The saying here in Michigan is to wait 5 minutes and the weather is guaranteed to change. I’m taking some liberties with this but it certainly proved true for Saturday. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to run trails. Sunny, high 70s, with a slight breeze in places. It wasn’t nearly hot enough to run the A/C or be uncomfortable stuck in our truck all day. Other than blasting through puddles we never put the windows up. We were mostly met with green sandy trails to run through all day.
An Early Wakeup
Tricia and I woke up about 6 am and decided to continue sleeping for a few more hours. Initially, we slept in between the doors, head at one door and feet at the other. We ended up switching positions to and went back to sleep in between the front seats and the rear seats, which ended up getting us a little more leg room. Being the second time I’ve slept in my truck this way I am convinced that a custom cut platform under the air mattress would make a tremendous difference (I’ve added it to my list of DIY projects for the rig).
Around 8 am we woke for the second time and got up. I started boiling some water for coffee and began tear down of our sleeping arrangements. After breakfast and coffee, we jumped on the main road and headed into a small town to gas up and figure out where we were going to run trails. Once the map was consulted we settled on a large loop at the northern end of the overall run. Our three rig caravan headed south towards downtown Grayling before turning back onto M-72 to head west. After about 15 minutes of driving, we turned onto the trailhead off the main road.
A Wrong Turn and Tight Spaces
Right off the bat, I noticed the main difference between Manistee and the Grayling area is the amount of sand that makes up the trails. Manistee has it but most of what I’ve been on is compacted sand trails that are easy to drive on. Driving around Manistee I never felt I was going to dig my tires in. This was not the case on these Grayling trails. The plan was to work into the loop from the south and follow it around to the east to the northernmost staging point. Once we reached that area we would decide what to do based on the time; keep going or head to Shorts.
The first stretch was mostly forest heading north towards what should have been our first turn to the east. The trails were primarily hard packed sand and flowed up, down, back, and forth. We were only an hour or so into this run and I was already convinced that the trails here were some of the best I have been on (which isn’t much, to be honest). Somewhere along the lines, we ended up on a trail running parallel to the road. We came to a spot on the map that looked like our turn, however, it turned us to the west instead of taking us to the east.
We made the turn-up and into what appeared to be a recent logging area of the forest. It was clear cut for quite some distance all around. Instead of turning back I made the decision to continue forward and see where it took us. The clear cut areas soon disappeared and we were once again back into the forested area. Some very tight forested area. Like, I couldn’t open the door without possibly banging it on something and I was guaranteed to get pinstripes through here.
Once we cleared the tight trails it was pretty easy going. None of the trails we were on the rest of the day closed in on us. I checked the map and quickly released I had made a mistake and made a wrong turn. We were on the west side of the trail instead of the east. No matter, we continued our trek north to the second staging area.
Sand, Sand, and Some More Sand
As I stated above, we hit trails that were more sand covered than what I’ve been on in the past. Surprisingly most of the time driving was spent in 4Lo to ensure we didn’t dig in anywhere. It was easy to see that the trails we were on, while large enough to accommodate vehicles, were mostly traveled by ATVs. There wasn’t anything we came across we couldn’t get through but it crossed my mind that if we had any rain things would end up being different. Luckily that didn’t happen.
We moved through the east side of the trail pretty quickly before stopping for lunch. Our stop was at a large open sand pit with a very steep side that worked into the forest line. As fun as it looked, there was no way any of us were going to attempt going into as a rollover was probably in our future if we did. Had we been on motorcycles it would have been a no brainer.
The northern top of the loop followed closely to the main road for some distance and was the only place we really encountered any heavy traffic. It was smooth and easy going so I decided to let Tricia drive for awhile. This was her first go at overland driving so I gave her some pointers and let her learn as she went. We discussed the usage of 2 and 4Lo/Hi so she understood when to use it not only on the trails but also around our city during bad weather. I grabbed my camera and thought I was going to take some more video and photos.
This is where I kicked myself. Apparently, I hadn’t cleared off my SD cards from the previous trip so all of the videos I thought I was capturing was in fact not capturing. I also didn’t take nearly as many photos this time, something I regret because we had some spectacular scenery and chances for photo opportunities. I did capture some of the best parts of the trails though because I didn’t start filming right away either. It was probably half way through the day before I set up my first action camera.
Almost Stuck, The Run South, and Shorts
During Tricia’s driving time she almost got us stuck. The one and only time anyone had trouble. We approached a steep-ish hill and I could see it was covered in sand. I had been letting her know early on when to switch over to 4Lo and stopped about halfway through her run. I wasn’t really paying attention when she started to crawl up the hill but I felt the truck start to dig in. I told her to stop, grabbed the CB to ask the cars behind us to back up, and had her back down the hill a bit. She switched over to 4Lo and very easily worked her way up the hill and around a corner.
Tricia eventually got tired of driving so we switched back and continued our loop. We worked the trail back south until we came out of the woods and got back onto a familiar road. It was the trail following along the clear cut area we started on and where we were supposed to come out initially. We followed it down until we reached the southern staging area parking lot. After a brief stretch and walk around we decided to just head to Shorts Brewing.
Great Pizza and Good Beer
After a 45 minute drive on pavement, we reached the small town of Bellaire. After having been to Founders in Grand Rapids a few weeks back I was definitely expecting something larger than what we got. The building might not be that big but the food and beer were absolutely amazing. Tricia and I split a large sausage, pepper, and onion pizza with enough leftover for a late night driving snack on the way home. We also sampled two different beers that were light, refreshing, and made the end of our day that much better.
After eating, downing our beers, and sitting around chatting for about an hour Tricia and I decided to head for home. We had a good 3-4 hours back down to Southfield and it was already going on 7:30 pm. Kyle, Alex, and Marc were going to find another campsite to stay at and hopefully catch some of the northern lights that were supposed to be visible. We said our goodbyes, got in our truck and rode the pavement all the way home. All the while discussing what other places we could go to, the gear we’d like to have, whether our little kids would enjoy this, and generating some good ideas for future Michigan Overland group outings.
It was a great overnight with great people. I’ll definitely be back to explore more trails in the Grayling area whether it’s with my family or a crew from Michigan Overland. I’ll be back.
Lessons Learned From Day 2
- Erase camera SD cards
- Stop and take more photos and video