The idea behind the Mille Mitten is loosely based on the Mille Miglia in Italy. However, the Mille Mitten is not a race. There is no winner. There are no trophies. The time spent on the road with friends and seeing the backroads of Michigan are the real rewards. Well, that and driving a bunch of cars I don’t own, sadly the Escalades and Porsche 911’s are not ours.
We love Mille because it’s another opportunity to disconnect from the online world and get back to the real world. For most of the drive, we have limited service, are taking the back roads, reconnecting with friends from around the country, and experiencing the joy of the road. This year was really relaxing and was one of the most inspiring weekends I have had all summer.
The trip began last Thursday night in downtown Detroit in the graffitied alleyway just off Library street called The Belt. Graphic art by Shepard Fairey and other graffiti artists, cover the walls of the alley. Michigan is the common thread for the entire group, but more than half of the group was flying in from New York, SF, and LA. I had never been to this alley but I can say from the time I have worked in Detroit, the city is more vibrant and more beautiful than I have ever seen it in the last five years.
After leaving Midtown Detroit, we headed northwest along the coast. Every car drove a different route to Grand Rapids, but everyone arrived at the hotel just after the sun set. We quickly unpacked at the JW Marriott and walked downtown.
Grand Rapids is a great beer city and hosts one of my favorite breweries, Founder’s Brewery. Founder’s is an easy half mile walk from the JW, and has an open air deck open until 2am. If you are passing through GR don’t miss a seasonal brew from Founders.
As it was the first night out, we all stayed out until the brewery closed and all caught up on the year’s updates since we had all last been together. There were some job transfers, break-ups, exotic travels, and many future plans. However, the overall conversation kept coming back to the collective love for summers in Michigan. I cannot explain how much I love the energy in this group.
After packing up and getting the line of cars together, we headed over to (in my own opinion) the best coffee shop in Michigan, Madcap Coffee. The pour over coffee selection is always amazing, but for this trip we all ordered the nitro injected cold brew coffee and within minutes were fully recovered from the night before.
After finishing our coffee, Day 1 truly began. We rolled out of Grand Rapids and headed north to our old land, Leelanau County. This drive is the beginning of what we would call Northern Michigan. For those who have driven in this area, you clearly know the distinct point in which the industrial southern Michigan area turns into orchards and farmland of northern Michigan. It is also the greatest secret in the midwest.
Within a couple of hours of driving north of Grand Rapids, we were back in the area of Northern Michigan we have been living this summer. Just a couple miles down from our home this summer is one of the best Lake Michigan overlooks called the Arcadia Bluffs.
After a quick group photo, we enjoyed some amazing sandwiches from our friends Stockyard Detroit had put together and were back on the road to head up to Leelanu county to relax on the beach.
Before long, we arrived at my favorite secret beach in Leelanau county. And no, I will not be revealing its location… it’s a secret beach. However, we did let the rest of the Mille crew in on the secret and for the first time in the trip actually stayed in one location for two hours. We just relaxed on the beach and got warm in the sun. I cannot explain how good it feels to dive head first into this water after laying in the sun for 30 minutes. I will do this every summer for the rest of my life.
After a couple of hours of beach time, we decided it was time to grab a drink at the L. Mawby sparking wine vineyard before heading to dinner. With only 15 minutes until the doors closed, we tried the entire menu and had some bottles to bring for dinner in Northport.
Seriously, how beautiful is this place? While we were enjoying some local wines and touring the car collection, the brothers behind Stockyard Detroit, Marc and Kevin Bogoff, were building the night’s dinner out of their farm stand finds from the trip up. I cannot tell you how impressed I am at the creativity they bring to the kitchen. If you are in the Detroit area make sure you don’t miss their food truck or supper club dinners. We have another story featuring them coming up soon as well.
After dinner, we headed down the meandering wooded path to the beach. As you can tell by the sunken chair, the lake was a bit high this year. However, there was just enough beach to enjoy some sunset photos with fellow photographers Helena Price and Sklvr. I loved shooting and traveling with these two, so much talent and creativity.
As soon as the sun was set on the shoreline, we headed back up the hill to Chetonka and loaded up the cars and headed to Traverse City for the night. The next morning we woke up at 6:30am and drove out to Matt’s families cottage on Walloon Lake for a home cooked breakfast.
After a much-needed cup of coffee and a home cooked breakfast we headed over to Harbor Springs to begin the M-119 drive through the tunnel of trees. This strip of M-119 is known as the tunnel of trees for a very obvious reason. There are no dividing lines, billboards, or shoulders. It is easily my favorite section of the entire 1000 miles of the drive.
As it sometimes goes in the summer, we received an invite for the entire road rally to have lunch at a friend’s home on the drive’s beautiful home overlooking Cross Village. It was an amazing home with one of the most beautiful views of Lake Michigan I had ever seen. After enjoying our Gurney’s sandwiches on the open deck, we got back on the road and headed north to the Mackinaw Bridge.
To those outside of Michigan, the Mackinaw Bridge is the connection point between the lower and upper peninsulas of Michigan. This is the one bridge in Michigan that connects the two peninsulas of the state, which kinda makes it a big deal.
After crossing into the Upper Peninsula, the UP, we pulled over to the scenic overlook and grabbed a couple photos. I had only been to the UP one time before, and sadly was not able to explore the area more this year.
After crossing back over the bridge into the lower peninsula, snapping some more photos, we headed west towards Lewiston.
When we arrived at the Garland lodge in Lewiston, we were all surprised to see Ben’s dad ready to take us to their lake house in a 1916 Model T. I have to say it was quite an adventure to spend all day in a modern luxury vehicle and then to ride in the bed of one of the first vehicles ever to drive the streets of Detroit.
When we arrived at Ben’s family’s lake house, we had a couple more surprises. This was hospitality at the highest level, but we all enjoyed over 120 oysters flown in from the west coast and at sunset went for a ride in Burch’s newly restored Chris Craft. The entire experience was so casual, but photographically so opulent. I couldn’t imagine a better way to watch the sunset.
When we arrived back at the dock, we enjoyed a couple more beers and began our dinner together. This is one of my favorite nights of the trip every year. It is classic Michigan. The dinner was served family style and we could not have felt more at home.
The next morning, after some late night swimming and a couple more bottles of wine, we slowly woke up and enjoyed the lazy morning together.
After helping to clean up the dinner and party from the night before, we headed over to the Gates Au Sable Lodge to have lunch on the banks of the famous Au Sable finish river.
As soon as we finished our lunch, the first rain on the trip began and didn’t stop until we arrived in the Corktown area of Detroit. This year we ended the 1000 miles at Christopher Burchram’s loft space in the shadow of the famous Detroit train station.
This was probably our longest post, but it truly was a 1000 miles of photos, stories, and adventures. Thanks for following along and for seeing another side of a state we both love so much. Please comment if you have any questions about the trip or places we stopped at along the way. Other than the secret beach, which I’ll never tell :)…
Hello! I’m Megan Gilger,
A strong believer that nature and the seasons are our greatest teachers. We live on a hill in Leelanau County, Michigan just a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan. This land we are responsible for is where we are focused on building a life around the seasons and intention. We spend our days here building a regenerative model of living and focusing our garden on native plants and intensive polyculture planting styles. My focus is less on self-sufficiency and more on community-sufficiency through how we grow and connect through the seasons. Learn More