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Boondock RVing makes for the perfect getaway, despite the UFO

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Sometimes, it’s those spur-of-the-moment getaways that make for the best RVing. So it was this past weekend when we headed to northern Michigan and did some boondocking – camping on our own, in no designated camp space, with no commercial hookups.

It was perhaps the best experience we’ve had in our RV all year, made even more fun by the sighting of a bunch of UFOs.

The decision to go wasn’t made until Saturday noon. By 1 P.M., our Roadtrek RS Adventurous Type B motorhome was packed and we were off, 150 miles north to a stretch of wilderness that adjoins the Rifle River, a fast-moving, cold water trout stream that flows from northeastern Ogemaw County  through Arenac County to Lake Huron, 60 miles to the southeast. Our campspite was on private property, owned by my brother-in-law and very familiar to us from more than two decades before. We had often camped therein the mid to late eighties and early nineties with our three kids and their friends, first in a Coleman popup and later a tent.  But as our kids grew up, went off to college, and eventually settled down with families of their own in different parts of the country, we stopped going.

This weekend, Jennifer and I decided it was time to revisit the Rifle River.

It would also give us a chance to try boondocking, something we have yet to do in our Roadtrek.

It was the first weekend of autumn and as we headed north on I-75, we noticed that the trees seemed to be turning colors much earlier than usual. Reds and brillant yellow patches grew increasingly common as we crossed the unofficial “up north Michigan” line at Bay City. By the time we pulled off the interstate at exit 202 and headed northeast on M-33, we guessed about 30% of the forest was in brilliant fall foilage.

The weather was brisk and breezy. Heavy rains in downstate Michigan gave way to fluffy white clouds skittering across a brilliant blue sky up north. For a half hour or so. Then a black storm cloud would suddenly materialize. Rain would trickle down for ten minutes. Then it would clear up. It did that on and off untill sunset.

The spot we chose to camp was down a two track dirt trail carved out amongst a thick forest of oaks, maples and birch. No Type A or C RV could have navigated this road and we kept our speed slow, to avoid scratches from low hanging braches. We stopped in a clearing at what my brother-in-law calls “the high banks,” a spot that overlooks a sweeping “S” curve of the river, 100 feet below.

It felt weird to find a level spot and just stop. There was no electrical cord to run out and plug in, no water hose to attach. We had made camp. Just by stopping. I pulled out a couple of folding chairs and we were done. We spent the first half hour gathering dead wood for a campfire and then we took a walk with Tai, our Norwegian Elkhound.

Tai missed out on our big trip west this summer. It was just too hot. And national parks – like in the Badlands, Yellowstone and the Tetons – are pretty dog-unfriendly. Besides, it was very hot for that trip and Tai, with a thick double coat, wilts in the heat.

But on this first fall weekend, the weather was crisp. Cool, actually. Tai thrived. He ran free, following us as we hiked, but pursuing scents and hearing things that made the Rifle River about the closest thing to paradise an Eklhound has ever experienced. He’d run off, plunge off the underbrush, only to emerge further down the trail, burs and briars and seeds tangled in his fur. We swore he kept smiling at us.

As darkness came back at camp, we fired up the generator on the Roadtrek and put a meatball sandwiches we picked up at a Subway on the way north into the microwave. Jen made a simple salad and we ate inside during one of those passing showers.

When the rain stopped for what turned out to be the last time that day, we lit the campfire and watched the light fade from the sky. By 8:15 PM, it was full dark. We watched the fire, lazily talking about the day, remembering those long ago days with our kids up there that seem like yesterday. Our backsides were picking up the night chill. We inched closer to the fire. Life was very good out there in the woods.

Then came the UFOs.

Truth is, we haven’t a clue what we saw. We were in the middle of the woods, about a mile off the nearest paved road. About 8:50 P.M., we both started noticing a series of lights, red at first, white as they moved from our left to right, traveling treetop height from north to south. We both had the impression that the red was at the front of whatever we were seeing, the white at the back. The trees would obscure the lights as we tried to follow them, making it first appear as if they were blinking. But we believe they were solid lights, moving slowly. Sometimes one was visible,  sometimes a couple, once we counted as many as four. I stood up and walked away from the fire to try for a better view. I tried to take a video with my iPhone but they were not bright enough to show up. We couldn’t figure out how far they were from us. They didn’t appear to be large and they seemed to be roughly paralleling the paved road we came in on, called Rifle River Trail. They were at slightly different heights and were not moving in straight lines. Never above the treeline in the sold dark sky, never too far below or close to the ground.

We watched them for about 10 minutes. There was no noise. Just the lights. They just stopped. No sudden acceleration. They just stopped showing up through the trees.

It was very strange. I actually thought of calling the Ogemaw County sheriff’s office to see if anyone else saw them. I’m just not curious enough to make an official report and sound like one of those weirdos that everyone quotes. Hmmm. Maybe I shouldn’t be sharing this with you. Oh well. And, in case you were wondering, we were NOT drinking adult beverages ’round the campfire.

After our UFO preoccupation, we sat around the campfire until we burned up most of the wood, then turned in around 10 PM. At one point, from somewhere to the west across the river, we heard a pack of coyotes carrying on. I found myself sorely tempted to use the fading firelight, the spooky-cool sound of the coyotes, and those mysterious lights, as backdrop to a ghost story. Alas, we are no longer teenagers and Jennifer wouldn’t have bought it for a minute.

I turned off the house battery and the Roadtrek’s heater for the night. I wasn’t sure how much running the heater and the refrigerator on LP while we slept through the night would drain the battery. We make our Roadtrek bed into a king and cocooned in our RV Superbags.  As the night cooled, we were snug and warm. All was dark and quiet outside. Because we were totally alone out there, we slept with the curtains and shades up. I lay on my pillow and looked up. The clouds had given way to a perfectly clear night. Above, a gazillion stars dotted the night. I was about to tell Jennifer to look but her breathing told me she was asleep. When I told her in the morning about the stars, she told me I should have woken her up. Right. She doesn’t know that she’s very dangerous when awoken from a sound sleep. I do.

When I woke up at first light Sunday, a little before 7 A.M., the outside temperature was 31 degrees. Inside the Roadtrek, it was 45 degrees. I dashed to the battery switch on the side panel, turned it on, kicked the thermostat on and crawled back in bed. Twenty minutes later, the inside temp was near 60. I got up, started the generator and made a pot of coffee.

After breakfast, we hiked a mile or so with Tai, returned to the Roadtrek, put the chairs away and set off for home. We were back in the early afternoon.

All told, we were in the woods less than 24 hours. But our first experience with boondocking has convinced us this is a great way way to camp. Maybe we should call it Boontreking. Or Roaddocking. Roadtrek is coming out with a new model, the RS E-Trek, that has solar power, a fuel cell option and has been re-engineered to provide maximum power for remote camping. I’m hoping to et my hands on one to see how it fares out there in the wilds.

At any rate, we’re planing to be able to do it again next weekend. I’m betting the color will be at 50 to 60% of peak by then. And who knows, maybe the strange lights may be back.

Use the comment box below to share the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen while on the road.

Here’s some more photos.

The Rifle River…view from our high banks boondocking spot

Jennifer gathering firewood

Tai as we hiked a path along the Rifle River

Tai loved the woods

 


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  • Marta

    Beautiful! Can we come camping with you at the Rifle River. Please. Pretty please. We can even verify the UFO sighting if they appear again.

  • Jeff

    Sure does sound refreshing compared to the crowded campgrounds.

  • Gina Gibson

    LOL Best story ever from you Mike. Nice pics too. Not going to comment on the UFO. I thought I saw a UFO sitting on my back porch very very late one night. It seemed to be hovering over Lake Michigan. I decided to go inside, if they came for me they had to take the hubby too. LOL Nice story telling.

    P.S. I love that YOU made the coffee and got the place warm before waking Jennifer. :-)

  • Joe Palmer

    I was wondering when you would discover boondocking, Mike. It is a great way to travel and a huge reason to buy a Class B. I also want to say you do indeed see strange things out there in the wilds. We’ve laid back on a blanket and watched the night sky in Minnesota and, believe me, most nights you will see things up there that puzzle you. Enjoy your RV life!

  • Judy

    I’m thinking they may have been Chinese lanterns, sometimes called sky lanterns. Here’s a YouTube video that sounds like what you saw. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2zoeVd3SId4
    Only thing strange about that is that you were in the wilderness. Were there a lot of people nearby that could have launched them?
    Sounds like a great excuse for an impromptu Roadtrek UFO rally up there to investigate :-)

  • http://www.marvac.org Bill Sheffer

    Nice piece! I need to bottle this up and pour a bit out everytime I’m asked “Why do people by RVs and go camping?” See you next week.

  • Gary Hennes

    We boondocked all W/E up around Duluth,MN. Temps got down to mid-30’s. Your coach battery (ies?) should easily carry the furnace, etc. through the night. LPG consumption was minimal. Turn up the heat!! Enjoy it!

  • Lawrence Plotkin

    You should now take out the new Roadtrek they announced that has solar power and fuel cells and see how that does out there in the boondocks.

  • Dan

    Mike, nice story. Make me want to head out there!

    I was surprised when you said you turned off the house battery. I never do unless not using the RT for many days. What if you wanted to turn on a light during the night, or as I like to do reach up and turn on the furnace for a bit of heat during the night or in the morning. Plus, with the battery off your various detectors, fire, co, propane, are powered off.

  • Jim Fletcher

    That new ETREK Roadtrek will let you dry camp longer so maybe you can also video that UFO you saw. Seriously, I live in Wisconsin and we see strange things all the time out in the boonies.

  • Karl Glass

    Mike, I always find you in the most unusual ways. You were a patient of mine and then in BSF. Been in Chicago teaching for 12years. Just bought an 07 Sprinter passenger to convert and boondock. would love to be a part of a journey with the two if you. My Grandparents had a cottage in Okemaw County and one of my cousins was a sheriff there!

  • Mike Wendland

    I’m thinking about inviting those that want to join us up there for an unofficial boondocking rally some weekend. I can handle six more vans besides mine.

  • http://livininavan.blogspot.com/ Melissa

    Great post! What a fun weekend!
    I don’t think there’s any need to disconnect (turn off) the battery overnight – I’ve mostly done dry camping in my PW and can go about 2 nights before the battery gets to E. I run the fridge on LP and sometimes run my 12v fan all night (or a good portion of the night). I don’t like to run the furnace overnight b/c it makes too much noise and it’s not constant, but it doesn’t use much energy. Also the point about the detectors not working w/o the battery is a huge safety consideration. If you are boondocking out in the woods (or Wal-Mart!) there are no generator hours and so if you wake up in the AM with the battery depleted you can always run the generator to charge it up…or just drive off! :-)

  • Greg

    Spent the last two weeks in Michigan’s UP along the Lake Superior coast with about 2/3 of the nights in State Parks with 30 amp electric and 1/3 in National/State Forest / National Lakeshore campsites with no electric hookup for our 2008 RS. Driving during the day kept our two house batteries charged and we had no problems with no electric hookup. If need be you can run the generator to top off the batteries. No need to disconnect the batteries at night just make sure the inverter is off when you are not using it. Limitation on boondocking for us would be the need to dump the grey tank. We normally need to dump tanks every other day but we could stretch that out if we needed to by being more careful with tank usage (e.g, dump dishwater in the campfire ring instead of the tank, less water use when showering). Black tank size is not too much of a limitation.

  • Joe Buchman

    You might enjoy my boondocking in a RT post at

    http://dreamlandresort.com/

    Click on Trip Reports, then look for Roadrunner’s reunion under the 2007 reports section.

    I’ve had this 1998 190 on a LOT of 4WD only “roads” . . . .

  • cloosh

    Many moons ago I too suspected I was encountering a supernatural occurence in a Scottish castle….
    I was to sleep in a room with a four poster bed and massively thick walls with similar floor and ceiling. It was deathly quiet and I lay reading for quite some while until I just had to go to sleep, but as soon as I began to drift off i could hear a gentle patting type sound. I would waken right up and check the room for all sorts of ideas as to why this noise kept reoccuring in this ancient building with its many folklore stories involving ghosts and wierd reported happenings.
    Finally after a time of growing anxiety if not plain fear I realised the noise was caused by my beautiful long eyelashes batting against the pillow!!!….LOL…Happy Camping