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Earlier in 2020, largely due to COVID, my wife and I cancelled our vacation plans for the summer. Every few years we normally do an east coast roadtrip up through Boston and Maine. By cancelling, we saved thousands in likely costs from hotels and eating out. So I suggested we take the cash we saved, spend about half of it on gear (~1500-2000) and turn the GX into a proper travel-mobile. I'm not a big overlander, but that's the new buzzword for taking your car to less than accessible places and camping. I prefer to think of it as an adventure. Anyway, here is the trip log from August - long overdue I know!

We looked at areas to travel and the logical place in early-August was the Upper Peninsula (we live in the lower near Grand Rapids). A quick note on the UP and COVID, at the time case rates were very low and we saw less risk in going up there, particularly by avoiding dine indoors and restaurants - we are neither idiots or nor anti-maskers, so we felt that outdoors was a good option. The UP is also double the size of New Jersey and only has around 300k residents. The summer population swells with tourists, but overall we spent very little time around others.

Onto outfitting the rig...we already had a 2015 GX460 with air ride, levinson, and all the goodies. I had since added more aggressive and slightly taller all terrain tires (Falken Wildpeaks). I wanted to retain the stock rack and not drop 800-1000 plus on an aftermarket rack, so I opted for the very recently released LFD Off Road Ruggedized cross bars, I'd also note LFD has been awesome to deal with. These allow you to carry up to the factory side rail limit while using an RTT as the stock bars suck and are super flexible. Oh, and we bought a Smittybilt Gen2 Overlander tent - which is approximately 55x96 or 48" wide folded. This gives you a full size mattress plus about two extra feet at the bottom to sleep on. It's super comfy and we love the thing. We got it shipped from 4WP and it ran around $1100 all-in. I also bought a cheap set of recovery boards for around 60 bucks, a mini shovel, ax (which came in handy around camp), a better coleman cooler, a small propane coleman stove, and a 25000mah chargebox for phone charging/aux lighting. Everything all in came to around 1800 dollars. Think about it this way - a decent hotel is minimum 100 bucks a night, if you spend 18 nights in the RTT over the next two years, which is really two week long trips or a bunch of weekends, you've made all your cost back.

Here is the cross bars (I ordered the wind fairing and it came just two days ago). Also, harken builds a ceiling winch for storing things like bed toppers - this was perfect for the RTT - I just lower, bolt on, and go. takes me about 10-15 mins to be ready to roll:


Test fit with recovery boards (and yes, my garage door has 3 extra inches of clearance!):


Onward to the trip and planning; remember when I sad the UP was big, its not big, its freaking massive and has no real divided highways. Our original plan was to head to Wisconsin for a weekend and see the IMSA race at RA, but high COVID rates and uncertainty about the event meant we were going in an out via the bridge. Our initial run was to head north to see friends and camp two nights along the Boardman River near Traverse City, then head over the bridge to the area around the Crisp Point Lighthouse in the UP (2 nights), head west to Pictured Rocks (1 night), spend a night in Marquette at the Landmark Hotel (a chance to take a good shower and a real bed), then head east to High Rock Bay at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula (2 nights).

We were accompanied by another couple in their GX - you may not recognize his face, but he's the guy behind Winding Road's POV driving videos and also is TheTopher on IG/Youtube. I've known him since college and we used to race Miata's against each other. I can't say enough how much we enjoyed our time with him and his wife and all credit to him for a few of these pics/videos (ie. he had a drone and way better camera than I do). His youtube channel is here, so inserting my shameless plug for him: https://www.youtube.com/user/mrtopher

He also did a video of the trip, which incorporates a lot of the content below:

Onward north we went. The GX with the giant drag brake on the roof gets about 15-16mpg highway, which was perfectly fine as gas hit an unreal low around this time of less than 2 bucks a gallon in many places. I'll trade fuel economy costs for go anywhere reliability and durability any day! The first two nights in TC were fairly uneventful, my other buddy got some fly fishing in on the Boardman, which is also a world class kayaking stream. 60* knee deep water was a so refreshing.

Our site (note my buddy's sweet jeep behind us), the river was right behind the brush across the drive:


My buddy fly fishing, I had never tried and it was super relaxing/fun. The weather was perfect.

Onward and northward, we continued our trek towards the bridge, which is about 2 hours from Traverse City. I'll be personally honest in telling you I really don't enjoy driving over the bridge. It is long, very high up, and also the middle lane is open grating. Honestly, riding a motorcycle over it once remains one of the more frightening things I've ever done...it is insanely gorgeous though as the view is incredible in nice weather (which we had).



in traditional fashion we also got stopped by some traffic on the downward slope into the UP. we weren't too high up as we waiting for the tool booth, but damn I hate that...


A few hours later we arrived at the turn off to head towards the Mouth of the Two Hearted River/Crisp Point Lighthouse. After a 20 mile over rough sandy dirt, we got to the campground at the Mouth of the Two Hearted and it was packed. We ended up retreating a couple miles inland to another state forest campground (these are first come first serve) and found a stellar end spot right on a small inland lake. It was awesome.

Glad I put that tire shine on before the 20-30 miles of **** road:


We made camp, cooked, lounged in hammocks by the water reading, it was a great couple nights (cheers!):


AYYYYYYYYY!


Here's the rig in all her glory:


Mmmmm...books and hammocks:


We did the many mile drive out to see Crisp Point - we would not recommend this drive for a car, but anything with a decent clearance can do it in the dry. This is a truly remote place and crazy beautiful place. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald of shipwreck fame went down off the coast to the left of this photo some distance, the next major stop down the coast is Whitefish Point. The water is deep, ice cold even in August, and really reminds of a late-fall Atlantic Ocean:


This area is also very close to Tahquamenon Falls, we avoided the state park for camping there as it's totally mobbed all the time. If you're willing to drive 15 miles into no cell service, I'd rather camp nearly alone (8 spots) on a lake! That said, we did visit both the upper and lower falls, which are spectacular! Here are the upper falls:

The lower falls are about 4 miles down the road:

From this point we headed further west, grabbed some outdoor lunch at a brewery in Munising near Pictured Rocks, then drove the area/did the tourist thing to see the sights. I'll spare you the Pictured Rocks tourist photos you've see and show you a few from some nearby hikes - here is Miner's Falls:


I'd also recommend Munising Falls, which are kind of closer to Munising and very accesible via a trail off a sidestreet. I'd just watch that first step:

Here the view from the ground after you make the long walk around the cliff:

Here is the status of our trucks about four days in:


Also, we were in one area with so much tree cover my GPS lost the script for a minute...


We stayed one night at a state forest campground about 15 minutes inland from Pictured Rocks.
 

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Apparently the new forum software limits you to 20 pics. So here is the rest of this discussion:

Then headed out for a one night in Marquette at the Landmark Inn - which is a historic hotel perched on an hill overlooking Marquette's harbor. It was lovely that night and we ate takeout right in the park on the harbor. Interesting coincidence, I was reading a book called Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors - about the sea battles around the Phillipines in WW2 (great read btw). One of the sections is about the Battle of Suriago Straight, which was preceded by two US submarines the USS Darter and the USS Dace torpedoing several heavy Japanese warships. I finished the book a day or two prior in a hammock at our first campground. Anyway, as I walked along the promenade at the Marquette harbor, I noticed what looked like the top half of a WW2 era submarine installed on land as a monument...a model of upper works of the USS Darter/Dace! This is a monument dedicated to the sailors of these submarines, turns out the Darter's captain was from Marquette. Now that is a weird coincidence! Anyway, we passed the evening watching sailboats in the lower harbor and enjoying some choice beverages from Black Rocks Brewing a few blocks away:


Black Rocks Brewing:


Spotted this too in Marquette, as a political kid i loved the Stupak bumper sticker (a now retired pro-life Democrat from the UP):


Onward and westward, the next morning we grabbed some breakfast at a local bakery (Marquette is really a cool little town), and headed out towards the Keweenaw. I had one special and planned detour involved. To this point we haven't done a ton of true off road work, the closest we came was doing a little sand/slow crawl work out to the Crisp Point Lighthouse. That was about to change as I talked my buddy into bringing his drone, we were going for some action shots.

About 15 miles south of the Keweenaw runs the Bill Nichols Trail or B-Route, this is typically a winter snowmobile trail and is a converted railway into a trail. It's well groomed, but you need a trail permit/ORV stickers to legally be on it with a truck or side by side. About 10 minutes off the main road or a few miles up you can cross the three Firesteel River Trestle Bridges - they are maintained in shape to take vehicles and snowmobiles and cross the three fingers of the river in a short distance. It was the best hour detour we took on the trip because the images and footage are the kind of stuff people like us all kill for:


Here's us (one of TheTopher's great pics):


We were up there...here is your moments of zen:

Shot of the trip of us right here, thanks to TheTopher's drone (so, so glad we convinced him to bring it):

From here we turned northward up M-41, passing through Houghton-Hancock, then north to Gay, Michigan. Yes, there is a place in Michigan called Gay. And yes, even better, they named their local road after several notable TCL'ers:


Gay is an interesting stop for two reasons - to get a beer at the Gay Bar (which is most decidedly not a place people would think of as a traditional gay bar), and to visit the stamp mill sands. Long story short, the Keweenaw is known for it's rich iron and copper deposits, Gay was the site of a well known stamp mill, which milled ore down to tiny rock fragment and loaded it onto ships. Well, back before environmental regs, they just dumped the discarded rock fragments into the lake, creating a huge (miles long) artificial beach. You can sneak out on this area via access south of town and just tool around/hang out - you can actually see this huge area overhead on google maps, location of the defunct mill and the sands are all to the south along the water - Mohawk Mining Company Stamp Mill

This place must make more on t-shirts and bumper stickers than booze:


Here is the mining sands up close:


Here was my favorite GX pic from the trip:


We weren't done yet as we still had several hours of hard driving left heading north to High Rock Bay through Copper Harbor. And the roads past Copper Harbor only got rougher and worse by the minute.

So where is the end of the world/road you may ask...right about here, which is where we made it to:


Now the hard part, getting to the end of the road. So you leave Copper Harbor, itself a cute little town with a nice state campground, and head north. You've got 8-10 miles to go, the first 4-5 are pretty straightforward dirt, which is a glorious copper brown. Then you hit the trail for the last 4-5 miles to High Rock Bay. They had pretty dry weather so wasn't expecting mud pits, but we found some! There was guy behind me in a Nissan Murano who watched me hit the first stretch of washed out trail, flex the back of the GX out, throw that fake truck into reverse and go the other way back to safety. HA! Here are some choice clips from the real work.

A small stream crossing, it was low due to lack of rain, this can be a couple feet deep sometimes:

TheTopher on the way to the local Starbucks:

Just a few of the miles of 8-14" deep mud puddles, thankfully most had hard bottoms:

There was reward to this nearly hour of getting pummeled by the trail out there...we arrived to the best weather possible to one of the prettiest places on earth:



We promptly found a good spot to make camp:


The sun was setting (the sunsets seem to last longer as we are so far north) and it was amazing. The water was glass calm and there was nearly no wind.




And the video for the win:
imgur.com

So High Rock Bay was worth the drive. A few notes for you though should you ever head this far north...there are no facilities, you either need a shovel and hike into the wood or do what we did, buy a pop up changing room and a bucket with a toilet lid/special bags (yes, this is a bit "gross" but beats an uncleaned camp bathroom any day). Also, there were others out there, probably about 5-10 other campers scattered around. Everyone was very friendly and we didn't have any issues, but this is far enough off grid/cell service that I had a full first aid kit, Glock, fire extinguisher, and all that good stuff for self rescue with us. Plus at least one of us always topped up for fuel at every opportunity, fuel stations in the sticks in the UP are hit or miss, that 40 mile fuel warning light simply may not be enough! Plan accordingly, only you know your limits and need to respect them. There was one guy who followed us a lot of the way out in a Pontiac G6, at points he had mud over his hood and had at least one flat tire a damaged under body at the exit of the trail...as Topher noted in the video, it was like a Top Gear Challenge car - this is what you get if your GX breaks.

And speaking of the GX, here is the start of our 10 hour (yes, 10 hour in one state) drive home:


The truck performed beyond all expectations, these things are just tanks. I'd have confidence this thing would got to 98% of the places you could ever want on earth without breaking a sweat. We got off the trail from High Rock Bay, dropped the ride height to normal, turned my air conditioned seat on, set the suspension to comfort, brimmed the tank in Houghton-Hancock, and made tracks for home. We polished off a 5 mile trail run, 5 mile dirt road rough run, hundreds of miles of two lane B roads in the UP, over the bridge, then onto limited access highway for hours in one day...without a hiccup.

All this to say, cheers folks, let me know if any of you make it up to the Gay Bar, seems like a logical TCL meeting point and maybe i'll make the drive. 馃嵒
 

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Awesome trip.(y)

I don't mean to start a political discussion, but what was it like up there? My uncle lives in Chatham (about halfway between Munising and Marquette) and it's a strange place in the best of times, I can only imagine how things are now.
 

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Looks like a blast! Glad to see an SUV used as intended.

Funny fact. I don't pay for XM radio, but I get it for free over holiday weekends. Every time I switch it to 70's on 7 I hear "The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot. Every. Time.
 

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You already KNOW I love everything about this! Fun seeing The Topher pop up on here, too. Getting way out in the woods, really far north, is the best. I'm a big fan of travel that is absurd when you look at your dot on the map. Thanks for sharing this intel and images with us!
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Awesome trip.(y)

I don't mean to start a political discussion, but what was it like up there? My uncle lives in Chatham (about halfway between Munising and Marquette) and it's a strange place in the best of times, I can only imagine how things are now.
Thanks! And it's a good question, the UP's politics have always been a little weird. for a long time conservative Democrats were what you got, the UP has pretty deep labor/union roots, plus the hard scrabble life up there for jobs means they got socially conservative, fiscally moderate dems elected for a long, long time. That all started to change about 15-20 years ago, a few Republicans started getting elected and now the whole UP, except the area around Marquette is pretty to very Republican. The populist/Trump message seems to be playing really well and that has accelerated the move for blue collar Democrats towards him.

Personally, everyone we dealt with was super nice and we were in the touristy areas (pictured rocks, marquette, etc. thrive on tourism). I've always found their politics to be pretty normal, but the people can always be weird given they live in such an isolating place.
 

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Great report - thanks for the write-up and all the pics. I found that staring at that first waterfall video for an extended period of time was quite relaxing :cool:
 

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Love the videos, haven't been fly fishing since summer and now I wanna go BAD. The Driftless is beautiful but the fishing is tough, this thread might have inspired me to drag the wife to the UP this year. Did you find any Yooperlite?

Great thread and pics, can't wait for nice weather again
 

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Love the videos, haven't been fly fishing since summer and now I wanna go BAD. The Driftless is beautiful but the fishing is tough, this thread might have inspired me to drag the wife to the UP this year. Did you find any Yooperlite?

Great thread and pics, can't wait for nice weather again
Same here on the weather! And no, wasn't looking, we did see someone looking, but a lot of the major touristy areas are probably fairly picked over by summer. I'm sure if you wandered around the areas off the beaten path there would be a bunch. There are also some places to camp, like High Rock Bay, that are truly off the grid (Mouth of the Huron is a good example). In Michigan all you need is a dispersed camping permit (free online to print and fill out) and be at least a mile from a state campground - otherwise it's all fair game.
 

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This is quality content! Love seeing your GX doing what it is designed to do. What a machine.

Fantastic documentation of the trip, too. Well done. Next time I'm up that way, I'll DM you maybe. I'd love to check out that trailer and you can take a peek at the craziness that my stupid van is turning into.
 

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Nice! I've been to Marquette and gotten blitzed at the Wooden Nickel, friend of a friend went to school up there. We camped, saw a moose, hit up a beach where two of us almost ate it climbing back up to the road, fished, etc. Good times.

Yeah I think we might be going
 

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Awesome pics, great trip! I鈥檝e always wanted to camp up there but I鈥檝e driven many of those roads in the old Forester or the Baja. Did you go up to Brockway Mtn? Great scenery, especially in the fall right around LSPR time.

Fun fact: Bart Stupak lives in Menominee, across the river where I grew up. I think his wife might have been mayor there even.
 

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Great write up. Im from Minneapolis and as a youth if we wern't on our own north shore we were in the UP. Its amazing that places like that are not only still around but so forgotten by the world. I guess it is actually pretty remote when it comes down to it, no chance you'd end up there unless that was your plan.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
This is quality content! Love seeing your GX doing what it is designed to do. What a machine.

Fantastic documentation of the trip, too. Well done. Next time I'm up that way, I'll DM you maybe. I'd love to check out that trailer and you can take a peek at the craziness that my stupid van is turning into.
Thanks buddy, drop me a line any time, you wouldn't be the first wayward TCL'er cough*mr.tesi*cough to end up couch surfing or catching up. I'm really looking forward to getting the bantam well sorted, mounting the RTT, and heading out next Spring when the weather breaks. Just to get a few days outside, by a campfire, kayaking on a nice river, etc. MI kinda blows sometimes for those not wholly into winter sports...

Great write up. Im from Minneapolis and as a youth if we wern't on our own north shore we were in the UP. Its amazing that places like that are not only still around but so forgotten by the world. I guess it is actually pretty remote when it comes down to it, no chance you'd end up there unless that was your plan.
It certainly was our plan! However, completely agree, the UP in some areas is really stepping into the remote parts of the world like out west. There were numerous areas without cell signal once off the main roads. It was very reassuring to have another vehicle with us just to prevent me walking 5-10 miles for cell signal should something dumb happen. Honestly though, if you haven't been to Northern MI or the UP in the summer, you're missing out. Traverse City has a great airport and is wonderful in the summer. The UP is more like Maine, rugged, untamed in places, remote, but a great feel. Worth the trip for those in the US who may not be interested in air travel right now due to COVID and when going to big cities is also a no-go for similar reasons.

Fun fact for the political wonks in this thread...Michigan's 1st Congressional District is the largest CD east of the Mississippi, it's a huge chunk of turf encompassing the top of the mitten and the whole UP. It was bizarre to think it's a start where some districts can just be chunks of one city (Detroit) and some are the whole rest of the state!
 
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Awesome trip!

I love the Keweenaw Peninsula. So many cool roads and trails to drive, bike, and hike. I could spend days exploring between Eagle Harbor, Eagle River, and Copper Harbor.
 

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Nice trip. I've been planning a MTB trip with a buddy up that way for a while. Hopefully it'll happen one of these days. I also have absolutely no use for a GX, but vehicles in that class have always interested me. I want one more now.

I'm also a fan of Topher's reviews. Good stuff... I've always wondered how he feels driving around with a camera stuck on his head, but hey, it works.
 

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Nice trip. I've been planning a MTB trip with a buddy up that way for a while. Hopefully it'll happen one of these days. I also have absolutely no use for a GX, but vehicles in that class have always interested me. I want one more now.

I'm also a fan of Topher's reviews. Good stuff... I've always wondered how he feels driving around with a camera stuck on his head, but hey, it works.
I've been in the passenger seat for many of those reviews and it looks as silly as you'd think. :LOL:
 
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