Bucket List Inspires Travel Bug
Boasting natural wonders, unique museums and a culture all its own, Wisconsin is the perfect state to travel for author Kelly Jo Stull, who decided to revisit her childhood wanderings in the form of a book called The Wisconsin Bucket List: 100 Ways to Have a Real Wisconsin Experience.
With a place or activity listed on each page, the book is designed to spark the travel bug and create an awareness of what the state has to offer. The list includes quintessential Wisconsin experiences like squeaky cheese curds and a Friday night fish fry, not to mention a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field—but even native Wisconsinites will find plenty they have yet to cross off.
A resident of Georgetown, Kentucky for twenty years, Stull still holds a deep love for her home state and often returns to visit family and vacation. “I’ve explored Wisconsin and appreciated it more since I left,” she said. “You kind of take things for granted when surrounded by it every day. Then you have a new perspective when you leave and come back, and see how beautiful it is.”
Born in Fond Du Lac in the late sixties, Stull spent most of her childhood in Wisconsin Rapids in a home by Lake Wazeecha, the site of the annual waterski championships.
“I was the last of five kids, so I was given a lot of freedom to explore,” she recalled.
Traveling was something the family did from an early age, packing a picnic basket and parking the station wagon at waysides on the way to new wonders. “My mom loved to take road trips on the weekends,” said Stull. “I always called her the unofficial tour guide of Wisconsin. It just seemed like she had such a passion for the state.”
Those road trips included church picnics, short drives to the Wisconsin Dairy State Cheese Company in Rudolph to see the cheese curds being made and the Grotto. Then there were longer journeys to cities like Milwaukee to see the Domes and Miller Brewery, and to Madison, where they toured the capitol.
“I can remember walking down State Street and seeing the diversity of people,” said Stull. “It was just such a different place than Wisconsin Rapids.”
Stull graduated from Assumption High School in 1985 and studied fashion merchandising at UW-Stevens Point. After graduating in 1990, she traveled with K-Mart opening up new stores, eventually settling in Kentucky with her husband and three daughters. However, she never forgot her origins and the many day trips of her childhood.
The idea to create a Wisconsin bucket list sparked in 2012 when a friend was writing the Kentucky Bucket List. “I thought it was such a fun book and a great expression of the state of Kentucky, that I would love to honor my own home state,” she said. “I was homesick a lot, so I thought it would be a great way to reconnect with those memories and make new ones.”
Stull sat down in 2012 and had no trouble coming up with ideas. “I drew up fifty things within twenty minutes,” she recalled. During the research process, friends and family who still lived in Wisconsin, tourist centers, and the internet were main resources to come up with a list that included lesser-known attractions in the state.
In April 2013, Stull traveled alone for the first time to Wisconsin to conduct some hands-on research. During that week, she traveled to Milwaukee and discovered activities like the Riverwalk, then scoped out the lighthouses up in Door County and Peninsula State Park on foot. Snow still stuck to the ground after a long winter, and the park wasn’t fully plowed.
“I remember getting out of my car, and I went through a snowbank and left a boot!” she recalled.
Stull shared her snowy experience with the hotel clerk and learned that a it was possible to take a trolley tour around the peninsula and visit the lighthouses that way. It was an idea that made #15 on the bucket list, and an activity she later took advantage of with some of her family.
With the list idea in place, she went through the process of self-publishing the book. “I think, like any writer, I just felt so passionate about what I wanted to write about,” she said. “For me, the best way for me to do that was to be self-published.”
Most of the writing was done manually. “There’s power in writing by hand. You spell out the words and it’s almost like you’re casting a spell.”
After typing it up on the computer, the text was laid out professionally with photos and quotes, then sent to Worzalla Printing in Stevens Point. “I wanted to keep the book as Wisconsin as possible,” Stull explained. “The people that designed the cover were from Milwaukee, it’s printed on Wisconsin paper, and I wanted to make sure the publisher was in Wisconsin.”
Additionally, Stull contacted every business that was mentioned in the book to get permission—even lawyers for the Green Bay Packers, who appreciated that she had thought of it. Since Stull and her family are Packer fans, and her dad is a shareholder, the fact that attending a Packers Game makes number one on the bucket list might come as no surprise. But a few of the businesses asked specially that the Packers be put first.
A love for the team isn’t confined to the state. Before returning to Kentucky, the most-requested item for Stull to bring back is cheese—of a sort.
“The number one thing that surprised me is that they all want the cheesehead!” she said. Since Kentucky doesn’t have its own NFL team, friends she’s won over have no problem donning the hat–Number 44–and cheering for the Packers.
Later, with the physical book in hand, Stull returned to Wisconsin with her daughters to become bait inside the Big Musky in Hayward, visit the Little House Wayside in Pepin, drive down the Great River Road and eat a Stockholm pie.
“I discovered five more places I could have added for every thing that I did,” Stull said. She has checked off about eighty activities from her own list. “I still have more to do, which is a good thing.”
To use the book, one simply flips through and marks which activities would make for a great adventure. “If you have ideas of things you’d like to accomplish, I encourage you to write them down. You might surprise yourself,” she said.
Some of her favorite and most memorable bucket list activities were dog-sledding, riding the Elroy Sparta Trail and kayaking with her sister around the Apostle Islands sea caves in Lake Superior. The following February, she returned to the islands to see the caves covered in ice, and was able to walk over the frozen lake on the same spot where she had kayaked.
The difference is part of the charm of Wisconsin’s distinct seasons, Stull feels. “You can go to the same destination see a different view four times a year.”
Not ranked in any way, the list covers events that are seasonal and locations that can be visited at any time. The book, often used as a gift item and in Wisconsin-themed baskets, is free to customize: some readers create an album by pasting pictures underneath each list item that they complete.
Though a lot of work at the time given that she was new to self-publishing, Stull feels that she would find the process easier the next time around. And the experience overall was rewarding.
“It changed my life. I’ve met so many amazing people just by writing this book,” she said. “What they say is true: it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey. I did things I never thought I could do just by writing them down.”
Travel photos contributed by Kelly Jo Stull.