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Spring break's Maine event

As April arrives and the weather slowly but surely turns warm again, many college students seize the opportunity that spring break provides to flee to the country's coasts and enjoy some time on the beach. I certainly did, just not to the place most people would think.

Just as warmth was working its way back into the Ohio air, I thought to myself "Ah yes, the perfect time to travel to the northernmost continental state." So I packed up my car with my two friends, Julia and Alyssa, and set out on a road trip to Maine.

The United States is big. I think that sometimes Americans take this fact for granted.

In Europe, people balk at the thought of having to travel for more than a few hours to get anywhere. The concept of driving 11 hours one day then six hours the next might sound a little outlandish to them, but that's exactly what we did.

The first leg of the journey took us right into the heart of New York City. Being the tourists that we are, we stayed more or less on the beaten path while wandering amid the skyscrapers. We visited the Museum of Natural History and marveled at massive dinosaur skeletons - sure to point out every exhibit that had a cameo in Night at the Museum along the way - and we ate classic NY-style pizza, paper thin and absolutely dripping with grease. Pretty standard stuff.

Being the frugal college students that we are, we stayed with one of Alyssa's friends on the floor of their college dorm. I awoke to find a pattern of bumps and ridges imprinted onto my back after a night of sleeping on a yoga mat.

Leaving the cosmopolitan heart of America behind, we set out once more for the great white north. After we'd added a few hundred more miles onto my car's odometer, a sign that warned us to watch for moose on the roadways heralded our arrival into Maine.

I'd visited the state before with my dad around eight years ago, and it was one of the best vacations of my life. I've never been one for tropical climates and sun-bleached shores, but the stark beauty of the northern coastline captured my heart like nothing else. The scent of salt and brine in the cold northern air coupled with the picturesque lighthouses and harbors conveyed a sense of maritime magic. This part of the country was simple and pure, and I loved it.

And now, back in Maine again almost a decade later, I wasn't disappointed.

We stayed in Portland, a city just big enough to have a bustling charm while not being as chaotic and overwhelming as somewhere like New York. It provided an excellent base of operations while we explored the wilderness of the self-proclaimed pine tree state.

Just north of the city, we stopped at a stretch of coast called Popham Beach. A Civil War-era fort sat crumbling nearby, and the tide washed over miles of sandy shores. Aside from a few couples out walking their dogs, we were the only ones on the beach. The water was freezing, and the icy waves lapped gently against the empty shoreline. It was barren, solitary and utterly peaceful.

We visited several lighthouses, one thing we don't have too many of in Ohio. One in particular, separated from the shore by haphazard path of massive rocks, seemed like something ripped straight out of a postcard or stock photo. It was surrounded on all sides by ocean, and to its left you could see Portland houses on the coast in the distance. The tower was framed perfectly by the rocky path, the gentle waves and the piercing blue sky.

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All around us, at every stop and at all times on the drive through Maine, nature was abundant. Whether it took the form of a pine tree-adorned mountain, a sparkling blue river, a vast and murky swamp or the clear, pristine coastline, the variety and splendor offered by the Maine wilderness was magnificent.

Even when populated by quaint houses and kitschy seafood restaurants, the landscape of Maine exuded tranquility and beauty in a way unmatched by any Ohio locale I've ever visited.

Before making this trip, my friend Alyssa had always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of a busy city. But passing through the winding roads of the northern countryside, even she couldn't deny its charm.

"I never really understood why anyone would want to come to Maine," she said, her eyes fixed on the quiet, idyllic town we were driving through. "But I get it now."