Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Door County Camping Trip

We went on our annual fall camping trip this past weekend.

For the last few years, we have been going down to the area of Starved Rock State Park, southwest of Chicago, right here in Illinois. But this year we wanted to try someplace new, and made the 4-hour drive up north to Door County in Wisconsin.

Door County is well known as a popular summer retreat for many Chicagoans, but this was our first visit. It is famous for its woods, waters, charming towns, fish boils, and throngs of Chicagoans who visit.

I was especially looking forward to the trip, particularly as it followed a busy week of work that had me flying to Mexico City for a few days. And though Kai asked me what hotel I stayed at down there during my “vacation,” rest assured that the business trip was no vacation.

And so I was glad to put all that behind me as we drove up through Wisconsin.

Our destination was Peninsula State Park, which is located on the beautiful shores of Green Bay (the bay, not the town), about three-quarters of the way up into Door Peninsula.

We were able to pitch the tent before it got dark, then started a campfire and grilled hamburgers before roasting marshmallows.

Here you can see Kai’s attempt to roast two marshmallows at once resulted in one being burnt to a crisp while the other not roasted at all.

Though on his next attempt he was much more successful and he was able to enjoy s’mores.

We were all in good spirits the next morning.

Kai found a tree at our campsite that was perfect to climb on.

Our plan for the morning was to go bike riding. Last week, I could only show you pictures of Kai riding his bike in a parking lot, as we were not able to actually ride on any trails. But with many beautiful trails at Peninsula, my wife and I were looking forward to a great morning riding through the forest.

But don’t bother scrolling down to see a photo of us bicycling. There is no such picture.

Shortly after we started riding, we came to an area where we could get a good view of the bay. My wife stopped and got off her bike.

Kai was riding behind her. He started yelling that he could not stop, and leaped off his bike while it was still moving faster than it should have to be jumping off. He tumbled to the asphalt surface, scraping his knee and doing more serious damage to his psyche.

His previous bike had foot brakes, and he apparently was not yet used to the hand brakes on his new bike. Admittedly, they are a little difficult for his small hands to squeeze. Apparently, he did not think he could use his brakes so he jumped off instead.

I cleaned the blood off his knee and told him that he would be fine. He did not think so.


I asked him to practice squeezing his hand brakes. He said he could not squeeze it, though it looked to me like he wasn’t trying at all.

I tried to get him to get back on the bike so that I could teach him how to put his feet down to slow down if he needed to, rather than leaping off the bike.


My wife and I tried to reason with him, telling him that he was able to ride so well the week before. It was just one fall but he knows how to ride.

Eventually, after much screaming, most of it on his part, he got back on the bike and we rode a little farther. But every time we came to a small hill, he stopped and got off the bike. We finally decided to ride back to the tent and forget about bike riding for this weekend.

None of us were feeling good. My wife and I were certainly let down, to put it mildly, from our hopes of a fun morning on the trails. Kai was feeling drained from his own emotional trauma with the bike.

At that point, I was wondering if we would have any fun at all that weekend.

After a short break, we drove into the nearest town, Fish Creek, where we walked around town and browsed a couple of shops.

After a lunch of fish sandwiches and chili, we drove to see more of the area, going all the way to the tip of Door Peninsula to where the ferry departs for Washington Island.

We made it back to the State Park in time to go to the beach. The water was cold, but Kai never seems to mind that. We waded out to the end of the roped off area, but even out there it was still too shallow to actually swim.

Still, Kai enjoyed splashing around.

We grilled up chicken for dinner, and quickly ate it and put everything away so that we could drive up to Sven’s Bluff to watch the sun set from up high.

Alas, by that time, the clouds were rolling in. The view was still great from up high, but there was no sunset to be seen.

That night, it rained quite heavily for a few hours. A bit of water leaked into our tent, mostly on my side, but we stayed dry for the most part.

The most remarkable thing was that the boy who is normally afraid of all storms when he is in the safety of our house had no anxiety about being in a tent during this storm.

The next morning, after breakfast, we drove around to other areas of the State Park.

We had some great views from up high. A few trees were turning color and we imagined how spectacular the sights would be in a couple of weeks.

The most popular destination at the Park is Eagle Tower, a 75-foot structure that towers over Green Bay.

We climbed to the top and enjoyed the great views.

And then worked our way down the narrow stairs.

We went back to our campsite and packed up our still-wet tent and other gear.

And then we drove over to Bailey’s Harbor, a little town on the Lake Michigan side of the Peninsula.

We browsed a few more shops, had lunch near the shore of the lake, and stopped now and then to take in the charms of this town.

It was time to get back home.

Things didn’t all go according to plan. I guess I should have learned by now that they often don’t.

But looking back on the weekend, we still had a lot of good times. Enough to make us want to return to Door County again. We want to see more of the area. We want to experience a fish boil.

And we want to ride more of the bike trails.

Maybe next year.


  1. What a beautiful area! I can see why it is a popular destination. Lake Michigan is gorgeous..haven't been in quite a while!

    Yay for s'mores! haha...

    I want you to experience a fish boil, too...just so I can see exactly what that is!

    1. There are not a lot of places that beautiful in the midwest, at least in Illinois. One person we met from Wisconsin said that it was his favorite state park in the state, so it is popular with the locals, too.

      The s'mores were good. Ha!

      My understanding on the fish boil is that they bring a huge vat of water to a boil, put in chunks of fish, potatoes and onions, and boil it all up. After awhile the oil from the fish rise to the top, and then they light it on fire and the whole cauldron goes up in flames and boils over. Some say that you haven't really experienced Door County until you've been to a fish boil.

  2. A very nice trip! In defense of Kai...when I had gotten my son's first bike...the hand brakes were too hard to operate for a child's hand. The brake actuators were too short. Leverage was almost nonexistent for a small hand.

    What I had done was to loosen the cable to have as much play in the actuators. Later, when we got our son a mountain bike...he really loved riding then. The brakes worked well...and the shifting added a new dimension to the experience.

    I can only imagine how beautiful that area is in full Autumn colors. I am sure by next year...Kai will really enjoy riding.

    1. The hand brakes are really difficult for the small hands of a child. I watched some YouTube videos last night to try to learn how to loosen them up... didn't have time to try it, and I'm not sure I have all the tools, but I'll have to do it before we go riding again.

      I'm sure Door County will be beautiful with the full Autumn colors, though I'm guessing it will be very crowded on those weekends.


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