Friday, June 13, 2014

When did we push the fast forward button to Michigan?

We broke camp early knowing very well that the couple we talked to last night had every intention of stealing our site right from under us. We were thinking of finding a campsite somewhere in this northern part of the state before heading into the Green Bay metropolitan area. We knew once we hit Green Bay and then south towards Madison our time in the woods would be coming to an end, so we wanted to see if we could find one more place to stay away from the crowds. Our day plan was to drop south on 13 and then head east on 70 towards the town of St. Germain and hopefully a place to spend the evening before heading south towards Green Bay. The thing is, just as these directions sounds to you, they were nothing but road numbers and town names to us. We had NO IDEA what truly lay ahead, just names and numbers on a map. But when you find yourself in Northern Wisconsin you have to go somewhere, so off we went.
Driving in this part of rural northern Wisconsin is not awe inspiring; mostly banged up blacktop two lane roads hedged in with scrubby woods and farms that seemed to be about a hundred years past their prime. We pulled off and took some pictures of dilapidated barns and homesteads and pretty much zoned out for the first hour or two.
Once again finding a place to camp was not going to be as easy as it had been up to this point during our trip. The State Parks in this area did not offer overnight camping and the few private campgrounds we passed were completely exposed and hokey looking, not somewhere we would feel comfortable in the least. (Later on during the trip we would be forced to lower our lofty standards and stay at an embarrassing private campground with the name "Jellystone" and it was the filthiest shower ever!, but that's a story for another time...) At this point we were still hanging on to what little dignity we had left and continued on searching for that elusive "perfect" campsite. We had expected to find fewer and fewer people and more and more wilderness along our route, why I do not know since we had NEVER been to Wisconsin before, but what we found were more and more people and less and less wilderness. When we arrived in the city of Woodruff it was pretty evident that this area wasn't going to be the wooded lakeside hideaway that we had envisioned when we plotted it on the map. Note to self, just because the map shows numerous lakes surrounded by state forest land it doesn't always equate to wilderness.
We continued driving east on 70 hoping that it would miraculously take us somewhere we would like to be, but we just got more of the same. Trucks with campers hauling jet skis, campy private lakeside resorts, touristy pizza places, and gas stations. Hmmm... Not exactly "into the wild". Now I'm not sure why we yearned for such a lack of civilization exactly, after all we did just drive through northern Minnesota, but none the less we were pretty disappointed. I think it had more to do with our unrealistic expectations of an area we had never visited. Regardless, this was NOT our type of place so we continued on in search of...?
     Around one we were getting hungry so we pulled off at a state rest-stop which was wooded and had picnic tables and bathrooms. It was actually pretty nice and we were the only ones in the little parking area. We all piled out and we let Max off his leash even though the signs explicitly said that "all dogs must be leashed at all times". Signs be damned! We did keep Erley on a lead because we ain't stupid. Erley is the best trail finder ever and sure enough ten minutes later we found ourselves down by a little stream. It was by far the most fun we'd had that day and the animals seemed to be enjoying themselves as Max jumped up on picnic tables and Erley shot up four or five tree trunks. We returned to the RV just as another car pulled in and made a lunch of everything left over in the mini-fridge. Sometimes you need to purge the things way in the back of the fridge to make room for new arrivals, but it can make for a Hodge-podgy meal. Say pepper jack cheese, smoked mussels, tortilla chips, cottage cheese, pickles, and shortbread cookies. Mmmm-mmmm...
We finished our lunch and we hit the road having decided to check out one of the many DNR (Department of National Resources) turn offs which came along periodically. The DNR signs always seem to promise much more than they deliver, and the kicker is that the destination is always an amazingly long ways off but they never include mileage on these signs. A classic DNR sign would read- "Shimmering Sunset Lake". Then you arrive three hours and a broken axle later to find a mosquito infested bog with a vandalized picnic table and no bathroom facilities. That may be a bit melodramatic but, you get the point. But we were starting to get a little anxious as our choices for evening accommodations were far and few between and we were anxious to find a place to settle down and relax. About ten miles up the road we spied a DNR sign on the left side of the road reading "Spectacle Lake Campground" and so we turned off onto a gravel road and gambled that this little detour would pay off in a nice place to stay for the evening. Like most DNR destinations Spectacle Lake was miles and miles off the main road, sixteen miles to be exact. Now sixteen miles on an unknown narrow gravel road hemmed in on both sides with thick woods seems to take forever. The further off the beaten path we got the more we started doubting our decision and when we finally arrived at the Spectacle Lake Campgrounds we found our misapprehension was well founded. The campgrounds were not full, but they were all set in a dark wooded area of gnarly old trees, with smoke from campfires hanging at shoulder height, and what looked to be long term unsmiling campers staring at us with open disdain. We circled the campgrounds twice but just couldn't bring ourselves to pull into a site and put down roots.
We took the little spur road that led to the lake and parked and walked Max out to a little fishing dock that jutted out into the water. The lake was small and shallow, and wasn't particularly pretty, and after a couple of mosquitoes found us we decided it was time to continue our search. Once again it was getting towards dinner time and were sixteen miles off the main road without any idea of where we were going to spend the night. We didn't want to backtrack all the way back on the gravel road, and having noticed a couple of other cars arriving at the lake coming from the northeast on what looked to be a little more well traveled road we decided to gamble again and hoping that this new route would bring us to civilization and present us with some sort of camping options. Our Rand McNally map wasn't helping us in the least on these little DNR roads and our mapquest wasn't much better.
We drove for what seemed to be WAY TOO LONG on this nameless little road, both our fingers crossed, silently hoping to turn the next corner and find ourselves on some sort of main thoroughfare. After about a half hour we did in fact run into a major road, unfortunately after pulling off and consulting our actual gps unit we realized that we had somehow driven completely off our planned course and now we were just four miles from the Wisconsin-Michigan border. How in the hell had we ended up this far northeast? Usually we are pretty good at determining which direction we are heading, but once we got onto the maze of DNR backroads we just completely lost it and now we found ourselves just a few minutes from Michigan's Upper Peninsula. (The RV does not have a compass reading or a temperature reading. SUCH an oversight!) Well, this was a unscripted turn of events. When we made a rough outline of our trip before we departed we hadn't even considered visiting Michigan,  but here we were less than five miles away without any real plan as to where we would be camping that night. We noticed that there was a large State Park just outside Iron River, Michigan, and just like that we adapted through necessity and after just two days we bid Wisconsin adeau and entered the Wolverine State never looking back.
About forty five minutes later we pulled into Bewabic State Park where we found a nice little wooded site on a small bluff above the lake. That's one of the joys of traveling with no set itinerary, sometimes you find yourself in a completely different state than you intended and it's very freeing.

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