Nothing seems more attractive than the lure of warm, dry weather after a harsh winter in the north country. Whether it was that or he just a needed break from the full-on remodel he had going on in his house, it didn't take much to convince Tom (TJDIV) to tag along on my trip to Overland Expo. What I really didn't convey was the fact that having a copilot was going to make the trip much more enjoyable PLUS Tom has camera skills that I thought would come in handy for the trek.
I had literally just returned from my honeymoon in Baja, arrived at 5pm in the evening to Denver and flew out the next morning to the fabled land of the UP. See, I have been a fish out of water so to speak, displaced, living in Colorado since last October. I was excited to get back to the Yoop and check on the house, catch up on the neighborhood gossip from my retiree neighbor Carl (who needs a security system when you have him watching literally everything that happens on that block!) and grab the vehicle we would be using for the first leg of our journey.
My poor Tundra had been sitting, unused since I left in early October and due to it's sitting, developed a bad wheel bearing and needing some general TLC. Luckily we had the right guy for the job. TJ at UP Autotech with the help of Tom, got the truck into his shop while I was still honeymooning to give it a once over. TJ has become our official UP Overland service supplier and has a killer new shop near Munising. They got the Tundra dialed and ready for our trip.
As you can see, a spring snow storm was gripping the region and giving us all the more reason to hightail it to some fairer weather.
We had a couple of more stops before the trip could get rolling...
Greta Berg with Company B Graphics of Marquette. Greta does our logo work for UP Overland and does a full range of services from full size canvas printing, banners, etc. She is our go to person for imaging and printing services.
Lastly we stopped by VIO's offices in Marquette. They sell POV camera systems that are top quality and innovative used by athletes, US military, police forces, and just about every thing that you could use a POV camera system for. Grown from one guy fiddling around with old security cameras on our mountain bike rides to the global giant it is today, it is still based in Marquette.
They hooked us up with their latest POV camerra system to help capture the trip. Good stuff!
After some last minute packing that involved mostly grabbing tools, camping gear, and recovery gear from the Land Cruiser and loading it aboard the Tundra, we were off! We had 1,400 miles to burn and we weren't going to take our time. We had plans to make Evergreen, CO the next day.
We worked our way west crossing through the small towns of the western Upper Peninsula that seem so remote and isolated. Like little dobs of civilization randomly spread across a rather undeveloped region, the towns all have a sense of lost in time. Few if any have any modern franchise restaraunts, mostly mom and pop diners, bars, and grocery stores. This is some of the last true Americana that has resisted the homogenization that seems to be sweeping across the continent one Wallmart and Starbucks at a time. Not that I am hating on Starbucks, one of the founders graduated from Northern Michigan University's business school, as did I. Does this mean I will use my encompassing businness skills to overtake the business world...... well, uh no... but maybe we can make this overland thing jive up here.
Well, the miles slide by as we cross through Ironwood, the western portal to the UP and pass into Wisconsin. Occasionally glimpses of the cobalt waters of Lake Superior come into view to the north. Though firmly into foriegn land now, the big lake seems to give me comfort whether I'm in Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, or Ontario. It's a Great Lakes thing, you wouldn't understand, well some of you might. We admire the grand murals painted on the brick building sides as we pass Ashland, WI. The old abandoned ore docks stand guard over the bay. An hour and a half later we hit Superior, Wisconsin and cross over the bridge to Duluth, MN. Some of the giant ore boats are in various harbors, loading grain, iron ore, coal, or are getting the final upkeep work done before the busy shipping season is underway.
Once into Duluth we hopped on I 35 which would be our first freeway and the end of the two lane roads for us to Colorado. We take I 35 through Minneapolis down to Des Moines where we connect to I 80 West. Now the miles are flying by, things are blurry, it is late. Tom is nodding in and out as I am exhausting my playlists and searching randomly for NPR..... but finding alot of country. At some point, I believe 3:15am I hand over the wheel and grab some zzzzz's. Tom hopped up on energy drinks and coffee takes to the interstate and fortunately doesn't pull the Dumb and Dumber move of getting on the east bound on-ramp. First test passed! Nice work buddy.... Saile out...
I woke up at some point, with the faintest hint of light showing up in the rearview mirrors. We were still in Nebraska, but fortunately had chewed up most of the state. We pulled off to grab some gas, drive a country road a ways to shoot the sunrise and just stretch out a bit! Felt good to use the 'ol legs.
Sunrise in the Great Plains.
Our trusty steed just piled the miles on effortlessy, with supreme comfort.
I used to passionately dislike the Great Plains, the bread basket, the grasslands, whatever you want to call it. It might have to do with the 25+ times in my life I have had to make the drive across them to get to the mountains. I have come to really appreciate them though. If you just get off the interstate and drive out into the plains in say... Nebraska, you will find quaint little farming towns and skies that rival the mighty Montana for big sky virtues. What it lacks in contrasting landscapes, it makes up for in a simple beauty of land stretching to the horizons in all directions with views unimpeded... with the exception of a random windmill, standing like a rusty sentinel in the grasses. There is a distinct charm to the plains... but not to be appreciated by us as we hustle back on the interstate to make time again.
We soon cross the Colorado border and hit I 76. We now have just 200 miles till we hit the mountains. This stretch seems to go by fast every time. Maybe it is the anticipation of seeing the whitecapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains coming into view. Imagining what the settlers must have thought the first time they saw them on the horizon after what must have seemed like an endless slog across the plains. Even with us wisking along at 75mph with music, food, and gasp... cruise control, it is a taxing drive.
We cruised through Denver and climbed up the foothills to my home away from home in Evergreen. Arrival time 11:30am, not bad! We grabbed some lunch and Tom crashed out while I spent some quality time with my wife. We would stay in Evergreen for a couple of days doing some last minute preps to the Land Rover and doing some sightseeing around Evergreen.
We sorted gear out of boxes in the shed, I put Tom to work trouble shooting the furnace in the house (did I mention this guy is handy to have around??) and we got last minute supplies. It wasn't all work though...
With my wife Alexia, Madison the dog, and Tom, we took a drive up to Mount Evans then explored a bit near Idaho Springs till the snow stopped our progress.
That just gave us a reason to hike a bit and get some fresh air and the blood pumping. I know what you are thinking... cool socks right?
That evening, one of Tom's long lost buddies came up from Denver and we had a small bbq on the deck. While we grilled and hung out around the bonfire, a couple of young bull elk sparred in the back yard.
Very cool evening. Here is the video from the trip thus far....
Stay tuned, to be continued!