My Dad’s family has been going to Madeline Island since… well since the settlers took it from the Native Americans. My first trip up there was while I was in my Mom’s belly and I have only missed one year since. I have so many memories attached to this place that it feels like it is a part of me. Madeline Island is (what else) an island that is part of a group islands referred to as the Apostle Islands. They originally named it this because they believed there were only 12 islands, but it was later discovered that there are, I believe, 22.
When I was younger, my family and I would make it up 2 times a year (my Mom would get an extra trip with a close group of really fantastic women friends every October the lucky duck), once for 4th of July weekend where we could watch the fireworks with the rest of the locals and vacationers off of the docks. A barge would take off from the island and we would all “ooh” and “ahh” at the colorful display that lit up the night sky and was reflected in the dark waters below. Maybe it was just that I was young coupled with the magic of this island, but it was something special to be a part of. The second time we’d head up was typically for 2 weeks in August. My aunts, uncles, and cousins would all split a large cabin and spend the time doing absolutely whatever we felt like doing.
It is about a 4 hour drive from Saint Paul, MN to Bayfield, Wisconsin which has a quaint and lovely town of it’s own. My parents and I would usually get up at 6 am, pack the car and the dog and head out around 7 am. We’d discuss whether or not to take the scenic route or to just get up there as fast as we could. We usually decided on the scenic route because we enjoyed stopping in Spooner, Wisconsin for food and a stretch and a browse around the town. When you make the last turn that brings you toward Bayfield, you come in on a winding road where if you take quick peeks to the right you can get glimpses of Lake Superior and the Apostle Islands through the trees. This is when you should roll down the window and breath in the changing air. This is when you start getting all giddy and excited.
As you come in to Bayfield, you are on a steep hill looking down the main street and at the end of the street are the glittering waters of Lake Superior and Madeline Island just beyond. We normally like to park and meander. There are many wonderful shops and local restaurants to peruse. We also like to get the perishable groceries at the local supermarket and then we head down to the loading dock. Here is one of my fondest first memories of the island. When you arrive at the landing, you purchase your round-trip ticket to Madeline Island. You are then ushered into a line of other cars where you anxiously await…. the ferry. As a child (or an adult with a free spirit) this is one of the best experiences. The ferry crew guide you on in your vehicle and once the ship is loaded you are free to get out the car and roam around. It is about a 30 minutes ride from Bayfield to Madeline Island and the anticipation mounts as you watch the island get closer.
Once you dock on the island, you drive right off the boat into the town which is called La Pointe. You go and check in for your rental, get the keys, and you’re off. You tool your way around at a leisurely pace and gaze out the window as you soak in the fact that you are finally in your own little pocket of peace.
We usually unload all of our food and belongings, stroll down by the water’s edge, and then eat dinner in town. There are several restaurants and pubs in town all with their own histories (many which include a fire at one time or another). But one of the best places for after hours fun is Tom’s Burnt Down cafe.
This little gem is an outdoor bar with a tent covering a portion of it and a fire pit in one corner. It has live music, drinks of course, lots of locals and vacationers alike, and funny quotes covering the walls. Might I recommend that if you decide to bike in for the evening, that you don’t forget a flashlight or a bright bike light as you’ll have an interesting time trying to get home… from personal experience. But that’s another story.
On Madeline Island you can lounge all day on one of the beaches, you can kayak, sail, cliff jump, hike, take in very old burial grounds/grave sites and other historical places. And in town, there is a museum where you can learn all about La Pointe and Madeline Island. Let me take a minute here to tell of a rainy day. One of my cousins and I were bored bored bored. We were at an age (she being 13, me being 11) where all we cared about was tanning and boys. On one of the days of our trip it was pouring rain all day and was not supposed to let up until the following day. We decided to take the museum tour. On the museum tour, there is a movie that they play that tells of the island’s history. It has a theme song. That day we probably saw that movie 15 times. I can still remember that song.
“Rowing to old La Pointe, rowing to old La Pointe. Summer is here and we’ve had our share, the ferry will carry us over there. We’ve missed the boat, but we don’t care. We’ll dance with the ghosts of old New France on the isssssland. On the rocks, on the shores of old La Pointe.”
Another thing to mention is that my great-great-great grandfather is featured in the museum. Which was neat to see. Most people think that this place will make for a fun and relaxing trip, but don’t realize the profound effect the island can have on you, it can be a truly emotional experience. There is something truly magical about this place. I am so in love with this island, it is my little sanctuary. Whenever things get difficult. I only have to think of this place and it helps calm and center me. When leaving the island we usually eat breakfast in town and sadly board the ferry back to Bayfield. This time you have a pang in your heart as you watch the island get farther away, but tell yourself you’ll be back. When we reach Bayfield, we typically browse around the shops again, pick out fudge from this incredible candy shop, and then get lunch. Leaving is always difficult, and I ache to return the second we leave Bayfield.