When our neighbors Dave and Robin found out we were passing near their vacation hangout in Minocqua Wisconsin, they said we’d have to stop on our way. That’s a good enough reason for us to make a short detour, even though we see them often enough at home. We dropped our jacks at Patricia Lake Campground, located a mile from the house they were staying at in Minocqua. The house is owned by Robin’s 83-year-old cousin Richard, who spends every summer at Lake Minocqua. It’s a typical lake house with a jaw-dropping view of the lake, several bedrooms and multiple beds. Various relatives and friends take turns spending time with Richard. Present for this visit were Dave, Robin, Aunt Rosie and Dexter, a goofy boxer dog and us. Dave and Robin spend the month of July with Richard and help around his house to earn their keep.
Richard is, to put it mildly, a character. He’s a bit of an electronics geek and every shelf in his living room is crammed with DVDs and VHS tapes. You wanna see a movie, he’s got just about everything, along with an enormous TV. If Movies aren’t your thing, there is satellite, cable, Netflix and Amazon. It’s remarkable that with a setup like that he doesn’t live there full time. He has corn hole boards (doesn’t everyone?) and Jarts—the original dangerous spear-your-sister’s-foot-with-a-bad-toss kind of Jarts. One of the more unique games he’s set up is his 18-hole Nordic Golf course.
It’s really all putting, but the cups are arranged across and around the front of the house. To get from hole to hole involves navigating weeds, hostas, tree roots, divots and hills. Whack the ball too hard and it’s “buckety-buckety into the lake” time. The rafters in Richard’s shed hold dozens of old putters and on the floor is a bucket of practice balls that look like they were liberated from various driving ranges. All the holes are par 2 (according to Richard). At the end of the game, our scores ranged anywhere from 39 (Richard) to 62 (I stink at all forms of golf). Dogs Dexter, Ryder and Henry had a great time on the lake too. Ryder learned to dive off the dock and even Henry made some tentative forays into the water. Richard closes his house in October. Ben asked him if he’d ever considered staying all year. Richard allowed that it would cost him around $500 a month just to heat the house—so, no. Only one home in Richard’s neighbohood of lake houses stayed there full time.
When we weren’t playing on Minocqua Lake or having one of Richard’s enormous home-made milkshakes, we were at our campground. Calling the body of water at our campground a lake was charitable, as Patricia Lake was really more of a large pond, but it was a great place with a dog park and a dog beach. Most of the sites were seasonal with permanent steps and wooden decks. The careful landscaping and elaborate setups of the long-term sites made us through travelers look like a bunch of gypsies. There were the usual strings of lights, cutesy signs extolling lake life and signs proclaiming “The Knudsens: Robert, Susan, Bobbie, Jimmy and Fluffy!” The Minocqua RV crowd also seems to be into the fairy garden craze. If you don’t know about this, fairy gardens are composed of tiny figurines placed so that it looks like the Keebler elves have chosen a patch of your yard to set up a cookie factory. Fairy gardens were tucked here and there close to the roadway, ostensibly so that walkers could admire them. We had to be mindful of our dogs so that they didn’t pee on the tiny tableaux. Not everyone was as careful. I watched a lady let her shitz-ztu pee on the head of a green-clad elf who was posed next to a tiny RV.
As is usual on our trips, we had vehicle trouble and had to find a local mechanic. (More about that on another day.) While Ben was waiting in the repair shop, he chatted up another guy who was also waiting. He turned out to be a psychologist with a local practice and told Ben that the long dark winters in Minocqua were rough. He also said that on the last day of the season, ‘the townspeople of Minocqua line up and wave goodbye to the tourists.’ Making a living in a tourist town must be a lot like like cattle farming. You’re dependent on weather and the economy to make a living, and you have to cater to animals that can be cantankerous or wander off for no good reason. In the bright sunshine of the summer it’s easy to forget about the people who live there year round. Winters are long, dark and cold. The locals keep things running for the summer hordes who abandon the town on Labor Day long after the soft summer weather turns cold. Then Lake Minocqua is taken over by ice fishers and snow mobile enthusiasts.
After two nights in Minocqua we climbed back in the RV to head for the next destination. No doubt as I write this, Richard is entertaining another group of visitors with a round of Nordic Putt-Putt and ten-gallon milkshakes.