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A winter trip: Up to the UP

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It's a long way to Michigan's UP -- 450 miles from my house north of Detroit to Marquette, our destination for the big UP200 dog sled race this weekend. For me, besides the fun of this big event – a qualifier race for Alaska’s famed Idiatrod – it was also a chance to test out the new Roadtrek eTrek in the winter.

One thing we learned. Plan on extra time at rest stops. Once people see the eTrek, they ask questions. And want a tour. At the Linwood Rest Stop, two brothers, Dave and Jerry Banks, walked all around the eTrek, looking it over. Finally, they knocked on the door and asked for a tour. Jennifer delights in showing it off and was only too happy to oblige.

As we got back on the road and continued north on I-75, driving conditions began to deteriorate fast. North of Gaylord, a stiff crosswind started buffeting us. But the Mercedes Sprinter-based Roadtrek clung to the road better than my car would have.

By the time we crossed the Mackinac Bridge, snow fog had set in. The bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world, is over five miles long, separating Michigan's Lower Peninsula from the Upper Peninsula (the UP).

Road conditions went from bad to worse. It's a good thing the speed limit in the UP is 55. In the winter, especially as lake effect snow blows in off Lake Superior, whiteouts can happen fast.

There was some pretty dicey weather on state Highway 28 and as we rolled into Marquette about 8:30PM, I was glad to call it quits. We headed straight for the headquarters for the race, at the local Holiday Inn.

We are not spending the night in the RV. Because it is winterized, there's no on board water. That means no showers. And since we have our travel writer hats on this weekend covering the race, we opted to get a room as we need to look sharp.

Besides, no campgrounds are open up here this time of year and tonight's windchill is minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Before heading inside to edit ths piece, we took a stroll through the parking lot.

Mushers had their sled dogs out for dinner and a little exercise. The dogs are all excited and anxious to pull.

Mushers have come from all over North America to compete under some pretty grueling wilderness conditions. They’ll go 234 miles from Marquette east to Grand Marais and then back. They are pretty much all on their own out there. A couple years back, a musher and his team were lost after plunging through a partially fronzen lake.

Ten to 14 inches of lake effect snow is predicted for parts of the course this weekend.

We’ll use the eTrek to follow the course. It will be a warming house for us and a mobile production van as we shoot and edit our stories.

For tonight, we parked the Roadtrek behind a snowbank , surrounded by sled dogs and snowmobiles. The race starts tomorrow night.

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