join us on
Winter in northern Wisconsin is long, dark and cold. Come February, those
residents of the Chequamegon Bay region who haven't gone off to find sun
and sanity somewhere down south can get a little stir crazy. Around the
holiday season in 1996, a group of people got together to talk about how to
make the long winter a little more bearable by giving ourselves and our
neighbors something to look forward to in our own backyards. Members of
that group also were active in the Tri-County Medical Society and the Friends
of the Washburn Public Library, and were looking for a way to benefit those
The brainstorming session went something like this: Let's have a ski event!
We can ski across the frozen bay! Let's do it at night, with a bunch of
candles all along the way! Then we can have a big party afterward!
OK, we may have been a little stir crazy ourselves. We knew that Lake
Superior's Chequamegon Bay froze solid every winter, with ice strong
enough to support car races, snowmobile tours, fishing shanties, and even
the infamous "ice road" from Bayfield to Madeline Island. But getting people
out there on skis to glide their way from Ashland to the faraway twinkling
lights of Washburn on a cold winter night would be another story.
So, we hit up skeptical area businesses for $10 pledges, started freezing ice
luminaries in 5-gallon pickle buckets, printed up some brochures and
posters, and packed a rough course by running back and forth with
snowmobiles. We figured if we'd get 100 folks out, we'd call it a success.
By race day, we suspected something was up. We had collected more than
100 preregistered entries and we heard our neighbors and friends talking
about this crazy ski race coming up. Late Saturday afternoon, we put the
finishing touches on the course, lit candles in a couple hundred ice
luminaries, set up a registration table, and by the time the gun went off in
the evening twilight, more than 350 people were out on the bay, ready to
go. Many had dusted off old skis and just wanted to see what it was like to
be way out on the frozen bay at night. Parents pulled toddlers in sleds,
friends and families skied together, groups congregated along the route to
chat and sip hot chocolate, and we ran out of seating room and chili at the
post-race party at the Washburn VFW hall afterwards.
It was obvious that we had started something with a life of its own. With
little advertising besides word of mouth, Book Across the Bay has grown
tenfold from our first year.
This winter, we're preparing for up to 4,000 skiers. We've got a great group of
hundreds of volunteers who do everything from stuffing bags to making food
to freezing luminaries to lighting candles to designing t-shirts to building
bonfires to grooming the course. Even with all the growth, we're happy to
see that lots of Chequamegon Bay area residents – including families with
kids in tow – still show up to take part in this great community event. Come
on up north and join us February 13, 2016 for the twentieth annual Book
Across the Bay!