followed us around, to paraphrase Taylor Swift, again.

A few of them that I may or may not be remembering correctly –

– Forgetting the flashlights, but remembering the iPhones, until the batteries died.

– Taking a “self-guided tour” of an abandoned building.

– Falling asleep to the sound of the waves, and one of my fraternity brothers talking in his sleep.

– Waking up in the middle of the night to put on all of the clothing that I packed to keep warm against the wind off the water.

– Waking up in the morning to a sunrise over Lake Michigan that rose earlier than we had planned rise.

– Fitting 9 people into 5 seats to drive into town to forage for breakfast, and Snapchatting selfies of the 9 people in the 5 seats.

We returned to campus ready to sleep in a bed under a roof under the stars, rather than under the stars themselves, and ready to wake up to our alarms, rather than at whatever time nature decided that we should. But that weekend in a modern day pastoral also gave us the time and place to live deliberately, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau.

You may have noted a hint of nostalgia in my voice – I may send the link to this blog post to the other “surgeons.”

​–Ryan Ayres

photo: Illinois Department of Recreation.

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