Peace In A Tin Can

Peace In A Tin Can

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Rifle River Recreation Area: You Always Remember Your First Time

Sometime soon, when this long winter is finally over and the first week of sunshine and warmer weather is predicted, I will just up and leave my home.  With a tin can hitched to my Yukon and my dog at my side, I will drive north to Rifle River Recreation Area to live for a few days in my beloved woods.

I haven't been to Rifle River since 1998, but I have wanted to return there since my inaugural trip with the tin can.  After years of tent camping, I was ready for something a little more comfortable, but still looked with disdain at the RVers who "pretended" to camp while living in the lap of luxury.  I wanted to sleep in a warm and dry bed, but was unwilling to let go of the simplicity of tent camping, so I bought a tin can.

The 1970 Airstream Landyacht is not nearly as fancy as its name suggests.  Back then, it needed a lot of work, had no hook-ups, and some questionable upholstery.  But it had a bed and a roof with only one leak.  It was all I needed.

In late September 1998, after hours of instruction from my husband on how to back up a trailer, I hit the road for the first time pulling a trailer.  Driving up the highway, with my dog hanging out the window, I was on cloud nine!  I kept thinking "I'm doing it! I'm pulling a camper and going all alone to live in the woods!"  Maybe that doesn't seem like much, but I had never camped alone before, never pulled anything attached to my truck, and never felt so free.  I remember that later, my husband told me a truck driver he knew had seen me on the highway and remarked that I was pretty awesome to go alone like that.  I felt so empowered!
Photo Credit: Dave Case
I chose Rifle River Recreation Area for that first trip because it wasn't too far away, but off the beaten path.  Upon arriving, I was pleased that a few campers were there (I wasn't ready to be ALL alone) but they were spread out.  Of course, as soon as I started backing the tin can onto my site, five guys in hunter's camo and orange hats materialized from nowhere and began shouting instructions to me.  All they did was confuse me.  I had my method, and though I was slow to back in, I wanted to do it by myself.  I'm sure their intentions were good, but seriously, leave me be.

I hand cranked the trailer off the hitch, got her level, and hand cranked the stabilizers down.  It was raining, and chilly.  But once I had my site set up, I walked the dog, returned to the camper, and changed into dry clothes.  Sitting in the camper that first night, listening to the rain ting!  on the tin can, with a hot cup of soup and a lantern to light the pages of my book, I realized that maybe RV camping wasn't such a bad thing.  I was pretty cozy.
Photo Credit: Dave Case
The next day dawned cold but sunny, and I did some exploring.  Rifle River is a gem, with over 4000 acres of exploring, ten lakes, countless streams, and 14 miles of trails.  It plays host to fishermen, boaters, kayakers, hikers, bikers, and swimmers.  A 3-story observation tower presents sweeping views of the area.  Birders will keep busy with field guides and binoculars.  There are highland hardwood and pine forests, grasslands, lowland forests, cedar swamp, bog, and marsh.  There is also plenty of open water.  Hunting and fishing are permitted.  Rifle River Recreation Area has something for every lover of the Michigan outdoors, even offering modern camping and rustic sites.

Wildlife viewing at Rifle River includes deer, grouse, woodcock, duck, goose, and rabbit.  In season, hunters are welcome.  The park is also open to trapping for muskrat, beaver, and mink.  Anglers come to the area for trout, as well as yellow perch, bluegill, rock bass, and  northern pike.  Permits are available at Park Headquarters.
Photo Credit: Dave Case
Love waterfowl?  Look for Trumpeter Swans and Loons, but not too close!

Rifle River is even open in the winter for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and snowmobiling.

I spent my weekend at Rifle River exploring streams and trails during the day, and relaxing by a fire at night.  Late September is an excellent time to go;  its not too cold yet, and there are not many campers.  My first trip alone in the tin can brought to light a truth for me.  I can go anywhere, do anything, and be outside learning from my experiences in nature.  Even the coyotes fighting in the woods behind my tin can didn't bother me.  I was safe and secure, and could listen to their howls and yips as part of the symphony of the night woods with joy, not fear.

Since that trip, I have revised my opinion of RVers.  It doesn't matter if you are in a tent, or a Class A Motorcoach, or anything in between.  Campers all have one thing in common; they love to be outside.  Over the years I have added many updates and amenities to the tin can, and expanded my horizons by sometimes camping in State parks with hookups and showers, sometimes choosing State forests with an outhouse and shared water pump.  I can go anywhere in the tin can, depending on my mood.

I am eager to return to the Rifle River Recreation area, the place where my tin can adventure began.  It was the beginning of my journey as a part time wanderer, not to mention the place where I learned my first valuable lesson as an RVer.  Make sure the windows are firmly latched before hitting the road! And I thought all the people waving at me on the highway were just being super friendly.