On the northern tip of the Door County peninsula, the waters of Green Bay meet those of Lake Michigan creating a particularly dangerous stretch of water known to the region’s first French explorers as Porte des Morts Passage or the “Way to the Door of the Dead” (aka Death’s Door). The bottom is littered with hundreds of shipwrecks dating back centuries. Native American tales of canoes disappearing here go back millennia. Thankfully, I’ll be exploring the area by land.
My journey begins in October, 200 miles south of the perilous passage that gave Door County its name. I’m in the American motorcycle mecca that is Milwaukee, WI, the birthplace of Harley-Davidson. And it’s no coincidence that I’m here to pick up one of the local breed. House of Harley, the historic Milwaukee Harley-Davidson dealer, hooks me up with a 2014 Road King rental—I’m ready to roll.
Traversing the Sixth Street Viaduct, I’m treated to an expansive view of Milwaukee’s vibrant downtown. Soon, though, the sights and sounds of the city are replaced by the rolling dairy land that Wisconsin is so famous for. Highway 43 takes me north from the city before I wind first inland then eastward, but always north, through beautiful farmland. The air is still warm even though the leaves have begun to display their brightest fall colors. The High Output Twin Cam 103 engine sings the song of its people as I take in its homeland.
As my route takes me closer to Lake Michigan, I notice something interesting. Much of the farmland I’m traveling through seems to extend all the way to the water’s edge. I’m used to waterfronts being heavily developed, generally to make houses for those who can afford such a pricey view. But here there seems to be no such desire as fields of corn and soybean take precedence over opulent homes.
I find my way over to 42 as I roll through Manitowoc. Just outside of town, the lake makes a triumphant return accompanied by a refreshing dose of cool air streaming in off the water. A few miles later I arrive at the Lighthouse Inn in Two Rivers for a delicious lunch of fresh caught whitefish. The inn is situated right on Lake Michigan with spectacular sights from the huge dining room windows.
Up the Peninsula
Highway 42 continues to lead me north, and it isn’t long before I officially reach the Door County line. Several miles later I’m rolling into Sturgeon Bay, the county seat. The town gets its name from the bay that it’s situated on, which, along with the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal completed in 1880, connects Green Bay with Lake Michigan—technically turning the northern section of Door Peninsula into an island. I cross this thin ribbon of water on Sturgeon Bay’s famous Michigan Street Bridge.