1236 miles, 4 days – The Michigan U.P. Safari
By Chad Berger
Earlier this spring at the Wabeno Dual Sport ride I met Bryan, who was there by himself, just like me. We rode together there and also rode together at the Enduraid rally last month. Bryan tells me that he just joined the CCC, Cycle Conservation Club of Michigan and found an ad stating this…..
Upper Penninsula Dual Sport Safari.
1200 Miles of two-tracks, winding forest roads,rairoad grades. ORV routes and a little bit of pavement.
You will ride through every county in the U.P. The history and splendor of the U.P. at the twist of your wrist.
This is a true adventure. Your own adventure.
No markers, No ribbon, no paper arrows and no route sheets. Only your map,compass,GPS,motorcycle and that trail savvy and gut instinct you first found on your first trail ride.
Sound interesting says Bryan.
Yep, Lets do it!
Here is my ride report.
Here is a preview of whats coming up!
1236 miles, 4 days – The Michigan U.P. Safari
By Chad Berger
I arrive at Bryans uncles cabin in Wabeno around 10 p.m. on Wednesday night. I pull in the driveway and first thing I hear is that Bryan dumped his DRZ while unloading it. Broken taillight, mirror, and blinker. This didn’t sound like a good start for the trip. We fixed the bikes, got some stuff sorted out then went to bed.
We got the bikes all loaded up and hit the road for Iron River Michigan, the starting point of the trail for us. On this ride, they give you a passbook that you have to get filled out at different stops along the way to prove that you were actually there.
We got our passbooks stamped, topped off with gas and headed out on the trail. the Iron river trail is an ORV trail and is super whooped out. Straight as an arrow, but too bumpy to go too fast. This was actually a good shakedown ( literaly ) for our luggage. Unfortunately we didn’t have any saddle bags or panniers so we resorted to the old school bungie method. I think everyone should take at least one trip on a motorcycle fully loaded with everything bungied down. That way, you’ll truely appreciate it when you get some panniers. Bryan had a hell of a time keeping his shit from falling off, which led to many unplanned stops the first day.
Here is Bryan near the start, at the Beginning of the Watersmeet trails.
At one point along the rail grade trail, there was three long and tall old trail bridges, each bridge was seperated by a couple hundred feet, pretty neet section. Its amazing what they used to do by hand to build the railroad the haul out all the lumber and Copper from the U.P.
Here is a view from one of the bridges.
After pigging out in Houghton, we decided we were going to try to make it all the way out to the tip of the Keweenaw penninsula, a fairly lofty goal considering the time.
Near the town of Ahmeek, we were riding along through an old mining site when Bryan hits some bumps and jetisons his one gallon spare tank. I honk like a mad man but he is too far ahead and doesn’t hear me. I stop and pick the thing up, being the nice guy I am.
Well, just a little ways down the trail it goes in three different directions. I have no Idea which way bryan went..damnit. I saw a waypoint on the GPS to the left, so I took it. Well, it was the wrong way and I went all the way into a town and drove around a bit, expecting to find him waiting..he wasn’t.
I figured out my mistake after looking at the GPS and headed off the the next waypoint that crossed the highway I was on, a few miles up the road. along the way I stopped and talked to a couple atv’ers at a gas station, they hadn’t seen anyone go by..shit. Well, I find a visitors center with a picknic table and get out all my maps, to try to figure out what to do. I turned on the cel phone and there was a message from Bryan. I gave him my location, and we meet up 10-15 minutes later. Well that cost us about half an hour and it was getting close to dark. We found out about a campground nearby and headed out Seven mile point to the campground.
$17 for a tent site, $22 for a cabin with two beds..SCORE!
Well, a trip like this is a good learning experience. One thing I learned alot about was loading a bike. I read on a popular motorcycle travel site that when loading a drybag, put your air mattress in first then let it spread out to the perimiter of the bag and put all your other stuff in the middle. Well, thats all fine and dandy..unless the goddamn tips of the hooks on the bungie straps rubs a series of holes through the drybag and air mattress. Luckily we had a cabin the first night, but 6 holes in a $70 thermarest..son of a bitch. Lesson learned.
Day 1 ended up being 260 miles, Not too bad.
Here is what you see from the bridge.
Here is Bryan checking out the view of Lake Superior from Brockway
Our goal after breakfast was to take a side trip out to the very tip of Keweenaw point, to visit an old NASA rocket range. This was one rough as hell section of trail, but very fun. Lots of rocks, ledges, mud, etc.
Once we got done goofing off out there it was already getting close to noon, and we hadn’t made any progress in the direction we were heading for the day. The route calls for back tracking the same stuff we rode yesterday for quite a while. Well, those trails were nothing to brag about, and they run right next to the highway anyways so we put in some road miles. We had to stop in Hancock to find a Motorcycle dealer to see if they had a couple mirrors and a speedo cable for the DRZ. We each neaded one mirror from low speed dump yesterday. Well, no luck on the bike parts but we did find a camping store that had a patch kit for my thermarest.
We tried to find the exact spot of the top of Mt. Arvon ( The highest point in Michigan ), but exteme logging in the area made it quite difficult. We actually rode through an area with some loggers working, I’m sure they were wondering what we were doing.
Here is me riding down Mt Arvon Then we had to put the hammer down to get some miles in. Awesome Forest roads that make 50-60 mph pretty easy to do
11hrs28min and 280 miles later arrive in at Little Lake campground.
We actually did go southeast out of Twin Lakes to Alston then about half way to Sidnaw we went east on FR2276 to the Sturgeon River Gorge. We didn’t hike all the way in to the falls though, It was frikin’ hot and at that point we just wanted to keep moving. We also stopped at silver mtn and talked to a guy but decided to skip the 300 step hike up to where there used to be a lookout tower. This is about the only things we skipped on becuase we felt we had been doing too much goofing of and not enough riding.
If we woulda known it was going to be so nice I coulda left alot of crap at home…but at least I didn’t bring the laptop this time
Actually a little rain woulda been nice, It was dustier than hell.
We headed out of Little Lake and into Gwinn for Breakfast. We had to make a detour from the route to avoid some road construction. We got back on track and and headed up to Munising to get gas and some camping supplies. After Munising is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. We stopped by Twelve mile beach then headed up to Hurricane River on some really sandy roads.
Wheres the scantily clad ladies..what kinda beach is this anyways?
This area has an excellent backpacking trail near the beach, something like 38 miles long I think. Bryan has done it a couple times and said it was great.
Next stop, the Grand Sable Sand dunes. Bryan said they would be impressive and it certainly was.
In the above pic there is the Au Sable lighthouse.
There is a spot on the Dunes where in the hayday of logging they had a chute down the dunes that they would send the logs flying down the 300 foot dunes to the lake, where they would be floated out to ships.
Here is the area the chute used to be.
Bryan checking out the chute. You can go down this but its harder than hell to get back up.
We gassed up near the mouth of the Little Two hearted river and had to either take a shortcut on the ORV trail or backtrack a ways to the gravel forest roads.
In this 3 mile section of ORV trail I dumped my bike 2 or 3 times. The sand was super deep and I had major issues. In the above picture I was busy screaming a series of expletives that woulda impressed anybody…it wouldn’t be the last time I did it either.
The next little side trip was Raco Field. Raco field is an abandomed military airstrip, built around WWII to protect the locks at Sault St. Marie. There are 3 runways each around 5000 ft long and built in the shape of a triangle.
We pull into a camprgound near St. Ignace early and head out to a buffet then go grab some beer and head to camp. I spend the rest of the night trying to fix my thermarest and drinking some cold ones.
The whole time on the ride I was wishing I had a KTM 450 dual sported.
Bryans DRZ worked great, but so did my XR, well except for the sand. I’m sure the sand thing was mostly my fault but Bryan hopped on my bike and was suprised with the geometry. On the XR, you sit right on the tank, even when you slide back, you end up sliding forward because of the seat angle. The DRZ’s geometry is much more like a dirt bike. When you sit naturally on the bike, your arms are pretty straight, and your hips are probably 2 feet from the center of the steering tube.
I know the DRZ isn’t the greatest dirt bike either but its better than the XR. Heck, I think you could ride a GS or a V-Strom on most of the route, its pretty easy for the most part, but there are some sucker sections.
Its a pretty cool area. Its really hard to belive that something like this is possible anymore. Its staggering the amount of land up there. There was one section that I’m pretty sure I didn’t see a house for more than 30 miles! Everything was pretty laid back, the people and the weather were great, and it felt like we could do whatever the hell we wanted.
The Cycle Conservation club of Michigan ( http://www.cycleconservationclub.org/index.htm) actually has three things like this. The U.P. safari, the L.P. Safari ( which is also 1200 miles ) and the M.C.C.C.T. trail safari which is 500-800 miles depending on how you do it and is the longest permanently marked motorcycle trail on earth!
By Sunday, we were getting pretty good at breaking camp and getting the bikes loaded. I think we were on the road by 7:30 and head into St. ignace for breakfast and to check out the big bridge.
Thats the Mackinac bridge, pretty impressive. 5 miles long, the tops of the towers are 522 feet tall and the roadway is 199 feet above the water.
Headed out on the trail and rode some pretty fun sections. At one point we took a wrong turn and rode about 5 miles of great trail that led to this.
After this area, the trail gained elevation and got real sandy. Remember what I said before about sand..yeah, I hated it. If I did this again I’d skip this whole section.
It got to the point where I was just basicly pushing the bike, lugging it in first gear just barely moving. I really didn’t want to dump it on this section. It was quite hot and I was getting pissed.
I ended up surviving that section of trail and we pressed on.
This was a hard drop. We were stopped trying to figure out where to go and found it was the other day than where we were pointing. I turned the bars, gave it some gas and tire washes out..BAM, down she goes. We got the bike back up and I hopped back on it but something was wrong. The bars were bent..Shit. I hopped off of it to take a better look and noticed that the fender wasn’t pointing the same direction as the tire either. What the hell..We reefed on the bars a bit and got them a little better but its still messed up.
We head out of Iron River and stop in Laona and pick up some beer at the bar and head to the cabins near Wabeno, to celebrate our ride.
Day four ended up being 399 miles and we got to the cabin 15 hours and 15 min after leaving the campground in the morning!
Bryan was pretty quick with the camera whenever I did something stupid. Here, my kickstand didn’t go all the way down and tipped over when I got off it, landing on my foot
Notice where this happened..luckily I didn’t get tossed in the river.
Don’t think I was the only one to do something stupid
I just have an uncany knack to be caught doing stupid shit
It was pretty cheap actually. You have to be a CCC member, which is $30 and you need to buy the Safari packet, which is $25 and includes your passbook and a CD with all the GPS info, Maps and other info. Then, you need a Michigan ORV stickers which is $16.75 I think.
There really isn’t alot of info out there about this trip, thats why I wanted to post some pics. Its a great trip with some awesome scenery, get out and ride it!
I fall down alot, I have a bit of a problem with deep sand. I do OK if the sand is only 2-3 inches deep, but when it gets real deep and tracked up, I have a tendency to wipe out. I’ve tryed about every technique out there, and they all end up the same way.
Chad rides pretty well. I think it has more to do with the bike. I sat on it and it seemed like you were sitting on the front wheel. Maybe he should go with the DRZ after all . . .
And hey, some of that deep sand was really tough. The only redeeming factor was that sometimes there would be a small piece of good trail in between patches to let you get the bike trimmed back into coordinated flight before plowing into the next section of “turbulence”. Once you lost speed, it was a real struggle to recover.
Background – Even though we did it in four days, it was not a death march. We ate a leisurely breakfast sometime during the morning (restaurant – we didn’t cook), made side trips, and took a lot of breaks and photos. For dinner, we would pick up a sub and a couple of beers to enjoy at the campsite. If you keep moving at a reasonable pace you really rack up the miles. It probably should have been a five day ride for us but we got a little crazy the last day and rode out the finish just as it got dark. Take those side trips. If something interests you, go for it.
Consider this: if you stretch the trip out too long, it has the potential to turn into something boring or even become a chore. We stayed active and eliminated dead time by filling our days with a good mix of riding and tourist stops. The bottom line for us was that we like to ride and we came to ride, so we rode until we ran out of time, light, or ambition.
My DRZ-400S was stock except for the fresh set of DOT knobbies – and don’t those tires boost your confidence when your bike is swimming around under you in that soft sand or spongy gravel. Oh yeah, I also “upgraded” to a gel seat. This didn’t work out for me as the upgrade seems like I went from sitting on a concrete block to sitting on a railroad tie. When the beaded seat cover I ordered didn’t come in, I went to a discount store and bought the auto version for about seven bucks. I folded it into the shape of the seat using zip ties (you can’t cut the beads) and rode it the whole way. This thing kept me cool and dry – no monkey butt! Try it – you will like it. If not, the wooden beads would make a nice campfire along the route.
Clothing – I left my riding clothes at home and instead wore light backpacking trousers, a long sleeved shirt and desert boots. The theme was to keep cool and dry and it worked. I wore a sleeveless travel vest because I liked the easily accessible pockets. If it would have rained or if we would have had wet trail, I had a gore-tex rain suit and almost had gore-tex socks for my boots.
I wore a fleece lined jacket in the early morning and later evening when the temperature was between 50-70 degrees. If you don’t wear a jacket, you might want to wear a mock turtle neck tee shirt of a dust rag around your neck to keep those crunchy bugs you run into from going down the front of your shirt. Dark sunglasses won’t serve you well. You end up going from bright sunlight into a “forest tunnel” of dark shadows and it is hard to see the trail.
Camping/Packing – We took light sleeping bags and small tents. My air mattress, pillow, sleeping bag, tent, and extra clothes all rolled up into a compression stuff stack that I strapped to my luggage rack. I strapped a small lumbar pack around that for miscellaneous items. It took a day to learn how to pack everything securely. The lesson learned is that everything needs to be inside a bag. The whoops on the ORV trails cause you to jettison some things from your bike (like a can of chain lube, a water bottle, and assorted soft drinks in various stages of consumption). Put it all in a cheap stuff sack under some elastic cargo webbing. By the way, if you find one of my soft drinks, better wait until spring before you open it. It is probably still pretty fizzy from the paint shaker treatment it got on the whoops. I had a one gallon gas can for a while, but gave it up when I found out I didn’t need it at all. I also had a tow rope wrapped around my front fender – speaks for itself.
I ran 18/24 lbs in the tires. The couple extra pounds in the back was for the extra load. The bike rode well, even with the extra load, but was harder to handle standing still as it was more top heavy. Also, you can’t swing your leg over the back making getting on and off a chore. I had 5 or 6 good rock strikes. Sometimes you just can’t see them in the shadows or when just and edge juts up from the trail. Look out for wooden bridges too as the edges are sometimes exposed. I had heavy tubes and tire slime in both wheels. Chad and I had no flats.
Navigation – I had a Magellan Sport Track GPS mounted on the handlebar loaded with topo maps for the UP. I also loaded the waypoints from the CD but for some reason ended up with some big sections missing. Although I cobbed in a 12 plug for the GPS, I decided to go with a fresh set of AA batteries everyday instead. Saves on a lot of external power lost messages on the screen. I printed out the maps from the CD and put them in a waterproof 9X12 map case that I clipped to the crossbar with cheap key ring carabiners. I liked this because I could clip and flip the map over on the fly. I could display two full sheets at a time – one on each side. I also carried a DeLorme Gazetteer with the route highlighted on it. I put this in a jumbo waterproof map case and carabiner clipped it to my read cargo net. The Gazetteer is also great for map recons. The definition and detail is good and it shows a lot of area information regarding state and federal camp grounds and other items of interest. In an emergency it might be good for alternate routes and has lat/lon info in the margins. Road names vary from publication to publication and I attribute some of this to the “same road” having segments that have different names. The GPS pops up a window with road names (in addition to the names on the map) as you approach them – including the name of the road you are on. This is very handy. You have to be good enough with the GPS to operate it on the fly. You will have to zoom in and out a lot to get detail and look ahead for confirming waypoints. We had the waypoints starting out so they were great in confirming that we were following the route correctly. Later when we lost them, we were still OK because by that time we figured out distance, scale, and what each of the roads and trails might look like.
All that doesn’t mean you won’t still miss a few turns. Sometimes you are daydreaming and lose track of time/distance and mess up. If the trail you are on is more and more looking like less and less you are usually in the wrong place. Don’t get frustrated if you miss a few and have to back track. It happens to everyone. Instead, congratulate yourself on taking a scenic side trip in addition to the standard course and move on. These “exploratory moments” are actually kind of fun. You usually get an interesting ride.
The roads and trails vary. You can easily do 30-50 mph on much of the gravel and ORV trails. Some places slow you down to putt-putt speed (whoops, rocks, washouts, potholes). Roads that are also snowmobile trails are great because they have fabulous signage. Those that aren’t give you those adrenaline moments – you know, like when you are in the groove heading into a blind corner on a forest road when you suddenly realize that the road is turning much sharper than you are. Conveyor belts nailed to some bridge surfaces can be slippery. Echelon formations work good on most gravel roads to keep from powder coating the #2 rider. In narrow areas, a l-o-n-g trail formation will keep #2 out of the worst of the dust.
We didn’t run into a lot of traffic on the off pavement sections – even on Saturday. Deer seemed to be more present on the trails in the evenings although we saw a lot of them. I had no close calls but slowed down early when I saw one ahead.
Gas was not a problem. The longest stretch we had was 96 miles and I made that without going on reserve with my 2.4 gallon tank. Chad had a custom large tank and we had a siphon hose along just in case. That 96 miles would have been more like 80 but for a few “exploratory moments” on our part. We did have a problem with “intermittent” gas stops. One place had a note in the window proclaiming “no gas”. Others were closed. I usually gassed up when I got down a gallon or when I saw a very long stretch ahead. On one long run, the marked stations were closed. When I got close to a big town I already had about 90 miles on my tank and scoffed at an available station thinking I was packing sufficient cool to make it. Five miles out I hit reserve. I’m glad I did because now I can say that I had to go on reserve. We needed to be able to do that just to add drama to this story. We were short on harrowing tales of adventure because everything was going too well. Both Chad and I were often getting 50 mpg – except where the trail was tough.
uff da, that 4th day was a tough one!