To anyone else, the weather would have been perfect—clear and sunny, with a crisp breeze that made the day particularly invigorating. But to this Southern-born girl (who gets chilly when the temperature drops below 80 degrees), "invigorating" is just another word for cold. And cold is something I never expect to be in July. Of course, I was in Wisconsin, just north of the "tension line" (the line that marks the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole), so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised.
On that chilly mid-July day last summer, I spent much of the morning ferry ride out to Washington Island
huddled up in my jean jacket, trying to soak up any ounce of warmth from the sun that I could. (I wasn't very successful.) But once the ferry docked and I boarded the Cherry Train for a tour of the island (led by Ed Livingston, a full-time resident who's been coming to the island since 1976), I completely forgot about the chills, so entranced was I with the island. It's the kind of place you assume only exists in movies and books, where quaintness and quirkiness spill out of every corner, from the local watering hole that still distributes a prohibition-era stomach tonic to the ramshackle drive-in where residents and visitors alike congregate for delicious burgers, fries and shakes.
In fact, I was so enraptured with Washington Island that a few days later, I made the trek back across the Death's Door passage that separates it from the Door County peninsula just to make sure everything I'd seen was real. My Cherry Train tour had been a great introduction to the island, but this time, I wanted to take things slower. I rented a bike at the ferry port and, after a quick stop for lunch at the Albatross Drive-In, pedaled past the pine-filled woods and sweet-smelling wheat fields in search of Schoolhouse Beach. My distaste for cold aside, I found myself unable to resist the crystal-clear waters of the pebbled beach and coaxed myself in for a quick but bracing swim. To warm up again, I climbed to the top of the Lookout Tower in Mountain Park for a vantage point of the whole island.
Pedaling back toward the ferry port, I stopped for a pint of Island Wheat Ale at Nelsen’s Hall, which appears to have changed little since it opened in 1899. It’s still the kind of unassuming place where you can wander in in shorts and a T-shirt, hair still damp from a chilly swim, and have a beer without anyone looking at you askance—in other words, my kind of place. In fact, the whole island was my kind of place—a friendly, quirky spot where I could easily imagine myself living one day. If only I weren’t so afraid of the cold, that is.
P.S. Want to see some of my favorite pictures from the trip? Click here