on the Lake
Far End of the Lake
Berghoff & Blues
Green Lake, WI
Green Co, WI
Are We There Yet?
It was a trip I had been meaning to take
for several years, and when another had fallen through at the last
minute, Heidi and decided that a trip to Mercer, Wisconsin might be the
perfect plan for some peace, quiet and relaxation. Of course, even
though I had planned on not writing or doing any work while in Mercer -
after all, it was supposed to be a true getaway - I somehow knew
that I would end up sharing the trip with you, even if the story were to
be a brief one.
We headed north out of town on Friday at
about 8:30am, hoping to be just behind the typical "getaway day"
traffic that always seems to clog the expressways on Fridays.
Interstate 90/94 was the usual bumper-to-bumper stuff most of the way up
and through Madison and then thinned out a bit as we eased onto Route 51
north at Portage. I was unaware - until Heidi shared the fact with
me - that Route 51 is actually an incredibly long and unbroken route
(1286 miles) that runs all the way from Hurley Wisconsin (way in the
northern tip of the state) down through the states of Wisconsin,
Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi to La Place, Louisiana.
Formed in 1926, it has even been the subject of a Bob Dylan song (Highway
51 Blues). There is much information available about it and
somehow I feel another excursion coming... a very long one with lots of
In any case, I had just swapped out my
2-stroke Yamaha 90 for a new 4-stroke and as I looked in my rear-view
mirror at my boat following closely behind me, I was grinning widely
with the thought of putting a few break-in hours on it somewhere in the
lakes of northern Wisconsin near Mercer. The traffic was suddenly
almost non-existent and the grin widened. Route 51 north of Portage
continues as a 4-lane divided road with plenty of open space to enjoy as
it wends its way north through the towns of Westfield, Coloma,
Plainfield and eventually Wausau, just south of which it starts to cross
the Wisconsin River for the first of about a dozen times before the
river bends east and back toward its source at the southwest corner of
Lac Vieux Desert, on the border of Michigan and Wisconsin. We had
decided to take our time in getting to Mercer, and had made a
reservation at a Super 8 Motel in the small town of Merrill, about
15 minutes north of Wausau. Although we were pretty early, we were
greeted with a warm welcome and friendly smile at the front desk by Joan, who by the way, may be one of the
most helpful and friendly people I have met while traveling! She
was also instrumental in leading us to Cal and Cathy's Club 64 (about 4
miles west of town) where we enjoyed a huge and tasty dinner.
After an incredibly quiet and restful
night's sleep, we headed for Iron County and Mercer, Loon Capitol of the
World. The drive from Merrill was relatively short (less than 2
hours) and we dropped the boat at our motel (Northern Exposure Nite's
Inn) before doing a quick tour of the town. Northern Exposure, by
the way, was a shot in the dark because I knew nothing of the area.
But what a great shot it was: inexpensive, very clean and quiet, and the
room appeared to have just been redone in knotty pine. It came
complete with a small refrigerator, microwave and coffeemaker, and was the
perfect place for us; it felt like we had our own little cabin in the north
woods! The town is very small - only about 1800 residents - but it
had a very friendly and comfortable feel to it. There were several
places to eat (even a Subway), a few bars, a couple of bait shops and
gas stations, a neat specialty shop filled with great souvenirs called
The Wampum Shop, and an IGA that came in quite handy when it came to
grabbing a few necessary items for lunch and snacks. And Mercer is
literally surrounded by lakes!
We had arrived on a Sunday afternoon and
things seemed very quiet in town; we learned later that a fairly large
Harley Motorcycle contingency was headed in to town the following
weekend, so I guess our timing was good... After a visit to one of
the bait shops, we were told that there was a small lake in town (Echo
Lake) where we could easily launch our boat. We headed over, got
the boat in and took a sort of tourist cruise around the 273-acre lake
for awhile. We also made a few casts and picked up a couple of
small northern and largemouth bass. The weather started to look
threatening, so we headed back to the motel. We fired up a small
grill that we had brought and grilled burgers. We also uncorked a
bottle of wine, poured a glass (Dixie cup actually) and the grin that
had placed itself on my face the day before suddenly now stretched from
one ear to the next; this was really livin'!!
Most of the storm blew past us and Monday
morning dawned a beauty. We had decided to try Mercer Lake - right
in town and easily accessible - today. It was also small by most
standards, but I didn't care, the beauty and serenity was overwhelming
and we had much fun in spite of the 20mph or so winds that blew up
starting at about 10:30am; we did manage to catch five different species
of fish - all too small to keep - but still fun to catch, especially on
a lake we knew nothing about. But steaks on the grill, along with
a baked potato with sour cream and butter, accompanied by a glass or two
of red wine - just me and Heidi and the clean, crisp north woods air and
I could have died and gone to heaven. I slept like a baby!
Tuesday was much the same, only this time we tried Long Lake, to the
north and east of Mercer. It was a bit bigger - about 470 acres
and very pretty -
and deeper in parts; we hoped it was hiding a few Muskies. It
probably was, but luck was not with us that day. I didn't mind at
One of the reasons I had wanted to come
to Mercer was to see a close friend of mine that I used to work with.
Kurt has a summer home in Mercer and I had promised to look him up.
We picked him up at his cabin and took him out to dinner at a place
called Club 51, right on Route 51. If you ever are in Mercer and
want to have a tremendous dinner, you simply must go to Club 51.
Heidi ordered what turned out to be the biggest slab of Walleye I had
ever seen on a plate, Kurt ordered Chicken and Ribs and I chose the
All-You-Can-Eat Ribs. Complete with a great salad bar, this could
easily be one of the best meals I have had... and really reasonably
priced at that. We all ate, and talked, and laughed until my sides
hurt. Time had almost stood still for awhile on a cool August
night in northern Wisconsin, and I had not felt so relaxed in a long,
Wednesday morning, we had one final meal before heading for home - a great little breakfast
on the little grill.
As we drove south, I marveled at how easy it can be to relax and have
fun. It reminded me of a certain commercial about the cost of
doing things - the only important part being: we had put the boat in
three different lakes in three days, ate well, slept well and spent some
quality time with a good friend... priceless! Mercer was friendly
and accommodating and it was well worth the drive. I know that
there was much more that it had to offer, especially in terms of its
quality fishing, hunting and winter sports. And it is a place to
which I know I will return.