I fly by the seat of my pants at most everything in life and planning Fourth of July weekend was no different. At the last minute, because I can’t commit to more that a minute in advance, a friend and I decided to go to northern Wisconsin over the holiday weekend. Bayfield, WI and Madeline Island have long been a favorite destination of mine. I called around to all the hotels and inns in the area and of course everything was already booked in this highly sought out tourist area. Being the resourceful woman that I am, I went to the state park website and sure enough, there was one campsite left with electricity. SCORE! Camping, not a word that has crossed my lips in over a decade. With an electric hook-up, how bad could it really be? Electricity was needed to inflate the blow-up mattress and heat my electric cook-top. I can rough it in a tent but I need some basic luxuries such as a comfy bed and a place to cook a decent meal. At this point in life, primitive isn’t quite in the vocabulary when it comes to my idea of a weekend away. Site #25 was what my friend and I called home for the Fourth of July weekend.
When we arrived in Bayfield, we made a pit stop at Gruenke’s First Street Inn before getting in line to board the ferry with our vehicle over to Madeline Island, one of the 22 Apostle Islands in Lake Superior. Gruenke’s is one of my favorite stops. It’s old, cozy and a great place to stay when you travel solo as I’ve done before when visiting Bayfield. It’s about as old school as you can get with its vintage decor, table linens and dishes. The staff goes beyond friendly and makes you feel right at home. I like to sit at the counter in one of several intimate dining areas on the main floor of the inn.
When you visit Bayfield you have to try the local delicacy, Whitefish Livers. I like mine sautéed with onions and peppers but the deep fried are good as well. We toasted to the weekend ahead with Wisconsin’s finest New Glarus Spotted Cow to wash down our whitefish livers before the ferry ride to the island.
I’ve been on Madeline Island a kazillion times and from the moment the ferry begins to rev its’ engine and slowly move away from the dock, I begin to breath in the clean air and ready myself for a step back in time. A place where the pace is slower, the fashion is REI casual, make-up is natural and “firepit” is the hottest fragrance around. As we made our way across the bay we noticed other travelers in the same mode we were in…ahhh. And many were popping open their favorite brew so of course when in Rome….the ferry ride is the only ground transportation I know of that is legal to have an open bottle. Or maybe it’s not…oops.
Once we reached the dock in the small town of La Pointe, we made our way to the other side of the island, checked into Big Bay State Park, located campsite #25, set-up our gear, settled into our chairs and began to unwind as we left our weary city life behind for a few days of rest and relaxation. Not that either one of us sit still well but we were determined to give it a try.
We made a fabulous dinner our first night that consisted of grilled filets, corn on the cob and nicoise salad. Roughin’ it, right? We did make a small sacrifice and drank box wine….well except for the fine bottle of red we enjoyed with our dinner.
Our first night in the tent was quite the fiasco with a late night visitor. We woke up to the sound of our food bin crashing to the ground. So much for a tight sealing rubbermaid container, this highly skilled raccoon was smarter than your average city folk and helped himself to a bag of Tostito’s. I guess he was large but I didn’t see him because there was no way in hell I was going to leave the safety of my four-person tent to survey the destruction. But my friend was certain rabies shots have come a long way so set out to scare away this creature of nature. I was perfectly happy listening and figured we had enough food to feed everyone on the island so if a raccoon wanted to dine and ditch, have at it, less food to take back home. The cooler was safe and that’s where all the good stuff was stored anyway.
After settling back in, we fell asleep and awoke to a beautiful morning. The temperature was about 56 degrees, the sun was shining brightly and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Time for a gourmet breakfast in Big Bay State Park. Goat cheese omelets with fresh herbs. Like I said, the good stuff was in the cooler!
We spent the afternoon venturing around Madeline Island; we visited friends at their condo, took in local festivities in the town square, hiked down to the beach and rested on a blanket while viewing some priceless people watching opportunities and eaves dropping on not very interesting conversations.
Back at #25 we challenged each other to a few games of Yahtzee while preparing another succulent dinner. Grilled fish filets, Northwoods Succotash (fancy name for leftover corn on the cob and green beans), and Balsamic Strawberry Salad. Delicious!
I found it amazing that there were very few firecrackers going off in the campground which I was perfectly fine with. Once it grew dark we drove a short distance across the island to La Pointe for the fireworks, high above Lake Superior. Considering the permanent population of the island is only 246 people, I didn’t have high expectations for a lengthy and over the top fireworks display. Oh boy, was I wrong, it was spectacular and the reflection off the water made it absolutely breathtaking. I’ve viewed Fourth of July fireworks in some fabulous places and this one was right up there with Whidbey Island in the Pacfic Northwest.
As the weekend came to a close we packed up the SUV along with great memories and headed back to our busy lives in the city. Once we arrived back on the mainland we made one more stop at Gruenke’s for breakfast and lively conversation with our waitress and the lovely couple sitting next to us from Loveland, CO on their first visit to Bayfield.
I think one of my favorite things about traveling is the people you meet and since I’m one to strike up a conversation with just about anyone, I find it fascinating to learn about their lives in a split second, yet you say goodbye like you’re old friends.
The Fourth of July, a day to gather with friends and family and celebrate our country’s freedom. God bless America!