Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Door County, Wisconsin

Door County is that long peninsula on the eastern side of Wisconsin that jets up from Green Bay into the beautiful blue waters of Lake Michigan. It is also the place you hear a lot about and is highly recommended for a visit. Dotted along the coast of the peninsula are numerous pretty little towns that exude their own character and charm. We stayed in the northern part of the peninsula in a little town called Ellison Bay.

Our days were busy driving along winding roads dropping into village harbors and exploring the beauty of Wisconsin. Luck had it we arrived on a weekend when the nearby town of Sister Bay was having their annual Marina Fest. The harbor filled with boats, food vendors fired up their grills and fryers, music graced the outdoor amphitheater, and the downtown population swelled to carrying capacity. It was a good ole’ small town family event with bounce houses, the library’s annual book sale, kids building toy boats, a pancake breakfast, and more.


One of the most famous places in Sister Bay is Al Johnson’s Swedish Restaurant and Boutique. We didn’t go there to eat their famous Swedish pancakes and meatballs instead we wanted to see their unique attraction which are goats on the grass roof.  Every day, the goats are transported from their 40-acre farm to the restaurant where they spend their day grazing on the grass roof and entertaining tourists. Goats on the roof actually started as a joke when one of Johnson’s friends brought him a goat named Oscar and someone decided to put it on the roof. The goat was so popular with pedestrians they decided to add a few more and the roof filled with goat antics. In 1996, Johnson registered the “Goats on the Roof” trademark so that other restaurants in the United States can not have goats on their roofs. The goats are so popular there is even a goat cam so you can watch them from far away.


Just a few miles from the RV park in Ellison Bay we found Island Orchard Cider House which was beckoning us for a tasting. This family-owned and run cidery marries Bob and Yannique Purman's interest in French cider with their love of Door County. Travels to northern France exposed the Purmans to the dry complex refreshing ciders which take on champagne characteristics that have been made in France since the middle ages. This type of cider did not exist in the United States and the Purmans wanted to introduce this French-style cider to the American palate melding it with their Door County-grown apples. So they introduced a litmus of cultivars from France, England and America to see what would thrive in the area's climate and rocky limestone. What you have now are a variety of delicious ciders that are infused with apple, pear, and cherry that offer a great partnership to a wide range of foods. The tasting room experience is more than just a few samples, it is an interesting lesson in the company's past and development.


Right down the street was the best farm stand located in the most unique and intriguing building. For days we speculated as to what the old building's original purpose was and came up with some pretty wild ideas. None of which were right. The historic building was constructed as lodging for migrant workers who helped this agriculturally rich area thrive. We talked to the owner who mentioned that even today housing for workers is in short supply making it hard to find and keep good help. Today the inside is a farm stand and store selling locally made products. We suggested she add RV hook-ups and hire seasonal work campers. It looked like a lovely place to work if you ask us.


We found Door County very charming and it provided all of the things we like in an area…small towns, blue water, and big trees.  There are numerous state parks and nature preserves that allowed us to get a good hike in most every day and appease Spirit.  This is certainly an area we would return to someday. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Exploring Coastal Minnesota Along Lake Superior

It was hard to leave Ely and the northwoods of Minnesota but a broken toilet had us on the move heading to a repair center.  We hated to cut our Minnesota adventure short and decided to take the “scenic” route and hug the coast of Lake Superior making sure we saw some of the area's famous waterfalls and quaint coastal towns.  Leaving Ely we took County Road 1 east to Grand Marais which was a little hairy driving with windy roads and no shoulder but it was the prettiest drive of the summer and we were in awe of the rustic beauty that was the northwoods of Minnesota.  We hoped to catch a glimpse of the elusive moose before leaving Superior National Forest and were sure the woodlands and wetlands along this drive were going to produce, but it was not to be.  All along the drive were places we wanted to pull over and explore by foot or kayak or just stop and gaze for a few hours.  It was a stretch of rustic, unpopulated wilderness with eye-catching scenery.  As we emerged from our spectacular woodsy drive we descended upon the rocky northern coastline of Lake Superior which gave us a slight feeling of being back in Maine and its beautiful coastline. 

The first town we visited was Grand Marais which has made a name for itself with an outdoorsy adventurous spirit and an artsy vibe.  Outside Magazine named it one of the “Top 10 Beach Getaways,” “The Next Great Adventure Town” was National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s description, and it scored the “Coolest Small Town in America” accolade by Budget Travel

The town of Grand Marais is home to just shy of 2,000 residents but that swells to carrying capacity in the summer when many wanderers are attracted to the town where outdoor adventure, arts, and music co-mingle.  The town wraps around a protected harbor guarded by a lighthouse and breakwater which doubles as an inspiring subject for painters and photographers and where others cast a line or take a dip in the cool waters on warm summer days.  Grand Marais is a gateway to the southeastern portion of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the Gunflint Trail (a historic foot path for travelers and fur traders from inland lakes to Lake Superior) and a place where arts and native crafts are celebrated with the many galleries and the North House Folk School.  The North House Folk School’s mission is to enrich lives and build community by teaching traditional northern crafts in a student-centered learning environment that inspires the hands, the heart and the mind.  Classes include boat building, jewelry, wood carving, sailing, outdoor skills, bread baking and many more.  This is the kind of place you wished you lived near to take advantage of their offerings.


When you camp in Grand Marais you will most likely stay at the only game in town - the Grand Marais Campground and Marina - which is within walking distance of downtown and sits right on the harbor making for a perfect location. 20170823_072610The sites are nothing spectacular and you are quite close to your neighbor but what you trade for site quality is offset by being close to town.  You don’t have to be in Grand Marais long before you’ll hear about the famed eatery which loftily boasts the name World’s Best Donuts – a five generation donut shop.  They open at 6:30 a.m. and close when they are sold out of donuts so what does that tell you?  We opted to get there at 7 a.m. to ensure we did not miss out on the pillowy sweetness.  To make a fair evaluation of the claim we thought it necessary to try more than one. O.k., we had four.   Although not the “world’s best” in our humble opinions they were very good and worth the calories.  Another eatery that came with great reviews and an awesomely creative menu to match was The Crooked Spoon.  The small restaurant fills up fast so we took a seat in the rooftop bar (which also serves food) while waiting on our table.  The food was amazing and certainly the best “fine dining” meal we ate in a while.

One afternoon, we ventured north of Grand Marais about 20 miles to Judge C.R. Magney State Park on a quest to see some of the waterfalls this region is known for.  The most popular hike takes you upstream along the Brule River to a place called “Devil's Kettle.”  Here the river splits around a mass of volcanic rock where half of the river plunges 50 feet into a pool, while the other half pours into a huge pothole.  While the hike to the falls is not very long there are just shy of 186 steps (yes, I counted them) that you must climb on your way back to the trail head.  Driving south to the town of Two Harbors you will pass numerous state parks with spectacular waterfalls.  Exposed lava beds now smoothed by thousands of years of rushing water make for dramatic scenery and popular tourist attractions.


Burlington Bay Campground in Two Harbors was our next stop for a quick two night stay.  The campground sits right on the bay and some of the campsites have great views.  There is a walking path (the Sonju Trail) that leaves from the campground and winds down to the Two Harbors shoreline where the popular activity is to walk out the breakwater to the lighthouse and watch the Great Lakes freighters being loaded with iron ore at the docks.  You also pass the Two Harbors Light which is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse in the state of Minnesota dating back to 1892.  The lighthouse is part museum open to the public and part bed and breakfast for those who always wanted to know what it is like to sleep in a lighthouse.  The other claim to fame of Two Harbors is that it is where the company 3M was founded.  There is a museum open to the public describing the company’s beginnings and rise of the company.


Two Harbors marked the end of our month-long trip through Minnesota.  While our stay in the state was short we visited a cross-section of places and squeezed in a lot.  From touring a paper mill, finding the birthplace of the bus industry, hiking to waterfalls, paddling the boundary waters, catching walleye to eating some great food we had a great time and vowed to come back to the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes.