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ATVs and Rock Picking in Eagle River, WI

16 Jul

I love to vacation in Eagle River, WI. I never considered myself a guy who would get into ATVing, but that all changed this summer. However, I came to ATVing in a less conventional way.

As a child I spent a lot of time in Eagle River not even knowing anything about the full on vacationing going on there. We lived thirty miles away, on a potato farm outside of Rhinelander, and came up many Sundays to visit my grandparents, Bob, Sr. and Caroline Croker on their farm – Maple Ridge Farm on Croker Road.

In the 1970s, I didn’t even realize that there were lakes only a few miles from the farm that could be used for swimming, and reportedly also boating or fishing. I have great memories of coming to Eagle River, but most are of visiting with my grandparents and relatives. My grandfather was a great storyteller. I heard stories about old timers with names like “Happy” and “Barefoot Charlie”. It seemed like he was always only one name away from a list of Snow White’s BFFs.

There was no swimming or boating – only haying and stories. My dad always put on his Sunday best to get out of any haying work. He picked up this gentleman farmer routine after throwing his back out years earlier while haying, only to have to work on his own farm the following Monday. His pristine white 1970s slacks assured that there would be no weekend slinging of hay bales.

As kids, my brother and I would help with haying occasionally, but it was the rock picking that we loathed. Yes, rock picking. Every farm kid knows it. While “vacationing” at my grandparents, a couple of days were spent following my grandfather and a Bobcat bucket around the field picking rocks. The following year the rocks seemed to reappear. I suspected my grandfather of spreading them around the field the week before we arrived. He seemed to know where they all were.

Until this summer, I could safely say that I enjoy every form of recreation over rock picking – save for one. I have never had an interest in ATVs and the like and would rather be on a hot dry field picking rocks eternally, rather than fill my lungs with the thrill of trail dust.

Almost 20 years ago my parents moved to Eagle River and now live right next to Maple Ridge Farm. My wife and I and three kids make the 5 hour journey from Minneapolis as much as possible. And now, with no rock picking field work, I have more time to explore the Eagle River area in a way that I didn’t know as a kid.

Only a few years ago we began taking advantage of the public beaches in the area. One such beach is on a little lake only a few miles from my parents. We normally take Croker Rd, past my parents’ house, to the end where it becomes a dirt road. To the left is Deer Lake Road.  The difference from the 1970s and even a few years ago is that Deer Lake Road is now a road / ATV trail.

Deer Lake Road was our path to an afternoon of swimming at the lake. We were packed into our minivan – the kids, my wife and I and my sister and her daughter – all seats occupied. As we headed down the road I was grumbling to my sister about the condition of the road. It seemed like it was becoming more trail than road and the minivan suspension was not built for this. At about a mile in, the road turned into something from yesteryear. I felt like Pa Ingalls moving his family wagon to a new place where I would have to build a new cabin – by myself – again.

We were travelling at about 10 mph and the road had become a motocross track (from yesteryear). I hadn’t been on the road since last summer, and was amazed at its current condition. I was cursing ATVs and UTVs and any other kind of “TVs”. Our VW minivan, which was really only a Dodge Caravan with a German accent, ambled up and down the hills of the road, tip toeing around the sand potholes, trying not to complain.

As we crept up a hill, an ATV came over the hill and the woman on the back stood up and gave us an excited thumbs up. She appeared to slur some kind of “Yee Haw” that appeared to me, for some strange reason, in slow motion.  Good God, contain yourself, woman. I could only think. They seemed to be going too fast for the condition of the road and I wasn’t sure what the thumbs up and exaltation was all about.

Next, we approached a UTV and the driver pulled over and just stared at us as we drove by. Finally, some respect for my vehicle on this road that had been torn up by the likes of their “TV” kind. The pulled over driver’s expression was mixed with confusion and fear and that seemed odd to me.

My sister broke through my intense road concentration and asked,

“Don’t you think we should have been back out to the black top by now?”

Then it hit me. She was right. Even though we were going slower than usual, we should have crossed the other road by now. I realized that the road went left a few miles back and I had thought it was the trail. I veered right to stay on the road, which was actually — the trail. For the past few miles, we had been four wheeling in the Northwoods with our minivan. I had invaded their trail with my big minivan. I was actually the crazy one, not the Yee Hawing woman. She must have thought she was speaking my crazy language, her brief attempt to try to communicate to me.

The thumbs up ATV woman was simply being inclusive and encouraging our choice of our 7 seater VWTV option. That must have been what “Yee Haw” meant. I guess she was just very excited for our experience. On the other hand, the pulled over driver showed concern about the size of my terrain vehicle. I believe I scared him with my recklessness and he may never look at that trail in the same fun loving way again.

The VWTV in the Northwoods

My sister and wife were laughing so hard that tears were streaming from their off-roading faces and the kids were laughing and cheering as my suspension system finally bounced us back onto a black top road a few miles away from where we wanted to be. As we pulled onto the black top, we looked back at the sign that marked the ATV trail. Sure enough. We had just done that.

I have always felt that Pa Ingalls was sort of crazy the way he picked up his family continually chasing the need to be on some kind of frontier. Now I was like crazy Pa Ingalls of the ATV trails.

I  have a new love for the world of ATVs, trail riding and maybe even Pa Ingalls. I’m thinking about opening a shop that rents minivan terrain vehicles (MVTVs) for those looking to ride the trails in minivan luxury. In fact, the next time I go MVTVing I’m going to take a page from my dad’s book and wear a nice white pair of slacks. I’ll be a gentleman MVTVer.