Badger Reprise

Ever since I took my first trip across Lake Michigan on the S.S. Badger, I was hooked on the experience and have wanted to repeat the excursion.

It is not often that I get the opportunity to repeat many excursions – part of this is my own fault, but part of it is due to the fact that that are just not enough hours in the day or days in the week to get everything taken care of that is on my “list”. So when opportunity came knocking for a chance to sail once again on the Badger, I answered the door in a hurry.

Viking Arms Motel

This time we left the Chicago area a bit earlier – about 2:30pm – and took Heidi’s parents along to celebrate her father’s retirement. The construction at the south end of Lake Michigan was not quite as intense as it was last year, and the trip to Ludington, Michigan took only about 4 ½ hours.

We checked in to the Viking Arms Motel (a clean and friendly local place with free high-speed Internet access!) at about 8:00pm – don’t forget the time changes – and enjoyed a celebratory cocktail as some rain showers moved through (the forecast for the following day was not particularly good and I was a bit concerned about the condition of the Lake; big waves and I do not get along well… more on that later).

Soon there was the hint of an approaching sunset and we all took a short drive into town to take a look around – something that Heidi and I were unable to do on our last trip due to the lateness of our arrival.

House of Flavors ice cream

Although it was almost 9:30 at night, the one place that we had been told not to miss – House of Flavors – was absolutely packed. But we got in line anyway and were all soon licking furiously on our favorite-flavored ice cream cones as we walked down toward the lake.

The evening was a pleasant one except for the threat of more showers and we enjoyed the short walk and the clean air and talk of the sail in the morning. Returning to the motel, we checked the weather map and noticed more storms approaching. If it stormed I did not know, for the sound sleep sleep into which I fell, along with the drone of the room air conditioner erased all other sounds.

Rain clouds over Ludington, MI marina

The morning dawned mostly cloudy with a continued threat of storms and I was worried about the marine forecast, which included a possibility of three to five-foot waves on the lake. Of course Heidi was overjoyed, for she seems to revel in those types of conditions (she actually gets ravenously hungry when the seas are rough while I seem to turn pale green and lose all desire to eat...) and she was almost giddy with anticipation. After getting our tickets, we boarded the Badger and headed right for the top aft deck to watch the cars, Semi-trailers, busses, campers and assorted other motorized vehicles as they were loaded.

The SS Badger approaching Manitowoc, WI

I am still amazed at the amount of cargo that this ship will hold. But I am reminded that she was originally designed to carry railroad freight cars during all months of the year - she can now handle up to 600 passengers and 180 vehicles - so this was no big deal.

At 8:00 on the button, the ship gave a few brief blasts on the horn and we headed out of the harbor, waving to many on shore who waved to us as if we were on the Queen Mary and heading out across the Atlantic Ocean. We also met up with Lynda Daugherty, Director of Media Relations. Lynda is an incredible asset to the Badger; she has always given much of her time to help us find our way around the ship, share information with us and just generally make us feel at ease while on board.

She also pointed the way to the place where I could get some of the acupressure wrist bands that would really make my trip much more relaxing and enjoyable. I do have to say that I have no idea as to the size of the waves that day, but the Badger is as sound a ship as I have been on and I hardly noticed the gentle rocking motion as we crossed the Lake.

Charles Stewart explaining his duties on the USS Cobia

WeWe docked in Manitowoc exactly 4 hours later - again exactly as the schedule had said - and headed to the newly renovated Best Western Lakefront Hotel (now the Baymont Inn & Suites). It was a bit early to check in, so we decided to pay another visit to the Wisconsin Maritime Museum and another tour of the USS Cobia submarine.

For those of you who have still not been to Manitowoc and toured the sub... well, you just have to. The museum is "the Smithsonian's home in Wisconsin and the largest Maritime museum on the Great Lakes, as well as 'homeport' to USS Cobia, the nation's most completely restored WW II submarine in America", and is also an incredible experience.

We were fortunate enough to be there on a day when former aft torpedo-man Charles Stewart (author of "The Blind Fight") from the Cobia was there. He was on board the sub at his actual wartime station and shared a few stories from the Cobia's patrols. It is impossible to relate to you how compelling the experience was.

Best Western Lakefront Hotel Lobby

We returned to the hotel and immediately noticed the new carpets, fresh paint and a cleaner look and feel to the place - certainly a vast improvement over our last visit and a venue with a great location and friendly atmosphere with all the amenities for all occasions.

The storms that had threatened seemed to diminish and disappear out over the lake, so we decided to take a walk to the downtown area where we again visited Beerntsen's (we stayed for a quick lunch of tasty brats and some homemade chocolates for dessert), Cook's Corner (an incredible superstore loaded with every piece of kitchen ware imaginable) and took a walk along the clean and nifty river front - in the process of renovation to include a new road down to the Badger.

We returned to the hotel and cleaned up for a trip to my favorite dinner spot, the Courthouse Pub, where we enjoyed a relaxed evening and some great entrees before returning to the hotel for another night of sound and peaceful sleep.

Freshly baked bread ready to be cooled, sliced and packaged!

We were on something of a tight schedule this trip, but there was one final stop that we made on Wednesday morning. We had been unable to tour the Natural Ovens Bakery on our other visits because they were all on weekends. This time however, the mid-week trip afforded the chance to see what I now consider to be one of the best "factories" I have ever toured. Factories is in quotes because it is nothing like what the word conjures up.

The place is immaculately clean, the environment is quiet and serene and the employees there are smiling, cheerful and helpful. If this sounds like an impossibility to you, all I can say is that you should visit the place and see for yourself. You have to see it and also watch the video to believe it, but the working conditions are enviable at the very least, and it is all about what is in the food we eat - according to owners Paul and Barbara Stitt (Paul started the company in 1976).

Without sounding like a rep for the company, let me at least say that I am impressed by the fact that all products are made from the finest of natural ingredients, preservative free, without chemical additives and about 90+ % organic. According to Barbara and Paul, it is all about diet. Plan a visit and try some of their breads, rolls, muffins and bagels. They are excellent!

Captain Kevin Fitch helps Scott Peck, Wheelsman, navigate into port.  Photo courtesy of the SS Badger

The trip home from Manitowoc included a quick stop at Miesfeld's in Sheboygan for some of their excellent brats, some landjaeggers, bacon and cheese (what would a trip to Wisconsin be without buying some cheese?!) It once again seemed like an incredibly quick trip, but I guess the old adage is true "time flies when you're having fun". And fun... we certainly did have a lot of that. The real key though was the relaxing down-time aboard the Badger.

For four hours on what might have appeared to be a damp and dreary July day, the rest of the world and its problems did not exist. It was certainly some marvelous quality time. Thanks once again to Ludington, Lynda Daugherty, the S.S. Badger and its fine captain and crew, and to the city of Manitowoc and all its fine venues. It is a trip that you absolutely have to put on your list of things to do!

R. Karl

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