In Bayfield Again

Every year someone asks, “How many years is this now?”

No one ever seems to remember exactly when we went on our first annual vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin as a group of four couples, most of whom barely knew each other at the time. But I’m pretty sure this year was our eleventh. I remember because that first year, Jake was going into seventh grade, and that sticks out in my mind because he was leaving the Catholic school our kids had always attended and was getting ready to start a new school career in the big, scary public middle school. And that would have been 2003.

So this being 2014 would be our eleventh year. I don’t think any of us thought this would become an annual event. It was kind of weird that first year. The only thing three of us couples had in common is that we were all friends with Bill and Tammy. But we had fun. And the next year, Bill and Tammy proposed we do it again. And so here we are, eleven years later and it’s become something kind of special.

This vacation is steeped in equal parts tradition and new adventures. We always take turns cooking a couple of dinners. There is always a Sequence game tournament during which Dennis is always my partner because once, long ago, Bill assigned game partners and they have remained unchanged ever since. We always visit Madeline Island at least once and while there, we always spend some time at Tom’s Burned Down Cafe. This year, there was an awesome band on stage, the Buckthorn Brothers. It was a quiet night at Tom’s, and one of the Julies first noticed the lead singer before we knew he was the lead singer. He had come into the bar presumably from the beach, wearing only a pair of board shorts. He disappeared into a trailer and came out fully clothed and sat down at the bar to have a drink.

“He’s good looking,” one of the Julies noted.

“Mmm hmmm,” the rest of us girls agreed.

“…even though we’re all old enough to be his mother,” I added, a little embarrassed that we were admiring the young man purely for his physical attributes.

“He has good dreads,” one of the Julies remarked and we all contemplated his hair style. I don’t usually care for dreadlocks, but she labeled them “contained dreads” and I had to agree. They suited him. Not long after, he stepped up on the stage and began tuning a guitar. A guy with a cello (I think) joined him. And they rocked!

Bill thought we should call it a night. It was getting dark and he still had to drive us all back to Bayfield in the boat. One of the Julies said not yet and we ordered another round of drinks while Tom’s began to fill up with people wanting to hear the band and dance. A few songs later, we left… reluctantly.

We had dinners out. The guys fished in the mornings while one of the Julies and I walked the Brownstone Trail along Lake Superior. I ran it alone one morning, just to see how far I could actually go. When downtown appeared in front of me, I knew I’d made it to the end and I turned around and ran back to the condo. Five and a half miles. Didn’t know I had it in me. Now I do!

Tammy, the other Julie and Mark went to the casino a few times. Mark came back with more than he contributed and was gleeful! We boated over to Ashland for an afternoon, checked out a car show and had a few drinks on the deck of a huge, old hotel with a view of Lake Superior.

I read a book. We hung out in downtown Bayfield. Visited several apple orchards. We boated to Stockton Island, hiking across it and cooling our toes in the cold water of the lake.

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We went to Big Top Chautauqua to see a show. Didn’t really know what we were going to see. The other Julie had bought the tickets, telling us only that it was a sort of season-end show. There was music. There was comedy of the pants-peeing variety. And there was this guy telling funny stories and talking about a new book he’d just published. I’d never heard of him before, but he’d said book so I was interested. He said that during the intermission, guests could visit the gift shop (a smaller tent) and buy his books if they’d like and he’d even autograph them. I was interested, but the crowd was thick and I didn’t make it before the comedy act began. After the show, after having had a fabulously fun time, we all eight of us piled out from under the big top into the cool Wisconsin night. Hovering outside the gift shop waiting for the crowd to thin before we headed back to our cars, Mark nudged my arm and nodded into the open doorway. I saw the stacks of books and he suggested, “Let’s go look. You want one, don’t you?”

I did want one. The gift shop was now wide open and I could go peruse the selections without battling the crowd. But I was embarrassed because the author, Michael Perry was standing there and I had no idea about his writing whatsoever. Didn’t know if I liked it or not and I didn’t want this to be obvious. But his stories on stage had been funny, so I was pretty sure I wanted one of his books. So I picked out the first one I saw with intriguing cover art and gladly accepted Mr. Perry’s offer to autograph it for me.

I began to read my new book back at the condo that night when I went to bed. And I quickly realized that it was the kind of book I’ll try to force myself to read slowly because the words are woven together with such artistry that I find it hard to put down and won’t want it to end.

Once again, our Bayfield days proved to be memorable, fun, unwinding and rejuvenating with a side of gorgeous scenery. Aside from Bill and Tammy, we Bayfield vacationers don’t spend much time with each other outside of the annual trip and maybe a dinner date once or twice throughout the year. One of the Julies and I were discussing that fact this weekend. She’s the kind of person with whom I think I could be really good friends. We get each other. But for some reason, we stick to connecting only these few times a year, particularly connecting during our morning Bayfield walks. It’s families and work and schedules and life that we claim as excuses for not making more of our friendship, but the reality is, our friendship and this vacation just work as is. Julie was the one who first said it. It’s something special. And I imagine I’ll be telling fond stories about it for years to come.

A Visit to Outer Island

In all the years we’ve been vacationing in Bayfield, Wisconsin, we’ve visited almost every one of the Apostle Islands that can be accessed by boat. This year marked our eleventh annual trip to Bayfield and Captain Bill informed us that there was only one island we hadn’t visited – Outer Island. It would take forty-five minutes to get to Outer Island by boat, and since it was such a long distance away, the weather had to cooperate if we were going to go. Lucky for us, we had perfect weather every day.

040bWe were good and windblown by the time we arrived at Outer Island, but no one cared because the scene that greeted us upon our arrival was so amazing. The Outer Island lighthouse stood proudly before us, framed by a spotless blue sky. And there were no other boats docked at the pier. We had the place to ourselves. We all climbed out of the boat and began the long ascent up a huge flight of steps to reach the lighthouse.

In years past, when we’ve visited some of the Apostle Islands and their lighthouses, there were often volunteers stationed on the islands to provide a bit of history and a tour of the lighthouse. Not at Outer Island. I would imagine that being as far removed as it is, there are few visitors to Outer Island and therefore no need for volunteers. We couldn’t go inside, but we could look in the windows and wander the property. It was amazing. What a lonely, rugged life it must have been for the lighthouse keepers.

052We walked around and marveled at the old structures before heading back down the stairs to have a picnic lunch on the pier.  It was a perfect day to sit out in the sun and I seemed to have worked up a serious appetite. (Must have been all that stair climbing!) After we finished eating, everyone went off to explore. We climbed over the big rocks on the shoreline and made our way to the beach on the other side. We walked barefoot in the hot sand and dipped our feet in the cold water of Lake Superior. We collected rocks and took in the beauty of the majestic lake. Such a beautiful place, Lake Superior. I never get tired of looking at it and never cease to feel in awe of its size, depth and sparkling clear waters.

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098After exploring the lighthouse side of the island, we all piled back into the boat and headed to the other side of the island to hang out at the beach. The water was so clear and sandy that Bill could beach the boat and we could all just hop out into the water and wade to shore. It was beautiful there. It almost felt as if we were on a tropical island. If the water wasn’t so cold, I might have believed I was.

The beach itself and its views were spectacular. Mark trekked to the far end and made his way out onto a sandbar.

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I played in the sand.

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We marveled at the driftwood scattered all over the beach.

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And laughed at the surprises other visitors left for us to find.

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No one was in a hurry to leave, but we’d been out in the sun too long. Our faces were showing signs of sunburn and there was salmon marinating back at the condo for dinner. It was time to go.
206bWe all look forward to another year and another island adventure!

Just Ducky

One thing we can count on each year when we return to Bayfield is the ducks. Just outside the back door of the condo is a deck that looks over a quiet little bay. Beyond the bay is a spectacular view of Lake Superior, but inside the bay, there are herons, turtles and sunfish. One year there was a family of otters. This year we saw geese. And always, there are the ducks.

006bWe always make sure to have plenty of food to share with them. The ducks only need to hear the sound of the screen door sliding open to know that food is on the way. They paddle in the shallow water below the deck, racing each other for bread crumbs, pretzel bits and handfuls of cereal that we toss down below.

014bMama duck had babies with her this year. She hung back when we broke up slices of bread and she allowed her little ones to enjoy all they could eat. Julie walked down the deck stairs to the dock and laid down on her belly, holding hunks of bread out to Mama. She was hoping that Mama duck would eat from her hand and if she’d had a little more time and patience, it may have eventually happened. But Julie gave up and joined us in the side yard for a game of bean bags instead.

As we tossed our bean bags back and forth, talking and laughing at our lack of bean bag skills, we noticed movement in the grass along the shore of the bay. Mama duck and her babies had come up the bank into the yard, looking for Julie. If they could talk, I’m sure we would hear them ask, “Is there more bread?”

Julie set down her bean bags and looked at the little duck family. “Wait right there,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” Julie hurried into the house and quickly returned with an enormous bagel which she began to crumble and toss toward the ducks.

012bMama duck was getting comfortable with Julie, enough to bring her babies up into the yard where all of us “girls” were playing the game. We all stopped to watch the duck family come closer and closer to Julie and the big bagel. They were so cute!

024bWhen the bagel was gone, Julie returned to the game. Mama took her babies back into the water where they all swam in circles nearby, probably hoping that another bagel or slice of bread would be brought out. In a last-ditch effort, they made one last trip up the bank into the yard, but when no more bread was produced, they waddled back to the water and swam off to wherever home is. We knew they would be back the next morning.

Back from Bayfield

Mark and I have just returned from our eleventh annual visit to Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands by way of beautiful Bayfield, Wisconsin. The weather was sheer perfection. We couldn’t have asked for better days.

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Mark walking along the beach on Outer Island

Shortly after our arrival, I stood on the deck of our rental and took in the stunning view of the lake. The shimmering sun glinted off the water and a feeling came over me, as if my whole body had been wound into tight knots and was now relaxing in a way I’d forgotten I was capable of.

It was good. I needed a break. It gave me a chance to step back from everyday life and remember what’s important. And I came home with a new resolve – to make it a point to relax more often and generally, to try to get back to doing the kinds of things that fulfill me, like writing, reading, exercising, photography and cooking. (Did I really just say “cooking”?)

More pictures to come after I’ve had a chance to do some catching up…

Relaxing in Bayfield, Wisconsin

We’ve just returned from our tenth annual vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin with Bill and Tammy, Dennis and Julie, and Dave and Julie.  Lake Superior looks the same, so beautifully intimidating, so majestic. The time away was nice.

As the years go by, we find ourselves reminiscing more about past years.

“What year did Dave’s tongue swell up after eating walleye,” someone will ask?

“Remember the year we rented mopeds and did a photo scavenger hunt on Madeline Island? How long ago was that?”

“When did we … tour the fish camp? … climb the lighthouse on Raspberry island? … go on the ghost tour in town? … start visiting all of the apple orchards?”

“How long ago was it that the boat engine quit and we had to get towed back to the marina by that family with the huge boat?”

We should have started writing these things down from the very beginning, but honestly, I don’t think any of us thought this would become an annual thing. We started out as mere acquaintances, our only common bond being Bill and Tammy. We’re not sure why they chose three couples from different circles of their friends to spend several days together on vacation with them, but we’re glad they did. It worked out so well the first year that we did it again a second year, and again and again. And now it’s been ten years that we’ve done this together. We are all very different people, but each year when we return to Bayfield, we have the best times!

Every year when we travel to the resort, the guys ride together in Bill’s truck and tow the big boat. The girls all ride together, behind the guys, keeping an eye on the boat and trailer. This year’s trip started off with a bang as we watched a trailer tire blow and fall to shreds on the road ahead of us. Bill managed to safely pull the trailer on to the shoulder and within twenty minutes, the guys had the tire changed and we were back on the road. Not long afterwards, we stopped at a small-town restaurant for lunch. We had the best burgers I can remember in a long while, with buns soaked in butter and then toasted. YUM! This is when Tammy pulled out a sheet of notebook paper and we started to jot down memories from years past.

Every year when we go on vacation, each of us has a partner for games and activities. My partner is always Dennis. Mark is always with Tammy. And then there’s Bill with Julie W, and Dave with Julie G. Dennis and I, both being somewhat the quiet type, have a quiet and respectful partnership. Dave and Julie G are the ones to watch. They poke fun at each other and make like they’re mad at one another. On our last night while playing cards, Dave was making fun of Julie’s allergies, mimicking her and inserting loud, obnoxious SNIFFS between words. She, in turn made fun of the way he held his cards. They kept at it, scowling and scoffing at one another until the rest of us were crying with laughter!

The weather this year was cooler than last year. The sky was overcast much of the time, and sweatshirts were necessary attire. But we got a little sun too. We made a trip out to Stockton Island, docked the boat and had lunch and walked the beach. Bill and Julie W braved the water and actually went for a swim despite the cold. Not me! No thanks!

We visited Madeline Island, as we do every year, and paid a visit to Tom’s Burned Down Cafe, as we always do. We shopped in town, where Mark and I bought “Bayfield” sweatshirts, as we always do. And we visited several apple orchards, one with a quaint little gift shop and a bakery that filled the place with the delicious aroma of warm apple donuts!

The mornings this year, though, were my favorite part of this trip. I tend to let up on my morning runs while I’m on vacation here, but am often joined by one or more of the girls for a good walk to start the day. This year, Mark, Tammy and Julie G felt the draw of the local casino each morning. And it was worth it. Mark won a couple hundred dollars one morning. Julie G won almost five hundred the next. And while they were busy gambling, Bill, Dennis and Dave were out in the boat, hoping to catch some fish. (They never did catch any this time around.)

With everyone else otherwise occupied, Julie W and I would take off for a walk. Last year, we discovered the The Brownstone Trail not far from the condos where we stay. It’s a beautiful trail that meanders through the trees along the shore of Lake Superior and it is filled with beautiful scenery. We stopped to marvel at the beautiful mansions and quaint country homes along the way. We paused where the trees opened up, finding ourselves speechless at the majesty of Lake Superior before us. We greeted friendly strangers along the way. An older couple, each walking a dog, stopped to wait as we approached. As we came upon them, the man nodded to his dog and said, “Friday wanted to say hello. Her name is Friday, as in TGIF, thank God it’s Friday.”

We paused to show Friday some love, and give some to her pal, Sophie as well, whose leash was held by the man’s wife. We continued along the path for several miles until we reached the town of Bayfield, and then turned around to go back. On the return trip, we again ran across the man and his wife.

“Hello again,” we said to them. The woman smiled and continued walking, but the man paused again, saying, “Friday wanted to say hello. Her name is Friday, as in TGIF, thank God it’s Friday.”

Julie and I exchanged a quick glance, shrugged and smiled at the man again, and paused to pet Friday and tell her how pretty she was before we continued on our way.

Throughout our walks each day, Julie and I would talk. I don’t see Julie but a couple of times a year, but when we’re in Bayfield, we share a connection. A few years ago, we discovered that an uncle of hers was the brother of an uncle of mine. Her mom’s sister, Lois was married to Keith, whose brother, Ben was married to my mom’s sister, Elaine. Julie and I visited the same family farm when we were growing up, yet never knew each other. And maybe this is part of what connects us, but I think we felt a connection even before we knew we were sort of related. We’re able to talk to each other about so many things, like struggles we’ve faced with our kids and the importance of family and knowing our roots. I don’t mean to take anything from anyone else in the group. I laugh harder and relax more with these people than I do any other time of year. There’s just something about Julie W that really touches me. We’ve discovered a trust and an affection for one another that has come to the surface a bit more than that which I feel with anyone else in our Bayfield group. I cherish those walks we would take together, an hour and a half of time to really talk and learn more about one another. Those walks were the highlight of our trip this year and Julie told me she felt it as much as I did.

With all of our talk about trying to remember the events of each of our past vacations, I wanted to be sure to commit to writing all the things that made this another memorable trip. I’ve done just that since 2006 when I started blogging and as soon as I got home today, I looked back on all of our memories and jotted down what I remembered from those years, then sent it off by email to the group. Next, I need to gather all of my photo files from all of these years and fill in some of the gaps. Then we’ll remember the stories in so much more detail! So here is this year’s contribution to the collection:

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Away from it all

Four whole days we had to get away from reality. Four days of kicking back and sleeping in. Four days of beautiful sunshine and warm temperatures.

It was our ninth annual vacation to Bayfield, Wisconsin with a group of good friends. When we first started doing this, some of us barely knew each other. We had no idea then that we’d come back together and do it a second time the following year. We had no idea that nine years later, we’d still be coming together at this time of year for what had become an annual event.

We ate together and laughed together. We had in-depth conversations, talking about things as simple as our favorite sandwiches when we were kids and about things as complicated as the realization that you never stop worrying about your kids, no matter how old they get. We visited beautiful Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands again. Their beauty never ceases to amaze me, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. We had a wonderful afternoon on a quiet, nearly empty beach, soaking up the sun, taking in the scenery and playing games. I took my camera and explored the beach for a while.

We reconnected with friends we see only a few times a year. We caught up on each other’s lives over the past year and I marveled at the ways we are so different from one another and yet still share so much in common. I realized things about my friends that I hadn’t seen before; things that make them such amazing, strong and good people.

We relaxed and let ourselves forget about things like work and worries and dates and times for a little while.

The beach on Stockton Island

And it was wonderful. But no matter how good it is to get away sometimes, it’s always good to be back home again.

Back from Vacation

I’m baaaa-ack! Did ya miss me? I missed you!

Vacation was nice. I really needed the break. The Bayfield, Wisconsin area and the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior are becoming very familiar after seven years of annual visits.

One of our first stops was Madeline Island. Our destination was, of course, Tom’s Burned Down Cafe.  For those who haven’t read about Tom’s here before, it is a very eclectic bar. It doesn’t actually have walls and it doesn’t have a roof. The whole place is covered by tarps. As legend has it, the night before the bar was to open, it was consumed by fire. The next day, the beer delivery arrived, and faced with the choice of admitting defeat or carrying on, Tom chose to carry on. Today it is an open-air bar, frequented by lots of free-spirits and hippie types. I love to sit there, listening to new (to me) music and people watching.
IMG_0567_1 by you.There’s always something fun or new to discover at Tom’s. For our group, this year’s discovery was UV Blue Vodka mixed with lemonade. Remember Bomb Pops, those frozen treats you ate as a kid? That’s what this drink tastes like. We loved it so much, we went and bought our own bottle and enjoyed it all weekend long!

The weather was more than accommodating for us during our vacation. Having checked the forecast ahead of time, none of us expected any really spectacular days, but that is exactly what we got. When it rained, it did so at night.  The days may have started out looking overcast, but as soon as we headed out on an adventure, the clouds cleared out and the sun began to shine. The temperatures were just right; warm and comfortable but not too hot.

One day we visited Raspberry Island and toured the lighthouse there.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse by you.

And that same day, we went to Manitou Island and toured the historic fish camp.

Fish Camp on Manitou Island by you.

Joan Baez 4 by you.Another night, we went to a place called the Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua and saw Joan Baez in concert. Our friend Dave had found out about this concert a few months ago and ordered tickets for all of us. To be honest, I knew who Joan Baez was, but wouldn’t have recognized any of her music before seeing the show. (I’m sure it would make Dave cringe to hear me admitting as much!) The opening act was Betty Soo. I’d never heard of her before, but she was so awesome, I bought one of her CDs right there at the show and she even signed it for me! Then, when Joan Baez took the stage, the place erupted! I wasn’t expecting much from the concert, but ended up having a great time.

Joan Baez 1 by you.

We shared meals, both in restaurants and home cooked. I made hot dagos one night, which were a big hit. We played cards, listened to music and walked around the area, discovering a secluded and peaceful little beach on a peninsula near our condos.

On our last full day, we visited Stockton Island, which has a beautiful and expansive beach, and gorgeous, clear blue water. We soaked up the sun, had a picnic lunch, played frisbee and played in the water. It was a perfect afternoon. Before we headed back to the condos that night, we docked at a marina in Bayfield and walked into town to shop for some sweatshirts. As a last hurrah, we stopped off at another favorite bar overlooking Lake Superior. It was so relaxing to just sit in the sun, talking with good friends and taking in the beautiful view of the lake.

It was, as I expected, over too soon. But it is good to be back home.