Manitowoc to Elkhart Lake

6/18 – woke up this morning to thunder and pouring rain, putting a damper on our plan to hike 15 road miles. We put on our raincoats and pack covers, and walked out of lovely Manitowoc. After 10 minutes of walking, a van pulled over and offered us a ride. What luck! However, the van was a local cab, so we would be paying for our ride, which was okay with us.

Joey, a retired long haul trucker, was happy to take us to the next town, Valders, about 5 miles down the road, which would leave us a very manageable 10 mile walk for the rest of the day. He asked lots of questions about the hike, and checked our map to make sure he was leaving us in a good spot. When we got to Valders, far out on a rural road where he was unlikely to get another fare, he refused our money and wished us well. Wisconsin people are so nice!

We trudged along in the drenching rain, which soaked us to the skin despite our rain gear. There was absolutely no traffic. With every mile, our packs got heavier as they soaked up water. Then we saw a bar on a lonely corner with no town around it, with a sign announcing it opened daily at 6am! We were game for anything that would get us out of the rain. I was also very curious about who would go to a bar early in the morning!

It was around 11am, and there was only one old guy nursing a beer, but a succession of others came in while we were there, ordering Cokes or cranberry juice. A group of retirees were at a table playing cards. We ate our frozen pizza (the only food they had) as slowly as we could, and pronounced it delicious.

When we emerged into the daylight, the rain had stopped! We shook off our gear, squeezed the water out of our socks, and walked on. Within an hour, the breeze had dried us considerably and the sun had warmed us sufficiently that I decided the day was actually pleasant.

Our goal for the day was to reach Walla Hi park, where we could refill our water bottles and camp for the night. We reached the park by about 5pm, and found that the promised well water did not exist, and there was a big sign that said, No Camping. So, Jim walked to the house nearest the park to ask if we could fill our bottles from the hose. There was no one home, so Jim took that as a yes, and we had water.

Then he scouted for a place in the park where we couldn’t be seen by anyone driving through the park, and we pitched our little mosquito-proof tent. This is called Stealth Camping, and is the recommended method for most of the Ice Age Trail, which has very few authorized camping areas. After a yummy dinner of mac and cheese and pepperoni with hot sauce, we crawled into our sleeping bags and wished the mosquitoes a good night.

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Next morning we were packed up and on the road by 6am, after a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and coffee. Today we would actually reach an an official Ice Age off-road trail at La Budde, then walk into the resort town of Elkhart Lake.

The trail was sad and neglected, overgrown with weeds and not maintained at all. We slogged through waist-high weeds and climbed over downed tree trunks, before emerging back on the road, now thankful for a road walk!

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But what is that buzzing sound in the distance, louder than 10,000 mosquitoes? Oh no! It’s Nascar Weekend at Elkhart Lake! Every place we tried to get a room for the night was either completely booked, or had a 4 night minimum. We eventually called the Chamber of Commerce, who had a short list of options, and we were able to book for two nights at the Victorian Village Resort for $220 a night.

So here we are in our king sized canopy bed, looking out onto our veranda to the lake beach below. Even though it’s barely 70 degrees, it’s summer, and families are paddle boating and swimming in the clear lake. This is a huge resort, with a theatre, several restaurants, and indoor and outdoor pools. It sort of reminds us of the film Dirty Dancing…

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