Monday, August 24, 2009

Voyagers North

Some family traditions happen because of what you do, and some happen in spite of what you do.

We went up north last week for a short "Get Outta Dodge" kind of vacation, and it rained. It rained and rained and rained and the animals lined up two by two and the highways grew mold and entire towns mulched up and returned to the mud from whence they came and I thought to myself, "I must be on vacation."

My side of the family has a long history of vacationing in the rain. When I was a kid we used to go down to the Jersey shore every August. We'd stay in Sea Isle City in the south side of a twin house that was owned by Charlie and Judy, who were cousins on my grandmother's side in that interminably convoluted way of Italian families. It was a nice house, only blocks from the beach and surrounded by all sorts of jumping toads that kept me and my brother busy for hours on end. It was also waterproof, which was a good thing since it rained almost every year. Most years it was just for a day or two out of the week and we got good at playing Yahtzee and visiting wineries where they made the sickly sweet wine my grandparents and I loved at holiday time. One year it rained the whole week, and we eventually just went home.

Bayfield is lovely in the rain.

We left Fuzzy and Rachel's house on Wednesday morning and headed north to the wilds of Lake Superior. Along about lunchtime, though, we stopped in Hayward and made a pilgrimage to the first ever Famous Dave's BBQ restaurant, which was an emotional moment let me tell you. The food was more or less the same as at all the other ones (with the exception of deep-fried green beans, something that appears to be indigenous to the northern Wisconsin region) but the decor was original and it was attached to a lodge, which means - follow me here - that you could actually stay at Famous Dave's and eat there every day.


Be still my beating heart.

Stuffed to the gun'ls we continued north, arriving in Bayfield sometime in midafternoon. Bayfield is a tiny little town - some 600 residents if you don't count us tourists - located right on Lake Superior, just across from Madeline Island. We rented a cabin just north of town - that's right, in the suburbs of a town of 600 - and settled in to watch the rain.

The cabin was owned by a young couple named the Predators, who let us rabble stay there when they are off doing other things most of the year. They are probably nice people - and they certainly kept the place well stocked, including far better pots and pans than the ones we have at home - but the little photo album they left just made us want to bonk them over the head with a bag of foam peanuts. For some people, this reaction might be sparked by the McMansion they own in Texas. Others might find all the photos of them doing athletic things in exotic places just a bit off-putting. For me, it was their utter inability to use an apostrophe. Follow me people: "The Predator's Place" signifies ONE Predator, not the both of you. One. And that one should not feel entitled to use the definite article unless knighted, unique, or having a Pro-Bowl season at strong safety.

But you know, it was a lovely cabin and one we did not mind spending a lot of time in.

That evening we took a cruise through downtown Bayfield, umbrellas aloft and spirits high. It's a pretty little town, with lake views from pretty much everywhere and a lot of stores that cater directly to visitors. The biggest hit was the Antique Candy Store, which not only had more salt-water taffy flavors than any store I've ever seen but also had Teaberry gum. I haven't seen Teaberry gum since the Carter administration. But we snatched up some of that gum, and a new generation of fans was created.

That night we settled in for some killer Monopoly, and one of the great lessons of my childhood came back to me then: if you roll fourth in a four-person game of Monopoly, you are pretty much toast. It took two days for it all to shake out, but eventually Lauren bankrupted the lot of us.

The next day we took the ferry over to Madeline Island.

Madeline Island is the largest of the Apostle Islands, and the only one that isn't run by the National Park Service. You get on the ferry and take the 15-minute trip across the water, and you end up in La Pointe, which is even smaller than Bayfield. We slogged off the dock and into the nearby Historical Museum, which had the twin virtues of being both interesting and dry.

There was a break in the rain after lunch, so we wandered down to Joni's Beach and went rock hunting. This is not all that hard to do - the rocks have excellent camouflage skills but score poorly when it comes to evasive action - and we ended up with quite a stack of them. A few, however, were returned to the lake as skipping stones. I taught both girls how to do this, and they each managed to skip a few rocks. Life was good.

And then we met Kayak Ed.

Kayak Ed was a sprightly old soul who ran the kayak rental place across from the beach. Since late August is effectively autumn that far north, his season was largely over and he was planning to do some kayaking on his own. But when Tabitha and Lauren went over to talk to him, he offered them the use of the Croco-Kayaks. Kim - much more of a water-based soul than I am - was happy to take him up on this, and Ed and I retrieved the Croco-Kayaks, paddles and life jackets.

It was the high point of the trip as far as the girls were concerned.

The Croco-Kayaks are exceptionally stable things that you sit on top of, rather than inside of, so they require no extensive training to use. And within moments, off the girls went, paddling about the bay and having a grand old time.

He wouldn't even accept payment. "I do this all the time with the kids," he said. "They'll be back for more next year."

A savvy businessman, that Kayak Ed.

After about an hour the girls tuckered out and we put one kayak away and gave the second one to the other kid on the beach. And it was at this point that certain difficulties that we had figured out in a theoretical way while watching them paddle made themselves manifest in more concrete and practical ways. Namely that we did not have any spare clothing for our intrepid sailors, and they were both soaking wet from the waist down.

So we improvised with sweaters and jackets.

The next morning we packed up and headed off to the White Winter Winery as part of the traditional "rainy vacation activity package." The thing about the White Winter Winery is that it does not in fact make wine. It makes mead, which is based on honey rather than grapes.

They were nice enough to give us a tour of the place despite being in the middle of moving most of the equipment from here to there, and we tasted a great number of their fine products. Be sure to check out the White Winter Winery for all your mead needs, as they make some good stuff.

We spent one more night back at Fuzzy and Rachel's, hanging out and enjoying ourselves with good friends before heading home.

It's always good to get home, even if all those work piles you went away to avoid are still lurking when you get back. The cats met us at the door and started gnawing on our fingertips, since I had forgotten to explain the trick to the front door lock to the person we asked to come in and feed them. Fortunately they had enough food lying around that a) they were fine, b) the hamsters remained uneaten, and c) I had enough time to throw down some kitty chow and get out of the way without myself being snacked upon.

They seem to have forgiven us.

1 comment:

KimK said...

Careful: the Union of Rocks - Beach Division will come after you for dissing their evasive skills!