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.
Motorcycle & Gear
2014 Harley-Davidson Road King
Helmet: Arai Corsair-V
Jacket: Harley-Davidson Medallion Reflective Leather
Pants: Rokker Revolution Jeans
Boots: Harley-Davidson Footwear Riddick Performance
Gloves: Harley-Davidson Resilient Touchscreen Tech
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.
Just north of Sturgeon Bay I’m compelled to stop at the Wisconsin Motorcycle Memorial Park for a few moments of respect. Established in 2004, this roadside park features the “Walkway of Remembrance” with engraved stones commemorating the lives of fallen motorcyclists in a quiet garden.
Back on the road I head to the peninsula’s Green Bay shoreline, first taking County Road B to Egg Harbor, before rejoining 42 toward Sister Bay. As I make my way north, the bay is my companion, dodging in and out of view as the Road King ticks off the miles. The afternoon light reveals the brilliant colors of fall just reaching their peak on many of Door County’s trees while others seem to have missed the memo. Turning inland at Sister Bay, the views change from waterfront to farmland before Lake Michigan reappears at Rowleys Bay.
By now the sun is hanging low and my stomach is growling. Luckily, I arrive at the Rowleys Bar Resort just in time for a Door County tradition: the fish boil. Back when the area’s major industries were logging and fishing, it was important to be able to feed lots of hungry mouths quickly and cheaply—thus the fish boil was born. A strictly outdoor affair, the boil consists of a large pot of water boiling over a bonfire. Potatoes and onions are added before a basket load of freshly caught whitefish are thrown in. The boil master then throws kerosene, or some other highly-flammable fluid, onto the fire creating and instant conflagration. This causes the pot to boil over, removing the fish oils from the top of the water. The fish cook in about four minutes and, along with the potatoes and onions, are served with plenty of Wisconsin butter.
With a full stomach, I leave Rowleys Bay as dusk is falling. Highway 42 and a few more county roads lead back to Egg Harbor. The town gets its peculiar name from a food fight that allegedly took place on June 23, 1825, when fur traders from Mackinac began hurling eggs at each other while anchored in the harbor for the night. At the Landmark Resort, I find my bed for the night awaits. It’s been a full day, but I know there’s still much more to see in Door County.