BLOG: Chasing the Door County Chill Away
I’m settling into my first winter up on Wisconsin’s thumb, and it’s true that after the fall colors tumble and blow away, so do many of the people. Businesses go into hibernation for the winter months. The quirky little villages on the bay side of the peninsula can seem like ghost towns. The grocery store cuts back its hours, and there’s not a hardware store open on a Sunday. Despite this seeming desolation, I am discovering that fall and winter social life is characterized by comfort and good cheer. In fact, the taste of the darker months I have gotten has made me eager for the temperature to drop and the snow to fly. A medley of my past few weekend adventures sheds light on just what I’m talking about.
Entertaining guests keeps Tim and me busy on our weekends, and one Friday I arrive home from work to greet Tim’s parents. After a long work week, cooking a meal is a daunting task, so we decide to take them to a Bailey’s Harbor pub that encompasses Door County’s winter coziness. Approaching the place on a blustery night, it glows from within, inviting us inside with everyone else on the peninsula, it seems.
We push the door into the warmth and maneuver shoulder-to-shoulder traffic to find the hostess. She confirms our spot on the list and a 40-minute wait. Undeterred and just happy to be in the warm, we shift back toward the bar and order local brews. Our wait is definitely longer than 40 minutes, but the time flies. While we catch up I am almost upended by a squeeze around my legs that takes me by surprise. The hugger is one of the kids from my program at the Northern Door Y who is picking up supper to go with her dad.
After a hearty fish fry, we walk up the road to the Door County Brewing Company. A similar homey vibe greets us, and though there is not an empty seat in the tasting room, we decide to stay and listen to some Wisconsin bluegrass. The crowd ranges from early-thirty-somethings all the way up to relaxed retirees. We stay for the band’s entire set, for which we are rewarded when they leave their miked performance area in the corner and play a soulful unplugged tune from the middle of the room. Listeners press inward like a group hug around the band. The feeling is that we’re sharing something here in this bright room far away from, well, everything. Our guests loved the experience.
Saturday: Goodbye to Fall
On a Saturday in late October, the Door County Fall 50 relay race is a raucous way to embrace the fall season. No matter the weather, hundreds of adults race on foot from the top of the peninsula to Sturgeon Bay. The day begins early at the drizzly starting line where I slap hands with friends and strangers alike. I am especially giddy to be teammates with my sister this year. She hails from Saint Paul and has never experienced the fifty-mile race. My team and I send off our first runner and pack ourselves into a silver Nissan bound for the first checkpoint.
About 1:30 in the afternoon it is my turn to run. I set off from Peninsula Park under a grey but not precipitous sky. My luck soon runs out. It begins to spit and then pour, but the camaraderie of the event pulls me through. I spend the second half of my nine-mile slog getting to know another runner from Green Bay. We laughingly weave our way through traffic in Fish Creek and encourage one another up the notorious hairpin hill.
Now soaked, the rest of my chilly afternoon is spent cheering my teammates in the wind. Finally, around four o’clock we cross the finish line together and are rewarded by endless pizza, beer, and great company. The wind is still howling outside, but underneath the massive enclosed party tent I reconnect with running friends, some of whom I met at the race last year. We shake out our stiff legs on the dance floor. My sister makes plans to come back next year.
Sunday: Footpaths and Football
Our guests usually leave early Sunday to get started on the long trek back down the thumb. When the weather is fair, we like to walk our young pooch, Riga, at one of the land trusts, preserved areas sprinkled over the peninsula. The paths through the Door County Land Trusts are usually less populated than those in the state parks. When we can, we try different locations for fresh views of the county. This past weekend a doe and pursuant buck intersected our walk, mightily confusing Riga, who thought they ought to play with her.
Later this winter we’ll change our Sunday recreation to cross country skiing, if we have enough snow, that is. I’m looking forward to Bay Shore Outfitters’ seasonal skiing or snowshoeing excursion. In the summer, Tim and I join the group in our kayaks, and we’ll catch up with paddling friends on skis in the winter. The excursion will meet for a half-day’s worth of winter gliding or traipsing, usually followed by beer and a meal.
In the afternoon Tim and I head to one of our many favorite pubs to watch the Packers play. We’ve tried many on the peninsula and have found that to get a decent seat or table at any of them, one must arrive well before kickoff. An older, well-established bar is best, one with dark woodwork and Packer paraphernalia on the walls. Of course the clientele are most important. The green and gold are always well-represented, though Bears fans are not uncommon. It’s a jovial atmosphere, even when Green Bay falls behind. At half time we order game-day grub, like battered cheese curds or a homemade pretzel. We celebrate or lament the plays with our fellow diners and our server. Though I know this same scene takes place in taverns throughout the state, it always seems coziest in the building I’m in.
Door County winters are just as impressive as summer and fall, and natives already know how to pass the long cold months. Winter festivals in the great outdoors, Sunday game days in pubs, and holiday parties at breweries and restaurants are just a few of the events that will keep me busy. And when it’s just too cold to leave the house, sipping warm Glögg and playing Pinochle is nice, too.