green sandy trails

A few weeks back in early July we had our Southwest Michigan meetup at Founders Brewing. I got to meet some new folks and some old folks who I’ve interacted with on the page for a while now. After a number of beers Kyle, Marc, and I started talking about the next meetup and how we should make a weekend of it. After a number of more beers it was decided the next meetup would happen as planned but we’d also get in some trail running and camping.

The more I thought about it this is how all of the meet ups should have been. Trust me when I say this will be remedied for next year. It worked out really well (except for the weather Friday, but more on that later) and gets in what we’re all here for: beer and the outdoors (maybe you’re not here for both but I am). The following is more wordy and light on the pictures as it was pretty dark once we all met up and found a place to camp.

Delayed Planning

Planning started the weekend before August 5th. My gear was still in a pile in the basement, cast aside from the July trip in Manistee. It was begging to be reorganized and cut down once again based on what I did and didn’t use on the last trip. Of course I didn’t get to it until Thursday the 3rd but it didn’t take long to pull out what I didn’t use and try a more minimal setup.

Of course this ended up not being a great idea because it wasn’t just me going by myself. My wife was going to be joining on me on her first outing with some of the Michigan Overland crew. Initially I pulled out some extra cooking gear that I didn’t feel was necessary and it ended up being that I could have used it. The lesson learned here was to have two different minimal setups. One that covers only me when I’m running with a crew and one that covers potentially my whole family when running with a crew or we’re by ourselves (that’s an article and project for later). I’ve also made creating the drawer system for the back of my Suburban a priority, especially after explaining the concept to Tricia and how easy it would be to grab things from there instead of hunting through bags or coolers.

On top of the late packing, gear prep, and work hours I had no time to try to put together a route. I’ve also never been up that way so had no idea what to expect. Instead I went the easy route and asked Mike about a route as he’s been up that way. He came through in a big way and provided a ~200 mile run.

The Long Drive North

The plan for this meetup was to have it at Shorts Brewing in Bellaire. I’ve had Shorts beer before here in Metro Detroit and figured it was a good enough place to hunker down for some beer and conversation. This was before I checked the map and realized it was a long drive. I was committed to it either way and the changed plans to camp out Friday and Saturday helped solidify my resolve to make the drive.

After next to no planning we finally got going on Friday afternoon. I talked with Marc and we made plans to stop in Birch Run to grab a late lunch and then keep moving north into the Grayling area. I watched the weather all week and by the time we left Metro Detroit I was convinced it was going to be better than predicted. We drove through sunny and mid 70s conditions with no need to run the A/C at all. By the time we got into Birch Run the weather had changed over to slightly chilly but not unbearable. After a quick stop at Meijer for some supplies and a pretty good lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings we were once again on the road.

We drove. And we drove. And we drove some more. It’s a bit of a hike to Grayling like I said. Along the way we had the weather change over to rainy and chillier than before. Awesome, the weather reports were actually right. Of course I didn’t really buy into to it so I didn’t pack for rain. I’m pretty sure Tricia didn’t either. After almost two hours of highway we made the final exit in the Grayling area. A quick run up business 75 and we were into the downtown area.

Good Beer and The First Run

We found a place to grab a beer called Paddle Hard Microbrewery while waiting for Kyle and Alex. It was a tiny place. An offshoot from a larger bar and restaurant the next block over. It was also the better choice because of how small it was. We didn’t fight crowds to get a seat or table, we simply walked in and plopped down on some stools at the bar. And the beer was good, really good.

We didn’t have to wait long before Kyle and Alex arrived. We struck out, grabbed some wood (I won’t call it firewood because it never took), and got the first trail. On the map it looked like a quick run north to an open clearing. It was just before 9pm when we started and right around 10 by the time we made camp.

Having been through Manistee National Forest a few times now I was expecting the same type of terrain. What I got the first night was a much rougher and sandier ride. The trail was not just a straight shot up with a few curves here and there. It was a winding, rutted, and often times right track that was extremely fun to drive. And at night, something I’ve been wanting to try out (Lesson 1: get brighter and more lights).

Sand, Lots of Sand

At some point we ended up on a very wide section used by Camp Grayling for running tracked vehicles down. I’m going to assume that meant tanks and I was very much hoping to have one pass by us. Unfortunately we ended up being on the wrong path so we turned around and made for the correct path. That was the first and last time we were on a tracked vehicles path.

sandy trails
Mostly sandy trails made for some interesting driving. This was from our second day.

The clearing on the map turned out to be a staging area so it was a bust for camp. Luckily there was another clearing nearby we headed to just off the main road. And it was road despite what it looked like on satellite, which was dirt. We pulled into a good size clearing pretty late and setup for the night. Tricia and I were going to be testing out two people in the same configuration I used during the last Manistee trip. Kyle, Alex, and Marc pitched tents for the night on some pretty soft ground I must say.

It Was Damn Cold For August

We stood around chatting for a while before deciding to try getting a fire going. It was surprisingly cold and windy so having the heat from a fire would have been nice. I say would have because it never really got going strong enough to produce any heat. The firewood, and I use that term very loosely, Marc picked up from a guy on the main drag in would not take. We fed it whatever flammable things we had: paper towels, boxes, bags (Trader Joe’s don’t light either by the way), and even some corn chips (those did burn the best). Short of siphoning some gas to get it going we tried everything we had. Don’t get me wrong, we had a fire, just not a very big one.

The rest of the night was spent talking around our pitiful fire. By about midnight Tricia and I were ready to turn in. We hopped into the middle of the Suburban on the air mattress and made ourselves as comfortable as we could for the night.

More to come in part 2.

Lessons Learned From Day 1

  • Buy brighter lights and a light bar
  • Don’t buy wood from a guy on the street

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