Mid-September, 2018, was determined to be a very welcome respite from the typical muck of life: working 9 to 5 five days a week, mental and emotional stress, and a general lackadaisical attitude stemming from a breakup. It wasn’t my first stateside adventure alone, as a month prior I had camped overnight at Roche-A-Cri State Park by myself. That trip was intended to be a couple nights tent-camping, but the overwhelming feeling of loneliness and the humidity of that bastard-of-a-month made me halve the trip. My mental and emotional state was being challenged near daily with lapses of depression and anxiety. They would ebb much like the tides I would soon witness and find some sense of calm with. I knew what I was in for: a couple hours of droning road and wind noise on the way, interjected with ponderings, musements and questions from my own ill-nurtured mind.
I’d been to Door County a year before with the girlfriend at the time, and we definitely enjoyed a few days exploring and sampling the area’s generous offerings of food and drinks. This time though, was an opportunity to rid myself of the codependency, and enjoy adventures on my own. Part of what motivated me to go for it was to also explore some of the areas we had missed on the first trip. You can spend a few days in the area and still never quite get a full sense of Door County. It may not measure as magnificent scenery compared to what I’ve witnessed heading through the Plains and through British Columbia, Canada, yet lacks neither appreciation for beautiful scenery or a good sense of getting away from “it all”. It’s simply different.
Bed, Food and Drink
The first step once arriving in the area was to square away the motel room I had reserved at Journey’s End in Bailey’s Harbor. The cheapest option was about $65/night in a small single bed room, with the typical amenities of a bathroom/shower, cable TV and coffee maker. Speaking a few minutes with the manager about my trip plans was a pleasant experience, and I felt quite welcome there. Once I had unloaded my saddlebags into the room, I was ready for a shower and some good food before exploring Bailey’s Harbor on foot while I had a few hours of daylight left.
“Built in 1886 by Will and August Brann, the Cornerstone served as the Harbor’s first hardware store. After moving the store across the street, the Pub lived on as the town’s funeral parlor, with Will Brann’s carriage and two race horses providing elegant processions. In the 1920s the building became a bar gaining prominence in the 1940s as Paul’s Glass Bar, featuring a large, multicolored glass bar. It was Paul and Viola Herbst that began the Cornerstone’s tradition of providing a place to meet good friends and eat good food, starting with our famous Friday night fish fry.
In 1986, the Weisgerber family took over the business renaming it “The Cornerstone Pub,” updating the building, adding our dining room. Rich’s impressive collection of Green Bay Packer memorabilia provided a patriotic atmosphere and Sandy’s generosity made the Cornerstone an inseparable piece of our community. In 2010, the current owner, Paul Salm, plucked his good friend Matt Koehler off of Washington Island and they renamed the business The Baileys Harbor Cornerstone Pub.”
Today’s choice of face-stuffing was a Black Bean Burger, “Topped with pepperjack and chipotle sauce in a grilled flour tortilla (or bun in my case), side of guac.”, of which I paired with a glass of Jameson whiskey. Food connoisseur I am not, but I had no complaints with the service or the meal – it tasted great and was reasonably priced. If you’re in the area, I highly suggest eating at Cornerstone Pub! Next time I’ll probably try the Blackened Fish Tacos.
The remainder of the day was looking out for photography opportunities, of which I’d found a few. The first thing to have caught my eye were these vintage 1960s cars, and I was even more fascinated when I saw their Triumph badge. I couldn’t recall that Triumph had ever made cars, but after some Google searching, it appears the manufacturing of cars was an offset from the very same Triumph company that produced bicycles and the infamous motorcycles!
Door County has always had a reputation for being an area full of wealth and tourism, and the brilliant red Ford GT I spotted was no exception. My jaw dropped open seeing the 550 HP vehicle capable of reaching a topspeed of 205 MPH. You just don’t see this everyday.
With the sun setting in, I headed back to the motel to unwind with some photo editing from the day’s captures. Having another night at the motel the next day and my general need for socialization, I walked back to the harbor to checkout the Blue Ox bar, which resembles an Old West saloon on the outside. What seemed like a historical building contained tons of ephemera and interesting decor once I arrived inside. From the website:
“Built in 1887 this place is a true Door County landmark. “The Twins” Joe and Jerry Kwaterski took over in 1975. For forty years these guys have been collecting and displaying artifacts. They are true original “American Pickers”. They have brought together all kinds of things. Focusing mainly on rural american life at the turn of the century. You can see also many items that would have been found around homes of the time. There are old toys, toiletries, farm equipment, taxidermy, pictures, newspapers, and pretty much anything you can think of. A lot of the items have been donated by families of the door county area. Along with the antiques are some neat and fun games to keep you entertained. Try the Bimini ring and win a prize!”
The bar was fairly packed with several groups of people (these photos were taken the next night near closing time), and it was generally difficult to find a natural way into conversation with anyone due to this. Out of the corner of my eye I had this distinct feeling there was some kind of “vampire” near me, where I saw an older man wearing a black cloak connected by a thin chain! This confused me, until I realized he was the local trolley operator picking up a tourist group. It may have been the Haunted Pub Crawl, which operates Memorial Day Weekend through November. I observed a small group attempting their luck at the Bimini Ring game, where one has to draw back a string with a ring on it, and hope that it gets hooked upon the cartoon Ox. I’m not sure what the prize was. Despite the general lack of real interaction, I still enjoyed a few drinks, and the service was worthy of a good tip. Later that night as I walked back to my motel room, Bailey’s Harbor was funnily enough a ghost town. It was quiet and absent of people, with the road up to the motel a creepy and silent pitch black for most of the duration.
Fish Tacos, Peninsula State Park & Whitefish Dunes
The day after on Sunday started just after noon with a few areas of interest in mind including Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek, a thrift store called Bargains Unlimited, and Whitefish Dunes State Park near Whitefish Bay. A small but wonderful lunch was found at The Chef’s Hat Cafe, where I ordered the Blackened Tilapia Fish Tacos: “pan seared blackened tilapia with fresh spinach, diced tomato, and our homemade strawberry basil pineapple salsa in a corn tortilla.” Yet again, the price was reasonable and the service without complaints. It was a nice day to eat outside before hopping back on the bike. I had stopped afterwards at the Bargains Unlimited thrift shop where I found a necklace with an eternal knot pendant, but unfortunately I’ve since lost it.
Peninsula State Park was a place I had intended on visiting the year before, but I wasn’t aware I needed a park pass to get in, so the remainder of 2018 I was prepared with the pass on my windshield. The ride throughout was fairly underwhelming considering the interior scenery, but once you got towards the bluffs and lighthouse, the views really opened up! The lighthouse shots are from the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse within Peninsula State Park. From the website:
“By 1899, 12 lighthouses illuminated Door County’s 300-mile shoreline and islands. Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, constructed in the midst of the growing demand for navigational aids, was operational on October 15, 1868. Situated on a bluff overlooking Green Bay, Eagle Bluff Lighthouse was constructed for $12,000, a very large amount of money at the time. In addition to Cream City brick shipped from Milwaukee, materials and supplies arrived by water from Chicago and Detroit. The delivery of the goods was made at Lighthouse Bay, later renamed Tennyson Bay.”
On the way out, I checked in at the small Nicolet Bay Camp Store for any supplies I might have needed for the next day’s trip to Washington Island, but I left empty handed.
Sunday’s last stop heading Southeast was a quiet and serene walk through Whitefish Dunes State Park, where some of the bluest waters this side of Wisconsin draw one’s gaze and impart a real sense of calm. The impending sunset cast a golden hue along the area, which made for some really nice photos. I was really happy to have captured a Monarch butterfly for the first time!
Finishing the night off with another stop at the Blue Ox bar was an excellent choice, as Sunday night wasn’t nearly as busy and I was finally able to breach some conversation with the bartender, Joe, and a couple other patrons. By the end of the night, it was just Joe, me and a woman discussing our plans in the area, life in general, and the area of Door County. I felt truly comfortable here just getting lost with good conversation and socialization my otherwise isolated mind needed. No more mental conversations with myself! Joe had given me insight into Door County, stating how tourism and just a few specialized jobs kept the area full of life and the economy going. If you were to move there, you would pretty much have to work in the fishing or tourism industries. General jobs you might find in more urban areas just aren’t as abundant here. I think this is a big factor into the real feeling of a getaway the area imparts. It feels far away enough from the city life without becoming an hours or days-ridden road trip to get there from the Fox Valley. The people, like most in the Midwest, are friendly and personable. Some of the tourists are good for a laugh, though, as Joe relayed to me:
“Common questions up here include, ‘which beach is closest to the water? How many sharks are in Lake Michigan? How big is your 9 inch pizza?”
Shaking my head between the laughs, it was never more evident that lack of common sense has zero boundaries.
Crossing A Horse Along Water
It was actually a Monday I was anticipating, because that day I would be taking the ferry to Washington Island for one night of camping. Having packed up from the Journey’s End Motel, my route went through Sister Bay, into Ellison Bluff State Natural Area near Ellison Bay, Door Bluff County Park, then stopping at Northport to board the ferry.
Like any other start to the day, it required food, where I stopped around noon at Husby’s Food & Spirits for another black bean burger with a side of waffle fries and chips. This restaurant was generally higher priced, but the food and service remained just fine.
The scenery looking out from atop the Ellison Bluff State Natural Area and Door Bluff County Park was quite the sight, where I was able to capture the sheer depth and expanse of the area looking across Lake Michigan. Most of the scenic view areas are safely lead by a set of stairs and fences near the bluff. While waiting for the ferry to arrive, it was a good time to air out the barking dogs and get some fresh water relief. Hearing the waves of the blue “Port des Morts” or “Door of Death” waters was a relaxing opportunity I often wished I lived closer to.
“The legends surrounding Death’s Door portray grim scenes worthy of the passage’s name. They tell of a huge Indian war party pummeled to death against its rocky shores. They recount the last voyages of innumerable wooden ships pulverized by swirling currents and howling winds.”
Not long after I had purchased my ticket, the ferry had arrived back and I was motioned aboard to actually get on a bit earlier than the scheduled departure time. Even if I hadn’t made it on time, it was okay, as the ferry runs on an hourly schedule September through October. The ride over was slow and calm for about 4 miles (20 minutes), where I pretty much tuned out the engine noise drone listening to some music until I arrived on Washington Island. Once there, I checked in at the Washington Island Campground, which hosts basic campsites (tent, non-electric, electric), horse sites, group sites, and basic, deluxe and premium cabins. There was one manager present, an older lady who was friendly and willingly available in case I needed anything or had any questions. There is a main lodge inside the campground one could use showers at, or stay out of the elements if so inclined and charge up any electronics. Firewood was reasonably priced around $6/bundle.
Weather that day seemed to be closing in and I was a little anxious about the wind picking up. Fortunately the rest of the evening and night was fairly dry save for some sprinkles and light winds rustling the leaves around my campsite. I’d spent the afternoon cooking up some food over from Mann’s Food Store over the fire, and listening to The Joe Rogan Experience podcast while enjoying a few beers. The particular episode I was listening to was one with Les Stroud of Survivorman TV show fame, and one of Joe’s question made me chuckle with slight unease in my little isolated campsite:
“What if bigfoot is just a bunch of serial murderers in the woods?”
Thanks, Joe. I’ll sleep wonderfully tonight.
Actually, I slept amazingly well! Having set my alarm for around 5 AM to capture some sunrise photos, I woke up naturally about 4:30 AM and felt incredibly well rested on about 6 hours of sleep. This was pretty astounding for me, as I typically sleep 6 to 7 hours on a weekday where I wake around 7 AM for work and usually feel groggy. I attributed the solid rest to the environment I was in. There was no immediacy or need to be up so early in the morning, as I had no real obligations here. It was just my own company on an island, surrounded by plentiful woods and beautiful water. Back at home, it would be an apartment bed, traffic, a persistent alarm and number crunching in the office within the first hour of my shift.
The above shots were taken at the island’s Eastside County Park, another calm, quiet and relaxing spot to sit and ponder. Though I still hand tinges of loneliness and adjusting to being alone with my thoughts, I could feel an improvement in my overall mood. My sense of adventure and curiosity was intact, which was great considering the weeks leading up to the trip I was in such a mental and emotional lull.
Motivation was a very infrequent quality of my character then. The general sense of purposelessness and feeling lost as I adjusted to this new life being alone, began to wash away. I was now learning to be present, a popular teaching in Buddhism that I had read about over the years. It was something I often failed to practice, but moto-camping helped guide me. This feeling moved me to leave a message for the next visitors in charcoal on a tree, “Be Present”.
Gear Down and Home Bound
Due to the sense of changing weather coming in and the timing, I didn’t explore as much of Washington Island as I’d hoped. There are definitely several areas to checkout the next time I’m there, and there’s no doubt I’ll have the same eagerness and anticipation again. Before boarding the ferry back to Northport, I explored some side roads around the Richter Community Forest Preserve, where I flogged along a dirt road for a bit to finally give the 80/20 Shinko 705 dual-sport tires a little bite.
After departing the ferry in Northport, it was a straight shot back home for me, where I would shower and head back on the road less than a couple hours up north at the trailer for the remainder of my week long vacation. I made a point to stop in at the Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial, which had been on my list for a couple of years.
“The Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial Park was established in 2004 located on an acre site nestled on the Door County Peninsula. The Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial is a place to recognize and honor the memories of friends and loved ones who are/were motorcycle enthusiasts. Not just for those who loved to ride, but for everyone who shares a love of motorcycles and motorcycling.
The arched entrance to the Memorial Park welcomes you to the “Walkway of Remembrance”, a path paved with tribute stones. This walk wraps around the court yard making a loop to represent the never ending circle of life.
The sale of stones along with monetary donations and time from our generous volunteers are the key to keeping the Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial operating.”
Visiting the Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial was a really sobering experience. It evokes a solemn feeling, something I didn’t really expect. It is a truly impressive and thought-provoking scene to visit, regardless if you are a rider or know someone who rides.
Door County is plentiful with more sights to see, including Cave Point County Park, which is on my list to visit and photograph in 2019. I feel fortunate enough to be within a reasonable distance to a place of calm where those waters can quell anxiety and help me to feel truly present.
The real trick is to figure that out when I’m not there.