On Wednesday, our third day in Door County, Erik started work early so he could get in half his workday before we had to check out of our hotel. The day was chilly and overcast so we ran the gas fireplace in our suite. At noon, we drove to the library and worked some more until 3 p.m. Then we drove on up highway 42 to Sister Bay in search of lunch. We ended up not seeing any promising looking restaurants, and instead grabbing a sandwich and a piece of fried chicken at the Piggly Wiggly deli. We would need some supplies for our next hotel anyway, and this was the only large grocery store we saw on the whole peninsula.
Then we drove on, past Ellison Bay to Gills Rock, at the end of the peninsula. Some of the drive has nice bay views, but other stretches veer inland. We even passed a Christmas tree farm between the highway and the water. We were looking for somewhere nice to check into another hotel or cottage for the remaining two nights of our trip. At the end of the peninsula, there was one hotel and a condo building, which certainly had nice views. There was also a playground, the ferry that goes to Washington Island, and a maritime museum. We weren't sure if we wanted to stay at this motel, since there did not seem to be much to do nearby except take the ferry, which had already ended for the day.
We postponed our decision by visiting the Maritime Museum, where we got to board an old wooden "fish tug," a tugboat repurposed as a fishing boat by some broke locals during the Depression. We learned about the many shipwrecks in Lake Michigan, including some on either side of the peninsula. They had heavy old black phone receivers which, when lifted, played radio chatter recorded the night the Edmund Fitzgerald wrecked in 1975. They had a cute diorama showing a scuba diver looking down on the bits of wreckage that one sees in the area of the shipwrecks, and we saw some salvaged items such a broken plates and a life jacket. We learned about a big mean pirate who used to rampage the ports of Lake Michigan and who stole a boat and took it down to Chicago to try to sell the cargo, and we looked at a bunch of old boat motors. Then we bought some pirate stuff for the kids in the gift shop and chatted with the friendly, bearded young museum manager, who accidentally overcharged me by $9 and then took forever trying to figure out how to make the cash register reverse the charge.
"I'm all flustered now," he said, looking over the long tape hanging out of his register. Eventually he just gave us our $9 and sent us on our way with a brochure for a kayaking company, which we had asked about.
Now it was nearly 5 p.m. and we still hadn't decided where to stay that night. We had a flyer for a Rowley Bay kayak company, so we turned across the peninsula to drive to that town. But when Erik called the company from his cell phone, in between getting his call dropped, he managed to find out that their tours actually launched out of other places, including Egg Harbor, back on the bay side of the peninsula. We realized that we didn't necessarily want to go to R.B. We turned around and headed back to the bay side, and then after some discussion decided to cross over again and check out Bailey's Harbor and Jacksonport. Bailey's Harbor turned out to be the nicest place we had seen to stay so far. We liked how, unlike the bay side of the peninsula, the town was not bisected by a busy highway. On the other side, most of the hotels were across the road from the lake, and only small cottages were on the lake side. Here, we first saw a kayak company, then passed an old motel with an outdoor swimming pool and a vacancy sign. We walked over to check it out and saw that it had a large private beach and a pier with an American flag rippling at the end, and the kayak company was just bringing in a tour group onto the hotel's beach. Erik chatted up the group leader and learned that we could go on a shipwreck tour in glass-bottomed kayaks Friday morning. Because of the early start, we liked the idea of staying right here near the kayak shop. I walked into the office and found it surprisingly cheery, with brightly painted wooden pub tables and chairs, and sliding glass doors giving onto a deck and the beach. A smiling lady was watching the news on TV behind the desk. She told me they had a room with a view and a king bed for $144, but we'd have to move into a different room the next night. Or we could stay in a queen room with no view for a little less money, and not move.
We chose the room with a view, which was phenomenal. Almost the entire length of the room was a window looking out onto waves lapping up on the beach and hovering seagulls. We could see that a fire had been started in the hotel's beach firepit. The room's wood paneled walls were painted a beachy light blue, the bed and bedding and carpet were clearly new, and there was a large-screen TV mounted on the wall and a refrigerator. The bathtub and fixtures were a bit careworn, but it was clear that a lot of work had been put into making this old motel nice. We decided to take it. I asked for a AAA discount but the lady told me, "I don't do any discounts in high season."
After moving in, we got our rented bikes out of the car and split up for awhile. Just then the sun came out and the cool day turned into a warm evening. I rode north through the little town, past a few restaurants and two ice cream shops, a nice municipal dock, and onto a woodsy road lined with named cottages. After awhile I saw a lighthouse to my left and turned my bike up a little path to check it out. It marked the entrance to a nature sanctuary, which according to signs was owned by a private organization. A wooden boardwalk ran in a straight line to an old wooden house, which according to signs was once the lighthouse keeper's residence, and which also had a light on its roof. The signboards said that boaters could line up the two range lights to help them avoid dangerous shoals in the water. The boardwalk was lined on both sides with wild ferns, wildflowers and little pine trees, and looked very pretty, like a long aisle leading to a chapel.
I crossed the street and found a large public swimming beach. Both of these places were totally deserted, although a half-fallen sand castle attested to the presence of families earlier in the day. I took off my flipflops and waded into he water, which felt not quite as icy as the water on the bay side. The sand had been shaped by the waves into rows of pockmarks, as if it had been shot evenly by a fusillade of bullets. The water was not quite as clear, probably because the waves on this side stirred up the sand. Seagulls were crying and the small waves were crashing against the shore; these were noisy but much nicer than the traffic sounds from the other side of the peninsula. It was now perhaps 6:30, and the sky was still totally blue, with some pure white clouds floating over the water, and the enclosing arms of Bailey's Harbor, covered in trees, curving in on my right and left. I decided that I needed both Erik and the camera to see these things with me, so I went back to my bike and pedaled quickly through the wooded road and the town to our hotel. Erik's bike was locked up at the rack but our room was empty. Looking through our window I could se the beach chairs were empty too. I could smell that he had been there and sprayed himself with Off!. I doused myself -- I had gotten way too many mosquito bites in the past few days -- mounted an unsuccessful search for the camera, and then went downstairs to look around for him some more. I tried calling and messaging him but the cellular coverage is not good here. I rode my bike through the small town again, feeling worried that all the pretty light would be gone before I got the chance to take any pictures. Finally, when I returned to the hotel and walked behind it, I found Erik sitting in a beach chair with a book and a G&T in a real glass. I dragged him back to the bikes, got the car key from him so I could retrieve the camera from the car, and took him back to the two beautiful locations I had found. Of course the light was not nearly as good -- the sun had fallen below the trees of the peninsula behind us and although it was not dark, nothing glowed the way it had. We walked down the boardwalk and got more mosquito bites, then waded together on the beach until we were both hungry. Back in town, we leaned our bikes against a white picket fence at Harbor Fish Market and asked for an outside table. Even though the mosquitoes had just chased us away from the beach, somehow I thought that the restaurant would have a bug zapper and would maybe have sprayed the area, and that we would be able to eat outdoors unmolested. Also, now that the sun had gone down I thought it must surely be too chilly for mosquitoes. I took this theory so far that I selected a table sitting on the grass instead of on the deck, since it had a better view of the lake.
The restaurant turned out to be a bit more expensive than we expected, with $35 to $75 bottles of wine and entrees all priced over $20. A kettle was steaming over fire on the other side of the yard, so I asked our waitress, a young woman with a European accent whose willowy frame made her stand out from the locals just as much as her voice, if it was a fish boil. She said it was a lobster boil, which for the cost of $55 a person included a huge 2-pound Maine lobster, potatoes and corn, and Door County cherry bread pudding for dessert. We ordered a glass of pinot grigio and a Glenlivet, and she brought the wine with a gimlet instead. When Erik explained the mistake, our waitress said she was here from Croatia on a summer student work program, and that all these unfamiliar drink names were very difficult for her. She gave us the gimlet for free and promised to return with a Glenlivet after she took our order.
I ordered local whitefish with a parmesan/artichoke sauce, and Erik ordered pan-fried walleye. After she left I decided to run back to our hotel to get my jacket out of the car, because I was getting cold. I wish I had run up to our room to put on jeans too! When I got back, neither my drink or our breadbasket had arrived yet. We chuckled that this was going to be a long summer for our waitress. The food was served with warm, light, cheesy rolls, and everything was delicious. By the time Erik received his after-dinner espresso, I had noticed that the mosquitoes had really discovered us here, so I went inside to wait for the check.
On our way back to the room I realized that I had really gotten a lot of mosquito bites. Upstairs I stripped down and looked in the mirror. To my horror I realized that mosquitoes had been just feasting on the backs of my thighs through the holes in the metal chairs we'd been sitting on. Erik wanted to go down to the beach because the hotel owner had promised s'mores in the evening, but I sent him down alone so I could soak in the tub to try to stop the intense itching. It helped, and after awhile I put on jeans, my jacket and a lot more bug spray, and joined him by the fire pit, where he was chatting away with some women from West Allis. We watched the stars come out and chatted for awhile, and happily the beach seemed to cool and breezy for mosquitoes.
As we fell asleep, with the windows open, I was more aware of noises from the other rooms in the motel than the sound of the lake. But at some point during the night I awoke to the sound of a light rain and realized that that the soothing sound of the waves had filled our little room.
Erik had looked up the time of the sunrise and set his alarm for 5:15 a.m., but he woke at 5 and saw that the sky was already totally light, and white with fog -- the sun was already up, but there had been no sunrise to see.
“But if you want it to heal, it just takes time”
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