Northern WI Winter Road Trip

“She thought to herself, "This is now." She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”  Laura Ingalls Wilder

Mid-February, I found myself battling a series of colds on and off for a few weeks. I was tired and anxious about not healing, yet there were so many things competing for my attention that I wanted, so genuinely to give my energy to. So, like any sane person, I decided the only way to get refreshed was to head north out of the city. I needed wide open spaces and fresh air and deep sleep. So, on a Saturday morning I left early from Milwaukee and pointed my Jeep North on I-43.

I’ve never been to Door County. When I admit that, people think I’m a little crazy. As a life-long, travel-loving Wisconsinite, that’s basically unheard of, but because my family has had our beloved cottage in Three Lakes, it hardly seemed necessary to change up our routine and travel away from somewhere we loved so much. So, on this given Saturday, I just wanted to see a view of Lake Michigan from the Door County Peninsula. I was ultimately heading to the cottage, so making my way all the way Northeast on the peninsula wasn’t happening, but I saw some gorgeous photos of Bay Shore Park and decided that’d do the trick. It did. The weather was sunny and unseasonably warm, which made it a glorious day for people to hike, ice fish, etc. The sun over the frozen bay was a sight to see, and I can only imagine how gorgeous this park is during the summer.

After about a half hour of walking and hiking around the thawing grounds, I took my muddy feet back into the car and was back on the road. I decided to somewhat ignore my GPS and just follow the road immediately adjacent to the water back to Green Bay and would head North again at that point. And I’m so glad that I did. There were more stunning views along this entire drive and hundreds more ice fishermen. This side of Green Bay isn’t one you have a chance to see en route to or from Packers games, and it’s one that’s worth the view.  I made a pitstop at the Green Bay Boat Show to chat with my lake-people and dream of future boat needs...

So, the minute I connected back up with the highways, I decided that didn’t seem like a fun way to do my drive, so I chose the curvier, longer route to Three Lakes, as I assumed those curves translated to “scenic.”  Well, those curves were somewhat nauseating, and I think I need to check my suspension after a crazy bumpy ride, but it was every bit as scenic as I would have imagined. I passed through small town after small town, including a few that had maybe 3-4 actual operating businesses (supper club, gas station, tanning salon, pub). And between those towns were thickly wooded forests that broke into gorgeous frozen lakes. Again, the weather was just right for a Saturday afternoon, and the ice fishing game was strong. People were out on the ice in light coats, letting skin soak up Vitamin D. And the great thing about Wisconsin, is where there’s a lake, there’s likely a few bars. These remote places were no exception to this, and these watering holes on the water had people sitting on outdoor patios, happily drinking and celebrating the rare February day, a true gift.

When I finally got to the cottage, the sun was maybe 2 hours from setting, which was plenty of time to head down to the boathouse where my dad was installing a new lift. The inside of our boathouse is normally a bit too spider-infested to want to spend time in there, so I love how winter gives me a chance to check it out without that fear. What would there be to investigate, you ask? Well, some of the beams throughout the boathouse are actually planks that were Lambeau Field bleacher seats in a past life, and in sections of the boathouse you can see the numbers. Go Pack! The ice under our suspended boat was thick and clear for many feet down, also somewhat shocking in comparison to its deeply tannic, coffee- brown summertime hue.

We hiked around, putzed on projects, and ultimately made our way back to the cottage when the sun set. Wine, music, playing “go fish,” tea, and in bed by 10p. I may be really old now, but there’s something totally rewarding about an early bedtime and a full heart.

We’ve talked about the intense quiet of the night up there before, and this was no exception. We all slept in, despite plans to be up early and hit the road back to southern Wisc., but after a morning walk and a few cups of coffee, we decided that another sunny day meant we should probably take our time. So, we made a fire on the ice, drilled a few holes, and dropped a few lines. I was a little less patient about sitting by the operation, so I tried to find a place for my newly crafted Lake Effect Co. sign. Dan (featured here) was learning to weld, and I’m honored Lake Effect Co. was his first project! Have I mentioned my friends are the best? And as you can tell from the photo, our boathouse door is incredibly crooked, which is the reason why we’re known as the “crooked-door boathouse” to locals on the chain of lakes. Well, folks, feast your eyes for the last time, as that door is getting a facelift in time for summer. Anyway, the fish didn’t bite. Our toes got cold. My cheeks found some sunburn.

It was apparent during my drive home that being out in warm weather hadn’t done much to help my cold, but my heart, on the other hand, was a happy one.

Notes on water quality from the DNR:

What causes that "root beer" color in some lakes? Sometimes described as root beer, coffee, tea, or bog stain, such coloring is natural for many waters in northern Wisconsin. The coloration is not harmful and results from incompletely dissolved organic materials, sometimes referred to as tannins, which come from the decomposition of wetland plants in the watershed of the lake. Often, the greater the amount of wetlands in the watersheds, the darker the color of the water. Since the predominant land type in the watersheds of northern Wisconsin lakes is often a mixture of forests and wetlands, this can result in many lakes having this dark coloration.