Downtime in Wisconsin

My four hundred mile drive from Bayfield to Brookfield went by in a blur of beautiful countryside, lakes, rivers, barns and small towns. I remember little else except how anxious I was to see my girl. I know it was not easy for Elissa to watch as I sold our home and parted with almost everything that was in it. And I’m sure she would rather I be living a “normal” life in a house somewhere close by, but I believe she understands… to some degree… why I chose the path I am on right now.

As I prepared for my journey I made a promise to her that I would find a way to see her during all of her school vacations. She spent Thanksgiving with me in the San Francisco area, and Christmas break in San Diego. I made my way back through Texas for her spring break, and as soon as summer break began I flew her to Kansas City where I picked her up for a trip to Colorado. My route through Wisconsin gave me a perfect opportunity to fly her out to see her very dear friend MacKenzie Berg. Elissa and Macky became the best of friends very soon after they met in gymnastics many years ago, and in no time at all the entire Berg family (Don, Lissa, Emily, Macky and Lydia) felt like family to us. It was a sad goodbye when they moved back to their home state of Wisconsin several years ago, but we’ve stayed in touch and the girls have maintained an unbreakable friendship.

I can’t tell you how excited I was when I pulled up in front of the Berg’s home, and they were all there to greet me the moment I opened the door to my RV. After a big round of hugs and lots of smiles we got “the beast” situated in their driveway (it doesn’t fit in many) and set about catching up on their back deck. The Berg’s are big dog lovers, and between their five and my two we had more dogs than people in the back yard. It was only natural that the conversation quickly turned to the dog book projects I’ve been working on. In the blink of an eye Elissa was gone, only to return moments later… as a dog! She has always had a flair for theatrics, this girl. There’s no wondering how she earned the nickname “drama queen” as a toddler.

Elissa hamming it up only moments after my arrival at the Berg’s

The following day we headed into Milwaukee to see some sights, do a little hiking and picnic on the shore of Lake Michigan.

On a hike at North Point with Don, Lissa, Macky and Elissa

Elissa and Macky with Jazzy and Sadie

Waterfall along the trails surrounding North Point Lighthouse

North Point Lighthouse

North Point Water Tower. They don’t make ’em like this any more!

On the beach in Milwaukee

Castles in the sands… of Milwaukee

It was pouring down rain as Don drove us around downtown, so I don’t have many pictures to share, but I was quite impressed with much of the architecture. I especially loved the old buildings, as I usually do, but there were several modern buildings that caught my eye as well, like the Milwaukee Art Museum. I’d never seen anything like it. The most striking of it’s features (seen here from a moving car) is a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that unfolds and folds twice daily.

The Milwaukee Art Museum

I wanted Elissa to have some quality time with Macky, but I needed some time alone with her as well, so we took an overnight trip by car up the Door County Peninsula. This beautiful area is a favorite vacation destination for a lot of residents of the surrounding states. Since it’s a peninsula, there’s no shortage of shoreline and water. No shortage of delightful old barns either.

What is it about old barns? For the most part I hate having man made things in my images. By that I mean it frustrates me when there are things like power lines or traffic signs between me and a great image. People often comment that I could take them out in PhotoShop, but that’s just not me. I’m from the old school of thinking… if you didn’t get it, you didn’t get it. Far more often than not, I’ll walk away from what could have been an outstanding image because it’s not a “clean shot”. That said… I love old barns and homesteads, old boats and lighthouses, old cemeteries and tunnels and bridges. I love the intricate details of old architecture, especially in Europe.

After a yummy lunch at Wild Tomato in Fish Creek we drove up the road to  Peninsula State Park. The park is deeply wooded with several pull-outs where you can walk along the shoreline, or take in the scenic vistas from high bluffs. We hiked the Eagle Trail, climbed the 75 foot Eagle Tower and saw the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse.

Rock bluffs along Green Bay in Peninsula State Park

View from Eagle Tower

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse

We did have one little mishap on our mother/daughter get-away, which I’ll embarrass myself and share if only for the edification of my readers. We decided to drive the car rather than the motorhome for our relatively quick trip up to Door County, for a couple of reasons. One, to save on gas while backtracking upstate, and also because we’d have to stop and see the sights as we went since we only had two days to see it all. I can’t just pull my big motorhome off anywhere along the way (and looking back, there were few parking lots or roadsides where it would have fit!) Instead I reserved a cabin in a nearby campground the day before we headed north. It never occurred to me to ask about bedding, because I’d never rented a cabin where they weren’t supplied. We were shocked when we opened the door to our very clean but simple cabin to bare blue-tick mattresses.

I quickly took inventory of what we had with us… a dirty moving blanket I use to cushion my kayak when taking it off my car on a concrete or gravel surface, one beach towel, one beach blanket and a couple of jackets. We hopped in the car to see what we might find in the next town up the road, but no luck. There are no regular retail stores that would carry bedding on this entire peninsula, and what few stores (mostly boutiques) there are, were closed by this time. The only thing left to do was call the campground, admit my stupidity and see if they might have ANYTHING we could use for some sort of covering. The sweet woman running the desk said she’d see what she could find and give me a call back.

With our stomachs growling and feeling a quite frustrated we stopped into a restaurant in Sister Bay for a bite of dinner. While there we got a call from the lady at the campground saying she’d rounded up a few things we could use and had them waiting for us in the office when we returned. It was far from a comfortable night’s sleep for either one of us, but much better than it would have been if not for our new best friend in the campground office!

Sunset on the marina in Sister Bay

The following day went by way too quickly. We shared coffee and a muffin on a park bench overlooking the bay near our campground, took another trip through Sister Bay to see if we might spot the infamous goats on top of the thatched roof of Al Johnson’s Restaurant, we browsed some shops, and journeyed through a lot more countryside.

Sandhill Cranes

Goat on the roof of Al Johnson’s restaurant in Sister Bay.

And all too soon the time came to head for the Milwaukee Airport to put Elissa on a plane back to Dallas. Saying goodbye to my girl never gets any easier for me. I know it’ll be months before I see her beautiful smile again in person, so I always drive away with a heavy heart and fighting back the tears.  And then I do my best to shake it off and remind myself to be thankful for the blessings of today.

I enjoyed the Berg’s hospitality for several more days, giving me time to get caught up on some work and research my upcoming route. The week flew by in a blur of bike rides, movies, pedicures, and a trip to the barn, and lots and lots of great conversation over some very good wine. I could have stayed much longer actually, because it felt so much like being with family to me. But… I still have much ground to cover, several friends to see throughout Michigan, and… I have a very special date with Autumn in the northeast!

A very special thank you to the Berg’s; Don, Lissa, MacKenzie and Lydia, for your wonderful hospitality. I can’t begin to tell you how special it was to see and spend time with all of you!!

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Two side notes-

One: I’m am in the process of designing a 2013 calendar from the BEST of what I’ve seen on my year long journey (so far), and will be offering it at a discounted, pre-print price to those who are interested. I printed a limited number of them for family gifts last year, and I can assure you that they are very high quality and will be filled with some of my most stunning images along with a bit of story about my experiences while capturing those images. They’re wonderful gifts, and will be further discounted when ordered in quantity. I’ll be posting about them soon. In the mean time, start making your gift list!! 🙂

Two: It is clear to me by some of the personal notes I get that many of my readers are unaware that they can sign up to get an email notification sent to them when I post on my blog. If that would be easier for you than checking my blog for updates, please sign up by clicking on email icon on my home page (shown below) and follow the instructions. I average less than one post a week, so you won’t be getting a lot of junk from me.

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  • You have to love the Lake Michigan coastline- I’m partial to the side of it in my home state of Michigan, but I’ve driven the whole thing, and there are precious few places where it’s not beautiful.

    I was surprised to hear about the lack of bedding- few of the places I stay now even allow you to have your own- they seem to be worried about the spread of bedbugs. I supposed campgrounds are a little different, but I still like having it furnished. I got used to that at hostels in New Zealand, and on a recent trip to Chicago, the hostel provided the bedding but not the towels, which of course I neglected to pack. I made do with extra clothes I brought, but still found it odd to provide linens but not towels.

    • fran

      So far I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of Michigan and Superior shorelines. Still more to see. And next time I book a cabin, I’ll ask about bedding. I’m surprised they didn’t mention it.

  • Marla Horn

    I was so glad to hear about the sign-up for email list. I have missed many great posts due to being so busy but I think had I gotten reminders I would have kept up. I will now. It sounds like you love that area of the country as much as I do. Having grown up in northern Illinois we made many trips up to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, enjoying all there is to see and do. Fall there is always my favorite. The colors and cool, crisp autumn air are wonderful. Thanks for helping bring back some of those wonderful memories (including the goat on the roof.lol).

    • fran

      I’m glad I added the note about email notifications. Seems many were unaware. This Great Lakes pocket of the country is very beautiful and diverse. The UP of Michigan, where I’m camped now, reminds me more of the northwest than anywhere else I’ve been, except the northwest that is. 🙂 Color is beginning here, but I will be in the far reaches of the northeast by the time autumn sets in.

  • I love old barns and cemetaries too! I wish we could trepass and take pictures of every run down barn on our trip… But the kids might wake up when they hear the police sirens. Haha.

    • fran

      The good thing is that old barns are usually right out in the open so if you can pull off the road, the shot is free. I think the folks who own those barns must take pride in them and are likely accustomed to folks stopping for a shot. Key being “enough room”, which isn’t always easy in a 35′ motorhome.

  • John T S

    I’m wondering about your daughter having a dog suit handy for an impromptu bit of theatrics.
    Not something usually so readily available. Glad you had a good visit with her.

    • fran

      Yeah… about that… it so happens that our friend Lissa managed a doggie boutique for quite some time. The dog costume was their mascot. It must have come up in conversation before my arrival, because she was quick to jump on the opportunity to “put on the dog”. 🙂