national lampoon's wisconsin road trip

This time I have a real excuse for not posting recently, as opposed to the usual "my blog is boring and I don't want to look at it" excuse. I used 3 of my measly 6 vacation days to go to Door County, which is that peninsula that sticks out into Lake Michigan north of Green Bay. That's right, folks, for my big vacation of the year I went all the way to Wisconsin. I'm still not technologically advanced enough to own a digital camera, so no pictures, but it was beautiful. The fall colors were at their peak, and the weather was perfect the entire time (except for a downpour Monday morning, but more on that later).

Before we left, we had to decide which car to take. My 1997 Ford Ranger, which starts without complaint when it's 26 below zero but which eats gas to the tune of $55/tank, or Nate's 1988 Toyota Corolla, which is small and gas-efficient but which has been slowly dying ever since he got it (and which has been known to strand us before)? Nate said "Well, I think it's safe to take my car."

That's called "foreshadowing," by the way. You probably learned about it in eighth-grade English class.

So we took Nate's car. Its transmission was already halfway out -- we couldn't use first or third gear, and by the time we arrived at our cabin we had lost fifth as well, meaning that we had to putt-putt down the highway at about 55 mph. But we got there.

We spent the first evening in our cabin, since we got there too late to do much of anything (there's virtually no night life in Egg Harbor, go figure). We picked up groceries and wine and had a nice dinner. The next morning we started our vacation for real; first we got huge cups of coffee at the Chocolate Chicken, then took our coffee and wandered around by the bay, took silly pictures, climbed trees, browsed in the rows of tiny shops, and generally did vacationy things. When we got hungry we picked up rosemary olive oil bread and three kinds of cheese (and another bottle of wine) and went back to our cabin for a picnic. I had too much wine and started making sweeping pronouncements along the lines of "This is the best vacation ever, like, EVER."

Later we wanted to go back into town, so we got in the car and made it about ten feet. The car started sputtering and felt like it was caught on something, like we were trying to roll over a log, but of course there was no log. Nate said he guessed it had to die sometime. He coaxed it back into its parking space by our cabin and we walked up to the camp store to see about using a phone book. Of course it was Friday night and there weren't any mechanics around, but we did get a local rental place to pick us up and bring us to Sturgeon Bay to rent a car. The guy who runs the rental place turned out to be -- wait for it -- a BIKE RACER. Small world, I guess. So we had bike racing to talk about all the way down to Sturgeon Bay (or "Sturge," as one retail clerk called it), and by the time we got there we were wishing we'd brought the bikes.

We picked up our car, a silverish Taurus, and drove back to our cabin; by this time it was again too late to do anything in town. We did try to go to a coffee shop in "Sturge" but it was already closed. Like I said, a little short on night life.

Saturday and Sunday we ignored the car issue and went on with our vacation. Sister Bay, one of the towns further up the peninsula, has a fall festival in mid-October every year, and the last time we went to Door County for our vacation (two years ago) we ran the five-mile race that's part of the festival. This year we were going to do the race, but neither of us has been running at ALL, and I wasn't sure I could run five miles at any speed, never mind fast. So we didn't go. We went up to the festival though, where they were serving things like Norwegian potato stew alongside the usual festival fare. For some reason the Sister Bay Fall Festival is billed as one of the biggest events of the season, which it might well be, but it certainly isn't big. It took longer to find parking than it did to see the whole festival. But all of Door County is a huge tourist trap, so hundreds and hundreds of yuppies from Chicago cram themselves into the streets and stand in line for half an hour to pay for their soggy brats, and the people-watching is ultimately the most interesting thing the festival has to offer.

We drank a lot of coffee and a lot of wine and the time went way too fast. Monday morning we had to do something about the car, since we both had to be back at work on Tuesday (today). By this point Nate had decided that it wasn't worth trying to get a new transmission -- remember this car is an '88, and probably worth less than the new transmission would have cost. So he called a junkyard that was willing to tow the car for free in exchange for keeping the car. If we could bring the car to them they would pay $50 for it. We packed all our stuff into the rental car, running back and forth from the cabin in the pouring rain, and turned in our keys. The junkyard guy would show up to tow the Toyota away later that afternoon. The rental car, though, was a local rental, so our plan was to find a one-way rental from a national chain in Green Bay, drive both that and the Taurus back to Sturgeon Bay to return the Taurus, move all our stuff from the Taurus to the one-way car, and drive the new rental home where we could drop it off at the Minneapolis airport.

By the time we drove to Green Bay, found a Chevy Cavalier to rent, and got back to Sturgeon Bay with it, Nate had decided that he wanted to try and drive the Toyota to the junkyard to save the $50. So we went back to the cabin to get the Toyota. My plan was to drive behind him in the rented Cavalier with my hazards on, like the cars that accompany wide-load trucks down the highway. We figured if the car couldn't make it to the junkyard, we'd leave it at the side of the road and just call the junkyard back to tell them where it was. But once the Toyota got past 10-15 mph it ran surprisingly well. So well, in fact, that I started to suspect that Nate would want to try and drive it to Minneapolis. When we got to the junkyard he suggested exactly that. He would drive the Toyota; I would drive the Chevy behind him, and if the Toyota died we would abandon it and take the Chevy the rest of the way. By now it was 5:30 PM and we weren't going to get home until midnight ANYWAY, even without having to putt-putt down the highway at 55 mph. But if we could get the Toyota home we could probably get more than $50 for it.

So off we went. We hadn't even made it to Green Bay when second gear gave out, leaving only fourth. Stoplights were terrible. You try starting a manual transmission car in fourth gear and see how it goes. The car sputtered and jerked, didn't go much of anywhere, and started spewing acrid black smoke. Other drivers started getting irritated with me for not going around him. But we made it past Green Bay. We made it all the way to 300th Street between Boyd and Cadott. (Never heard of Boyd, Wisconsin? What a surprise!) Just past Boyd, fourth gear gave out. I suppose we could have tried driving the rest of the way in reverse, but, well....

But that's what cell phones are for. We called the Chippewa County sheriff, who gave us a list of salvage yards that might take it, and eventually we reached one (remember this is about 10:30 PM by now). Of course we had just filled the tank half an hour before, and this tow truck guy wasn't going to take an even trade like the one in Sturgeon Bay, so instead of getting $50 for the car we paid $95 for towing plus the tank of gas, but at least we tried. And at least we knew. Now there's no room for "well, maybe we should have tried, it COULD have made it back."

So we left the Toyota on the side of 300th St just north of Hwy 29, Nate got into the rented Chevy, and we drove home at a nice normal speed. And now we are a one-car household. This wouldn't be such a problem if I didn't work in freaking Woodbury... but I digress. Everyone knows I hate my job, I don't have to blog about it.

Oh, and we did not go to any fish boils. Unlike Sascha, we already knew (from our previous Door County trip) that a fish boil was something to be avoided, so we did not get tricked into it. I guess Ashland does not sell postcards with photos of the infamous fish boil at every gas station like Door County does. Sorry, Sascha. Now ya know.


Blogger Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

Lord that was funny! I almost blew a Lifesavers Wint-O-Green mint out my nose... which would have really hurt.

10/18/2005 4:56 PM  
Anonymous Dan I. said...

You pushed it way too far with that car. Brings back memories though....

One time after a weekend of climbing at Devils Lake State Park, my car broke down outside of Menomonie. We were able to park it at a highway rest stop, and my friend and I then tried to bum a ride from somebody back to the Cities. You should've seen how people rolled up their windows when they saw us coming. We finally found someone, but we ended up spending the entire night at the stupid rest stop.

Also, Door county is a nice place to go in "off season" Dec-March. You can get some really swank accomodations for great prices. My wife and I had a place with a hot tub and a see-through fireplace. Some good XC skiing too.

10/21/2005 3:32 PM  
Blogger annie said...

What is a see-through fireplace?

10/27/2005 2:51 PM  
Anonymous dan I. said...

A "see-through" fireplace is simply one that sits in the middle of a room, rather than on an exterior wall. You can thus see through the fireplace from one side of the room to see the other side of the room. You usually need a pretty big room to pull this off.

10/28/2005 3:14 PM  

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