We drive the 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 to the Great White North, where we say goodbye to a rather tumultuous 2020.
2020 has been a year for most of us, huh? So happy to get rid of it and here’s to hoping 2021 is better in every way! Of course, we say this with the utmost respect to those who faced struggles that our family didn’t. Sickness, job loss, financial struggle, anxiety… we’ve all suffered in many ways—some more than others—but nonetheless, we believe we’re all in this together.
We’ve never been big into the whole New Year’s thing, with most in the family just being sleep-lovers and typically passing out on a couch or bed before the clock strikes midnight. For the reasons we mentioned above, this year was different, and we decided to actually do something to celebrate saying goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021. We decided to take advantage of the lovely 2021 Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 SUV we were testing (and its Pirelli winter tires) to head straight north to the “UP.”
The Michigan Upper Peninsula, or as it’s commonly called the UP, is the northernmost part of the Mitten State, which actually cuts into Canada to border Lake Superior and Lake Michigan at the very top. When you’re in Marquette, Michigan in the UP, you’re actually closer to Alberta, Canada than you are to the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, let alone any major city like Detroit, etc.
Driving up to the UP isn’t for the faint of heart. For starters, as you probably already figured out, it’s not really close to Indy, or close to any large city with the exception of Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the West. Also, there’s the weather factor during the winter. In the summer or fall, no biggie, but in the dead of winter, sub-zero temperatures, ice, snow, deer, road closures, and all kinds of variables can make trekking up there a real pain.
Of course, we felt well-prepared in our German tank but knew that we needed Lady Luck and Mother Nature on our side in order to make it up there and back on a somewhat tight schedule. We were going to drive roughly 1,200 miles and 18 hours just to stay up there for three nights. We thought it was worth it, so we went for it.
On our way to the Upper Peninsula, we opted for the Western route, which took us from Indy to Chicago, Milwaukee, and lastly, Green Bay before reaching the more desolate areas of the Wisconsin-Michigan border. We left early in the morning, around 3:00 a.m., in order to avoid the traffic in the Chicago area, which worked wonders for our travel time. We actually made it all the way to Green Bay in time for brunch, where we visited the Green Bay Packers Stadium and a restaurant called The Pancake Place, where we feasted on the largest pancakes we’ve ever seen, and not to mention these creations called “Stuffed Hashbrowns.” These were basically mountains of hashbrown potatoes stuffed with eggs and meats. It was delicious and very very carb-rich.
After stuffing our bellies with wholesome food and the Benz with premium fuel, we continued our trek to the town of Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula, where our Airbnb awaited us. Within two hours from Green Bay, we crossed the border into Michigan. Right away, it was like a winter wonderland. We could see people ice fishing on frozen lakes just off the highway, there were snowmobiles outside peoples’ homes. It was incredible.
We’d visited the UP in the summer before, but this was our first time in the winter, so this was all new to us.
We finally made it to our Airbnb home and were pleasantly surprised with just how large and accommodating it was. It was near a couple of grocery stores and centrally located within the UP. It was only a one-hour drive from northern towns like Marquette and Munising, and about two hours from St. Ignace and the Mackinac Bridge, otherwise known as the Mighty Mack.
After getting settled, we began preparing our dinner for later that night, as it was New Year’s Eve. We chilled our champagne and cooked away in the kitchen while the kids prepared some decorations and unboxed some fireworks. Sadly, around 8:00 p.m. everyone got really tired and a few naps had to be taken in order to make it to midnight, but for once, we all did it! Once the clock struck 12, we gave each other hugs, popped some bubbly, and did some light fireworks outside.
The next day, the first day of 2021—or as some might say, the first day of the new decade—we set out to explore the area. We had brought everything with us to avoid restaurants and stores due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so we were mostly looking for places to go sledding or have a picnic, etc.
We drove up to Iron Mountain to discover some really cool sledding hills that the kids loved, as well as some beautiful vistas to photograph. However, we called it a day a bit early, as we had an action-packed schedule the following day, and we needed to be well-rested.
The first weekend of the year was upon us, and we were kickin’ it off in a solid way. We headed over to Renze Powersports in Munising, where we rented two touring (two-passenger) snowmobiles for a fairly decent price.
For all but one of us, this was our first time getting on a snowmobile, so we definitely appreciated Renze’s team explaining everything about how these worked, as well as getting us hooked up with snow gear and all. They also recommended an app so we could explore all the trails in the area even when we lost cell reception, which happens often up there.
A 24-hour rental fee per machine ran us about $300, so we paid that times too. Yeah, it’s not cheap any way you look at it, but given how far we had come and how much of a novelty (and a bit of a fantasy) snowmobiling had been to us, we thought it was a fair price. After all, we’ve been to plenty of destinations where we’ve rented jet skis, boats, four-wheelers, RZRs, and all kinds of other machinery, so we know that if you wanna play, you gotta pay.
After familiarizing ourselves with the snowmobiles, we followed a series of trails that took us straight north to Pictured Rock Lakeshore, where there are… you guessed it… very pretty rocks to picture.
All in all, we put around 40 miles in the things, which although it doesn’t sound like a whole lot, pretty much took us about seven hours of riding in 20-degree weather. Needless to say, it felt like a lot longer than that, even if it was an absolute hoot. Just look at the photos, which don’t really do the experience (or places) justice. Oh, and for lunch, we tried these things called Pasties (pah-sties, not pay-sties), which are essentially meat-filled pastries that absolutely heavenly. Apparently, they originated as basic lunches for local miners.
Finally, our time in the UP had come to an end. Due to some weather conditions on the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan, we had to come back home through the Michigan side, which made our drive a little bit longer than expected. However, it also took us through the Mackinac bridge, which was very very cool. It’s an impressive structure.
At the end of the day, the Mercedes-AMG GLS was the perfect ride to face such extreme weather conditions, and all of its technology also proved to make our trip safer and more enjoyable. Massaging seats, heated everything (even armrests), and a top-notch all-wheel-drive system kept us happy and planted on the road.
If you can ever make it to the UP, do know that it’s worth going out of your way to reach such a remote destination. However, it’s best enjoyed by getting out of your hotel, cabin, rental, and exploring the place. Nothing is going to come to your doorstep—except for deer (or maybe even a bear).
Happy and safe travels.