I’ve not done much distance riding for many years, but there was a time when we’d bungee the tent, sleeping bags and an extra pair of jeans to every protuberance on the bike (a Honda CB 550F) and take off for a few days or a few weeks. Some of our best motorcycling memories come from those trips and the amazing people we would meet on the road. This is one such experience we had in Rheinlander, Wisconsin.
My wife and I were coming back East from Vancouver Island. It was the last week in August, and it was cold! Temperatures for the past few days had barely risen above 60F, which gets damned cold after a few hours in the saddle with no windshield.
We had decided to swing down into the States to go south of Lake Superior, and so it was that we found a small mom and pop campsite just outside Rheinlander. At first we thought they were closed because the place seemed empty. But we’d had a long, cold day and decided to stop and camp anyway – open or not. As it turned out, they were open, but the cold weather – and the fact it was mid-week – meant that we were the only campers. The owner indicated we could have any site we wanted, but pointed out a nice, flat spot for our pup tent, close to the office where we could get some basic foodstuffs if needed. And seeing how cold we were, gave us a couple of cups of coffee to warm up while we set up.
Perfect. We paid our $10, pitched our little tent, and were sitting there enjoying the coffee and discussing supper options when this massive motor home cruised in. Looked like we weren’t going to be the only campers after all, if you call a 40’ house on wheels camping, that is.
After checking in at the office, this bus started cruising around the campground, and around, and around, finally stopping right in front of us. The 60-something-year-old woman got out and came over to our table, somewhat apprehensive and all apologetic, and said that we were occupying the only flat spot large enough for their “camper”, and would we mind moving?
“Of course not. Give us 5 minutes.”
Pulling up 4 pegs and shifting a pup tent 20’ is no big deal. So we did. And went back to our coffee to a chorus of thank you’s from hubby, who got down from behind the wheel after positioning the motor home on the site.
Later, as we were coming back from the office with some hot dogs that were going to be our supper, the woman stops us and says she has a roast beef in the oven if we’d like to join them for dinner. We’d been on the road for 8 weeks, subsisting on hot dogs, sandwiches, chilli, and whatever else could be cooked in a pot over a campfire, so roast beef? All right! A quick cleanup to get some of the road grime off, and we were at the dining table, enjoying a fine piece of meat. The food was delicious and these folks were everybody’s grandparents – interesting, funny, with lots of stories and pictures of the kids and grandkids. We were quite enjoying ourselves.
At one point while we were talking about our trip, the wife asked, “Aren’t you afraid sleeping in a tent?”
My wife replied, “No. The animals leave you alone. As long as you have no food in there with you, you’re fine.”
To which the response was, “Animals? Hell girl, I’m talking about people! Aren’t you scared of the people?”
Now that had never occurred to us, but it took the conversation off in a whole other direction that ended up with this elderly couple showing us all the guns they had stashed in and around that motor home. Having grown up a hunter, and with a few years in the military, I was no stranger to guns, but the arsenal these folks had was truly impressive. A handgun in the purse, another in the glove box, and one under the pillow (seriously!). And those were just the ones they told us about. But the piece de resistance was a short-barrelled Belgian shotgun – 20 gauge if I remember correctly – that he pulled from under the mattress. Hand carved stock with an engraved action, this little shotgun was truly a thing of beauty, to be used “if anybody bangs on that door in the middle of the night”. Warning duly received.
We visited for a while longer, finished our coffee and headed off to our “unsafe” tent, both determined that neither hell nor high water would have either of us banging on that door in the dark.
By the time we awoke the next morning they were gone and we were alone again, in a campground near Rheinlander.