Once you escape the suburban sprawl of Metro Detroit that is best described like a community planning experiment gone terribly wrong. Michigan has some redeeming qualities that are some of the best I have seen in this country. What I am talking about is the vast tracts of land that exist in what is called Northern Michigan or “up north”.
Within these tracts of land are sparsely populated towns filled with trees, lakes and wildlife. One of the coolest things about the land up north is that there are thousands of miles of secondary dirt roads that wind through the dense forest like a web of sheer adventure. At least that is the way I see it.
On my many journeys up north either riding dirt bikes or taking my old Pathfinder to Outdoor Recreational Vehicle Riding (ORV) designated riding areas I would come across random roads through the woods that seemed relatively unmarked and seemed to stretch for miles. That is when the idea came to me that one could not only go up north and ride in one of the many designated ORV riding areas one could randomly chart a course on these dirt roads and keep linking them together and make a day long or several day long “point to point” adventure.
After about 4 years of thinking about this, I decided that 2005 was the year I needed to do it. The next thing I needed to do was come up with a plan, what exactly would be these two points in the “point to point”. I looked at a map of Michigan and came up with the logical answer. The points would be a town directly on the East coast ala; Tawas and the town on the West coast would be Traverse City. So in essence, the trip would go from Lake Huron to Lake Michigan. My goal; use as many secondary roads and ORV trails as possible using paved roads only as a way to link one stretch of the woods and trail to the next.
I was determined to do the trip by the end of 2005, ideally I wanted to go in October with the foliage in full effect, but as October came I realized I had not done sufficient planning to get this mission of the ground. The target date was now the third weekend in November.
I had run this idea past Eric Bartunek of the White Trash Gang (WTG) earlier in the year and he was game then. So now that it was actually going to happen, Eric was my first logical choice for candidates for the trip. I called him up and he was in for sure. He also told me that Barracuda of WTG would also be in for the Journey. I then called my former roommate and German Playboy, Andreas Geistert. He was in too. I had told Mike Coffee my plans thinking he would want no part of this. However, Jimmy Coffee (Commander), home from the Air Force, and eager for a mission that did not require sitting in a US compound in the middle of Baghdad for months on end, was in. This prompted Mike to sign up as well. One call to good friend and fellow worker Clark Campbell to tell him what I was planning was all it took to get him on board too.
So now we had the team of seven assembled and with a little help of from Volkswagen we had the hardware, in this case two Touaregs. Andreas brought the detailed county-by-county map, Clark brought the GPS unit and Barracuda brought his friend Old Grand Dad.
Around 6am on the morning of 11.19.06 our Journey began in Ferndale, MI. Barracuda, Bartunek, Commander, Decaf and myself piled into one Touareg and proceeded north about 20 miles to meet up with Clark and his Touareg.
very early morning in ferndale.
Upon meeting up with Clark, Decaf and Comander hoped in with him and we then picked up Andreas. This left the 3 people in one Touareg and 4 in mine. I had two White Trash Gang members and my German Resident Engineer, Andreas. We continued north to Tawas over the next 2 hours.
northern michigan getting ready for touareg season
Coast Number One:
We arrived in Tawas to a brisk morning sun and a snow covered coast. We made our way down to the water and walked around for a bit and then took an empty water bottle and filled it up with a little bit of Lake Huron.
Into the Woods:
After we were done with the coast, one of the most difficult parts of the trip began to unfold. We had to figure out exactly where to forge into the woods. I had taken the county atlas and just put blue masking tape on the pages as to create some boundaries that I wanted to stay within on the trip. I did not really care which roads we took, as long as they were dirt preferably, within my blue tape boundaries and heading in a westerly direction.
Just getting into the woods proved to be an ordeal. It took us at least an hour of driving around Tawas looking for elusive dirt roads that seemed like they should be exactly where we were on the map but when we would get there, alas no road. Commander was yelling to us to put down the peace pipe and find the trail Commander, I assure you there was no piece pipe.
Shunning the pressure, chief Navigator Eric Bartunek was steadfast and kept his cool as we did laps around the Tawas airport looking for an in-point. Eventually we had to head west on some paved roads to get us away from the shore and into the heart of the woods it was then that we began to hit every single high tension line access, dirt road and ORV trail that we could.
All in all we probably took about 70% paved roads on our journey to Traverse City. This was much more pavement than I would have liked, but overall the goal was completed. It was best summarized by blasting at speeds of 80+ mph down backcountry two lane paved roads only to come across a westward leading dirt road on the map. Eric would tell me when it was coming up. Turn signal would come on and there we were going from perfectly good paved roads to exploring the depths of Michigan’s forests through mud holes, highly banked off-camber turns and military testing areas.
One of the greatest parts of going through the woods in the middle of November was all of the looks that we got from the local hunters. Deer season was in full effect and we saw at least a hundred hunters while in the woods. Most of them would give us, in the lead Touareg, a look of confusion when seeing a Touareg with 4 guys sans Camo. That look of confusion quickly turned to astonishment when they saw another Touareg directly behind it. You could just here them saying, “You boys ain’t from around here are ya?”
outside of camp grayling artillery testing zone
barracuda consults old grandad for some direction
We reached our safe haven in the woods, about 12mi southeast of Traverse City at a place called Ranch Rudolf. I had stayed there years ago with about 10 German interns and remember it being pretty cool. It is, except it was like a ghost town. We were the only guests of the night. I was hoping to whoop it up with a bunch of drunk hunters, no luck there.
So we headed downtown for some excitement and then back to our cabin for a little late night drinking and song writing/singing and serenading thanks to Barracuda's guitar and Clark's excellent song writing skills.
welcome to ranch rudolph
jap eyes awoken by a sweet song about roofing
celly blowing up even at 3am in the middle of the woods...decaf style.
ladies, let me shake for you
commander loving his wake up song about iraq and his keen soldiering
Coast Number Two:
The next morning we got up and took our bottle of "Lake Huron" and poured it into Lake Michigan. We were sure that we had just introduced a new breed of organisms to this other body of water and began the inevitible demise to Traverse City. At least that is what Old Grand Dad told Barracuda.
decaf in disbelief
spawn! creatures of lake michigan
I would like to do this trip again in the summer of 2006, but hit even more dirt roads this time. My other goal for the next trip would be to avoid the Traverse City Police Department who has a warrant out for my arrest for "Bringing a car to market without doing sufficient demographic research...namely the Phaeton". I guess you had to be there.