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GooseMan Chronicles: Finding Authentic Freedom in the Progressive Enclave of Bayfield, Wisconsin

Sep. 5, 2023 at 1:05PM

Bill Bryson, in his travel novel The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America, traverses the lower 48 of the United States in search of the perfect American small town. While I won’t spoil too much—in the end, he falls in love with his birth state of Iowa, realizing that there is no perfect American small town. 

It’s a lovely book—all of Bryson’s works are phenomenal. But throughout reading about his journey through Americana, I couldn’t help but think, “I think he’s wrong, he just missed that perfect place tucked away in the remote Northern tip of Wisconsin.” If he had visited Bayfield—a tiny town of roughly 600 people, sitting along the shores of Lake Superior—would his mission have been a success? Though one’s idea of a perfect place ultimately rests in the eye of the beholder, I think Bayfield would have had a fighting chance.

I’ve long been fascinated by small-town America—even going so far as living in one of the most conservative pockets of rural Wisconsin for several months. I am unabashedly progressive in my worldview and do not deny that small towns can also be enclaves of disturbing reactionaries and bigoted ideology.  

But, I am enchanted by the pastoral landscapes, the slower pace of life, the tight-knit communities—and perhaps most of all—the unhinged rural ruckuses that are small-town Summer festivals

In some cases, rural America has signed its own death warrant by buying into conservative propaganda that their troubles lay with people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, welfare recipients, and immigrants rather than the unwinding government support of the social safety net and American infrastructure.

But there’s one place I’ve found where I haven't had to wrestle with my paradoxical love for rural America. Bayfield—and the surrounding area—is home to both the parts of small-town life that have enchanted me, but it is also a deeply progressive pocket in the sea of conservatism covering the northernmost backwoods of Wisconsin.

The Gang Plans Its Getaway

My brother and our friends Andrew and Loeber have long been taking deranged camping trips in a willful embrace of the weird—ranging from forays tramping down the Appalachian trail to cows midnight marauding upon our campsite. 

With Andrew’s wedding coming up in the summer, we decided that Bayfield and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore—were perfect locations for his bachelor party. 

The area offers numerous opportunities for hiking, drinking, and gluttony—and most importantly—Tom’s Burned Down Cafe—the greatest bar in America, but more on that later.

After taking a somewhat ill-fated camping trip—due to a combination of COVID preventing Drake from coming and an apocalyptic storm flooding us out of our tent—near Bayfield the previous summer, we decided it was probably time to include four walls as part of our adventure.

Due to the injection of Andrew’s younger brother and best man, Lawrence, into the trip, we also realized that we can be a lot to handle, and wanted to make the handling easier for Lawrence.

Trucks, Truckers, and Trucker Anthems

Lawrence agreed to let us drive his Ford F150 for the trip—the one vehicle with the space to allow for all five of us. Ironically, this was also the most fuel-efficient option, both due to the need for one vehicle instead of two and also the vehicle's EcoBoost mileage being surprisingly reasonable. 

The inclusion of Lawrence was also fortuitous, as he does not drink; we were ensured of having a designated driver on standby.

Loeber, Andrew, Drake, and I became obsessed with the idea of us driving cross-state in a large pickup truck. With bizarre fanaticism, we began planning for the trip as if we were long-haul truckers. 

After journeying down the rabbit hole of trucker CB radio forums, we religiously referred to each other as Carl, Otto, Carl Two, and Karl—and to Lawrence’s confusion, we referred to him as King Love—as we explained that these monikers were our “trucker names.” 

To deepen the depths of trucker lore, we spent hours creating a “Trucker Jamz” playlist featuring trucker anthems such as “Convoy” and “Eastbound and Down” and everything else that felt like something coked-out long haul truckers in mid-twentieth century America would listen to.

A Country-Fried Car Ride

As the country anthems of yesteryear blasted, we barrelled toward Bayfield. Of note, none of us are really into much country music, but again this feels right. Well, it felt right to most of us. Lawrence clearly had a look of confusion and concern, remarking with an apparent sense of bewilderment, “This isn’t the music that I expected.” 

As we ventured deeper and deeper into the verdant backwoods of Wisconsin, the manic energy in the car became palpable. Our GPS took us off of the highway for the last three hours to our destination. We relished in the detour deeper into the backcountry—it meant that we got to see the heart of American decay, delusion, and derangement.

Yard signs and flags were plentiful—typically denoting conspiracies related to QAnon, a man mysteriously referred to as Brandon (many country folk want to fuck him), and a litany of other propaganda that whacked out worshippers of American supremacy and Blue Lives Magicians (a pet name for the Blue Lives Matter crowd) displayed with grand eminence.

Blue Lives Magicians tout that police are the thin blue line keeping society from falling into chaos. I guess this makes sense if your definition of the line between societal chaos is arguing that shooting unarmed people—disproportionately black and indigenous—is justified. 

In fairness, the origins of modern-day policing stem from slave patrols in the American South, so there is a thread of logical consistency.

Passing by the beautiful views of Lake Superior of Ashland and Washburn—we arrived at the splendid glory of Bayfield—with its rolling hills, lush forests, and picturesque views of the surrounding Apostle Islands. 

Lawrence muttered to Andrew, “I didn’t think you guys would talk the entire 6-hour drive.”

The GooseMan Riseth

Arriving a little after 7 p.m. at our condo rental located in a local marina, Andrew took it upon himself to demonstrate that life is short—and sometimes, we must embrace the moment! He chugged six beers in the span of an hour of our arrival and showed no signs of slowing down. It was readily apparent that Andrew was committed, body and soul, to having the time of his life. 

Apropos of nothing other than our strange predilections, Drake put on the veil from Andrew’s fiance Sam’s bachelorette party, I put on an obnoxiously reflective visor along with equally obnoxious Miami vice-esque sunglasses, Andrew put on a cowboy hat, and Lawrence put on a face of acceptance to being involved with these deranged maniacs.

"Nobody cared about me until I put on the goose hat"
"Nobody cared about me until I put on the goose hat"

Last, but most importantly, we surprised Loeber with a goose hat. Not a hat with a goose on it, a stuffed goose that was also a hat. 

Loeber accepted the goose hat with glee and proclaimed that he was no longer part of mankind—but something new altogether—a goose-human hybrid known as GooseMan.

This Isn’t Normal

After settling in, we started a fire in the communal gathering space of our rental as we embraced the hedonism of hot dogs and beer. 

It was time for our next surprise. 

My friend Sma—having descended further into his Shrek-induced madness from the 2022 deranged Shrekfest—had gifted me what is dubbed “Shrek Piss.” This piss of Shrek is made from whiskey that was infused with a pack of Sour Patch Kids. In its mason jar container, it glowed an ethereal green—in a strange homage to the Green God himself.

Shrek Piss
Shrek Piss

I revealed the treacherous green liquid to the gang. It was immediately understood without any words needing to be said, a shot was in order. As we had neglected to bring any actual shot glasses, they were taken from espresso cups.

Under the glow of our fire interspersed with a subtle green aura of our viridescent potion, we were quite the sight to the middle-aged mother and her mid-twenty-year-old daughter who wandered down to the fire.

Their curiosity was clearly piqued by the trucker anthems playing over our rancorous laughter.

“What are all the costumes about—is it a bachelor party?”

We tried to explain that yes, in fact, it was a bachelor party, but that was largely irrelevant—it’s just standard operating procedure.

The mother thought this was quite funny—and was more than ready to join in the festivities. The daughter readily abhorred. 

We continued to share in further detail about how our trips are always tinged with more than a gentle touch of insanity—from being chased by cows to wild encounters with bears.

The mother was clearly ready to get down. However, the daughter began to complain that the mosquitoes were really bad and they should head inside—and so they did. 

We accepted the thinly veiled excuse to get away from us.

It didn’t faze us in the least—we recognized that we are not fit for mass consumption.

The Best Laid Plans of Mosquitoes and Men

The next morning, we headed down to Washburn—a small town along the shores of Lake Superior, registering around 2,000 residents. Though the city’s economy was somewhat crippled by the dying of the lumber industry in the area and the departure of a nearby Dupont plant.

In recent years, the city has emerged as a local arts haven—with a growing number of art galleries lining its scenic main street. 

Another staple of its main street is Cafe Coco—a cafe and bakery that makes bread worthy of confusing the cashier by ordering five loaves of Blue Cheese & Rosemary Bread and then confirming in the affirmative that I did not misspeak.

After stuffing our faces with a decadent breakfast and ordering an obscene amount of bread at the aforementioned cafe, we drove to Highbridge Hills Disc Golf MegaPlex's rolling expanse of six disc golf courses—whose difficulty is only rivaled by their scenic landscape.

Our experience at Highbridge was nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. We weren’t just tormented by mosquitoes—we were sucked dry by veritable clouds of them.

We slogged through the woods in misery. We snipped at each other because of our disappointment, but we all tried to keep our tempers cool because we knew how much Andrew wanted to visit Highbridge as a focal point of his bachelor party.

Finally, Andrew said, “I’m having a terrible time; we should leave.” We all felt a bit bad but were mostly overjoyed about him setting us free.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Vodka Lemonade

Though Andrew was trying to put on a good face, he was visibly frustrated, so we went about thinking of how to salvage the day.

Fleeing a passing rainstorm, we headed to a local Goodwill to see what ridiculous things we could find to make our costumes more unhinged. It was a success. I found a wacky Hawaiian type shirt that we realized would make me look like a card sharking coke dealer with my visor and glasses. A tight leather crop top jacket was procured for Drake. And Loeber found a tight yellow t-shirt with “Security” emblazoned on the front and back along with bright blue swim trunks with rainbows on them. 

We agreed that a security goose made sense for some unidentifiable but understood reason.

We made our way over to the Lake Superior View Golf course, which happened also to have an 18-hole disc golf course. It wasn’t highly rated online, but we figured something was better than nothing.

After paying for our round, Drake and Loeber spontaneously put on the veil and the goose hat. 

The owner of the property from the clubhouse ran out and shouted, “WAIT!”

The GooseMan Sends a Disc Into Flight
The GooseMan Sends a Disc Into Flight

I thought we were done for—clearly violating the social norms and etiquette of a golf course.

It couldn’t have been more far off. The owner—an older woman—did not want to kick us off the course, but rather with an ear-to-ear grin, she asked if she could take a picture of us all. We readily obliged and headed out to the course. 

A Brief Encounter With the Backstreet Boys

After eating dinner, we headed to the picturesque streets of Bayfield’s nightlife. 

To our pleasant surprise, a local restaurant and bar called “The Deck'' and its rooftop patio overlooking the lake had already opened for the season; being late May, this was not a certainty. 

We largely had the rooftop bar to ourselves. The bartender played music, barely above a whisper. With each request to play the music louder, he obliged, raising it roughly one decibel. 

I speculated that the bartender knew that he could go home as soon as the few people on the rooftop went home—so he wanted to make it slightly less hospitable. Which I was not mad about—it was something I would do.

No matter, though, we were having the time of our lives. The setting sun cast shades of red and purple from behind us on the lakeshore and its surrounding islands and greenery. Coming off the cold and desiccated months that are Wisconsin winter—and unfortunately, all too often Wisconsin spring, the colorful landscape left us in a pleasant state of rapture.

As the final glimmer of the sun left faded, and the bay vanished into the darkness, the bartender had his will be done and sent us on our way. 

We made our way over to The Creamery, a small watering hole tucked slightly off of main street. While we were not alone as tourists in the bar, it was also evident that it was also the local dive frequented by year-round residents. 

Tourists generally are looking for a nice time on a Thursday night; locals, on the other hand, are often looking to get fucked up—something to which we were not explicitly opposed. 

We ordered beers and played a few rounds of darts—very poorly. 

A group of middle-aged women asked if they could get to the next round. We all agreed this was more than fair.

To our surprise, they cued up a round for both themselves and ourselves. Not what we expected, but playing darts with a group of plain-looking moms seemed just weird enough to suit our druthers. 

All in all, it was a good time. 

Then, they asked us what we were doing there—Andrew mentioned that it was his bachelor party. 

For whatever reason, this caused him to enter their circle of trust.

They shared with him that they had been watching us at The Deck and had been referring to us as the Backstreet Boys. I don’t think we look much anything like the Backstreet Boys, nor do we possess their singing and choreography, so this was a curious description.

The “BackStreet Boys” From the Perspective of Stalkers
The “BackStreet Boys” From the Perspective of Stalkers

To take the strangeness to a more concerning level—they showed Andrew the picture they had taken of us—unbeknownst to us—at The Deck.

We felt this was somewhat creepy—but they had purchased the last several rounds of drinks for us and had another round cued up, so we wrote it off to all in good fun.

After another half an hour or so, we decided this part of the night had suited its purpose and was meant to end. 

We bid the mompack farewell and wandered over to Monk’s Bar & Grill—which possessed the dive bar feel we felt at home in—albeit a bit more touristy. 

After a few more rounds of beers, we could tell that the night was nearly at its ending point—our capacity for beer had met its limits. 

Yet we lingered, unable to commit to leaving until we finished the last beer on the table. 

Realizing our predicament, Drake grabbed the full beer and chugged it in one unsettling swift motion. 

Lawrence—looking stunned—told Andrew, “I thought Drake doesn’t really drink beer?!”

Andrew responded, “He doesn’t! Which means we gotta go!”

We thought it was the perfect ending to the night—except it wasn’t.

I think you can guess who followed us over from The Creamery. 

The bartender walked over and delivered another round of drinks and pointed to the mompack, who were leering at us.

We uncomfortably smiled back. 

Frozen by the apparition of the drinks, I broke our silence and rose, saying, “There’s no actual reason we need to drink these.” And we called it a night.

There’s a Holy Place

I know this sounds hyperbolic, but the holiest place on earth to us is a bar called Tom’s Burned Down Cafe—and that Friday, our holy pilgrimage would finally deliver us into its arms.

Only slightly hungover from the night before, we made breakfast and headed to Wonderstate Coffee in Bayfield (formerly known as Kickapoo Coffee). We held off on putting on our costumes—except for Drake, who boldly started the day wearing the leather crop top jacket and bridal veil.

As we ordered, the barista laughed at Drake and said it looked like we had a fun day ahead of us.

Having some time to kill before the next ferry to Madeline Island—the home of the town of La Pointe and Tom’s Burned Down Cafe.

We walked down to the marina and walked out onto the pier to check out the boats that were docked. 

We found a large vessel named the Superior Princess. It was Drake’s time to shine.

The Superior Princesses
The Superior Princesses

We took pictures of Drake posing like a travel influencer by the Superior Princess while shouting, “Who is she?!?!?!” 

Onlookers were both confused and mirthful—giggling at us. 

As the departure time of the ferry approached, we went back to the truck and donned our costumes. Andrew, the cowboy; Alex, the dirty Miami Vice undercover cop; Drake, the conspicuous bride-to-be; Lawrence, the chaperone—and most of all; Loeber, the security GooseMan. 

We walked back down to the marina—residents and tourists alike all stared and laughed at us. 

We passed the barista, who must have just clocked off from her shift, and she chuckled, “This is everything I hoped for from you boys.”

Professional Goose Trainer and Cowboy Riding a Ferry
Professional Goose Trainer and Cowboy Riding a Ferry

While Loeber and Lawrence both have a crippling fear of open water, they understood the destination was much too important to be undermined by something as trifling as a lifelong phobia.

We boarded the ferry and took our seats, and departed for La Pointe. 

A man shouted, “He must be the one who trains all the other Canadian geese!”

Halfway through the ferry ride, an attendant came down from the cockpit of the ship and tapped on my shoulder. 

“The Captain is asking if you can take off your hat; the reflection is blinding him.’”

From the Ashes

After departing the ferry, we meandered through the main street of La Pointe—showing Lawrence what the small island town had to offer. 

Then he caught his first glimpse of Tom’s and groaned, “Oh my god.”

Originally opened as a cafe named Leona’s, a small kitchen fire reduced the cafe to ruins. Heartbroken and financially devastated, the cafe’s owner Tom opened a makeshift bar from the back of his pickup, and the rest is history.

Linking our fates inextricably, Tom’s rose from the ashes in May of 1992—the same month I entered this cruel, twisted, beautiful world.

The Beautiful Refuse Heap That Is Tom’s Burned Down Cafe
The Beautiful Refuse Heap That Is Tom’s Burned Down Cafe

To most people, I describe Tom’s as a bar made from garbage. Demonstrating that one person's trash is another’s treasure, it is cobbled together from a collection of office furniture, canvas, ropes, and various other refuse. There’s even a car peeking out of the floorboards with a seating area built over it. 

Tom’s is also filled with hundreds of witticisms and aphorisms handmade on various boards and materials, such as “red meat isn’t bad for you, blueish green meat is.”

But Tom’s also makes no bones about its leftist political bent, proudly flying the pride flag, signs supportive of the Water Is Life Movement, and a large Mandela Barnes for Senate sign, and other progressive regalia. 

Barnes even held a meet and greet at Tom’s as part of his senate campaign in 2022. Unfortunately, Wisconsin narrowly decided it would rather keep America’s Senator Most Likely to Stick a Fork in an Electrical Outlet.

Tom’s Burned Down Cafe: Part One

While the residents of Bayfield were mildly shocked by GooseMan and company, the cast and crew of regulars and bartenders at Tom’s were mildly bemused—clearly weathered to oddness and freaks in their temple to life’s stranger creatures. 

We weren’t surprised. Fittingly, one negative Google review of Tom’s was a woman becrying that when she visited, someone was getting their hair shaved on the patio—a sight we dreamed to see.

We ordered margaritas and retreated to a table with a good view of the spectacle around us. 

Soon after, a water inspector and a woman who apparently held a position of authority in the bar commanded us to help move the furniture above the floorboards we were sitting on; and then removed the floor itself and hoped four feet down to reveal the underbelly of Tom’s. We made way for the inspector—who was clearly bemused by the situation. 

When his work was finished, we didn’t need any further orders. We diligently helped assemble the floor and seating area. 

Always committed to a bit, Loeber saddled up to the bar and ordered a vodka on the rocks.

The bartender rattled off the selection of vodka available.

Loeber solemnly pointed at the goose on his head and said, “What do you think?”=

The bartender maniacally laughed and poured him a Grey Goose on the rocks. 

Drake chortled, channeling the bartender, “Vodka on the rocks? I guess I know who the group alcoholic is.”

Loeber returned and revealed didn’t think he could drink straight vodka, so we collectively helped him finish. 

Pleased to Meat You

To avoid getting too drunk too early. We had brought a small cooler full of water and sandwiches. Well, not sandwiches per se, but the items needed to make sandwiches.

We pulled out bread, craft singles, and a package of deli meat, placing them on the table.

The bartender witnessed the loose meat spectacle as it was passed around the table and remarked with an air of confidence, “You are my kind of people.”

After another round of drinks, we decided we needed to decelerate the drinking for a bit and grab a more substantial lunch.

We headed over to a restaurant named the Beach Club, ordered burgers, and sat on their patio adjoining Lake Superior and looking back at Bayfield.

With his burger and fries, Loeber downed two-thirds of a bottle of ketchup—to our mortification and dismay.

We then headed to the local market to buy some sports drinks to rehydrate further in advance of our planned dehydration. 

In the distance, several people shouted, “Look, it’s GooseMan!!!” 

As we checked out at the market, the owner insisted on taking photos of Loeber—clearly becoming a local celebrity right before our eyes.

We lounged at a nearby park by the water for a few hours in preparation for our return to Tom’s.

The Return of the Fellowship of the GooseMan

Around 5 p.m., we decided it was time to head back to the bar. With the last ferry of the island departing at 9 p.m., it gave us plenty of time to fully embrace Tom’s.

A block or so away from the bar, a man pulled over his SUV and shouted, “Nice hat; where can I get one of a pig.”

It just so happened that he was one of La Pointe’s police officers. La Pointe—a place so magical where even the police are cool enough to make cop jokes.

Moments later, the bartender shouted, “They’re back!”

Going Mad on Madeline Island Tea

I had spied the cheat sheet for bartenders to make the house cocktails. Unshocklingly, their spin on a Long Island, “the Mad Island Tea,” appeared to be the most bang for your buck in terms of alcohol—though Tom’s does not hold back in that department.

One of Several Poses GooseMan Uses to Unnerve Incoming Patrons.
One of Several Poses GooseMan Uses to Unnerve Incoming Patrons.

I informed the group of this fortuitous news, and we ordered a round of Mad Islands. A group of tough-looking bikers asked us what we had ordered. We shared our divine wisdom, and they joined the Mad Island Madness.

We absconded to the perch above the car in the floor. The Mad Island Teas were quickly doing their job, and we ascended into the highest form of pleasurable drunkenness.

We ordered another round of Mad Islands—the bikers—also in a heightened state of drunkenness—thanked us for our imparting knowledge of the absurdly alcoholic drinks, stating “These are really fucking good.”

Fully embracing our Mad Island Madness, the group became more and more rambunctious. 

We were directly in the line of sight of the entrance to the bar. And every single person who entered the bar was greeted by the GooseMan angrily staring them down.

Most people found this most amusing, but a few people were visibly shaken.

Glory Hole Under Construction

I’d be reticent without mentioning that one of the crowning features of Tom’s is the boards nailed into the bathroom walls, reading “Glory hole closed for Renovations.”

An Inconvenient Truth
An Inconvenient Truth

But even more alluring about the bathrooms is that in each of the two stalls there’s a fully functional shower stall stocked with shampoo and body wash. Patrons are free to use the showers, even given the guidance to leave a nominal payment in the stall if the bar is not open. 

It will be a crowning achievement when I finally bathe myself in the holy waters of Tom’s.

The Evil Is Purged From the GooseMan

Reluctantly, the last ferry ride back to Bayfield was nearing. 

We noticed that everyone and their mothers in the bar had been chain-smoking cigarettes. I’m pretty sure even a few of the dogs in the bar had darts hanging from their mouths.

As a public health professional, I speculated that while the habit was terrible in every other circumstance, the magic of Tom’s might even make smoking a health-giving practice. 

We decided it was also health-giving to have another round of Mad Island Teas. 

To which the bartender retorted, “Oh god!” 

Even the bikers looked a bit worried.

Though we could have easily stayed until the bar closed at 2 a.m.—and god knows what debased state we would be in by then—we agreed it probably wouldn’t be the best to spend the night on the streets.

We boarded the ferry and were off.

As we cruised back to the mainland, we witnessed the most stunning sunset I have seen.

We drunkenly ran around the ferry shouting, “It’s so fucking beautiful.”

We must have been quite the sight.

I Would Die 4 You (Hot Dogs)

Back at the rental, we started a fire to make hot dogs.

Loeber said he would join us after giving his fiance a quick call. After building the fire, we went inside to retrieve Loeber.

To our dismay, we found him in the bathroom throwing up. Disturbingly his vomit was a deep black sludge.

We speculated that an evil spirit had been purged from him. Another theory was that the combination of a bottle of ketchup and numerous cocktails may have also sent his digestive system into a crisis. The former seemed much more plausible than the latter.

We returned to the fire with the hot dogs. As we got ready to cook the dogs, Andrew and I remarked that someone had been banging, trying to get into the nearby dumpster.

Drake—the voice of reason—suggested that a person wouldn’t try to get into the trash for that long.

I was skeptical of his retort but responded that I would take a look with the flashlight. 

I scanned the property and pointed the light to the nearest dumpster—immediately illuminating the frame of a black bear—clearly deranged with a burning desire for garbage.


And we sprinted inside.

Upon fleeing to safety, I had a solemn realization, “We forgot the hot dogs.”

With a deep understanding of risk versus reward, Drake and I quickly volunteered to risk our safety to retrieve the hot dogs.

As we ran outside, I shone the flashlight near the dumpster. Two eyes twinkled from the inside of a live bear trap. We were safe but decided to eat the hot dogs inside—as we speculated that if the bear got out of the cage, it would probably be very pissed off.

After eating, we journeyed to the marina, sat on the pier, and admired the beauty all around us.

A perfect end to a perfect day.

Red Cliff Reservation and Copper Crow

The night before, we were like Icarus—flying right up the very edge of the sun—except our wings didn’t melt (well, maybe Loeber’s did a bit?). 

We were under no illusions that our final full day would reach the apex of the previous day on Madeline Island; however, there was no reason it couldn’t be a very good day. 

Early afternoon, we made our way to Copper Crow Distillery.

Copper Crow, located on the Red Cliff Reservation, is the first Native American-owned distillery in the United States. 

As if there was something inherent in the tribes of the United States that made them uniquely susceptible to the darker side of alcohol, distillation on Indian lands has been prohibited since 1934. 

In reality, this paternalistic view eschewed the reality that the murder, stolen lands, and cultural genocide of indigenous peoples in the United States are root causes of alcohol abuse on reservations. 

Copper Crow’s first-in-the-country status is not the only thing unique about its distillery. It also has the best damn cocktails you can find around. After spending a few hours at Copper Crow, we each had one while nursing our hangovers.

We made our way over to Adventure Club Brewing to grab some beers and play disc golf on their nine-hole course. The brewery and its view of the surrounding hills and Lake Superior were a welcome way to wind down the trip.

After a few rounds, we had one last hidden gem on our must-do list before leaving. 

The Fat Radish 

We made our way over to Cornucopia, Wisconsin—nestled on the Western side of the Bayfield Peninsula. With a whopping 88 residents according to the 2020 census, the small wayside has an absurd ratio of eateries to population, nearing one to every ten residents. 

The finest of these is The Fat Radish. As of 2022, they also had a tiki bar aptly named the Chubby Turnip. Drake thought they should open an accompanying coffee shop named the “Obese Beet.”

Alas, upon our arrival, we learned that the tiki bar had not been reopened for the year. 

We walked into the relatively upscale establishment, and we were greeted and asked if we would like to sit inside or outside. We nervously looked at each other—realizing that we were not always meant for public consumption—and said we’d prefer to sit outside. 

The wacky, tattooed waitress obliged us and—to our delight—sat us on the patio away from nice families trying to have a pleasant meal, away from interloping pack of deranged idiots.

Loeber—with a creative spark of brilliance—said getting out costumes would be even more hilarious if we wore them at a high-end establishment. 

We waited for the waitress to take our orders and surreptitiously snuck to Lawrence’s truck to retrieve the costumes and hid them under the table. 

The waitress brought us our soup and bread. To ensure her quick return, we requested more silverware.

As she departed, we quickly scrambled to change into our alter egos. 

The waitress returned and began to walk away. We quietly questioned whether it was so wacky up here that this was just another day at the ballpark for her. 

Then—she did a double take and emphatically laughed.

“This is absolutely incredible!!!”

The chef walked out with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, wearing a dirty Miami Heat knockoff t-shirt reading “El Heat.” He muttered, “What the fuck.” and nonchalantly walked away. 

The waitress, in rapture, took pictures of us.

She later returned with our food and remarked that she had sent the photos to her mother-in-law—who happened to own the restaurant—who responded that she loved it and wanted more of that type of energy in the place.

As I finished my fish chowder—as Andrew remarked that the others who had only gotten salads done fucked up—she laid our entrees around us. I agreed the others had done fucked up indeed. The chowder was delicious. 

But it was outdone by our entrees. 

We had a mix of “dirty flat iron steaks” and seafood, which were all artistically plated—clearly, Mr. El Heat also fancied himself an aesthete. 

As we finished what could only be described as one of the finest meals in the state—Andrew declared that it was insane that this place exists in the middle of nowhere. 

As we left, a grizzled middle-aged man approached Loeber—who was still wearing the goose hat as well as a Minnesota Wild shirt. 

He remarked to Loeber, “The Wild fucking suck.”

Loeber and the man proceeded to kvetch about the woes of their favorite hockey team.

I asked Loeber, “Did he say anything about the goose hat?”

Loeber returned, “Nope—not a word.”

The man—who apparently still in earshot shouted, “You can do whatever weird shit you want up here, and nobody is gonna fucking judge you.”

It wasn’t just the stunning landscapes and idyllic beauty around us—this is why we were really home. 

Freedom Will Lift Us Up on Goose's Wings

The true beauty of the area surrounding the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is not just in its natural beauty and pristine waters—it’s also in the culture of the people who call it home. 

It’s no coincidence that an area where there resides an ecological college, an indigenous culture that embraces water is life, and a tight-knit community of people values the planet has managed to maintain much of its natural beauty. 

The half dozen times that I’ve visited Bayfield and its surrounding areas are the freest that I have felt. Living in a country where people shout and scream about freedom, I have often found that people have no idea what freedom actually is—reducing it to a jingoistic moniker with nothing of substance beneath its surface.

In these places where freedom is praised as the highest virtue, you do not have the freedom to embrace one’s sexual identity, political beliefs that fall outside the mainstream, or express yourself in any way that is unique or interesting. People are reduced to hollow lemmings; rather than possessing the full vibrancy that authentic freedom promises. 

Figurative chains of oppression can be—at times—heavier than their literal counterparts. With profound invisibility through social normalization, they accomplish their desired ends of stamping our self and societal exploration and evolution. They ensure that social structures remain in place—the powerful stay powerful, and the oppressed stay oppressed.

While I don’t think the Bayfield area is a utopia on earth—any community has its flaws—it does represent a microcosm of what we could be as a society. 

Living in symbiosis with each other and the planet. A place where your culture, identity, and weirdness are embraced as part of a communal social fabric rather than apart from it. A place where you are free to be weird as hell, and let your freak flag fly. 

A place where you can be yourself and live in the moment—even if that self has taken on the guise of a bizarre GooseMan barrelling down main street with your group of goofballs laughing like lunatics in tow.

Photographic Evidence of Our Adventures in Bayfield
Photographic Evidence of Our Adventures in Bayfield

About the author

Alexander Nikolai

Making Milwaukee weirder one day at a time.