Wrapping up our time in the Upper Peninsula, it was time to head south. From the time we crossed the border to Wisconsin to the time we left, it did not stop raining. Before we left Michigan we stopped for a pasty, which we heard is a UP staple. A pasty is like a little pie pocket filled with meat and potatoes and a buttery, flaky crust. It was filling and delicious; the ultimate comfort food. (“In fact, after reading what Emily just wrote, I want another one now” – Mike). And thus began our culinary tour of the Midwest (with nonstop rain in the forecast for the coming days, outdoor activities were limited).
We made a pit stop in Green Bay, drove by Lambeau Field, stopped at a bar called Title Town for a beer, and ate some cheese curds for an early dinner. From there we kept driving south with plans to spend time in Madison and hike around Devil’s Lake. We found a spot to camp in a park in a small town called Juneau. It was still raining.
The next day we woke up and drove the remaining hour to Madison, which is really the first city we planned to spend time in. We’d gotten recommendations from a few different friends on places to see and things to do, but after finding a place to park downtown we quickly realized our plans may have to change. The main streets downtown were mostly vacant with the exception of a few students, storefronts were boarded up and covered with BLM murals, and many places were closed because of Covid or the weather. What I’m sure is usually a bustling college town had an eerie, deserted feeling that reminded me of what downtown DC has felt like the past six months. Also, it was still raining. We were feeling pretty down about our time in Wisconsin, and walking around all of the Black Lives Matter murals and boarded up shops was a quick reminder of reality.
Since the forecast for the next few days wasn’t looking promising, we gave up on our plans to hike and camp at Devils Lake and focused on our true priority for this state: dairy. We visited a fancy cheese shop called Fromagination, bought a bunch of samples, and ate them immediately. Then we began our search for beer, brats, and more cheese curds. After several strikeouts we finally found a great spot and enjoyed a delicious Midwest meal.
For dessert, we hoped to try some ice cream from the University of Wisconsin’s Babcock Dairy Store or another Midwest staple, custard. After at least three more strikeouts (Covid, weather, etc.), we finally surrendered and got custard from Culver’s, a fast-food chain, and called it a day. We got in the car and drove west across the Mississippi river to…
Unfortunately we did not escape the weather. In our last minute search for a spot to camp we luckily come across some free showers and a place to fill up our water at a state park. Feeling clean and determined we drove around a National Forest looking for a spot to camp for free. After a number of strikeouts (seems to be a theme of the day), it was getting dark and we were getting desperate. Finding a good free spot involves navigating the NPS maps, checking each state’s and each park’s rules about camping, getting enough cell phone service to navigate, checking a few camping apps, and googling “free camping near X”. We’re learning that it’s a trial and error process. We finally parked in a campground at the end of a long dirt road next to a cornfield and ate cold pizza in our car in the dark for dinner. It was still raining.
The next day we woke up, retraced our tracks down the long dirt road, and continued heading west. The last box we wanted to check on our culinary tour of the Midwest was a Juicy Lucy, a cheese-stuffed burger, and a must-have in Minnesota. We stopped for take-out at a restaurant just over the border in South Dakota and ate in a park down the street. The burgers were delicious, but most importantly, it was sunny.