UP Overland Adventure Day 4

After a rough night’s sleep, we woke up to a sunny but foggy morning. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and headed out. One of our members was heading West to check out Lake of the clouds and another member was headed home directly home, leaving just two vehicles and three people, including “Grizz”, my wife, and myself. We decided to take a slight detour on our way back to the cabin and check out Canyon Falls near L’Anse (pronounced “Lance”). This was probably the coolest of all the falls we saw. It is about a 1/2 mile walk back to the actual falls, but the walk skirts the river and lots of smaller falls.

After spending an hour at the falls, Grizz decided he would be heading home from there, while my wife and I decided to take back roads back to the cabin. The drive back was fairly uneventful, but there is some really unique roads up there. Some are straight for what seems like hours, while others are hilly and curvy. We did get to drive by an old mine, which was pretty amazing in person. The roads after that were nothing to write home (or a blog) about. After what seemed like forever, we finally made it back to the cabin. It was nice to be able to grab a shower, use the hose to wash the mud off the Jeep, and sit on something soft besides by Jeep’s seat for a little while.

We still had some hamburgers left in the cooler that we hadn’t cooked on the trail, so we decided to hit the little corner store and grab some beer. We sat on the deck, overlooking Big Bay De

Noc, watching the sun set. After dark, we tried to get some pictures of the stars that were just amazing. If you have never seen the sky at night, in the U.P., it is a must see for sure. It is overwhelming to see how many stars there are compared to other places where light pollution blocks them out.

After a good nights sleep, we loaded up the Jeep, closed up the cabin and started the five and a half hour journey home. This trip was a memorable one for sure. If I had one regret, it was not having enough time to explore. It is so big and vast up there that five days, even ten days even isn’t enough. It is really hard to put it into words, the sights in Michigan’s U.P. Some places almost seem like another state, or even another country. Lush forests, crystal clear streams, and crisp clean air. I have already began planning for my next trip back!

Here are a few more pictures from the trip that didn’t make it into the other posts.

I’m Nick Howell and This Is How I Overland

I'm Nick Howell and This Is How I Overland

The How I Overland series is a semi-deep dive with Michigan and non-Michigan based overlanders, adventurers, and outdoors enthusiasts. It’s a twenty questions rundown of how they overland, the gear they use, what works well for them, and what doesn’t in their own words.

Background

My name is Nick Howell and I am one of the founders of Michigan Overland. I am a married father of three kids aged 16, 6, and 4. We also have two dogs, a Goldendoodle and a 1-year-old German Shepherd, and one cat. I grew up in the Tri-City area, specifically Bay City before moving into the metro Detroit area for work at the end of 2007. My real job is as a logistician/publications manager, my non-paid job is running and keeping Michigan Overland up. I enjoy both of them equally, and if I had to choose between the two, given they both paid, it would be tough to decide.

How Did You Get Into Overlanding?

I was introduced to overlanding by Expedition Portal. At the time, I was very much into having a bug out capable vehicle with some of the events that have happened in and around the metro Detroit area. While doing some research on bug out vehicles, I happened across Expo Portal as someone who loves the outdoors, camping, and gear, overlanding, expedition, and adventure travel seemed to fit perfectly with me. At the time I had a 2002 Tahoe that I was laying out my plans for. After Expo Portal, Overland Bound was the next site I found. At the time, it wasn’t the huge thing it’s turned into. Back then, they had some good videos up on YouTube but no real presence with people other than offering the badges. I liked what they did and threw some support their way by grabbing an early number (0194). And then, of course, Expedition Overland happened and I was hooked. I binged their entire series as soon as I found it and haven’t looked back since. The great thing about all of it is it still fits with my need to have a way out of the city. The two ideas of having a bug out capable vehicle and an overlanding rig go hand-in-hand.

Personal Definition Of or Philosophy On Overlanding?

My definition and philosophy on overlanding have changed and evolved since I learned about it and started Michigan Overland. In the beginning, it was all about the canned definition that you could get by running a Google search. I still think it’s a good definition, but overlanding is different things to everyone. If you read the description of overlanding on the Michigan Overland site, it’s about inclusion and using overland as a means to an end. I want Michigan Overland to be a place that people gravitate towards for all outdoor activities and adventuring. Some people agree with it, some don’t, and that’s entirely okay with me.

What Do You Like About Overlanding?

The people. I’ve talked with and met some awesome people while running Michigan Overland. The gear and the rigs are great, but nothing beats meeting someone who you have stuff in common with and can continue to talk with even if they’re across the state.

What Do You Dislike About Overlanding?

The elitism lately has really bothered me. To the point where I think I don’t want to run the socials, the website, or introduce new pieces to Michigan Overland. We run Michigan Overland as a very open and welcoming group. It doesn’t matter what you drive or where you come from, you’ll be welcome. We’ve been fortunate enough to not have any issues with the people who are in our group.

Current Rig?

I currently run a 2004 Suburban LT. It fits the bill nicely to be able to haul the family, the dogs, and gear anywhere we need to go. As mentioned above, I had a 2002 Tahoe but ended up selling it when I had two more kids. I purchased a car after that to save some gas going to and from work but never really felt comfortable in it. So the hunt started for a Suburban. I looked for months and really only found one that I liked. Unfortunately, the posting for it had been taken down, so I thought I missed my chance. I waited a few months before searching again and there it was. I didn’t even hesitate and purchased it after seeing and test driving it that day.

My current overland/daily driver.
My current overland/daily driver.

Modifications

My Suburban came with a small key lift in the front and Z71 springs in the rear. The factory wheel and tires had been replaced with Nitto Grappler tires and ProComp wheels. There was some exhaust stuff done to it, so it has a throatier exhaust, but I’m not 100% on what it is. Other than that, it’s stock inside.

Planned Modifications

A laundry list of ideas that I don’t know I want to invest money in to. My Suburban is pretty capable right now as is. I can sleep in it fully stretched out, and it carries my gear in a few cases. I’m not looking to go out rock crawling or get myself into sketchy situations. I’d like to have a storage solution in the back, which means a custom drawer system. My rear bumper is rusting out, so I’m going to price a swing away sometime soon. Of course, I want the standard overlanding stuff as well: rooftop tent, rack, winch, bumper, etc.

Money Isn’t a Problem, What Rig Do You Buy?

I really like the 4Runner, but it would end up being too small for my family right now. I’ve got myself convinced that a Tundra is my next truck, so I’d probably go with that. And a trailer. It’s still functional as a daily driver for me and can get me off-road when I want.

Favorite Piece of Gear?

My iPad and phone so I know where I’m going, have music, podcasts, or a book to listen to, and can take some photos or videos. I also really like my cooler because it keeps my beer cold.

Least Favorite Piece of Gear?

My iPad and phone. Mostly because I hate having to rely on them for maps. I carry paper maps in my truck and could use them for navigation, but I don’t usually because I’m by myself or my older son is with me, who doesn’t know how to read a map.

Favorite Place You’ve Been To In Michigan?

We have family property in Sidnaw in the Upper Peninsula. There’s no cell signal, and it’s quiet beyond belief. You have to drive at least 30-45 minutes to get to the next major town for supplies. It’s great.

Favorite Place You’ve Been To Outside Of Michigan?

Honestly, I haven’t been to many places outside of Michigan to camp. I’ve been up to Collingwood in Canada recently in the middle of winter, that was an experience. We weren’t camping at all but saw the need to make sure I had the correct gear and supplies in case of an emergency. We drove through a blizzard going up and almost got cut off from coming back because of the weather.

Wishlist Place To Visit?

Iceland and New Zealand. The pictures and videos I’ve seen of both countries are just staggering.

Current Favorite Podcast, YouTube Channel, or Instagram Account to Follow?

Currently, I really like the Fieldcraft Survival podcast and YouTube channel. They do a great job of blending the topics I love together into easy to understand the content. I also really like Jason Koertge because I think his videos are fantastic. They’re so well put together.

Where Can You Be Found On Social Media?

Mostly posting on @michiganoverland. I don’t really use Twitter that much other than for a news feed really but I can be found @nickchowell. And of course, I’m on Facebook.

The Build Up: Winter Outback

Winter time here in Michigan means there’s lots of snow on the ground in all the right places. Why not go on an epic overlanding winter adventure through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula? That’s precisely what we’re going to layout in this Build Up.

We all dream of how we want our rig to look, what we want on it, where we want to go with it. The Build Up series puts those ideas to paper. Each installment is a hypothetical build of a selected vehicle, what gear we would take with us, and where we would take it. Suspend reality for a few minutes and imagine with us on the possibilities if money wasn’t an object.

Use Your Imagination

For these scenarios to work, we have to suspend some realities. We’re going to assume the vehicles we are “purchasing” are in excellent working order with no mechanical issues that need to be corrected. We’re not experts on any of this, just throwing together something fun. If there’s something that could be done better or you have a suggestion for what to build and where to go, leave some comments and let us know.

The Rig

For this adventure, we’ve chosen to go with an all-wheel-drive 2006 Subaru Outback wagon with a 3.0 L 6-cylinder engine. The Outback itself is a pretty light vehicle coming in at between 2,700 and 3,000 pounds. The 6-cylinder engine provides more than enough power to get this thing through the snow.

And the fuel economy isn’t bad at 23-28 depending on city or highway driving. For a lower mileage, good to excellent condition Outback we’re going to end up paying between $9,000 and $12,000. Not terrible for a pretty reliable vehicle but it might scare some away. Plus the Outback looks cool, and we like it.

The Build

The Outback by itself is a pretty capable overlanding rig; however, with some modifications, it can be an excellent overlanding rig. Plus we’re going to be running in some deep snow. The UP is known for getting snowfall ranges between 50” and over 100” yearly. That means

Suspension, Armor, and Not Wheels & Tires

First on the list is to upgrade the suspension and in a lift kit. Unlike SUVs and trucks, the options for a lift kit for an Outback seem to be pretty limited. In this case, we’re going to go with a Primitive lift kit that runs for $680 plus an additional $318 for a new set up struts. The kit adds 1.5” of lift and all the necessary hardware to ensure proper alignment.

We’re going to go ahead and put tracks on it from American Track Truck. Their Dominator track system allows the wheels and tires of almost any vehicle to be replaced with tracks designed to eat through any snow the UP could throw at you. We imagine these don’t come cheap, but could not find a price to list so just go with into the thousands of dollars.

The last thing we want to do is provide some protection for the Outback. Just because we’re running trails in deep snow doesn’t mean something could come along and cause some severe damage underneath. In this case, Primitive has us covered with a front cover for $239 and a rear differential cover for $110. We’re also going to go with one of their front lightbars ($559), no cutting of the front bumper needed, just bolt it on to the frame.

Gear Storage and Mounting

The first thing we want to do is create a storage solution for the rear cargo area. There are plenty of examples of DIY storage solutions in just about every overlanding vehicle imaginable. In our case, we’d like something that has two storage drawers for all of the necessary gear we’ll be carrying. The top should also have a slide-out available on one side for a fridge, and the opposite side is just open for anything we can throw in there. We aren’t planning on sleeping in the Outback, so there is no need to extend the storage box up into the second row, although that is a possibility.

The roof is going to be outfitted with a Rhino-Rack Pioneer SX Platform. The Pioneer Platform measures in at 60” by 49” and runs a pretty penny. You can pick one up for just over $1,000. Like we said, pricey, but Rhino-Rack is known to make superior quality roof racks that can stand up to just about anything. To round it out we’ll be adding their ski mount holder, a dual jerry can holder, a shovel mount, and recovery board mounts.

Where Would We Go and What Would We Do?

This didn’t take a lot of thought on our end. The Upper Peninsula in the winter is a venerable paradise of wintery things to do. Skiing, snowshoeing, ice climbing, and so many more activities can be found across the area.

The annual Michigan Ice Fest is a good place to start in early February. Held in Munising at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the ice climbing fest offers attendees the opportunity to see Pictured Rocks in a non-warm setting. They offer courses and classes for experienced and non-experienced climbers alike.

Much like seeing Niagra Falls in the winter, the waterfalls that populate the Upper Peninsula should not be missed. We’ll probably start somewhere around Tahquamenon and work our way west, hitting the various known and unknown waterfalls.

Lastly, no winter trek through the UP would be complete without hitting some slopes. The Porcupine Mountains offer 15 groomed downhill trails that overlook Lake Superior. They also offer a handful of snowshoeing trails.

All in all, this would be an interesting rig and trip to take. Winter in the Upper Peninsula is no joke, and we think our build up would make it a fun experience. Let us know what we missed, what we should include, or some other places we should have listed to check out in the comments.

UP Overland Adventure – Day 3

I didn’t realize I could sleep like a baby with so much noise outside. After the long night of loud sound from the waves and wind, I awoke to find a gorgeous sunrise. Honestly, it may go in the books as one of my favorites. It had warmed up quite a bit an the sun felt great after not seeing it for a couple of days.

We started the day with an excellent breakfast cooked on our new Everest Stove. Even with the wind, this thing blew my old Coleman out of the water. After breakfast, we broke camp as quick as we could so we had some time to get some pictures out of the more exposed part of High Rock point. I was able to get some beautiful pictures of our awesome Tailgater Tire Table for them since they were kind enough to donate one to us for the trip. We were even able to get some drone footage of the Jeeps before hooking up trailers and heading out.

We started back on the same trails we had driven the day before, which were filled with even more and bigger puddles than the day prior. More washed out ruts made for a little flexing fun on the way it. It wasn’t long before we were back in paved roads headed west towards Copper Harbor.

From there we took a cruise down the north side of the Keweenaw Peninsula, which made for some fantastic views of the rocky shoreline. We were also able to stop by a few waterfalls and Michigan’s only active monastery which makes and sells some awesome (but “holy expensive”) jams and baked goods. After dropping $80 on goodies, and a few pictures of the buildings, we drove a couple of hundred yards down the road, where we stopped at Jacob’s Falls for some photos and lunch. Of course, we had to have PB&J with our $12 jar of Black Cherry jelly.

After lunch, we headed back down towards the Houghton/Hancock bridge where we again parted ways with our teardrop trailer buddy, while the other 3 of us got started down the Tom Nichols route towards Mass City. While the scenery on this route was amazing, the trail itself lacked any sort of fun. I guess it is catered more towards snowmobiles and fast driving side by sides, as it was smoother than the paved road I live on. About 80% of the way down the trail we met back up with our 4th member (who ironically could have easily made the trail) and continued the last leg of the journey into Mass City.

Before the trail ends, three very narrow and massive spanning bridges cross over some very deep gorges. I had seen these in videos before but being there in person was pretty awe-inspiring. We took our time going across so we could get some nice pictures and admire the view.

After finishing up the trail, we stopped in Mass City and started searching for a place to camp for the night. Our only stipulation was we wanted to be able to fish. First, we tried a spot on a river I had scouted on Google Earth. No road to be found or any clue that there ever had been. Across the street was a trail that led down to the river but no way we could all fit, and after the rain, it was pretty flooded. We continued south and found an excellent spot on a stocked fishing pond, but it didn’t allow overnight camping even though there were picnic tables and a fire ring.

With limited cell service, we checked out another free campground by Bond Falls, but after arriving, we learned it was only for hiking in with tents. No way our Jeeps and trailers were fitting in there.

With nightfall approaching, we continued to another free campsite. Luckily, nobody was there. There were three nice sites, all in a lovely wooded area. They were big enough that we all fit into one site. There was a small pond, 100 yards from the site, but after 4 of us, fishing didn’t get as much as a bite. It did though make for another gorgeous sunset.

We got a fire going and cooked up some dinner. Had some funny and interesting conversations before running out of beer and calling it a night. Laying in my tent that night, I couldn’t help but notice the quiet. No crickets, no frogs. Nothing. I woke in the middle of the night to hear buddies still laughing at the campfire. Later I awoke again to hearing coyotes miles away that reminded me of some evil witches or something. I never really realized how hard it is to sleep when it is that eerily, dead quiet. Needless to say, I really didn’t sleep much that night.

UP Overland Adventure – Day 2

After a night of decent sleep from the sound of the waves of Lake Superior and the increasing rain, we awoke to gray skies and steady rain. We decided against cooking breakfast and focused on packing up camp and getting on the road. Packing in the rain has to be the worst part of camping. Knowing we still had two nights of camping ahead of us didn’t help. The mud from getting stuck on day one was now wet again and made for some messy packing.

We started by heading south on half dirt, half paved roads, toward L’anse. From there we headed north toward Houghton/Hancock. I tried to run the JK through a car wash, but the rooftop tent left me about 7″ too high. The mud would have to stay for now.

As we crossed the bridge into Hancock, we made a couple of tricky turns to find the trailhead of the Lake Linden route. The trail starts off leading through the city. It’s pretty interesting, and you get a feeling of “should I be here” as the trail crosses lots of roads and driveways. The trail was a mix of dirt, rocks, and puddles. The rain was sort of a blessing in disguise as it made the trail a bit more fun and added a little more challenge to it.

By midday, we were again running behind. One of the most important “lessons learned” on this trip, was making our daily routes too long. I had kept it around 150 miles a day, but with slow going on trails, roads on the map that didn’t exist, wrong turns, and wanting to take in the scenery…it all adds up.

Speaking of scenery words can’t describe the beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Combined, my fiance and I took over 4500 pictures. As the trail turns North, the woodland gets thicker and looks like a different world. Some places have a long drop straight down on both sides. Rivers frequently run right next to the trail, and the views let you see for miles.

We had been traveling only about 15 mph down the trails and needed to make up some time, so one of our group, pulling a teardrop trailer, decided to jump on the main highway for a bit and meet us further down the trail since he couldn’t travel much faster on the bumpy trails. It was a good thing because not much further down the trail was a steep rocky incline that was made much worse by the rain.

We continued for a while down the trail, but our fun was ended when the trail (keep in mind this is a state route, which allows vehicles of all sizes) was blocked, only allowing ATVs. So we ended up jumping onto the high way and meeting up with our 4th rig.

We started heading north on dirt roads, towards our evening’s campsite at High Rock point. I had read high clearance vehicles are recommended to make it to this site. It was good advice as it wasn’t long before the roads quickly became muddy trails with puddle after puddle, which was pretty fun. Due to the increasing rain, many of the hills had small rivers running down them and deep ruts that added to the mayhem.

Finally, we made it to the end of the trail which splits off into different fingers. Each finger leads out to campsites right on the rocky shore of Lake Superior. It was everything I had expected, except for the 4-5 foot waves and 30+mph winds that were a bit of a surprise. We set up camp, behind a bit of tree to help block some of the wind but it did little to muffle the sound of a jet engine sounds of Lake Superior 20 feet from us.

We were able to get some wood together and get a fire going despite the rain and spray from the waves that didn’t want to let up. We settled in early that night and settled for a nice, albeit damp bed, and a movie downloaded to my GPS tablet.

Later the rain did let up enough that I was able to fry a little venison over the fire for a late night snack and enjoy a few cold beers before calling it a night.