Monday, November 16, 2009

COLUMN: Door County Pt. 4

Seeing as how this is the big finale column detailing my recent trip to northeast Wisconsin, it needs some kind of a heady name, like "Door County 4: The Reckoning." Or maybe "Door Countier With A Vengeance of the Sith Takes Manhattan: The Deathly Hallows of the Ring."

So what can I say about our trip to Door County that I didn't mention in the past three columns? Truth is, not much. And trust me, when your trip begins with a horse-drawn carriage wherein we risked life, limb, and fecal contamination... and is topped off by a stranger asking me for a tampon while simultaneously inquiring about my cocaine connections... well, in that case, "not much" is kind of a blessing.

The whole point of our trip was to see some fall foliage and maybe take in one of those legendary Door County fish boils. Well, truth be told, my prime motivator for the trip was to earn some brownie points with the girlfriend by going someplace all uber-romantic and mega-girly.

Take the word "foliage," for example. This is a word that I've never said in my life. I'm pretty sure that my brute machismo prevents it from coming out of my lips. Don't get me wrong - I like my share of girly foo-foo things. I own an alarming amount of romantic comedies on DVD. I think "Incomplete" by the Backstreet Boys is a great song. Heck, my car comes standard with a FLOWER HOLDER. I'm down with my wussy feminine side. But I've never looked at a tree in autumn and gone, "Aww, pretty."

Down here, trees turn a couple boring shades of yellowish-brown. Call it pretty if you want. To me, it's just an annual arbor snuff film, and a boring one at that. But in Door County, fall looks like the kind of thing you only see in movies or, well, travel brochures to Door County.

Instead of five or six exciting variants of yellow, it's a cacophony of color. Vibrant orange, red, and green hues leap out of the landscape like nature's own firework display. Without sounding too cheezy, it was a magnificent sight, and made it kinda tough to keep your eyes on the road. This may explain what happened next.

Wisconsin is called the Badger State. I assumed until recently this meant the state was crawling with indigenous badgers. It turns out that Wisconsin miners of yore would live in their mines throughout the bitter winter, which reminded somebody with apparant state-nicknaming privileges of a badger. While Wisconsin does have its occasional badger, they're not exactly running amok.

But I swear to you all, at that moment I saw a badger. Or possibly a small bear. Either way, it was lying in the middle of the road and was considerably less than alive. I nudged my girlfriend who was driving at the time. "Umm, mind the roadkill." This was my effort to have her perhaps move the car to avoid the mystery animal carcass. And I think that was what she TRIED to do. Instead, she corrected course to immediately aim right for it. I'd make some joke about women drivers here, but I know your e-mailing capabilities, ladies, and I'm not going there.

Regardless, next thing I heard was "WHUMP! WHUMP!" as our left tires ensured that the mystery badger/bear/chupacabra was good and properly extra dead. "Ewwww," I said with extreme brute machismo. "Oops," said Amy as we toodled off in search of more adventure.

Door County, if you've never been, is a huge peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan like a 50-mile long finger. At the very end of the finger lies Washington Island, a community that's only accessible by ferry ride. We didn't drive six hours to only see PART of Door County, so we hopped the ferry to check it out.

And it turns out that Washington Island is a pretty cool place. Chock full of ancient lore and famed shipwrecks, it was an impressively mystical place, especially in the hazy cold and accurately-forecasted "wintry mix" we were traversing through that day. We'd made it 50 miles up the peninsula without finding a single Monday fish boil, so my hopes were dim on finding good food.

Boy, was I wrong. The KK Fiske, "Home of the Fish Mortician." My kinda place. I'll admit, I was thrown a bit by the sign out front that said, "Fresh Lawyers!" Sadly, it was NOT a reference to sexually-harassing attorneys, but instead a rather ugly freshwater fish. The KK Fiske was the only Door County restaurant we found that had a Monday fish boil (yessss!) But sadly, it didn't start until 6 p.m., and the last ferry to the mainland was at 5.

As fun as it would be to call into work with "sorry, it seems that I'm trapped on an island," we had a looong drive home ahead of us and no boiled fish would stop us. Instead, I had a plate full of fried whitefish that the owner had sailed out and caught that morning. Heaven. And it was a place devoid of tourists but rife with locals in cover-alls who all looked haggard and grizzled and were all inexplicably watching "Days of Our Lives" in silence punctuated only by conversation like:

"So... get yer harvesting done?"

We had just left the restaurant when suddenly I felt a sickeningly familiar vibration under the car. NO! We'd pull over and find a shredded tire with a badger claw jutting out of it. we'd miss the last ferry, and we'd have to find some guy named Cooter who'd tell us that a replacement tire was coming on the January ferry. We'd have to leave our world behind and start life anew on Washington Island. I only hoped that the haggard and grizzled contingency needed a skilled nightclub DJ slash aspiring newspaper columnist.

Happily, though, it was just a weird stretch of pavement and the tires were fine. We made the last ferry back with eight minutes to spare. As we began the drive home, Amy looked at me and said, "When do you s'pose we'll be back in the Quad Cities?"

"11:20," I said, pulling a time completely at random.

At exactly 11:20 p.m., we rolled up my driveway, which I'm pretty sure lets me add "mystic seer" to my resume. Despite all the craziness, we made it from Washington Island to Rock Island in a car weighed down with Door County cherries and happy tummies. Thumbs up, Wisconsin. So... what'd I miss while I was gone?

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