Rifle River (MI) Camping Trip July, 2021 Recap – Reunions, Dog Bites and Car Trouble – Oh My!

My husband and I got back from a three-night camping trip in mid Michigan last night. In a loaner vehicle (more about that in a bit, it’s an important plot point)!

The trip started out uneventful enough – a fairly leisurely drive north on U.S. 23/I-75 to the West Branch exit, and then about a half hour or so down some country roads, we arrived at Rifle River Recreation Area.

Every state park and recreation area in Michigan has a sign that looks like this (only with different names, duh)

We had to wait in a line of vehicles before being able to get into the park and set up our camp, but it was a holiday, so par for the course (we arrived on the Fourth of July). It’s about a 4.5 mile drive from the park entrance to our campground, on mostly gravel roads. Good thing is once you’ve made the drive out of the park, a fairly nice party store – or quickie mart, or convenience store if you will (party store is definitely a Michiganism) is right by the park entrance and will have pretty much everything one might need on a trip – ice, firewood, food/snacks, booze – even WiFi. I was able to use the open WiFi while in the parking lot, though when I go camping, I like to NOT use my mobile communication devices/phone! Though not having cell service in our campground proved later to be a pain when the car dealership had to call us (more about that in a bit).

Parkview Acres is a party store, souvenir shop, laundromat in one – and there is a campground on the same property.

Our first night, we just boiled some hot dogs for dinner, then picked up some firewood and ice. Weather was cooperative that night, so we just kind of hung out and enjoyed the fairly empty campground. What’s that, you say? An empty campground – on the Fourth of July? Surely, I must be speaking in jest!

Well, sort of empty…a good number of campers flocked to West Branch to watch the fireworks display, which left a skeleton crew of campers at our campground to keep the party going. My husband and I thought it would be a hoot to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the top of our lungs. When we were finished, some other distant campers yelled out “America,” and gave us a little applause!

The next morning, we decided that we wanted to set up a little rain shelter in addition to our tent. Our hopes was that if we bothered to go to all of that effort, then it wouldn’t actually rain (it really does work like that sometimes). Well, turns out, we would need to have a little rain shelter – so we used our 12 by 12 foot Kelty Noah’s Tarp – draped it over our Joe Shade portable umbrella (the old school kind that doesn’t tilt) – staked down both the umbrella and the ends of the tarp – and voila. Not a fancy shelter by any means, but it provided enough room for us to sit with a little bit of gear in a dry place while the rain poured down.

I took this photo after I removed the stakes and guy lines – it looked much more legit when those were in place (I wanted to quickly take a photo before breaking camp, I’ll explain why in a bit)

Tuesday afternoon, we had plans to visit with an old friend from high school whom I’ll call Jenni. We met in band class in 1983 or 1984, while goofing off with our respective instruments (yeah yeah, one time at band camp…). We became friends pretty quickly after that – I think it was probably sixth grade, because we still had Mr. Doolittle as our instructor. No, he didn’t talk to animals (as far as I know). We remained friends almost through the end of high school, but not quite until graduation. When we talked about it, we didn’t even really know why we stopped talking to each other – we chalked it up to “teenage girl drama.”

When I first entered their house, I was attacked by her daughter’s dog, who decided to BITE ME! Yes, the medium-sized black dog (unsure of the breed, some kind of “doodle”) bit my upper thigh right above my right knee. She didn’t break the skin (whew), but I have about a three inch round bruise. Hey, I know I’m not really a “dog person,” but I was only in the house for one second before being attacked – how did the dog know? It’s possible the dog was a “pandemic dog,” and hadn’t had many chances to meet new people because of the plague. But after that, I was nervous about going into the house without the dogs being on a leash!

We met Jenni and her husband at their lakefront property near Prescott, MI. We wound up drinking…and drinking…and drinking some more – while we reminisced about kids we hated in high school, boys we liked in high school, teachers who slept at the wheel, teachers who were awesome, teachers who were pervy, dressing up like whores and walking to Meijer (yup we did that) – and pretty much everything else. Yeah – we both got pretty trashed – and a little TOO huggy (she insisted)! But we had a great time and I wasn’t the one driving! It’s been great to finally be able to see friends and family again after all of the plague restrictions we’ve been living with since March, 2020.

After having spent an afternoon socializing with friends, my husband and I decided we’d spend the next day being beach bums. The Devoe Lake rustic campground in which we were camped had a very nice swimming beach! It was a great way to escape the heat/humidity (temps in the 90s) and have a nice cooldown that actually lasted hours (sorry no pics, I didn’t bring the camera to this beach). The Devoe Lake beach is a mixture of grass and sand, and the lake has a sandy bottom – and is deep enough so that a tall person like myself doesn’t have to go out very far to be able to get my shoulders wet. I bought a “swim shirt” before the trip – which is a great way to avoid having to put on as much sunblock (I’m lazy if nothing else).

Here’s the only pic of me in the “swim shirt:”

I highly recommend swim shirts! They help keep you warmer in cool water and really protect the covered areas from UV rays.

After our swim in Devoe Lake, we wanted to hit a “Great Lakes” beach – so we drove about an hour to Tawas Point State Park. We’ve visited this place quite a lot in the past, but never in the summer. We’ve done quite a few cabin trips at this park in the spring and fall and have only talked about coming here to hit the beach. Here are some beach scenes from the day we were there:

So much seagull poop!

The shoreline at Tawas Point has changed quite a lot over the years, thanks to erosion. The lighthouse even had to be moved from its original location, which happened quite a long time go. High water levels last year turned what used to be a fishing pond into an expanded beach – which means a big chunk of water in the swimming area has a very steep drop off very quickly. It was weird seeing so much water with no people in it (but kind of nice)!

We had such a nice relaxing beach day, like the one they joke about in that annoying Progressive ad, where Flo ruins the beach day by talking about insurance with another beachcomber. Well, our beach day was ruined after we stopped at the restrooms – OUR CAR STARTED DYING! It started f—ing dying – the digital display said “battery failure,” and “going into battery saving mode.” This means A/C didn’t work, and the volts started going down, down, down, down. We were in trouble – a couple of nearby campers directed us to a dealership on north 23, so we set out and hoped we’d be able to make it there (my husband was terrified about having to stop the car). We managed to hobble in to a Dean Arbour Chevrolet dealership, and found someone still working in the body shop – and he wound up getting the wheels turning to get our poor car in the hospital. He called in his boss, who set up getting a loaner car for us (a 2016 dark grey Chevy Malibu). I would later learn from another dealership employee that the later model Malibus are often called “Impalabus,” because of the discontinuation of the Impala model. As a result, Malibus were made to be a bit more roomy in the interior. Since we had to shift our camping gear from our smaller Malibu (2013) to the loaner, this was actually kind of nice! Also, did I mention that I’m tall and love leg room? Even with the seat all the way back to my comfort level, there was enough room for plenty of gear behind my seat in the back!

So we left the poor broken car at the dealership, and got ourselves a quick dinner at Subway. Later, heavy rains would hit our camp site, and eventually drove us to sit in the car for a while (it was that comfy)! The next morning, we’d have to drive into cell service zone to talk to the mechanic – and after packing our waterlogged gear, we’d have to drive to the dealership to see what was up.

Turns out a shredded serpentine belt was the main culprit – and an oil leak. Because of COVID delays with basically everything, the belt didn’t arrive until late afternoon, which meant our repair wasn’t going to finished that same day. Thankfully, the source of the oil leak was easy to spot – didn’t require dismantling the engine. What wasn’t easy was cleaning up all of the oil! Sadly, our car wasn’t going to be fixed in time for us to drive home, but they let us keep the fancy 2016 Malibu until we can get back up there and get our car (Saturday). I really like the Bose sound system – though if I were buying a car I probably wouldn’t want to pay for it!

Well that pretty much sums up our trip…maybe I should go into the garage and get the rain fly that I have hung up and spread over pretty much the whole width of the garage (oh the tribulations of drying out tent camping gear after Mother Nature decides to be a bitch)!

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