I always look forward to grabbing time to relax. Door County is our all-time favorite destination. Have you ever been there? If not, go ahead and find a map of Wisconsin. I’ll wait. OK, now, using your finger, draw an imaginary line along Wisconsin’s eastern border. As your finger moves north-east, do you notice a thumb-like formation. At the top of that thumb is Door County. Door County is surrounded by water on three sides. To the east is Lake Michigan and on the west is Green Bay.
Just as Lake Michigan is very different from Green Bay so too are the lifestyles of Door County’s eastern and western shores. The eastern shore boasts quiet towns famous for their slower pace. In contrast the western shore bustles with restaurants and shops filled to the brim with people. Whether you seek a quiet peaceful existence or thrive amid the commotion of crowds and endless action you are sure to find your place in Door County. Our brief lesson in geography is now over. Time to sit back and relax. Let me take you on a tour.
Our trip north begins and ends in southern Wisconsin. Long before the key is inserted in the ignition, the engine is started and the wheels begin rolling, meticulous plans are set in motion. I organize everything through Excel spreadsheets. Anything and everything that can be entered, sorted and categorized is inserted into a spreadsheet. Some might think I’ve gone off the deep-end while others ask for copies of my files. Over the last several years I have gathered and cataloged a detailed packing list. This is not your run-of-the-mill list, mind you. It’s a list from A to Z of everything a well-organized, completely outfitted family would take camping.
Did I say camping? I certainly did. There’s no shortage of modern, well-kept lodging in Door County. We just happen to prefer the comforts of our very own REI Kingdom 6 Tent equipped with an optional front Vestibule. My son-in-law Luke fondly refers to it as “The Caterpillar.” I’m not exactly sure where the nickname originated. Perhaps our tent’s three segments remind Luke of a caterpillar.
Anyway, back to my list. Since our 7+ days in Door County were primarily spent at the campground and since the greater portion of time and meals were shared while there, I included, in our supply list, items for meal preparation, cleanup, housing, bedding (of all levels of warmth), food, entertainment, etc., etc. Because no two trips are identical our packing lists are unique as well.
With a packing list as long as my arm, I usually begin gathering items a week in advance. One by one I carry our supplies up from the basement. Once everything has been piled in the living room, I print one of my trusty lists and begin the process of checking things off. Any items found missing have either been retired, lost or loaned to family. Those items are added to a shopping list.
Also included in our preparations is a planning meeting. Invited to the meeting will be anyone and everyone joining us on the trip. By the time we adjourn we will have chosen a meal plan, and prepared a list of places and activities to enjoy. Each family shares in the decision-making process. Often times a partial list was initiated sometime during the previous vacation. There are always adventures that, for one reason or another, never took place. Those activities are carried over to the next year.
With our plans finalized the waiting game begins. Our excitement builds until the day of departure arrives. As we prepare to leave our belongings are carefully packed within the truck. Care is taken to protect perishable items as well as those vulnerable to damage. A final check, of the house, is made to make certain faucets are shut off, lights are not on and none of the cats are trapped in a room. Coming home to find that Mayor Tom or Jerry had spent the better part of our vacation confined within one room, without food, water or a litter box would be an unpleasant revelation. Of course, their imprisonment would be limited since we always have someone check on them to make sure they are doing well. If the final tour of the house leaves us satisfied with its condition then it’s time to lock the door and leave.
By the time we are ready to go we’ve usually already had breakfast. Spending money on a meal that could easily be prepared and consumed at home would be the smart thing to do. But, who said we were going to be practical this time. Besides, breakfast at a restaurant meant two things, #1 it would be a great way to start our adventure and #2 it would also mean there was no food to prepare and no dishes to wash. That’s a double bonus in my book! So this time we rose extra early to escape for a wonderful meal at Blue Gilly’s Pancake Pier & Lunch Dock.
By 9:30 a.m. we had returned home from Blue Gilly’s, packed the remaining odds and ends, said our good byes to “Mayor Tom” and his buddy Jerry, purchased a cup of coffee for the road and started out on what would be a four-hour trip. Traveling behind us, at a safe distance, was our son-in-law Luke and our daughter Katie.
We had a picture-perfect day for travel. The weather was great and the traffic was light. As the years go by more and more of the highways leading to Door County have been expanded from two lanes to four. These improvements have chipped away at the time spent driving to our destination. Spending less time cooped up in a vehicle is always a good thing.
After a brief stop for lunch we were once again headed north. One of the signs signaling we were nearing Door County territory was the huge bridge outside of Green Bay. The bridge carries traffic high into the sky, up, up and over the water below. The slow climb to the top contrasts with the ever-increasing speed as we descend. How many miles it is from the bridge to our final destination I do not know. What is certain is that by the time we reach that bridge we have more than two-thirds of the trip behind us.
The first stop we usually make is at a cheese shop called Renard’s. It’s a small but incredibly busy cheese store just outside of Sturgeon Bay. Always on our list of things to purchase is a bag of string cheese and a bag of cheese curds. Their string cheese is the best and most unusual we have ever had. Rather than the log-like sticks of cheese sandwiched together, which we are accustomed to purchasing from our local merchants, this cheese is coiled together in a very unorganized fashion like random strings tossed into a bag. The strands are thin, and white with a springy type texture. When lifting a strand from the bag it’s never certain how long it will be. No matter how long the strand is it’s always delicious, always a treat.
After stowing our cheese inside the cold confines of our cooler it’s off to our next vendor, Door County Coffee and Tea Company in Carlsville. On previous visits we’ve gotten carried away by the many items available for purchase. They stock a wide selection of kitchen decor, coffee and tea accessories as well as snacks to fill your pantry. The more often we come the less we feel the need to shop and explore. Our sole mission this time was ground coffee for our morning meal. In no time we had our “Sinful Delight” (one of their many flavors of coffee) on the counter and ready to be rung up. Time was a wasten. Quickly we grabbed our purchases and headed back to our vehicle. Rowley’s Bay, here we come.
Now when driving from Carlsville to Rowley’s Bay you have a choice. You can either turn east on County Highway I and head toward Hwy 57 then north on 57 to Rowley’s Bay or stay on Hwy 42. If you remember an earlier conversation we had, I mentioned there was a quiet side and a busy side to Door County. Hwy 42 is the busy side and the route we chose to travel to our final destination Wagon Trail Campground.
Meandering through the villages en route to Wagon Trail I found my head swiveling back and forth absorbing the boats, brightly colored buildings, banners and absolutely gorgeous floral gardens. Throughout many of the towns the streets are lined with garden after garden of beautiful flowers. Their sunny faces always catch my eye. Being a lover of flowers they truly add to my adventure. In the days of film, I could shoot a whole roll in no time. I much prefer them as my subject rather than people.
The temptation to shop was hard to resist. This was not the time to explore, this was the time to keep focused on our destination. We had our camp to get setup. Check-in at the Wagon Trail Campground was 3:00 p.m. Our goal was to arrive as close to 3:00 as possible. We did a pretty good job at smashing that goal because I believe it was a few minutes after when we turned into the entrance.
Are you getting tired of sitting yet? I’ve rambled on for quite a spell. I think I will call it quits right here. There’s so much more to share and I don’t want to lose your attention. Let’s meet here again real soon for my second installment. Until then, take care! 🙂