A walk in the wild woods of northern Wisconsin ending in John Dillinger Country at Little Bohemia

Published: March 6th 2014
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Not in my wildest imagination did I believe that booking a small cottage in the middle of a forest in northern Wisconsin would be in arctic temperatures. After all, we were there in end April which should have been Springtime ! But America has variable weather. We had planned a trip to Boulder Junction ( BJ ), N.E Wisconsin, exactly north of Madison, around 300 miles away; an opportunity for walking in the woods and maybe a boat ride in the lake adjacent to the cabin. Wisconsin is famed as the cheese state of America and its countryside is majestic. It's nature at its most basic; yes, we had not realized how true that would turn out to be.

But first, here is a bit of data from the local guidebook, so you are familiar with the awesomeness of the place! Location: Vilas County, 500,000 acres of public forestland. 1,300 lakes and 73 rivers and streams for fishing, canoeing, boating. Over 45 forested trails for hiking, bird watching, walking or biking. In winter there are 600 miles of top ranked trails for snow shoeing, cross country skiing or snow mobiling. Boulder Junction - BJ - is the Musky capital of the world. The musky is a type of fish which is popular but not to my taste. There are 16 miles of paved trails for bikers. Carl Eliason is credited with inventing the snowmobile in 1924. He created a powerful sled which he called the motor toboggan. The machine was patented in 1927 and it had a liquid cooled engine, continuous track and skis for steerage. In15 years he built 40 such motor toboggans, each different. Due to WW2, production shifted to FWD Company and US Army then got involved. The original 1924 machine is kept at Vilas County Historical museum in Sayner. I learnt that the county next door with Minocqua, the nearest large town, has some 2,300 lakes! So, water and snow play a huge role in the lives of the locals.

Yes, America is huge. Three times the size of India. It's full of malls and restaurant / shop chains. Each one cloned across the country. But we were there for the countryside which due to the funding and resources available for its nature reserves are extremely well maintained. Never in my wildest imagination did I dream that we would have so much snow. It was Switzerland without the pretty chalets and the Indian tourists. It was raw nature at its wildest and it made me feel humble that we were at the mercy of Mother Nature in case of any breakdown as we were far from the beaten track. Spring should have arrived but Madison still had snow.

Day 1

We left Madison at 12.50 pm after renting a Dodge Grand caravan. We put the car stroller along with the bags and amazingly all our miscellaneous totes and bags + five adults and a baby fitted inside, comfortably. Weather en route strange. Intermittent heavy hail with sunny stretches. Often hail in sunny weather. The road nearer Boulder Junction was full of snow. From BJ, we had heavy snow drifts at least 3 to 4 feet high. The turnoff to Birch cabin was scary as the road appeared impassable. We met a local, Mike Brown, who lives near where we were to stay, driving his snow plough and he gave us tips on how to drive down the path and avoid the stretch of muddy snow which might entrap our car. It was snowing mildly but still very cold. The path to the house had snow upto 2 ft deep and the surrounds including the outside porch and balcony overlooking the lake had huge snow drifts. The car was covered in snow within an hour of our arrival.

I had a look at the thermometer outside the kitchen. UNBELIEVABLE it was minus 10 deg C or 14 deg F. I have never ever been so cold or in such a cold place. Mind you inside, we had it at 65 deg. and were very comfortable. One has to be very careful when exiting the cabin in such weather due to the slippery ice on the steps.

Our cabin has other cabins nearby. Ours has a Drawing room next to entry. Staircase next to door leads to upstairs attic room and a bath with washing m/c and dryer. Down stairs, there is the drawing room with electric fire, rocking chair and comfy long sofa. The 4 chair dining table unit is behind, next to kitchen which is pretty compact. We have been supplied with all the relevant cutlery crockery and utilities. There are music CD's and childrens games too. The bedrooms are large enough: one queen size bed, the other two have two single queen beds. All the lights in the cabin are lamps, romantic and pleasant but difficult when reading books. The front porch has items for a cookout, not possible in this weather! There are enough storage spaces. Off season, the place was superb value for money; in season, it must have been wonderful to come and stay here. We thought we’d go for walks and boating but tough luck, we never anticipated this weather. The porch overlooks the lake which is totally frozen. The tall 80 + ft high spruce and silver birch trees look beautiful as the snow covers their branches and especially the tips of each branch.

Day 2

Woke at 5.45am, took photos of early morning light and went back to bed till 6.30 am when I got up and wrote my comments in the visitor book. Told them of our surprise at driving thru hard hailstorms and intermittent sunny spells. We even had a whiteout. None of the cabins have any locks internally. At night we could not lock the door as there were no locks on the front door! So we used plastic bags tied together holding the door handle, the window handle and a chair. We put a beer bottle on the chair so that in case the door was touched the bottle would drop. Modern scouting in the boondocks!

I went outside to the neighbour's and was stunned when suddenly my right foot sank right upto my knees in snow. Slowly, so that I did not dig myself in deeper, I bent and extricated myself; that was scary but luckily I was only 3 feet away from the kitchen window and my wife was keeping an eye on me, luckily!

Mike came over for a chat and we asked him if he would take us snowmobiling. Went into town with my son to see if car was okay after overnight snow. Was told that we should go to Bond Falls today as tomorrow bad weather was expected. Returning home, met my daughter on a snow mobile. I was a bit concerned as we did not know these people and here was my daughter with total strangers going snowmobiling; so I too decided to join them. Wayne, bro in law of Mike, drove me and she was with M. Went thru trails criss crossing across the road. In fact I was petrified as two or three times, I felt we would skid due to the speed. He went at up to 30 mph so I told him to go slow as I was scared. To go across the lake he speeded up and my woollie cap went flying. Turned around, collected it and zoomed across the lake in a circle. It was a sight out of a Peter Sellers movie. Each road break where one must stop as per road rules, Mike stopped for us to check up on me. Seeing my total discomfort as I was totally under dressed for this weather, Wayne very kindly gave me his throat / mouth scarf so I froze less, the wind was screaming down my legs and face and I was freezing. Why did I go on this trip unprepared? But, it was a trip of a lifetime as we would never get such a chance with locals who are so experienced. They go at 80mph, which is what my daughter did today. They go even faster. The trails have the usual road signs similar to roads as there is heavy snowmobile traffic in season. As we zoomed along at 15 mph on the way back, near the lake I could not see anything as my cap had slipped. Then after adjusting it 3 or 4 times which meant letting go of Wayne's pullover / tummy, I was fine and could enjoy the scenery. The scariest part was when he took a curve at speed and at an angle and I felt I was going to fall off! We invited them over for a beer later. It was then they related the numerous accidents that take place and that broken bones and worse are routine!

In the afternoon, we drove to Bond Falls. The road was clear and an hour away from BJ. On the way, we suddenly saw three female deer grazing by the roadside. They seemed to see us and stood still, then moved off when we reversed the car. Later we saw some more deer. The roads here have initials mainly and not names. So Hwy M led to Hwy B arriving at the uniquely named Land O Lakes. This led to Hwy 45 thru Watersmeer and Paulding. The falls are just off Bond Falls Rd. the entry was very slippery as the steps had frozen. After that there was a path which meandered around by the fast flowing river. There were two or three excellent photo op spots, one especially at the end where one sees the falls dropping at two different levels. The frozen river banks, the snow laden heavy tree branches and the two falls made a fantastic experience. The long icicles were awesome. Standing near the edge one is cautious but the resulting photo is that of a lifetime. Then onward to Agate Falls - a disappointment. On the way back we saw a skunk and raccoon. No other animals.

After having tea at home we tried reaching John Dillinger's hideout but got lost as the Garmin gave wrong directions and it was past sunset. The roads were snowed and difficult to drive on, we were skidding at times. The tall trees made the whole scene eerie, and if we got stuck then we'd be in real trouble in the growing darkness; so we turned homewards to BJ where we had dinner in Boulder Beer Bar.

Day 3

Went into town by 10am to get groceries, had breakfast and left by 12.50pm for Little Bohemia where John Dillinger (JD), was followed by FBI and a shootout occurred. 75 FBI guys chased JD but he still escaped, whereas three customers got shot and killed. There is a huge billboard of the movie featuring JD’s story. The restaurant was large, with rooms converted from original function, e.g. the dance room is now a large dining area. There is a large deck and the lake is right up front. Inside there are glass cases showing JD’s bandages and various other paraphernalia. The windows still have the original bullet holes carefully maintained. The owner Pam told us the full DJ story. The food was outstanding. I had the Dillinger egg which was three scrambled eggs inside a puff pastry along with Canadian bacon and spinach. Amazing in sight, three inches height, very fluffy and in taste totally divine. Then for dessert, I had a chocolate mousse and a chocolate ice cream wrapped with choc syrup and cream. Other desserts were Turtle cheesecake, keylime cake, ice-cream sundae. The others too had superb food. Pam is the owner, has a husband who can't work anymore. She has no children of her own but her husband has two daughters and 8 grandchildren. The food is great and it must be a money spinner in season due to its history. There was a lot of ice and snow and the icicles from the awning throughout were at times nearly 2 feet long! The whole area has trees which are over, yes over, 100 to 150 ft tall.

Day 4

The snow has not fallen overnight and the ground seems to be becoming warmer. The snow melted from many of the trees and now on the road we found that many trees had no snow. The scenery shows that the autumn colours of golden brown and yellow and greens were frozen in time by the snow. As the snow melted, the colours came through. The street paths, where mulch had been placed, were turning green very fast and the trees would soon be green too. It rained most of the way home. But thankfully we had no rain at Madison and all the snow and ice had gone. Welcome spring.

The long weekend trip was a great experience as I would never have dreamt that we would go through such snow and ice or such weather when we were in fact actually looking forward to boating and walking in the wood’s trails. Well, it's the unexpected which makes a great holiday.

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