The shipwrecked remains of the J.E. Gilmore, the A.P. Nichols, and the Forest lay in the chilly waters below the chugging diesel propellers of our ferry. This is Death’s Door, the historic passage between Lake Michigan and Green Bay where the lives of many a Great Lakes sailor were dashed across the rocks. That’s the Deadliest Catch version. In reality, with today’s summery blue sky, calm seas and temperatures in the lower 80’s it’s as harmless as a hot tub. A couple we talked with compared this vacation fishing hamlet to Maine. However, Maine has lobsters and corn, Door County (the thumb of Wisconsin that juts into Lake Michigan) has perch and everything that can possibly be baked, stirred or stuffed with famous Door County cherries. In winter, the same gales and ice capped waves that claimed the Edmund Fitzgerald still challenge the heartiest great lake sailor. Today, the only thing that might kill me is the sound of the screaming kids two benches behind us on the ferry.
“Should we take the ferry to the island?” The answer to this question while planning a bike ride, no matter the body of water or the ferry, should always be an unequivocal yes, even if you’d like to throw a few brats overboard. We rode 10 miles of skinny cherry tree back roads from Sister Bay to the Northport Ferry dock. If you’d like to duplicate this ride, look at a map. There’s only one way to get to the ferry without riding on Highway 42. I think I looked at the map four times the whole day.
As we rolled down Cottage Street near Gills Rock with sneak peeks of Death’s Door between the million dollar lake houses, I asked “You know what’s wrong with this ride?” “Not a GD thing,” my wife replied with a quirky smile. Sort of an inside joke, it’s a favorite exchange between us and a few friends when bike rides are perfect. The ferry to Washington Island takes credit cards and about a half hour to cross Death’s Door. Till now, I had no idea where the name Door County came from. Obviously someone was bright enough not to call this beautiful peninsula Death’s Door County.
As the ferry reversed the engines to line up the gate with the dock, Washington Harbor came into view with brightly painted boat houses and work sheds dotting the shoreline. In architecture, this is still a fishing village. Bikes are first to roll off. Hundreds of butterflies danced on the bushes outside the Visitors Center. Are you kidding me? We planned a circumnavigation of the island which featured a 10-12 mile route past the house with the Catfish sculpture and up to Jacksonport, which had equally beautiful views of Rock Island, a state park which doesn’t allow any vehicles, not even bikes. Nearly 45 minutes passed before we saw a single car or another soul. After snapping a few photos from the Jacksonport pier, we headed the 10 miles or so toward the shops and restaurants on Main Street. On the way, and on foot, we climbed the 200 slippery algae covered steps of the Mountain Park fire tower for a 360 view of the island. The brochure said 184 steps. I counted 200 even. Maybe my cycling shoes threw me off. We grabbed a delicious deli lunch at the Danish Mill before taking the ferry back to the mainland and another 10 miles back to Sister Bay.
Even on high end race bikes and only a 45 or so mile pancake flat ride, it still took us more than six hours door to door. When you knock on Death’s Door there’s no reason to push the pace.