Below is a recap from Aaron Marquis and Paul Wisniewski from Fresh Coast Offroad of the XPDN2 Upper Peninsula Adventure. All included pictures were taken by All-Pro Offroad, Jim Roy, Fresh Coast Offroad, Ken Farley Jr., and Torq Masters. Links are provided for all of the additional companies, restaurants, and stops throughout the article. Make sure to check them all out and give all of the companies a follow or visit. Below is a list of the sponsors who made this trip happen. Please give them a follow!
- Rancho Suspension Website | Instagram | Facebook
- All-Pro Offroad Website | Instagram | Facebook
- Fresh Coast Offroad Website | Instagram | Facebook
- Torq Masters Website | Instagram | Facebook
- Ace Engineering & Fab Website | Instagram | Facebook
- Trails Magazine Website | Instagram | Facebook
WHAT AN EPIC ADVENTURE THIS WAS! Between Paul Wisniewski and I (Aaron Marquis), we’ve been involved in planning hundreds of events throughout the past 6 years in the Michigan offroad community. From the planning process to pre-runs, to the execution of an actual event, it’s always a learning experience. The Milestar Tires XPDN2 Upper Peninsula event was definitely not an exception. An event of this magnitude and the amount of planning involved can really take a toll on the planning team. But in the end, hearing all of the awesome feedback from the attendees is what makes those long days and late nights of planning all worth it!
Right off the bat, we’d like to thank Andrew Hoit and Martin Castro of Milestar Tires for putting their trust in us. About 7 months ago (Dec 4th, 2020) we were on one of our Fresh Coast Offroad trail rides and during our lunch stop, Paul and I received a call from Martin Castro of Milestar Tires. He asked us if we would be interested in working with him to plan an event in Michigan. We’ve been toying with the idea of an Upper Peninsula run so this was a great opportunity. The stories from the 1st XPDN that took place in Nevada & Arizona were amazing, so we had a good idea of what this was going to be.
There were a few requirements that needed to be met that are critical to the Milestar XPDN. First, the event is meant to provide a unique experience while also bringing together different people, brands, and companies within the offroad community. Second, the event isn’t meant to be extreme, but to enjoy the beauty and history of the area while traveling most of the days hours spent off the pavement. Third, the event details were going to be a secret to all attendees. You must be ready to camp for three days, in any condition. The only info they would receive when invited is the starting point. For XPDN2 it was decided that the starting point was Mackinaw City, MI and from there we’d head to the Upper Peninsula for 3 days. Of course, this sounds like a great time! There was no hesitation, we were in!
The ball got rolling quickly! Our first official XPDN2 planning meeting was on December 10th and meetings were bi-weekly leading up to March and then weekly meetings up to the event. The planning committee was dedicated to making this event a success and many, many hours were dedicated to that mission. While staying within the timeframe and mostly on dirt/trails/seasonal roads, we had to consider a few things; miles per day (on and off-road), points of interest, and camp locations. We laid out all of the top points of interest in the U.P. and then prioritized them. Fresh Coast Offroad was then responsible for planning the route while keeping these POIs and the daily timeframe in mind. The planning committee discussed further and we refined the route until we were all satisfied with it. Then 5 weeks prior to the event, Paul and I headed to the U.P. for a pre-run of the route we had created.
We were very fortunate on the pre-run because most of what we planned had worked out. If you’re familiar with Michigan trails, you know that if you plan a route and you haven’t been down that trail before, it’s very possible that the trail could be blocked or gated off when you actually get there. We only came across a few gates in that 500 miles. One of them was an easy reroute and the others forced us back onto the pavement to get to the next trail. In the end, the pre-run was a success and we could put a stamp on the route. We’ll give you a layout of the route below, but to plan an extensive 3 day (almost 500 miles) route across the U.P., that alone was an adventure. We used Gaia GPS, Michigan DNR maps, maps from www.vvmapping.com, and Google Earth to zoom in and look at each mile of our route. This was very time-consuming, but we needed to be certain of the route. I’m highlighting what FCO contributed to this event, but the planning committee also consisted of Martin Castro (Milestar Tires), Mike Sype (Rancho Suspension), Matthew Aweso Gannon (Rancho Suspension), and Pete Dugan (@PJJeepLife on Instagram). The event was hosted by Milestar Tires and sponsored by Rancho Suspension, All-Pro Off-Road, Fresh Coast Offroad, Torq-Masters Industries, ACE Engineering & Fab, and Trails Magazine.
Day 0 (May 20)
The day before the official start, all attendees made their way north to Mackinaw Mill Creek campground in Mackinaw City, MI. Pete Dugan coordinated these accommodations and sponsored everyone’s sites for the night. Thanks, Pete! Earlier that morning Paul and Josh Traud met Martin and me at my house in Brighton, and we headed north. We made a stop at Unlimited Offroad Centers in Fenton to pick up my front Adams Driveshaft that needed to be rebuilt, and also picked up a shipment of Milestar Tires swag that Martin had delivered for the event attendees. Then we were off to meet up with a convoy that was staged nearby at Chris Gauss’s property.
After a brief stop there and after breaking into somebody’s Jeep because the keys somehow got locked in (::Cough:: Paul ), we were finally headed north, next stop, Mackinaw City! We got to camp, Pete got us all checked in, and we set up camp a stone’s throw away from Lake Huron and in the view of the Mighty Mac (Mackinac Bridge). That evening we all headed into town and had dinner at Dixie Saloon/O’Reilly’s Irish Pub, which was coordinated weeks earlier by Pete Dugan. The restaurant was very accommodating and brought in extra staff to attend to our large group and they also set aside an area upstairs for us. The inside of the restaurant looked like we were inside a log cabin that was perched alongside Lake Huron. The atmosphere was awesome, with the friendly waitstaff and air filled with the sounds of a live singer on the main floor that we could overlook below us. The food was great and we heard nothing but good feedback from everyone there.
After dinner, we walked across the street, down Central Avenue, and stopped off at a couple of the local fudge shops. After our short walk, to “exercise” off some of the goodies we consumed, we headed back to camp for the drivers meeting at 9 pm. As of this moment, the only people that knew the plans for the next few days were the XPDN2 planning committee. The events details were kept a secret and the only information that was shared was that we were venturing into the U.P. and camping would be involved, that’s about it.
When attendees were invited on this expedition, they were told those minor details and were asked if they wanted to join us. Some may have been hesitant, but they all put their trust in us and joined the expedition. At the driver’s meeting, safety and comms information was shared and sponsors were introduced. Each driver was then announced and they were each given some cool swag from Milestar Tires, Rancho Suspension, All-Pro Off-Road, and Trail-Gear. The only further information that was given was that we would be heading out at 7 am and we’ll be crossing the Mackinac Bridge, after that, it’s all a surprise. We broke from the driver’s meeting and intermingled and shared each other’s campfires with all firewood provided by Cora and Erik Jokinen (Torq-Masters Industries), thanks, Cora & Erik! After a while, some of the group retired for the night, and the rest of us walked over to the shoreline of Lake Huron, where we could walk in the sand and take in the views of the lit-up Mackinaw Bridge that we’d be crossing bright and early only hours from now. The day that we had been planning for months was just 1 sleep away.
Day 1 (May 21)
We woke up bright and early for the 7 am departure. Once everyone was lined up, with Paul Wisniewski & Josh Traud taking up Tail, Pete Dugan & Matt Gannan taking Mid, and Martin Castro and I(Aaron Marquis) taking Lead, we headed out of camp, out of Mackinaw City and across the Mighty Mackinac Bridge into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Martin came highly prepared and dropped some knowledge about the Mighty Mac via our MidlandUSA MXT275. He would continue to educate everyone throughout the coming days, in regards to the points of interest we were visiting or the local area’s history. It was a really cool addition to the event and I heard a lot of Michigander’s comment that they learned something new in those moments.
Once we crossed the bridge and through the toll, we made our first stop to make sure everyone was gassed up for the day’s activities. Then we headed to the trailhead and everyone aired down. We then led the group to our first major point of interest, Tahquamenon Falls (Upper). We were ahead of schedule and the decision was made to add an additional stop, so we headed out to Crisp Point Lighthouse on the shores of Lake Superior. The route to the Lighthouse was down a recently resurfaced seasonal road, so the dust was pretty extreme. When we arrived, we spent some time exploring on foot and taking some time to climb the spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse for the amazing views of Lake Superior’s shoreline. We departed Crisp Point and backtracked south, back to the planned route.
We jumped off of the seasonal road and onto an OHV trail. When we pre-ran this trail 5 weeks earlier, Paul and I had to clear a few downed branches, but this time around it had many more to clear, including a downed tree that had to be winched out of the way. Clearing the trail had really slowed us down, so the time that we had managed to get ahead of schedule in the morning, had now caught back up and surpassed us. There was a schedule we had to keep for a planned dinner and activity in Munising and we had to move quickly. Thankfully the caterer was flexible and was able to meet us at our planned activity. However, on the way to Munising, we had a bit of a fuel scare. In the rush to get the group to the scheduled dinner, we hadn’t taken into account the unplanned mileage that was added for our detour to Crisp Point. There was a very brief “oh shit” moment, which was intensified by not having cell reception, meaning we couldn’t search for nearby gas stations.
After pulling the group off to the side of the road, Josh Traud was able to get reception and found a gas station 9 miles from our location. Those of us that needed gas, went to the gas station. The rest of the group split off to meet up with the caterer. After refueling, we all met up at Riptide Ride, where the caterer had set up and was already feeding the first group that arrived. Dinner for that evening was an Upper Peninsula staple, the Pastie. The catering company, Cheryl’s Country Catering, really went above and beyond what was expected and the Pasties were a huge hit at the end of a long day on the trail. Dinner for evenings one and three was coordinated by Rancho Suspension’s very own, Mike Sype. Thanks, Mike!!
As you can already guess, the secret activity that we had planned for the evening was a sunset boat tour around Grand Isle. But it wasn’t just a normal boat ride, this was a 1600 horsepower jet boat that did 360-degree spins while also touring the 35 miles of the tallest section of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. At first, we’re cruising along the coastline, watching bald eagles flying into the sunset, then we’re doing full-speed 360 spins in Lake Superior. Cruising along again, watching the waterfalls spill down the cliffs and seeing a Peregrine Falcon, the world’s fastest animal, diving towards the water, then some more full speed 360 spins, craziness!
As we’re wrapping up this unbelievable sunset boat ride, we’re greeted with a rainbow on our way back to the dock. What an epic experience it turned out to be! During our planning meetings, we knew that booking a boat tour of the Pictured Rocks was something we wanted to do. However, none of the boat tour companies were going to be open for the season yet. Pete Dugan worked some magic and was able to work with Riptide Ride and they agreed to open a week early just for the XPDN2 group. Thanks, Pete! That was definitely an experience that will be remembered for many years to come. The group then headed out to a dispersed camping area just east of Munising. The dispersed campsite that was located during the pre-run was now overgrown, but Cora & Erik Jokinen came through and found an even better location within a couple of hundred yards of it. We all set up camp and took a much-needed rest.
Day 2 (May 22)
We woke, grabbed some food, and had a quick driver meeting before setting out on the day’s expedition. We got back on the trail and headed west towards Marquette. Along the way, we stopped at Lakenenland. A unique and interesting stop if you’re in the Marquette area. You can access this property from pavement along the northside, but we approached from the south side where you can enter off of the trail. It’s definitely a weird sight to come across while trail riding. Property owner, Tom Lakenen, spent 25+ years creating sculptures out of iron and opened up his property, with no fees, for anyone to come and enjoy his creations. We completed a quick loop through the property and exited on the north side on the pavement to Marquette.
We stopped in Marquette for a lunch break, near the historic Marquette Maritime Museum and Lighthouse. After everyone had stretched their legs and fed their bellies, we headed out. The next destination was Thomas Rock Scenic Overlook, where you can see for miles, all the way to the Keweenaw Peninsula. We departed there and headed to Mt. Arvon, the highest point in Michigan. It was a winding, somewhat rocky route to the top, where we stopped to see the overlook and take pictures. The departure from Mt. Arvon gave us some interesting off-camber, downhill, rocky sections for a little added excitement.
Once we got past all of that, we booked it to our dinner stop, the Baraga Drive-In. It was a fun old-fashioned drive-in that served some amazing burgers! We coordinated with the owner weeks ago and he was thrilled to see us pulling into his diner. He came out and greeted us and thanked us for coming. He had also brought in extra staff to accommodate our group. That evening’s dinner was sponsored by Ace Engineering. Thanks, Adam! After dinner, we headed a mile down the road to Baraga State Park Campground, where everyone was thrilled to finally get a shower. We spent the evening around the campfire, re-living the day and chowing down on the self-proclaimed “Boujie S’mores Bar” provided by Torq-Masters. We retired to our tents and hammock, falling asleep to the sounds of nearby waves on Lake Superior as a small storm rolled in.
Day 3 (May 23)
Weeks ago, we discussed the need for a more mellow, shorter day on the final day. So we started the day at 8 am, but with a small hiccup. One of the Jeeps was having issues staying started before we left the campground. After a short while and eliminating all potential culprits, a loose harness was discovered and the problem was resolved. We were now on our way, but to where? From L’Anse you have 2 good options; either north to Copper Harbor, or further west to the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (the Porkies). During planning, we discussed both options and even discussed fitting them both into the event. In the end, we chose to only do the Porcupine Mountains. Copper Harbor is definitely a bucket list location, but we felt that reaching the west side of the U.P. was important for this event. If we also included Copper Harbor, we wouldn’t have had the shorter day 3 that we knew everyone was going to appreciate.
So we set out and jumped on some trails heading towards Adventure Mining Company in Greenland, MI. We had attempted to contact the mine throughout the planning process, to try and coordinate a mine tour, but unfortunately, we never heard back. They didn’t officially open for the season until the week after our event, but we were hoping for similar luck as we had with Riptide Ride. So when we got to the Adventure Mining Company property, we circled past their office and continued on our way to the Porcupine Mountains. We hit some interesting trails along our way and arrived around 2 pm at the Lake of the Clouds within the Porcupine Mountains National Park. The view from that overlook is normally a stunning sight to behold, but with the weather, it was as if we were inside a cloud atop the overlook. You couldn’t see more than 100 feet out. A little disappointing for sure, but that wasn’t going to lessen the experiences and memories of the days past.
We then headed to a group campsite in the Porcupine Mountains National Park that was sponsored by Rancho Suspension. Thanks, Rancho! It was still early in the day and some attendees started their long trek home. The remainder set up camp, got the campfire going and a couple of us may have blinked a little too long in our chairs. But after covering about 500 miles in 3 days, I think we all deserved a short nap by a campfire. But wait! There’s more! Do you remember that catering company that fed us in Munising? Well, they drove all the way out to our campsite in the Porcupine Mountains to feed us again! They fried us up some Whitefish and chicken strips. They also had roasted vegetables, acorn squash, and homemade rosemary/garlic sourdough bread! Don’t forget about that troll sauce. Freaking yum! And since they were prepared to also feed the ones that left, we had enough for seconds (and maybe thirds, lol). Later that evening Cora Jokinen broke out the “Boujie S’mores Bar” and we all sat around the campfire telling stories and having a few laughs. It finally got dark around 10 pm and we eventually wound down and hit the hay. In the end, it turned out that keeping day 3 short was a great decision.
Day 4 (May 24)
We woke up and took our time packing up camp. Everyone said their “goodbyes for now” and we started our journey home. Paul Wisniewski, Josh Traud Mike Hotz, Shea McKay, and I decided to stop off at Kitch-Iti-Kipi (Big Spring) on the way. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and luckily I convinced them to take the short detour to see it. Kitch-Iti-Kipi is a natural spring with a self-propelled boat that you turn a wheel that pulls you back and forth across the spring along a steel rope. In the center of the boat is a large opening that allows you to look 40 feet to the bottom and see the many fish swimming above the bubbling spring. It was definitely a sight worth seeing and everyone was glad that we made the detour. The rest of the ride home was a blur, lol.
Paul and I are extremely grateful that Milestar Tires asked us to be part of the planning committee for XPDN2 and that they trusted us enough to put the route together for their event. Thank you, Andrew Hoit and Martin Castro! We would like to thank the rest of the planning committee and sponsors of the event. We’d also like to thank Matt Messer and Arman Sandhu of All-Pro Off-Road for all of the photos, videos, and media for the event. We had an awesome time and are thankful for the strengthening of existing relationships, the building of new relationships, and the memories that XPDN2 gave us.
- Aaron Marquis (@defcon1_fco) & Martin Castro (@dontneedroadz) in the Fresh Coast Offroad (@freshcoastoffroad) JKU
- Paul Wisniewski (@boondox_fco) & Josh Traud (@jtraud0928) in the Fresh Coast Offroad (@freshcoastoffroad) JKU
- Pete Dugan (@pjjeeplife) & Matt Gannan (@1bgdog) in the Mid JLU
- Matt Messer & Arman Sandhu (@thearmansandhu) in the All-Pro Off-Road (@allprooffroad) Baja’d out Toyota Tacoma handling all of the photo, video, and drone footage
- Mike Sype (@bobross_offroader) & Madelyn Sype (@madelyn.sype) in their Rancho Suspension (@ranchosuspension) JLU
- Chris Gauss (@cggauss) & Debbie Gauss in their Rancho Suspension (@ranchosuspension) JT with RTT trailer
- Cora Jokinen & Erik Jokinen (@traction_to_go_anywhere) in their Torq-Masters Industries (@torqmasters) JLU
- Adam Clifton & Nick Ellis (@nickellis_detroit) in the Ace Engineering & Fab (@aceengineering) JLU Diesel
- Adam Shoemaker (@adam_shoemaker) & Erica Shoemaker (@eshoemaker42) in their Unlimited Offroad Centers (@unlimited_offroad_centers) JT
- Jason Breitmeyer (@professorvontonswap) & Jim Roy (@chupatj) in the Off Road Garage Podcast (@offroadgaragepodcast) ZJ (it’s a Limited)
- Mike Hotz (@oxylus.jk) & Shea McKay (@sheamckay3) in his JKU with RTT trailer
- Logan Clark (@comanche_man) & Ken Farley Jr. (@dr.deathwobble / @expedition_vehicle_outfitters / @kenskarkare) in a MJ
- Brian Pour & David Ladd in their Armorlite (@goarmorlite) JKU
- Jeremy Byington (@trdofholland) in the New Holland Overland LLC (@newhollandoverland) Toyota Tacoma
- Matthew Greene (@mg_treep) in his JT
- Michael Ralbusky (@mikeralbusky) in his JLU
- Ken Weadick (@indytaco_and_the_lj) in his Toyota Tacoma
- Dylan Knitz (@chiefedtjku) in his JKU Chief
- Darrell Castleman in his Toyota Tacoma