Sara Vanden Berge

Are you feeling tired and run down? Do your feet ache? Do you have unsightly bags that have pooled beneath your eyes making you look older than you really are? Do you find yourself short-tempered and snappy?

If so, there’s probably a good reason.

A recent study conducted by Air New Zealand dubbed the “Vacation Gap” found that Americans work harder than any other industrialized nation in the world, yet only 43 percent of those in the workforce actually take a vacation. The results of the study confirm what tired Americans already know; everyone needs to get away from the daily grind of work and have a little fun once in a while.

According to the study’s findings, post-vacationers’ work performance improved nearly 25 percent compared to performance before vacation. It also showed that after vacationing, travelers got three times more deep sleep and almost 20 minutes more sleep per night upon returning home.

Armed with those statistics in mind, I stepped on an airplane last week holding the new Janet Evanovich novel and determined not to read or watch a bit of news for nine glorious days.

I would return, I told myself, rested and ready to step back into my high heels and write that big story.

Unventured territory

Typically when I take a vacation I like to go somewhere near a beach, but this year I lost that battle and was forced to venture into the unfamiliar territory of Montana, Wyoming and the Black Hills. It’s pretty, I’ll admit, in a rugged, untouched, naturey sort of way. The hills are big and there are lots of green trees if you like that sort of thing. But I couldn’t find a single sushi bar and my usual morning soy latte was hard to come by.

I did, however, manage to take a 16-mile white water rafting trip, get up close and personal with a black bear, and dodge a rather large and smoky wildfire.

It was a blast.

Visiting Mount Rushmore

Driving up the steep mountain to get a glimpse of one of America’s finest monuments, I’ll admit to being a little giddy. Everyone dreams of the moment when they will round a corner and there, standing before them, carved in a gigantic mountain, will be the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln staring back.

But as I got my first glimpse of the monument, I was rendered speechless. All I could think is, wow, Mount Rushmore is… disappointingly small.

Could it be that I am the only one in the world who failed to see the magnificence in this piece of work? Sure, it’s neat and I know it took a lot of years to complete. I even admire the brave men who hung by a cable to carve the mountain into four of America’s most important faces. But I imagined it to be bigger, grander. I thought it would take my breath away and it didn’t. So I snapped a few pictures, watched a video on its making and left.

Now, my parents worry that my expectation level is out of whack.

Go figure.

More leather and tattoos than you can shake a stick at

Our next stop was Sturgis. A place where an estimated 500,000 motorcyclists gather the first week of August each year to do whatever it is that motorcyclists do.

The first sound you hear when arriving in the sleepy little town is the roar of motorcycles. Mostly fancy Harley Davidsons where riders dress to match the paint job. The next thing you notice is that everyone is wearing black. And leather. Lots and lots of leather.

I was wearing pink, which immediately made things a little uncomfortable.

As I walked into a Harley Davidson shop with three kids in tow, I was hoping no one would notice that I didn’t belong. But one very tough looking woman with an exceptionally long braid glared at me. Twice.

My oldest son said, “Did you see the way she looked at you, mom?”

I said, “Yeah,” and ducked inside, where I quickly bought a purple, Harley tank top (I put it on in the store), wiped off my pink lipgloss and made a mad dash passed the tattooed mannequins and out the door. I hopped into the car and screeched out of there with an overwhelming and unexplainable urge for a pedicure.

It’s good to be back at work.

SARA VANDEN BERGE is News Editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at sara.vandenberge@empiretribune.com or (254) 965-3124, ext. 240.