Even though Maui has been where I hang my hat for several years, there are few places that make me feel more at home than this little town on the Mississippi River, Trempealeau, Wisconsin. I spent my formidable years taking advantage of biking, hiking, and boating in the area. This summer, it just so happened to mark the 50th anniversary of Trempealeau's annual festival, Catfish Days. So, after a little lull in visits because of the pandemic, it was time for me to make a pilgrimage back.
After a sort of a 'Planes, Trains, and Automobiles' trip composed of multiple flights, a shuttle bus with a chatty driver, an Uber ride, and a lift from a good high school friend, I finally arrived. I was eager to see old friends that have become family and see if anything had changed since my last visit.
Trempealeau, Wisconsin Highlights
With just a smidge over two thousand people, Trempealeau is a quaint river town surrounded by corn and soybean fields, apple orchards, vineyards, and dairy farms. One of its most popular sights is Perot State Park for hiking, camping, fishing, and canoeing. However, a close second would be my first place of employment, the Historic Trempealeau Hotel for its famous Walnut Burger or Walnut Balls as well as river views and occasional outdoor concerts. Although you can find local beers and wines on the Hotel's menu, a stop at ELMARO for a tasting flight of its wines is always a good idea. The vineyard is picturesque with great outdoor or indoor seating plus a light, tapa-style menu to pair with your vino.
Although you wouldn't think a small-town can throw a big party, but Trempealeau does. Always the weekend after the Fourth of July, the Trempealeau Lions put on Catfish Days. Growing up, it was the festival NOT to miss. Even today, I think it is the best in Trempealeau County if not the Coulee Region. Most locals would say that Catfish Days is a high school and family reunion combined. There are three days of activities starting with the announcement of the new Miss Trempealeau and court and ending with the Sunday parade. In between, there are fishing tournaments, bike and road races, live music, food and beer tents, and the egg toss. This year, the Lions gathered all former Miss Trempealeau courts to participate in a Friday social as well as in the Sunday parade. As Miss Trempealeau 1995 (aka Miss Fish), I and my court rode in the parade on Sunday wearing 1990s-ish prom dresses, our original tiaras, and ordered some substitute sashes.
In the Moment: No phone, No Facebook, No Cares
From Friday through Sunday, I was forced to disconnect as my phone service didn't work in town. That meant I didn't have Facebook or Google to help me as I was tested multiple times on names of teachers, classmates, and friends of friends from over twenty+ years ago. (Next time: I'll take a refresher course by browsing my high school yearbooks in advance.) As a carefree finale, it was fun dressing up with the 1995 court. It was similar to the movie 'Back to the Future' but instead of the 1950s to 1980s, it was 1995 meets 2022.
The Upside: Laughing with Friends & Seeing Familiar Places with New Eyes
Most people commented on how far I had traveled or how much money it must have cost to fly back from Maui. Indeed, it took both time and money, but it is priceless to see and laugh with lifelong friends. Plus, I got the chance to witness a familiar place with new eyes. I live and have lived in many beautiful places, but I attest my original hometown is truly a beauty too with its rolling hills, red barn, bails of hay, spotted cows, Mississippi River, and limestone bluffs. Now, I say this as I write in July after swatting away a mosquito the size of a bird. (One of the pluses of living on the windy side of Maui is the lack of mosquitos, but I'm always prepared to hold onto my hat!)
Sometimes removing yourself from your routine and daily surroundings is all you need to tap into the power of perspective. Trempealeau gave me a Look Up reminder for sure. I'll be back.
Here's to looking up!