We were driving north on Interstate 39, comfortably ensconced in a 2017 Lexus LX 570 speeding along with the adaptive cruise control locked in at 79 miles per hour. The satellite radio was tuned to Little Steven’s Underground Garage. The volume turned way up.
We didn’t feel much like talking. We were actually a little stunned having just left Mikey’s Bar & Grille in Plover, Wisconsin where we had stopped for lunch. We planned on watching the first half of the Packers/Vikings game before continuing on our way. Then we saw Aaron Rodgers crumple under the weight of linebacker Anthony Barr. Our concern turned to dread when the two-time NFL MVP and best quarterback in the league was carted from the sidelines to the locker room. Knowing the game, and probably the Packers’ season was effectively over, we finished what was actually a pretty good bar lunch, paid our tab, and climbed back into the three ton Lexus.
Built on the same platform and using the same engine, transmission, and all other relevant mechanicals as the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser, the Lexus LX 570 will go anywhere, on any surface paved or otherwise, any time of the year. This northwoods adventure, even with a little bit of mud on the quarter mile drive between the paved road and our cabin, wouldn’t begin to task the largest Lexus’ capabilities. Truth be told we could have made the pilgrimage in just about any vehicle. But I’m a big believer in always being over-equipped when heading for adventure. So onward we drove with the third row seats folded up, our tackle, duffles, coats, hats, boots and other gear stowed behind the second row, and the three of us luxuriating in leather clad, walnut trimmed elegance.
Our destination was Eagle River, Wisconsin, a small town in the northeastern part of the state just 25 miles from the border with Michigan’s upper peninsula. We had rented a little cabin poetically named Dragonfly Point on Meta Lake (pronounced Mē-tah). Our goal was to hook into Wisconsin’s most prized game fish, the Muskellunge. This was our third trip to the area. The previous year I was lucky enough to land a lovely 40+ inch fish. This year, I was hoping my companions, Mike and Bruce, would experience the thrill for themselves.
Northern Wisconsin is a beautiful spot to spend a couple of days on the water, especially in October when the leaves are turning. Nighttime temperatures usually drop near freezing and if you’re lucky, a clear sunny day will see the mercury climb into the 60s. It’s a combination that leads to blazing yellows, reds, and oranges as the maples, elms, oaks, and birches prepare to shed their foliage. We arrived early enough in the afternoon to explore the cabin and property, finding the rowboat, oars, and live vests we were welcome to use during our stay. While Bruce relaxed in the cabin, Mike and I rowed onto the lake tossing a few casts with our spinning rods to loosen up for the next day’s Muskie hunt. Mike as usual pulled in the first fish, a very nice small mouth bass. As darkness fell, we rowed back to shore, pulled the boat up, and headed to the cabin to get ready for dinner.
There’s something comforting about coming back to a cabin in the woods after a day on the water. I’m thankful for the dry hardwood stacked next to the hearth ready to warm not just the room but my bones. I’m thrilled with the convenience of a gas stove that lights with the turn of a dial regardless of the evening’s precipitation. And when dawn breaks clear and cool the next morning, the value of a steaming hot shower cannot be underestimated. Yes, there’s romance setting up camp next to a northwoods lake, sparking a fire, and settling in as the sun dips below the horizon giving way to the moon and stars. But that romance can quickly turn sour when the mercury dips below 40 and rain clouds roll in. I know. I’ve been there.
As a 13-year old growing up in Petoskey, Michigan, I often imagined myself a character in a Hemmingway short story. In my mind I’d be running around with a young Nick Adams, learning about the world and my own character by challenging nature. In the fall, I spent weekends exploring the shallow tributaries that fed Lake Michigan in search of Steelhead as they returned to their spawning streams. This often meant trying to shake the chill of October rains. It’s the sort of outdoor life that was appropriate for my youth when I could not only abide the occasional discomforts, but actually reveled in them. These days, I’m happy for a roof over my head, a tavern like Lumpy’s Bar & Grill down the road with Lake Perch on the menu, the MLB playoffs on the big screen, and a bar well stocked with whiskey.
The next morning broke calm and clear and we drove into Eagle River with the outside temperature around 35º F and LX’s buttery soft leather heated seats both front and rear on full warming mode. After a quick stop for coffee at Eagle River Roasters it was off to meet our guide and head out on the water. This would be our second year with Clint Burns who came highly recommended by one of our experienced Muskie fishing friends and proved himself worthy of the praise last year. In addition to his mad Muskie hunting, boat driving, and trailer handling skills, he’s also a hell of a nice guy. This year, however, we almost weren’t able to book him. (If you’d like to hire him, send us an email at email@example.com and we’ll put you in touch with Clint)
We had originally planned this trip for early September and had Clint all lined up, but the Thursday before our departure we got a call from his wife. Clint was ill. And not cold and flu kind of ill. He had been in a coma in the hospital. It seems Clint was bitten by a mosquito in the spring spring and became infected with West Nile Virus, one of only seven verified cases in Wisconsin this year. It took a while for the symptoms to present themselves and unfortunately when they did, Clint was on a camping trip with his family. Originally thinking it was the flu, they packed up camp and headed home with Clint behind the wheel of his Suburban towing the boat. As Clint said, “All of a sudden I must have passed out. We swerved into oncoming traffic and fortunately my wife was able to grab the wheel and guide us safely to a stop.” He doesn’t remember much after that, only slipping in and out of consciousness in his hospital bed while they tried to figure out what was wrong with him.
After he awoke it took him quite a while to recover from the infection. “It was like I was a four year old. I barely knew how to speak. Apparently, I was childish and demanding. A real pain in the ass.” Once his mind started to recover, he still had to regain his strength from being bed-ridden for so long. When we met up with Clint he hadn’t been up and around for long and he was still fairly weak. Obviously we were happy to help out where we could launching and trailering the boat and moving gear for him.
It was a beautiful, but chilly day as we sped out over waters in search of our prey. Muskellunge are, as I noted in the story about last year’s adventure, notoriously difficult to catch. And while landing one is the goal on a trip like this, it’s not really the point. I say that not to justify the money spent only to strike out on this trip, catching just a few bass and pike. But because it’s true. We spend so much time of our lives in meetings, at our desks, shuttling kids around, staring numbly at the television, folding laundry, and doing thousands of other mindless tasks that even just a day in the sunshine hanging out with friends hoping to catch fish is a therapeutic change of pace.
I won’t bore you with the details of each cast, moving the boat from point to point, or daydreaming about chucking it all and buying this quintessential lakefront resort that we passed twice as we searched for Muskies. Suffice it to say we left the water at the end of the day with the live well empty but still satisfied with our effort, proving the old adage, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at work.”
That evening we sought consolation in the form of a cold adult beverage and perfectly prepared meal. Our first stop was Pitlik’s, a beautiful lakeside resort with a highly rated dining room. Unfortunately being past high tourist season, the kitchen was out of the one item we all really wanted, an aged prime steak. Our understanding waitress apologized and we paid for our drinks. She recommended the place we already had in mind as a backup, the always reliable White Stag Inn, a supper club halfway between Eagle River and Rhinelander.
The White Stag is exactly what you’d expect in a northern Wisconsin steakhouse, with a little twist. Of course there’s the prerequisite stuffed game and fish decorating the walls, but there’s a lot of vintage artwork classing the joint up just a bit. All you need to know about the White Stag can be explained in two details I noticed. First, the sign on the front door which reads, “If you have a reservation, you’re at the wrong place.” and the wood-fired brick grill in north wall of the building. The attitude is casual but serious and the steaks are still sizzling as they’re hustled from the grill to your table. After a fantastic meal that included a wedge salad, a couple of sides, and a well made Manhattan to wash everything down we stopped by the bar to check in with one of the owners, Brian Widule. He told us the story of his grandfather opening the restaurant in 1956 and how he and his brother keep the place open 365 days a year (hint: they don’t vacation together).
The next morning Mike and I took the rowboat back out on Meta Lake hoping to catch something large enough to write home about, but again struck out. I may have to look into upgrading my selection of lures before next year’s trip. We headed for shore as the winds picked up, pulling the boat to its winter resting place, where no doubt in a few short weeks it would be covered with snow.
Just prior to lunchtime we loaded the Lexus with our gear and pointed the spindle grill to the south. A friend commented that we needn’t worry about hitting deer because that massive maw would swallow them whole. The truth of the matter is, however, you always worry about hitting a deer at this time of year in Wisconsin. Especially since we decided to take the long way home and spend the afternoon on the state’s two-lane highways passing through towns that included Whittenburg, Iola, Waupaca, and Pardeeville. Fortunately there were no such incidents and as I pulled into my driveway after seven hours on the road, I thought to myself there are few vehicles that offer the comfort, room, luxury, capability, and road manners of the Lexus LX 570. It’s a combination that has a way of making every adventure just a little more comfortable.
2017 Lexus LX 570
Four-door, 7-passenger full-size SUV
Base price: $89,380
Price as tested: $93,340 includes $975 destination and handling
Options: Luxury Package includes Semi-analine leather trimmed interior with contrast stitching, heated/ventilated front seats, second row heated seats ($1,190), 21-inch alloy wheels ($745), Head-up display ($900), heated wood steering wheel ($150)
Engine: 5.7L Double overhead cam V8 with variable valve timing
Transmission: 8-speed automatic with full-time four-wheel drive
Power: 383 bhp @ 5,600 RPM
Torque: 403 lb.-ft. @ 3,600 RPM
Curb weight: 6,000 lbs.
Towing capacity: 7,000 lbs.
EPA Estimated MPG: 13 city/18 highway/15 combined