Sunday, October 28, 2012


By Irwin, G.P.S. (Grand Poobah of Sightseeing)

It’s been a few years now since my humble beginnings as Joann's and Ruth’s “Go-To Guy” for backroads and big city navigation. At first, it didn’t look like I was going to get the job. They bought the equipment, plugged it in, and just gave the job to Jill, the “default” voice from the factory. I mean, I understand equal opportunity for women and all that, but she really wasn’t very good…or friendly.

At first they had a bit of fun with her. She would say, “In .5 miles, turn right on Pleasant Ridge Road, then turn left.” And Ruth would respond, “Anywhere?” But soon they got tired of her and even started calling her names because they thought she was too bossy. So they opened it up for auditions and they asked me to try out.

After several auditions and a trial period, they decided they liked my Australian accent best and I was given the job. I couldn’t have been happier. Jill, on the other hand, was NOT happy to relinquish her duties and take a back seat. But it wasn’t up to her. Or was it?

For months, she quietly rode along as I learned the ropes and became quite proficient in my duties. Sometimes, though, Ruth and Joann get a bit frustrated with me and I see Jill back there making plans to regain her former duties. I make mistakes here and there but, overall, I do a pretty good job of getting them where they want to go. So, other than calling me “butthead” once in a while, they haven’t threatened to replace me. Meanwhile, Jill has apparently been planning a coup d’etat (that’s French for overthrowing those in power…..which would be ME!).

She made her first attempt to overtake the throne back in May, shortly after we returned from a 10-day trip to Ohio. On the last day of the trip, Ruth told Joann that she had a surprise for her, so Joann started guessing about what it might be. She thought it was something good to photograph on the way home, but Ruth said that it wasn’t.

Ruth finally gave enough hints that Joann guessed that it had something to do with me, but Joann wasn’t quite sure what that meant. After spending WAY too much of their last day on the eastern edge of Indiana, we needed to cover some serious ground to make it home, so they both forgot about the surprise. A few days later, Joann asked me to direct her somewhere. But before I could speak my first words, Jill snuck up from behind, put a gag in my mouth, and took over. Boy, was Joann surprised when Jill started barking out directions!

Later, Joann accused Ruth of pulling a mean joke by temporarily giving Jill her job back as soon as we had gotten home from Ohio. Ruth swore the surprise had nothing to do with Jill. Luckily, Joann told Jill to shut up and came and found me and asked me to come back. I knew it wasn’t Joann’s fault, so I agreed to return to my job. But we hadn’t heard the last of Jill, not by a long shot. In early September, Joann spent the day with her brother Paul, cruising up and down the Wisconsin River. She got some great photos of the rock formations.

At the end of the day, they decided to get something to eat and Joann asked me to take her to the restaurant they had chosen. And this time, Jill stuck her foot out and tripped me before I could give the first instruction. When she started bossing Joann around about how to get to the restaurant, Joann couldn’t believe her ears. When she was about to leave the restaurant, Joann came looking for me and asked me what happened. I was too embarrassed to tell her that I had gotten beaten up by a girl….again.

A couple weeks later, as Joann was leaving to attend a Cousins Party with many of her first cousins, she typed in the address of the party and then backed the car out of the garage. And that’s when Jill locked me in the closet. And before Joann even got out of the driveway, Jill told her to go .2 miles and make a U-turn. How stupid was that? I told you she was incompetent! So Joann parked the car at the end of the driveway and pleaded with me to come back and help her get to the party so she could spend some time with her cousins.

I knew the drive to the party would be enjoyable and I didn’t want to miss seeing that cool barn mural for Schuster’s Sweet Switchers, so I jumped at the chance to come back once again.

I sure like hitting the backroads with Joann and Ruth, but something has to be done about Jill. She’s become a real nuisance and I don’t know how much longer I can live in the same unit with her. Anyone have any ideas?

Happy Halloween and Happy Shunpiking!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Chipmunk in the Outhouse

By Joann M. Ringelstetter

In last week’s blog post, Ruth shared photos from our trip to the Northwoods at the end of September. On the first day of that trip, as we made our way north, we stopped in the middle of the afternoon at Jordan County Park near Stevens Point to have a late picnic lunch.

After enjoying the beautiful autumn reflection on Jordan Pond, we left the picnic area to visit an old brick schoolhouse that is now the park’s nature center. When we arrived at the nature center, we discovered that the school’s matching brick outhouse was still standing behind the school.

Usually when I photograph an old outhouse, I take a look inside, so that’s what I did. This outhouse was a two-seater, so I decided to take a picture of them. I set up my tripod, lined up my shot, and snapped the first image. Then I realigned my camera and shot another image.

It was obvious by the rundown condition of these toilets that the outhouse had been abandoned for quite some time. Then again, maybe not. When I finished, I saw a chipmunk dart out of the pit of the toilets. What I didn’t realize until I processed these outhouse photos was that the chipmunk was peeking out of the pit toilet when I took those first couple of shots. If you look closely at the previous image, you will see him at the bottom left.

He then ran from the left side of the outhouse to the right…

Up onto the right toilet seat…

And then he sat there looking at me like I was invading his space and I should leave immediately.

But before I left, I wanted to photograph the door knob on the outhouse door. It was a very decorative door knob for an outhouse.

My little chipmunk friend, however, was not happy that I was still there. He had gone back to the left pit and sat there watching me with disdain while I finished my work.

When I was done shooting the door knob, I left the outhouse, taking a few parting shots of the door, and leaving that poor chipmunk in peace.

As we headed off to hunt up the old Jordan power plant on the nearby Plover River, I filled Ruth in on my encounter with the chipmunk in the outhouse.

Happy Shunpiking!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Autumn in the Northwoods

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

Every year we begin our autumn explorations at the end of September, and this year we made plans in earnest. The Wisconsin Fall Color report was predicting an early season and we wanted to be sure we didn’t miss it. Several experts had different ideas about how the summer’s drought would affect our color this year. Some suggested the colors would be dull and leaves would drop without changing color, while others thought we might see the best color we had seen in years.

We left home on the morning of September 27th and headed up I-39. Most people would have stayed on the Interstate to get as far north as fast as they could. We find so many things that we want to hunt up along the way, that we only made it about two hours north before we were off the interstate and zigging and zagging north as we hit some new locations and other spots we wanted to revisit.

As usually happens, when we found a motel, it was already dark. And we had only made it to the Wausau area. We unloaded the car as quickly as we could and began our nightly motel ritual. Right before bed, as Joann was getting ready to set the alarm, she asked what was on the agenda for first light the next morning. I had no plan.

Staring at the map and turning the pages, it dawned on me that we were close to the Dells of the Eau Claire. I had a couple of other single item locations, so I gave Joann a few choices. She quickly chose Dells of the Eau Claire since our last visit occurred in the rain.

The next morning the weather cooperated, and Joann was able to get many photos of the Dells and the park in good weather. It was a chilly morning, so steam was rising from the water. We were there until after the sun was up, and then it was time to move on.

As we continued north, what we noticed this year was that the reds were everywhere. Southern Wisconsin usually has more yellow and orange than red. We were oohing and aahing and pointing out bright splashes of color to each other as we drove from location to location.

At one point I told Joann that this must be the kind of color our stepmother, Mary, had spoken of years ago when she and Dad took the Lake Michigan circle tour one fall. She told us that, at one point, she was so overcome with the beauty around her that she had to pull over and have Dad drive.

At the time, we couldn’t picture it, but the color we were now experiencing made us understand.

In a normal fall, we spend our time in southern Wisconsin looking for rural architecture to photograph with the fall color surrounding it. This trip, we decided that we would capture some architecture, but we would immerse ourselves in the beauty of the Northwoods.

We spent a lot of time driving around small lakes, and through state and national forests. It was day after day of eye candy.

The color of the trees reflecting in the many lakes was outstanding. We decided that we need to spend more time in the forests and will be planning more trips in the future to the Northwoods. We’re sure we can fit that into our schedule somehow.

This has been an odd year for anyone looking for fall color. This weekend we visited our sister in southern Wisconsin, and on the drive down and back, even though it was raining, the oaks and roadsides were still very vivid with color. This year the oaks have been brighter than ever.

We hope you’ve been able to go out and catch some color. Soon winter will be upon us and we’ll only have these memories of the brilliance of the fall leaves to last us until the seasons change through the coming year and bring us back around to another glorious autumn. If only it could last longer!

Happy Shunpiking!

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Legend of the Hodag

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

At the end of September, Joann and I took a trip to northern Wisconsin. We didn’t have Internet access until the last night of our trip. We didn’t really miss it since we were having too much fun, but it does mean we missed the blog last week. And we spent this past weekend chasing the last of the fall color in western Wisconsin in this year for the weather record books.

Last year on an early fall trip north, we stopped in Rhinelander to photograph some old buildings and signs. I asked Joann if she wanted to hunt up the Hodag. Neither of us was familiar with the legend.

In the late 1800’s, Rhinelander was a frontier lumber town. Lumberjacks had long spoken of the large beast that lived in the forest, which they believed embodied the spirit of dead lumber oxen. When Eugene Simeon Shepard came to town and told everyone that he had seen the creature on a hike in the woods near his home, a group of men went out to the woods to hunt and capture the creature.

The group failed in capturing the creature but did end up killing it and bringing its charred body back to town. In 1896, Shepard captured a Hodag and brought it to the Rhinelander fairgrounds to display to all who paid a dime to see the creature. After this introduction, he took the Hodag on tour at other county fairs and at the state fair in Madison.

After returning to Rhinelander and displaying the beast at his home, it was discovered to be an elaborate hoax. Its body was a carved stump covered with ox hide and its horns were taken from oxen and cattle. Movement was controlled by wires and the growls of the beast were provided by Shepard’s sons who were hidden in the beast’s lair. Even after the discovery of the hoax, people continued to travel to Rhinelander to see the Hodag.

This year the famous Hodag even made an appearance in Scooby Doo as the villain in the episode “Hodag of Horror”.

If you visit Rhinelander, be sure to stop at the visitor center to see the Hodag, and think about encountering one of those in your hike in the Northwoods.

Happy Shunpiking!