Madeline Island: Ferry Rides, Fall Colors, and Big Bay State Park

Hello friends,

It has been a while since I last wrote and a lot has happened since my encounter with an outlaw on the St. Croix River last summer. Since then, my friends and I did our annual cabin trip to Wisconsin, my brother and I harvested morel mushrooms, my boyfriend and I went camping up on the North Shore, and many more fun things. Most importantly though, I completed my first and second semesters of graduate school, and am now working two jobs: (1) as a graduate research assistant for the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) and (2) as an interpretive guide for The Bell Museum, the Natural History Museum of Minnesota. It has been quite the summer!

Regarding my blog writing hiatus, it is a result of writing A LOT for graduate school. The first semester, I wrote a 60-page annotated bibliography—most of which was single-spaced—and in my second semester, I wrote a 50-page program evaluation report, a 30-page qualitative study report, and co-wrote a 120-page portfolio for a conflict management class. This is why I have not written in my blog for a long while. Overall, the graduate student experience has been great—I even aced all my classes—though it has had its ups and downs. It is safe to say that graduate school is not for the faint of heart. Perhaps one of these days, I’ll write about my experiences in graduate school, but for now, let’s focus on a trip I did last Fall with two wonderful ladies.

Madeline Island: Ferry Rides, Fall Colors, and Big Bay State Park

Well, let’s talk about something fun I did during the Fall of 2017. Luckily, while in school, my schedule is pretty flexible. Flexible enough to take a long weekend to join two other awesome ladies to Madeline Island, Wisconsin.

Photo: This is a shot from the ferry ride. We had arrived just as the sun was setting.

My friends, Nina and Sarah, and I had made plans to go to Madeline Island and Sarah, the teacher that she is, chose MEA weekend (a holiday for teachers). Sarah drove, Nina set-up the accommodations (Airbnb), and I bought the food. We left in the afternoon on Friday and started our 6-hour drive (including the ferry ride) from downtown St. Paul. The Twin Cities were in peak Fall color, so as we drove up north the colors looked fantastic. The further we drove, the more bare trees there were, but fortunately that October had stayed mostly dry. As a result, there were many oaks, birch/aspen, and maple leaves that left bursts of orange, yellow, and red to guide us north.

Photo: Nina, Me, and Sarah. This was before getting on the ferry in Bayfield, WI.

When we arrived in Bayfield, WI (where the Madeline Island Ferry resides), it was near sunset. And, as seen in the photo above, the sunset was beautiful as we crossed the small section of Lake Superior separating Wisconsin mainland to La Pointe on Madeline Island. Watching the sunset and feeling the crisp wind blowing through my hair was rejuvenating after such a long car ride. When I closed my eyes, it felt like being in San Francisco again when crossing the bay to reach Sausalito.

IMG_1700Photo: Me posing on the ferry with the sunset in the background

We arrived at La Pointe at sundown and from the ferry landing, we were able to walk to our Airbnb in 5-minutes flat. We saw a restaurant, Cafe Seiche, on our way there and decided to treat ourselves to a nice meal. After our meal, we walked up Chebomnicon Rd towards our Airbnb and saw a building glowing in purple and blue in the distance. As we got closer, it was evident it wasn’t a “building,” but more of a “built out of whatever someone could find” structure. The sign entrance said it was called Tom’s Burned Down Cafe. We walked in and found a handful of folks enjoying the brisk evening with beers and wine in hand. I first explored the structure and then I found a fireplace with a stoked fire. I sat on a barrel placed in front of it and let the warmth warm my body. Eventually, I laid down on a nearby board, while Nina and Sarah were chatting nearby, enjoying my quiet time under the structure’s glowing blue-purple light.

IMG_1702Photo: Tom’s Burned Down Cafe

The following morning, I was the first awake. I had slept on the couch in the living area and enjoyed the relaxing sounds of Lake Superior’s waves crashing into the not-so-distant shore. When getting up, I realized you could see the Lake Superior shore from our window. Knowing this, I made a pot of coffee, poured myself a cup, and then sat by the window watching and listening to the crashing waves. I could also see folks below preparing for a farmer’s market.

IMG_1709Photo: Sarah and Nina looking out to Big Bay Lagoon that connects to Big Bay State Park.

After everyone awoke and had eaten, we decided to go to the nearby Big Bay State Park. We agreed to enter the state park via the Big Bay Sand Pit and Bog Natural Area. There were no parking fees and you also got fantastic views of Lake Superior as you walked into the state park’s boundary.

IMG_1731Photo: Sarah and Nina walking on the boardwalk towards the Big Bay State Park boundary

IMG_1743
Photo: A view of Big Bay LagoonIMG_1783Photo: Sarah and Nina walking along Lake Superior Shore

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Big Bay State Park and it’s nearby State Natural Area. The combination of lakeshore views, secluded forest paths, and well-maintained boardwalk trails made it a well worth trip. Some of the highlights were: stopping by a lookout point to Big Bay Lagoon and then getting a yoga lesson from Sarah; bumping into a family that Nina knew while on the trail (what a small world!); and, of course, listening to the crashing of waves while on our hike. The final highlight was listening to music that Sarah made when she was in her early twenties and then playing in the freshly fallen leaves.

IMG_1800Photo: Nina in a yellow sweater throwing golden-colored leaves in the air.

IMG_1739Photo: Molly looking out to Lake Superior

After a nice long hike, we returned to La Pointe. Sarah and Nina wanted to continue exploring, so they bid me farewell at the Airbnb and went out on the town. I took the opportunity to take a well-deserved nap and then graded a few student papers. It was nice to have some quiet Molly-time (the introvert that I am). After, I made dinner for everyone with acorn squash, rice, and other veggies. It was very tasty! The rest of the evening was spent chatting in the living room and listening to CDs.

All of us awoke early the next morning because we knew we had to catch the morning ferry back to Wisconsin mainland. We made a hearty breakfast, packed our bags, and then bid farewell to our Airbnb. Before leaving the island, we had to wait in a line of cars for a while (about 30-45 minutes) before being let onto the ferry. Though it was a bit overcast, it was still a beautiful day to go on a ferry ride. I made sure to enjoy every moment of it before arriving at the mainland.

Video: Riding the Ferry from Madeline Island to mainland Wisconsin

We left Bayfield, WI by the late morning and decided to take the scenic way back to St. Paul, MN. On the way, we decided to stop by the Apostle Islands National Seashore. I was excited about this decision because I hadn’t been back to the Apostle Islands Sea Caves since my trip in the winter of 2014 where my brother and I joined friends from the Philadelphia Community Farm (now called “Buttermilk Farms”). I was looking forward to seeing what this area looks like when not covered in snow and ice.

IMG_1811Photo: Lakeshore Trail – a combination of boardwalks and dirt trails

To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by how rugged the trail was. It gave me a north woods vide, reminding me of my many hikes on the Superior Hiking Trail (Hammock camping and Gooseberry). The trail was pretty muddy from the rains over the weekend, but thankfully we all were determined to see the Apostle Island Sea Caves. With the rain came the inevitable falling of leaves. The trail was carpeted in gold, orange, and red leaves.

IMG_1813
Photo: Sarah posing on the boardwalk

IMG_1819
Photo: One of the many Apostle Island Sea Caves, but seen from above

We hiked a good 2 miles to finally reach the first Apostle Island Sea Cave. Of course, on the mainland trail, you can only see the caves from above, but they still brought back memories because I remembered seeing this cave in 2014. Though, in 2014, I was in the cave looking up to the cliffs above. After reaching the first cave, we decided to turn back so that we could get back to the cities at a reasonable hour.

IMG_1827Photo: Molly on the edge of a cliff, posing with the sea caves below

Well, that was my trip. Overall, it was a well-needed escape from graduate school. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. I hope to write soon about my next adventures. I will be going to San Francisco to visit my older sister this month. Perhaps I will write about that?

Tell next time,

-Molly

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