It's 3:30 a.m. We're here at O'Hare. Early.
Wanted to make sure that we had no issues to board our 5:17 a.m. flight back to Houston.
Waverly is due to sing a special this morning during church services at North Park Baptist Church.
Another vacation in the books.
I have no idea what the mileage was on our rental car with Alamo (as their systems were down when we returned the car earlier), but the wheels saw Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Our annual summer trip has been a tradition since Waverly was about eight or nine.
Since she spent five weeks last summer working four Christian summer youth camps in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Texas last year, we didn't get to do it.
I still took a week's vacation by myself and saw eight new minor league ballparks in seven days and ran a couple of races in North Carolina.
This year was no different. Sort of.
The original plan was to stay closer to the midwest, but Waverly thought that she would be able to see her friends with Lift Ministries that were working camps again this year in Ohio.
However, we learned that the Ohio camp was the following week (or next week).
But Dad heard one thing and thought forward on a second item to change up the trip a little bit.
Waverly is going to be a resident adviser this year - her junior year - at Liberty University.
While she will have available "off days" each semester, I could just forsee that it was going to be difficult for her to get away and make the five-hour drive to Pennsylvania to see my 90-year-old grandmother in central Pennsylvania.
And through some casual dialogue with her, I realized that the Lift team was going to be at Cairn University in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.
So the plan was to "Go East, Young Man" - to play off a popular saying from the past.
We had two races planned - one for me to definitely run and one for us to do together.
I also had six "new to me" ballparks on the schedule.
We would fly here into Chicago and then immediately head to Grand Rapids, Michigan where we could catch the West Michigan Whitecaps, who play in the Midwest League.
That decision was kind of predicated that the only Sunday race I could find was a 5K in Shelby, Michigan - about an hour north of Grand Rapids and Muskegon.
It turned out that it was this little lakeside community's first time to put on a race and they did it in style. The Stony Lake Sparkler 5K.
Great, great atmosphere for a community race. Completely well done.
And it turned out that Waverly wanted to run it - even though she had run the 26th annual Baytown Bud Heatwave the day before. A 5-miler in broiling heat and humidity.
I like to race myself, even though I'm slow. However, I know that the opportunities to run a race with my daughter, even though she's 20, in the years to come will likely diminish.
Therefore, it is something that I completely cherish.
The vacation time is something that I value and cherish as well.
We usually have things that are set or fixed - a hotel that we need to make, a ballpark to go to or somebody that we have planned to see - and then if we see something else that looks interesting to explore we do so.
Sunday's plan was to stop by Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan and Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on the way to our second of eight consecutive nights in a Marriott hotel, Findlay, Ohio.
But something happened along the way as we approached East Lansing: Waverly noticed that a friend from Liberty had just checked in at a local place of business. She checked the hours, learned that it was close to the Michigan State campus and off we headed in that direction.
Waverly totally surprised her friend, Grace.
It was great. It was an example of when you have the chance to do something, you do it.
Try your best to live your life with absolutely no regrets. Every day.
We spent some time there and I had a chance to meet Grace and we both met her mother. They were sharing time together at a Painting With A Twist location.
From Findlay on Monday, we would head to Columbus to see the ballpark that is used by the New York Yankees' AAA affiliate, the Clippers.
On the way, we stopped in Marion to see the Warren Harding Memorial - a structure that was constructed in the late 1920s and is beautifully maintained.
Beautiful newer ballpark, but what was special for me is that the Columbus area for many years was actually the Pittsburgh Pirates' top minor league ballclub in the late 60's and early 70's and some of my favorite Pirates as a child had spent time there: Stargell, Sanguillen and Al Oliver.
We drove by Ohio Stadium - on the way to the game - where the National Champion Buckeyes play, but I'll get a chance to see that in about two weeks.
And then we saw John Glenn's boyhood home in New Concord, Ohio as well as the Muskingum College campus before passing through West Virginia into the greatest Commonwealth of them all: Pennsylvania.
We broke up the drive to Langhorne by staying in Bedford, Pennsylvania on Monday night, which left us a three-and-a-half hour drive Tuesday morning.
One of the many things that we try to accomplish on our vacations is to eat local.
Over the last 40 years, we've seen Wal-Mart wipe out hundreds of Mom and Pop businesses across America, if not North America.
So in Bedford, we had dinner at O I P (which is also in my hometown of Tyrone, Pennsylvania).
And then we set out for an almost 3-mile run in downtown Bedford.
The following morning would take us to Cairn University in north suburban Philadelphia and Waverly was able to spend about three hours with some of the friends and staff that she had worked with the previous summer.
We could have stayed longer, but the staff members had responsibilities with campers after lunch that ended at 1 p.m. And the Lift team will be in our home church this coming Sunday as they head to the last camp of their summer at LeTourneau University in Longview.
We were able to be a part of the morning Camp worship service where we heard an excellent message brought by EJ Swanson that God is less concerned about where we've been in our past but more concerned about where we're headed - in our walk with HIm and where we'll spend eternity.
Something that, as Christians, we don't do a good job of communicating with in our ever-changing world.
We're afraid to say: We're concerned that - without a relationship with Jesus Christ - you're going to spend eternity in Hell.
It was on to Reading - about an hour and a half east of Philadelphia - where we took in one of the oldest ballparks in the minor leagues, the rechristened FirstEnergy Stadium.
Originally built in 1950, it still embraced the club's great history, including an affiliation of almost 50 consecutive years (since 1967) with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Before the game, we had a great cheesesteak hoagie at Mike's Sandwich Shop, less than a mile from the ballpark. Great stuff.
The next morning, we drove to see my grandmother in Tipton, Pennsylvania - between Altoona and State College, just off of Highway 99.
My Dad and Mom were already there with my two nieces.
We stopped in late Wednesday morning to the Berkey Creamery at Penn State for some ice cream because the way that we were going to depart would have taken us out of the way to go there.
We spent a good six hours with my grandmother. I had been in to see her about five or six weeks ago.
She's done incredibly well on her own since my grandfather passed away last April. I'm very, very proud of her. Being without my grandfather has been very hard on her, but she's persevered with whatever time God continues to grant her here on this earth.
One of the things that I like to do when we get home is to take in Texas Hot Dogs in Altoona and Waverly and I took my two nieces, Haylee and Hunter, with us before we headed west to Youngstown, Ohio, where we would spend the night.
The plan was on Thursday morning to see a game in Eastlake, Ohio - the home of the Lake County Captains. However, weather got in the way.
Before we made it there, we saw William McKinley's Boyhood Home and Memorial in Niles as well as the First Flight Exhibit of Neil Armstrong in neighboring Warren.
With the ballgame in Eastlake cancelled, we moved on to our next stop: Maumee, Ohio.
We would stay there, but would venture north to Sylvania for the running of the Ohio Michigan 8K.
A rectangular course that would venture into Michigan for about two-thirds of the race and finish back in Ohio close to the original start.
We started the first two miles off at about an 11:11 pace, which Waverly really masters well (i.e. not going out too fast). But with favorable weather, temperature-wise (it was still humid), I started to pick up the pace and we negative splitted each mile with the last .97 miles in 9:56 as I got her under 54 -- a few days after she went 55:25 in the heat in Baytown.
In the meantime of all of this, we were looking for a race for Saturday morning and Waverly reminded me that she had never been to Wisconsin.
So we kept the original vacation plans of staying in Beloit, Wisconsin Friday night and going to see the Beloit Snappers, also of the Midwest League.
There were a number of options in south Wisconsin, but we settled on a two-loop, trail 10K in Middleton, just north of Madison.
When I ran the Sunburst Half Marathon in 2009, finishing down the sideline of Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, I was struck by the beauty of Notre Dame's campus.
I think most colleges in America are maintained in such a way to be visually appealing places.
Notre Dame doesn't disappoint, especially combined with its incredible legacy.
Waverly attends Liberty University a place that its founder, Jerry Falwell, Sr., wanted to be for evangelicals that Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young University is for those of Mormon faith.
We spent an hour or so there and then was back on the road to Beloit, Wisconsin -- and Waverly's 47th state to visit (Michigan earlier in the trip was no. 46).
She has Minnesota, North Dakota and Rhode Island remaining.
(I'm already scheming on how to make Minnesota and North Dakota work. I did both of my half marathons in those two states on the same weekend a few years back.)
Prior to going to the Snappers game Friday evening, we found a great Italian restaurant in South Beloit, Illinois -- Anna Maria's -- and then ventured around Beloit College.
The Snappers' ballpark, Pohlman Field, was one that was without a lot of the current bells and whistles that many minor league ballparks have: the big video scoreboard.
However, Beloit is the kind of community where it really doesn't matter that much.
It was the first game of the four that we made it past the seventh inning stretch as the Beloit pitcher carried a no-no into the sixth inning before giving up a pair of hits and a run. (They would go on to lose 9-1.)
Saturday morning we were up early for the trip to Middleton. An 8 o'clock start, we were on the road at 6 a.m.
The race was on the mixed-terrain trails of the Pheasant Branch Trail Conservatory. Fortunately that I had mapped things out the night before, as the race website didn't have detailed instructions on how to get there.
I let the race director know when I got there that it is something that they should add to their site for people like myself that look at RunningintheUSA.com for races wherever they go.
And a reminder to me to ensure that the races that I work with that they do the same.
The first loop, we used Waverly's same plan: start out slow and then see how the race unfolded.
It was in the upper 60s with mid-to-high humidity. As it warmed up, the start of the second loop was a little bit more of a challenge, but the shade in the back two-thirds of the loop quickened the pace.
A great effort all in all.
Back to Beloit, we made our way west across the Rock River to Jerry's Cafe for a great breakfast that easily rivaled The Egg & I at home.
Tired of paying the tolls and all of the aggressive drivers on the Interstate, I chose to take the "off the beaten path" to get to our next stop: Elgin, Illinois.
Our plan Saturday evening was to see a game at Kane County, just south in Geneva.
However, being totally exhausted from the week - a "working vacation" as my friend Rick Cook called it - and with rain in the immediate forecast, I could see the one of two MLB-affiliated minor league teams in Illinois another time.
We ate a hot dog place called Maxwell's in Elgin or Dundee, IL (not sure which it was) before getting a little sleep to make it to ORD, Alamo and United with as little stress as possible.
One of the things that I've been able to train Waverly well on is planning in travel. She's learned, especially with her travels earlier this year to Kenya and Tanzania, that it pays off.
We were up at 1 a.m., out of the hotel by 2:10 a.m., dropped the car off at 2:45 a.m., at O'Hare at 3:05 a.m and checked in no later than 3:20 a.m. for a 5:17 scheduled departure.
Great trip. Great time. Great memories.