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Reflections of Summer – My Nostalgic Trips to Twin Lakes, Wisconsin

By: - January 5, 2016
Category : Nostalgia, Places

After writing a decent amount of dark subject matter, I’ve decided to mix it up a little bit. I wanted to share with you a story of some of my summer adventures of yesteryear. I hinted about it last time I was back in Chicago over the summer…today I wanted to fulfill that promise. It all started during my freshman year in college (insert film-like transition filling your mind’s eye)…

College Photo

My crazy group of friends circa 2003. (Still not sure who the guy is on the far left)

My friends were an eclectic group of guys that probably had every trait you could think of to form the perfect sitcom. One of whom’s family owned a summer home up in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin. He invited me up a few different occasions, but it wasn’t until my time in college that I began to make it a ritual. Every time I had gone up there, a variety of misadventures took place. All fun, harmless, and most importantly…memorable.

Man with seaweed in hair

Not pictured above Shane — AKA Poseidon (Photo: Kevin Bradley)

The trips would almost always coincide with summer school, work, or both. A few of us would usually carpool up there, and split the gas bill. Our trips began through the town of Barrington which is an affluent area in Chicago’s northwest suburbs and in the same territory as Shoe Factory Road. The road slices past this town, and continues north through a few scattered parts of suburbia. After making it into Wisconsin, we’d enter the small, quaint town of Twin Lakes. The main downtown is a huge inspiration for the fictional world of Old Orchard in Shoe Factory Road. There’s a charm to it, that I can’t quite put my finger on, but has all the classics: a local bakery, a few shops, and a gas station that the American Pickers would have a field day with.


Also couldn’t leave out this stud in the center: Matt Staffa

After we made it to our friend’s cabin, we unpacked, kicked back and waited for the others. Usually play poker the night of meeting up. It was always a fun, friendly game. The next day we usually got up early, threw on our swimsuits and head out to the dock.

Relaxing on Hammock

How could you not love that view? Photo: Kevin Bradley

His parents had a few goodies: A pontoon boat, a speed boat with inner tubes, Sea-Doos, and (my friend’s) gas powered scooters. Five or so of us would hop onto the boat, and we’d rotate who got to test their humility on the inner tube. Usually after a few whips and waves, we’d get flung 20 or so feet like a rock skipping across deep blue water. One of our friends, Drew, wanted to outdo everyone else and told our friend to go as fast as he could. It was a classic game of ego. My friend made sure he was fastened on and after a few moments, threw the engine into full throttle. Everyone looked back as Drew would bounce higher and higher in the air, but miraculously, stayed on the tube and smiled. He looked like a rag-doll clinging on for life. To up the stakes, my friend began to cut the wheel back and forth to create small waves behind us. He juiced the boat, and Drew began to navigate the large waves. As the boat’s speed roared, one wave gave him a funny hiccup, and lifted him like a kite. When he landed, the tube flipped on its top, sending Drew under water, but within seconds the tube flipped back over, and again Drew was holding on. This time though…his swimsuit had vanished. Still grasping on. It seemed he was unaware of this– his shorts floating in the distance. By the time he looked up to see us dying of laughter, a wave catapulted him into the air like no one had seen before. A ball of white nude eclipsed the sun for a brief moment, as Drew crashed into the water. We doubled back for his swimsuit first, and then him.


The infamous boat (Photo:Kevin Bradley)

After we decided to mix things up, I jumped onto one of the Sea-Doos. I was learning how to use one, as my friend was bringing the speed boat back around for a new victim on the inner tube. After seeing my friend skip off the tube, I went to drive after him. But as I got close, another Sea-Doo swooped in, and he climbed on. It was one of the neighbors across the lake. She was roughly the same age as us, but nobody had seen her before. She grabbed him by the life-vest. He shrugged his shoulders as if to say “I’m going with it.” She doubled back, and dropped him off on the dock. Just as quickly as she drove in, she was gone.

Dock during sunet

The dock just before dusk (Photo:Kevin Bradley)

With the dusk rolling in, we all wanted to continue our lake adventure, without the constraints of light. So we opted for the pontoon boat, and after grabbing a few beverages, we set sail. The boat’s motor made a constant low hum, as we cruised around the lake. We talked about what we had been doing that summer, laughter erupted as we relived the day’s events, and talked about our future plans. The sunset’s reflection off the lake was nothing short of breathtaking. And just as quickly, the day turned into night.

Sunset over lake

The picture really doesn’t do it justice.

As the night stars barely lit the dark water, we were about half way around the huge lake. Then without warning — the engine grumbled to itself, like the sound of a spigot being shut off. And then complete and udder silence. All you could hear were crickets. We paused a moment, looking to see if one of us had played a trick on the other. Everyone looked equally stunned. My friend jumped up, and checked the instrument panel. His eyes lit up, after realizing we made a crucial mistake. We remembered everything: towels, cards, snacks. But we never checked the boat for gas. We were now floating on the opposite end of his dock, with no light, no fuel, and no help. We were sitting ducks for now. After looking around we noticed a lakehouse in the distance that was lit up. Later equating it to a Paul Revere-lantern moment.

Since nobody knew how deep the water was, I grabbed a rope, and jumped into the pitch black water. My legs sunk into thick coils of seaweed, before finally touching down into soil. After giving my friends the OK, a few more jumped in and began guiding the boat towards the house with the lights on. Dragging the boat while slipping, and stepping on god-knows-what is no easy feat. Especially when you’re still laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation. Some parts were deeper than I expected. Other times, you’re trying to direct the boat after it’s veering off course. As we got closer, we heard people talking in their backyard, but could hardly seen anything. My friend threw a spotlight in their direction. After getting their attention, we asked if we could pay them for some gas to get us back to safety. A man with a mustache that was arguably one of the most intimidating men we had ever seen walked up to the dock, and just starred at us. For a brief moment, we thought about pushing the boat back to the middle, for our own safety.

He grudgingly accepted, and called for his daughter to bring down a can of gas. We handed him cash, and waited for his daughter to show up. As the girl came down, she entered the light of the dock and looked up. It had been the same girl that picked my friend up on the Sea-Doo earlier that day. She smiled at him, and he smiled back. The rest of us had looked off in the distance, knowing her father was going to think something else was going on. Her father caught his eyes — gave my friend one of the most deadly glares I had ever witnessed. If looks could kill. Clearly nothing had happened, but when 10 guys you’ve never seen before approach your dock, and know your daughter, it’s understandable to think of the worst possible scenario. My friend immediately said something like “ Okay, that should be enough…thankyoubye.” Hopped on the boat. The engine started, and everyone almost in stereo said “thank you” jumped into the water, and began to push the boat back. I looked over my shoulder to catch the man’s silhouette still frozen starring at us. It was hilariously awkward.

Another time — one of my friend’s and I decided to explore the area on the motorized scooters. My friend stated they could reach speeds of “around 30 mph.” We wanted to test that theory. We began zipping through the streets in our flip flops. There had been some beautiful cabins along the shores, and the town itself was nestled in a woodsy area that rivaled some paintings. As I looked over, I saw a man leaning on his car, stone-faced. He was eyeing us down, and quite unpleasant. We thought maybe it was time to head back to the cabin. As we jetted around the curves, we came up to a blind turn. I slowed down, but to keep my momentum, started to lean inward. My friend, right behind. As I took the corner, I looked down. At the worst possible place, there was a sewer lid with the road paved above it. There was no time to react — my wheel hit the lip of the pavement, and launched me off. I spilled out over the road. As I opened my eyes, there was my friend — eyes wide as saucers heading right for me. He had to make a quick decision — does he run me over, or does he attempt to do the same thing I did? He took the high road throwing himself off the scooter, and tumbling right next to me. We were both trying to regain what the hell happened, when the sudden sound of a car’s tires, barreling around the road came blaring into our ears. We both rolled over, and hobbled onto some adjacent rocks across the way. We sat on the rocks, bleeding from our knees, elbows, and hands. But everything else was in tact, except for the scooters…which had now seen better days. As the car came turning the curve, it slowed way down and looked in our direction. It had been the man who was stone-faced looking back at us with the same stone-faced look. He did not stop, roll down the window, or even hesitate one bit, before driving right past us. We figured maybe it’s better to stay within the cabin.

It happens sometimes. Friends come in and out of our lives, like busboys in a restaurant.” —  (The Writer) Stand By Me

After college, the usual thing happened. Some of us moved, others drifted and went their separate ways. A few years back we were all able to meet up at a really cool restaurant in Geneva, IL. Recalling old stories, and discussing what we’ve since been up to. It was a great time. The reason I bring all this talk of summer is that it seems so far away with us now officially in winter. It also serves to break up the monotony of me inundating you with creepy stories. Twin Lakes always got me through those cold days, and was so much fun to look forward to.

Sunset on dock