Michigan-born friends Ben Bator and Matt Ferrel grew up taking a certain sort of vacation. “You take 75 north to your exit, go to your cottage and then you don’t leave that area. You just get to your destination and stay,” Ben says. Growing up, it was a great trip. But not really a great take-in-the-scenery road trip.
Not like the Mille Miglia (that’s 1,000 miles in Italian). The epic road rally began in 1927, when bored Count Aymo Maggi invited a few Porsche- and Ferrari-driving associates to race him over 1,000 miles of Italian countryside. The tradition continues today in a noncompetitive fashion—vintage Italian touring cars required.
Ben says, “We thought, What if we could do that in a way that catered to our friends who didn’t necessarily have three vintage Porsches, but had the same interests?” In 2012, he and Matt planned their first 1,000-ish-mile Michigan-crossing Mille Mitten, hitting public high points (Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore swims, Mackinac Bridge crossings) as well as homes and hideaways. They invited 25 friends to join them (based on personality, not vehicle), and the Mille Mitten was born.
You don’t have to wait for Ben and Matt to invite you to their (nonracing) road rally to experience a Mille. Follow their adventures at millemitten.com, or design your own using their insight. Ready to rally?
Photographer: Mike Gilger
Here’s where the 2015 Mille Mitten crew went.
Thursday (200ish miles) Load up in Detroit—two to four to a car—and go. Start west across the palm of the Mitt, passing through Ann Arbor, Chelsea and Jackson. End in Grand Rapids at the CityFlats
Hotel (cityflatshotel.com) for ultrasoft beds.
Friday (250ish miles) Pick up M-22 outside of Manistee and follow the lakeshore to a picnic in Arcadia. Drive north to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (nps.gov) for afternoon swimming and hiking. Dine at Northport’s Garage Bar and Grill (facebook.com/Garage-Bar-and-Grill), where barbecue meets northern classics like smoked whitefish. Follow the shoreline south to Grand Traverse Resort and Spa (grandtraverseresort.com).
Saturday (325ish miles) Take backroads through Charlevoix, East Jordan and Petoskey. In Harbor Springs, customize a sandwich at Gurney’s Harbor Bottle Shop (gurneysbottleshop.com) and swim at Zorn Park and Beach. Drive M-119 (the Tunnel of Trees, petoskeyarea.com) then head to the UP via the 5-mile-long Mackinac Bridge (mackinacbridge.org). Cross back south and head through Atlanta State Forest Area (michigan.gov) to Garland Lodge and Golf Resort (garlandusa.com).
Sunday (325ish miles) After boating on East Twin Lake, wind through the Huron National Forest (fs.usda.gov) and back to Detroit.
1,100 miles traveled; Photographer: Mike Gilger
Plan a Rally
1. Avoid death by committee. Choose one or two planners to handle the nitty-gritty, like route, reservations and sandwich orders. Everyone else agrees to go with the flow.
2. Skip the city. “I’m always looking for different shortcuts around busy cities,” Ben says. “I try to avoid central Charlevoix. The 15 or 20 minutes we wait for the bridge to go up, that’s time we’re not moving. It’s not nearly as fun.”
3. And say no to the Interstate. Whenever possible, stay off the big roads. Map a route on scenic byways, old highways and county roads—this is about enjoying the trip, not getting to the next city.
4. Save your ride. Spend a few extra bucks to rent a vehicle. Not only will you avoid the wear and tear on your own wheels, it’s also a chance to get a (temporary) upgrade—more spacious interior, better speakers, quieter ride.
5. Talk this way. Walkie-talkies keep the convoy together and intervehicle camaraderie strong. Benefits: no need for cell service, no lag time dialing, fun trucker nicknames. Just make sure the passengers (not the drivers!) do the talking.
67 hours of unforgettable moments with friends; Photographer: Mike Gilger
Tales from the Mille: Ben’s favorite trip stories
"We planned the first trip in less than one month and ended up housing 17 people in a small cottage. While the trip has gotten more luxurious, it still feels unplanned."
"Vinyl decals are cheap, and the results are hilarious. We’ve decorated our convoy in Sleeping Bear Dunes camouflage and pink clouds."
"Detours are encouraged, but we like to know about them in advance. We lost track of one car last year. After an hour, they emerged with a massive haul of beef jerky. The convoy cheered."
“Lines are just traffic jams without a stereo. Call ahead to place orders at all food stops, even if they don’t advertise advance orders.”
“We keep it loose. If you want to take a different route to visit this brewery or whatever, that’s cool. We give a suggested route, where we’re having dinner and when to be there.”
Photographer: Mike Gilger