I’ve always enjoyed the State of Wisconsin with each visit having been positive including fun business trips to neat towns of Milwaukee, Madison, and a life dream of seeing a game in Green Bay. I have a love of all things cheese and when introduced to this magical little thing called a curd, I was hooked. The creme de la creme though was the experience at Lambeau Field made possible by a work colleague. A full day of tailgating on ice, brats and beer, tossing the skin around, renting a seat to protect my damp pants from the metal bleachers 12 rows back from the Packers bench on the 45 yard line. This is how I’ve always dreamed of experiencing an NFL football game and it provided that. I wear my Lambeau Field hat proudly for what it represents in the game and the history of a sport I’ve enjoyed with so many. Now, entering the state with that history, following a short 145 mile drive along the Lake Superior shore, totally added to my appreciation for this place.
The drive back into Duluth after leaving the KOA was all Interstate as we exited on I-535 east and over the Bong Bridge that extends over the St. Louis Bay into the town of Superior, Wisconsin. The views of Duluth, now to our rear, were that of the town flowing up the hill away from the water with homes sticking out above the trees. In front of us, looking east and on either side of the Tacoma, were industrial port areas with lots of ships docked and commerce at work. The Bong Bridge dumped us into the town of Superior, WI which seemed smaller in size than Duluth, had a similar industrial port feel, and reminded me of Savannah and the port area I knew growing up.
We quickly turned the wagon train along highway 13 to remain within our overall plan to hug the lake. This road started east, turned north, then east, basically zig-zagging along as close to the shore as possible. We passed through beautiful farm country seemingly painted with Packer greens and yellows. We took a little detour in Port Wing driving past several older buildings, through a marshy bog area and into a fishcamp.
We flew through the town of Herbster commenting on how we wished we had a friend named Herb and then stopped in the small fishing village of Cornucopia for no particular reason but to let Toohey out for a moment to stretch, sniff, and pee. This moment, pulling into a dirt parking lot by a park running along side a sandy beach turned into a bit of travel gold for us.
First there was the beach. I don’t want to down play any beach or large bodies of water, but we’ve been following this for a bit and no longer get overly excited by the sight of it. But the beach, sitting not more than 20 yards from the rig along the park, was more red sandy versus the red rocky of the Minnesota North Shore. The water had a red tint of color versus the clearer waters and those tea colored that we’ve been seeing. Toohey, who could care less about water color plunged in for a good drink of water while timing his laps between the small waves breaking over his snout.
After his drink and now back in the parking lot, we strolled past four old wood hull boats in various stages of bad repair but displayed there for a history opportunity to tell the story on this fleet of family fishing boats and how they provided fish and commerce for the community. These wood constructed boats, all single engines with center-line propellers, deep displacement hulls, and closed fly bridge either aft or center, were the mechanism for commerce from the lake when lake fish were more abundant.
As we progressed into the dock area, we were captivated by the old structures sitting dock side lining the narrow harbor. The harbor was not much wider than the beam of 4 or 5 of these fishing boats and in a long rectangular shape. We then saw the words, “fresh and smoked fish” on the sign that hung on the building next to a newer fleet of fishing boats and immediately salivated uncontrollably much like Pavlov’s dog when it heard a bell ring.
We continued to walk around the older buildings which were small mercantile, art studios, and some whose tenants weren’t obvious. We followed these in a clockwise direction, then back along the docks before queuing up at the fresh and smoked fish place behind one other couple. These folks as we learned, had made the drive several hours just to come here to buy fish. A good sign. We asked them what to buy and how to do it as we have never purchased fresh lake trout or whitefish from this area. They, being in front of us in line, gave us great advice. Smoked fish is a big thing here as is lake trout and whitefish. The salmon isn’t usually local but people still buy it. We set our buying plan in play while they were inside the store as they only allow two customers in at a time.
Another couple came up behind us and we began talking. First about our travels then about things we should do at Pictured Rock in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as she had done lots of hiking there. They were about our age and loved to hike and backpack. They had just left Duluth, visiting their daughter and now were off to Marquette to visit their other daughter, doing the lake loop on the US side in between the two towns. We exchanged stories on things like the number of states needed to visit to get all 50 which was great for me because I have already visited all 50 states and them only needing West Virginia and of course Lysette needing Mississippi. They are now on their journey to get all National Parks as well. As we progressed into her advice of hikes in Pictured Rocks, the first couple came out giving us go ahead to now step into fresh fish nirvana, which we did while the line behind us had now grown.
Inside were two small fish coolers. In the first cooler was smoked whitefish smoked trout, smoke trout, smoked trout chunks (bones and all), and whitefish tops (picked whitefish meat) in jars.. In a second cooler was fresh whitefish.
The lady attending the process was silver haired and seemed to be the matriarch of the fishing family that ran this place. She, obviously having the upper hand on knowledge, explained that her fisherman only caught fish for this business and catch only enough to supply their customer’s need. Seeming to humbly suggest they are snubbing the potential courters of food brokers who could sell this lake gold at restaurants from Chicago to Minneapolis.
We asked about fresh lake trout and she said the couple before us had taken most of it but she’d go into the back to see what they had. She did and came out with the most beautiful piece of trout perfect for two. We then asked about the rave of the smoked fish and she suggested the brown sugar smoked whitefish. We bit. The purchase was somewhere around $9 cash, as they don’t take credit cards.
We left and the couple outside next in line that had started to give us all kinds of travel ideas suggested we wait around for a minute so they could make their purchase then come back to exchange information to provide more details on where to go and whatnots. We did and they did. They got Lysette’s phone number and later that night sent all kinds of good details on hikes and camps for the trip through the UP of Michigan. Pure travel angel gold. And interestingly, they continued to provide updates on various things from good coffee to where to find pasties throughout the UP, but that’s for a later post.
We thanked them, said our goodbyes and headed to the truck to continue our journey. Highway 13 rounds the stubby peninsula at about the time it is pointed at the Apostle Islands. It turns south through Red Cliff passing all the brown signs with white letters for the Apostle Islands and into the cute village of Bayview, WI. We made several turns through the town, back up the hill to the Apostle Islands National Park offices for information and then back down the hill into town. Our plans had been to stay at a campground anther 20 miles down the road, but we liked what we saw and decided to check the campground we’d passed on the way in for a spot. We made a quick stop at a small grocery store that sold beer and wine. I ran in and snagged a 6-pack of Wisconsin’s only Spotted Cow beer to enjoy with the fresh lake trout dinner, a perfect pairing. We then moved the rig with anticipation of a Wisconsin camp feast minus the fried cheese curds, to the Dalrymple Campground that sits along the shore just north of town.
The camp which is owned and managed by the town of Bayfield is hilly, few flat spots, first come first serve, and sits in a forest of trees along the lake. If you are lucky enough and early, you can actually get spots on the lake. There is a trash bin, city provided community water, electric hook ups and pit toilets. After making several maneuvers around the camp we made the confident decision on one site requiring a back in, up hill, a lumpy spot. This turned into a confidence busting hour setup based on trying to get level, the hitch disconnected, and the trailer jack on firm stable ground. Memories of our rookie day setup in the San Rafael Swell where we dropped the trailer were buzzing in my head. All the while though, I’d step back and sip my now opened Spotted Cow to help with the anxiety and stress of the moment. Definite veteran move.
Finally set up, I started pulling the cook wear out of the truck when a neighbor caught Lysette asking, “where in Colorado”. A common introductory question at camps when people have a connection to the state shown on the tag of the vehicle and want to talk. She told him and as the conversation progressed, he works in Winter Park as a ski instructor each winter for a guy who Lysette and her sisters have known since high school. An interesting small world moment with two very nice folks who we chatted with a few times after that.
We then got a call from friends back in Golden for a catch up conversation, enjoyed a nice dinner of pan-seared fresh lake trout, squash, zucchini, and onions, and a drink. With colder temperatures and no firewood we retreated inside the home for some heat and eventual sleep.
We woke and were excited to start the day with a run from camp into the town to explore. We had coffee, ate Lara bars, dressed, and set off. The run started with a short downhill into town. The town has docks along the bay with people lining up already for the short ferry ride over to Madeline Island. We ran past the marina, several parks, and more fish docks with fresh fish signs. One park had a couple of the old wood hulled fishing boats freshly painted, one with colorful bird houses nailed to it, obviously highlighting the proud fishing history of the town.
We then circled back up and through the little town by shops, restaurants and businesses. One, Maggies, a restaurant that was highly recommended was currently closed with bright pink sign stating an employee had been tested positive for COVID. Sad, but the world in which we live. We ran up the steep residential hills looking at really nice wood frame victorian style homes before landing back on the main road and entry into Dalrymple Park Campground.
Around noon, I decided to do a quick check and clean up of the battery terminals in hopes that would solve the continued problem of starting the Tacoma. As I began, so did the rain and not having a garage anymore, I had to continue. In my haste, I set a critical nut on the battery where it was mandatory that I strike it, knocking into the engine cavity and out of sight. Remaining calm was the order so I completed the clean up and reattached all other critical parts to the battery. I then, carefully moved all remaining hardware and tools away from the engine cavity as to eliminate the possibility of them getting knocked in as did the critical nut. At which point I donned my headlamp and started searching from the critical lost nut. It was no where in sight so, now lying on my back, I began running my hands in dirty and greasy places clean hands weren’t meant to be, but nothing. Then, in a panic, I went to the trailer to fetch a paper towel and said, “Lysette, we have a problem, the critical nut went missing.” She looked over her reading glasses as she was busily working on her iPhone and responded, “what nut”.
So she finished and came out a few minutes later to help. I was now worried I would have to remove the skid plate beneath the engine to located the missing nut. As I was about to pull out the tools, Lysette, who is now taking pictures of me lying under the truck in my crocs and more worried I would get my foot in something previous campers had left on the ground says, “bang on the skid plate to see if you hear it.” Genius idea was what I thought but didn’t say as I was now busy knocking the skid plate. It rattled just like a nut lying in metal would rattle and excitement followed. Now comes the effort to get to it without taking the skid plate off. It took a while with various arm and body contortion, stick prodding and pokes, and more photos by Lysette of me doing this job, but in the end, we got the critical critical missing nut out, reassembled everything properly, and it didn’t fix the engine start issue. So we decided to go for a walk.
The route took us back into town and to the Brownstone hike from town which we had seen before. It was advertised as 2 miles out and back from Bayfield on an old railroad bed along the coast to the marina which used to be a supply hub for Bayfield. The advertisement went on to suggest lakeside, rock features, sand dunes and all the things you’d want to see in the area on a hike.
Early on one detour took us out to the main road leaving town and then the route kind of got weird. It provided us a residential neighborhood and other developments under construction, and ended in a large marina and condo complex. We turned and hiked back confused, hungry, and tired but relived that the day was a success as we found the missing critical nut.
In all, kidding aside, we are somewhat concerned about the truck intermittenly starting but not overly. This started in Montana before Glacier and only recently progressed. Our consulting mechanic back in Colorado has been great about advising us. We will call him tomorrow to go over options that include getting the starter replaced as we move through the next few cities. If so, we will call ahead to see who could do this and what time frame it will be. Coming up on a weekend, we may risk the chance and wait to see where we are early next week as we will likely be in more populated areas. Not that mechanics are better there. More to come.
Our short time passing through the state in no way reflects our desire to see and do more here, but with fall colors creeping out of the trees and some nervous energy about making it east, we move on. We rolled out of the Northeastern section of Wisconsin, through the towns of Washburn and Ashland where we saw an old papermill, now sitting dormant on the lake, a lighthouse mid bay, and beautiful scenery of red cliffs along the opposing shoreline. We are departing wanting so much more. This place is simple, has the lake food we’ve been looking for, the small town charm of a waterfront community with history and the nautical presence. Add in the opportunity at some point to paddle, camp, and hike the Apostle Islands and we are coming back. Mixing this brief experience into my cheese curd casserole called Wisconsin, this state is tops on my list of places to return and get deeper into the area.