We used to vacation on the Chippewa Flowage near Hayward. We raised our three children in a fishing boat. Our youngest was still in diapers and was learning how to cast his Snoopie pole for crappies. It was the 1980’s. And every chance we had, we would load up the truck with gear, hitch up the fishing boat, and head for the Northwoods of Wisconsin from our home in Waupaca, Wisconsin. We loved to be in the Northwoods versus hanging around the Waupaca house.
We’re island campers. On the big Flowages up north (the Chippewa, the Turtle-Flambeau, the Rainbow, the Willow etc.) the State of Wisconsin sets up and maintains camping sites on the 100’s of islands on the flowages. Folks can camp for free, first-come, first-served. I’ll tell you what you need and how to do this if my site ever gets finished. There’s nothing else like it. It’s a true wilderness experience. You need to try island camping at least once. You’ll want to go back.
Our goal was to fish for crappie and walleye. And we were always successful. I’ll tell you how to do this when I feel prompted to create a post about about Northwoods fishing.
But here’s the important point that I want to make in this post. We island camped for several years. The children got older and became more efficient at both camping and fishing, despite their young age. Each enjoyable day on the “Chip” always seemed to end the same way. When fishing was done for the day and the sun began to set, we would cruise slowly back to camp and look at the houses and cottages along the shoreline. Would we ever be able to afford a lake-front cottage to replace our temporary island camp site? We talked about it and dreamed about it. But the dream was just that – a dream. That’s the point of this post. Like a lot of other people, we had this dream that haunted us year after year.
The self-help books will tell you that 99% of the folks with a Dream never act on it. We did. It was an accident. It felt like falling off a cliff. No plan. No budget. It just kinda happened.
Let’s finish this story…………..
We were an average middle-class couple raising three children in central Wisconsin. We had careers. I worked for a Fortune 100 company and my wife taught first grade at the local elementary school. Our careers grounded us in Waupaca, Wisconsin. But we wanted to be in the Northwoods. We had meager savings. We were not “trust babys. Our parents were still living so no inheritances to be had. There was nothing special about our family. Except that we had this nagging dream of living in the Northwoods.
Our children grew up. Our daughter got married. Our oldest some joined the Marines. Our youngest son went to college. We became “empty nesters”. My wife and I would take road trips to our favorite destination – the Northwoods. We had managed to set some money aside and decided to look for a lake lot on our favorite flowage – The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage in Iron County. Like everything else, it just kinda happened. We thought that we should be doing something about this nagging dream. Finding a lot would be a first step; a baby-step. No big deal.
It was 1994 and there were precious few lots available on the Flowage. We looked for several weekends without finding anything. We had heard of a nice lot on the east end of the Flowage. Those who knew of this lot said it was nice but very expensive. We had never been on the east side of the Flowage so we went looking for this phantom lot.
We found it on a peninsula that encompassed a private, gated community. It was expensive alright. Eighty thousand big ones. We had thirty-five in mind. But it was exactly what we were looking for. And there wasn’t anything else. We decided to do the offer/counter-offer thing and see what happened. We never had a plan before. What did we need one now for? To make a long story short-er, we got the lot for sixty thousand. Now what?
That is all that we were prepared to do that year. We owned a piece of the Northwoods. That in itself was pretty incredible for a couple of “boomers” without a plan. So what’s the lesson to be learned by all this? If the Northwoods or something else is calling you, get a dream, forget the plan, and then go step off a cliff. That approach worked pretty well for us. The nagging dream will be the fuel that propels you forward. Buy yourself a piece of turf and then forget about it for the next five years. That worked too. Then as retirement approaches, build something on that piece of turf. But I’ll warn you.You have to step off that cliff again. And, as always, you won’t need a plan.
When we stepped off that cliff for the second time, it took us eleven years to build a 4,000 sq. ft. log home on our lake lot. That’s what happens when you don’t have a plan. Hey, but we built it for a pittance. And we’ve lived here permanently since 2007. Mission accomplished and nagging dream fulfilled.
I want to leave you with this. If I can do it, YOU can do it. The whole experience was one of those “fly by the seat of your pants” experiences. Yes, I advise that you have at least a five year plan. Stepping off that cliff is not fun. There were times when we thought that the bank might knock on the door of our new log home and kick us out.
If you love the Northwoods and want to live here, YOU can and YOU will. If I ever get my Northwoods site done, I’ll show you how. And we’ll see if we can avoid the “fly by the seat of your pants” part.