story by Judy Russell & photos by Heidi Hodges
St. Louis, Ireland and Door County were on my bucket list that summer and fall.
Breast cancer wasn’t.
But I was determined not to be deprived of getting to these destinations. A caring medical team, supportive friends and prayer made this a reality. So after surgery, radiation treatments and a pilgrimage to Ireland, I headed for the Door for what I deemed my “real vacation.”
As a single, never-married woman in her 70s, I revel in doing my own thing in Door County. As a free-spirit, I enjoy not having to follow someone else’s agenda or schedule. In fact, my 2017 autumn getaway will be my ninth annual early-October stay here.
I was an autumn baby, and the fall season, my favorite, on the peninsula is a treasure of color, fresh produce and walking or hiking excursions on crisp mornings.
Travel is safe here for singles, and I relish the opportunities to engage in conversation with the shopper next to me in Fish Creek; the ice cream lover in line with me in Ephraim, Sister Bay or at the Schopf’s Dairy View Country Store at Carlsville; or the apple lover doing a taste test next to me at one of the many orchards and markets I visit.
We live in a world where more and more people have never done anything that wasn’t organized by someone else. And, I admit, I’m among the throngs who have joined a tour. Since high school, I’ve taken many group tours—by plane, bus, cruise ship and train, across the U.S. and Canada, and nine times to Ireland. And, yes, I’ve taken one-day bus outings to the Door. Tours are a good choice for those who have no other way to visit Door County, who want to travel with friends or who don’t want to bother with the details of travel.
Although I don’t have a detailed schedule on these recent solo visits, some musts are part of every autumn getaway. Reservations for a fish boil and for at least one theatrical production top the reminders and notes in the 5-x-3-inch memo book that travels with me. I’ve been a devotee of fish boils since my childhood days in Green Bay, when an occasional day-long family excursion to Door County always included the tradition.
As an adult traveler, fish boils have taken me to the White Gull Inn and Pelletier’s in Fish Creek, the Viking in Ellison Bay and the Old Post Office restaurant in Ephraim. In recent years, I’ve been drawn as a single to the Old Post Office fish boil, where the employee taking my reservation seems to remember me October to October and I get assigned to the dining room two-seater table (by the side door) that I seem to have adopted.
This brings opportunities to meet other singles who sometimes join me (with an OK from both diners). Last October, I shared my table with another Judy, a retired public health worker from Madison. We found we have several similar interests. She still comes to Door County in autumn, walking with the aid of a cane because of arthritis and back issues, but determined to be here.
Fall season productions of Peninsula Players and Northern Sky Theater catch my attention as soon as they release their schedules. I’m amused when I go to the Northern Sky ticket office in Ephraim to make a reservation and they can tell me exactly where I sat last year at certain venues. And I like the coziness of the Gibraltar Town Hall in Fish Creek when Northern Sky uses that smaller venue, as it did in 2016 for the production of “And if Elected” (loved it!). And what’s more peaceful and beautiful than watching the sun set on the water while sitting before a bonfire before curtain call at the Peninsula Players complex?
Since my lifestyle doesn’t include a lot of home cooking, another must is perusing the shelves at Bea’s Ho-Made Products in Ellison Bay for food items ready to eat or simple to prepare. After reading about the Dandelion Jelly at Bea’s, I searched for it last October. Alas, a sign was there, but the jelly wasn’t—“Due to the overwhelming response to our recent article in Door County Magazine, we have completely sold out of our Dandelion Jelly. Our unique jelly will return to our shelves in the spring when the dandelions have popped forth. Thank you!”
Another must is to pop in at the Rusty Rabbit Shop in Ephraim to greet my high school classmate Helen Auchter Cain (St. Joseph Academy, Green Bay, class of 1958). Helen and her husband operate the shop six months of the year. My getaway also is timed to coincide with the autumn version of the Amish Quilt & Craft Show at Jacksonport. And don’t forget the thrift stores!
Perhaps I’m one of the few visitors who regularly stops at Nelson’s Hardware in Fish Creek. Hardware stores fascinate me, and I often find a Green Bay Packers souvenir there that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
And oh! I’m addicted to those almond batons in the bakery case at Door County Coffee & Tea at Carlsville. And I never order the Swedish pancakes at Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay without a side of Swedish meatballs.
My budget and preferences lean toward simpler lodging. A clean, welcoming place, with perhaps a small fridge and microwave, is sufficient. My autumn lodging has been in Fish Creek, Sister Bay and Egg Harbor. Candice, a single senior friend of mine from Oshkosh, said this year she’s staying in a yurt when she visits Door County.
“What’s a yurt?” I asked. It’s best described as a circular, portable tent (dwelling) of Mongolian tradition. “You can rent them as fancy as one’s budget allows,” she explained. “Electricity is pretty standard. I am staying in a basic—no inside plumbing, but there is electricity and beds, sofa, WiFi.” (Yes, there are yurts in Door County!)
Each autumn getaway prompts me to do something I never tried before—like walking along rocks at Cave Point or taking a tour of the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse—or going some other place I’ve yet to explore. One never runs out of such choices in Door County.
I need to do more of that because life comes stamped with an expiration date! We just don’t know when that will be, so this autumn, when I get ready for bed each night during my stay in Door County, my challenge will be this—“Judy, get up tomorrow and go do something you’ve never done before.”