They refer to themselves as "Yoopers" because they live on Michigan's Upper Peninsula or the UP. A hardy bunch of folks, DNA testing would no doubt prove that many who live here are from the same gene pool as Paul Bunion and with an annual snowfall of 300-plus inches they need to be. As might be guessed, along with the snow temperatures frequently dip to minus 30 degrees F and yes, Yoopers love this part of the equation as well.
Because the Upper Peninsula is located adjacent to one of nature's great snow generators (Lake Superior), the UP experiences what is called "lake effect snow" (this is why they get 300" of snow). Lake effect snow is caused when frigid, arctic air passes over the warmer waters of Lake Superior and huge amounts of moisture is picked up and deposited on shore as snow. When lake effect snow is in full swing the UP is a playground offering winter sports and adventures of every ilk and dimension. Because of this families from across the mid-west come to the UP for the express purpose of enjoying it.
One thing you observe in the UP is the large number of pickup trucks that seem to be everywhere. With vast virgin forests, uninhabited landscapes and hundreds if not thousands of miles of Great Lakes shorelines, this huge allotment of trucks is explained by the utility and functionality they yield in all settings and in all seasons. Based on personal observation it's not unreasonable to guess that when the snow flied probably forty percent of all the pickup trucks in the UP are equipped with after-market snowplows. Plowing your way out is a normal occurrence that can happen several times a day.
Last February TT went north to sample the fun stuff the UP has to offer. This included dog sledding, ice fishing, riding snowmobiles, cross country skiing and snowshoeing. It's important to note that in harsh weather like this you need to be safe and the key to being safe and having a great time is preparing for conditions that can be instantly and totally unforgiving. You must have a mechanically sound 4WD vehicle with snow tires and the appropriate cold weather gear is mandatory. On both counts we were prepared. We were driving a Dodge Ram 1500 4x4 and Cabela's had equipped us with a foul weather personal gear system that let us engage in outdoor activities under conditions and in temperatures that hovered around those described above.
Year round Harold Bailey takes folks out on Lake Superior to go fishing. His fleet of charter boats is licensed to do this when the lake is free of ice. However, when the lake turns solid he rolls out his snowmobiles and sleds that are tailored and equipped specifically to accommodate serious ice fishing. The sleds instantly convert into foul weather ice fishing tent type structures that come complete with propane heaters. With sub zero temperatures outside and the heater in service on the inside, we had to strip down to our T-shirts to keep cool. During the winter time whitefish, pike, perch and walleye are the sought after species. Harold is a stickler for three things; safety, having fun and bringing home an abundant catch. Blue Heron Fishing Charters 1-800-667-1940 www.blueheronfishingcharters.com
Owned and operated by Ed and Tasha Stielstra, Nature's Kennel is home to 150 sled dogs. When you think of a sled dog typically the first thing that comes to mind are huskies, like those in a Jack London novel. However, the kind of dog that is really good at pulling and racing in events like the thousand mile Iditarod or the Marquette 200, are scruffy looking pups that frequently look more like they came from an animal shelter than a dog kennel. Running for hours and pulling a sled is clearly in the canine's genetics. It's a dog's desire to do this. Some are better at it than other and it's those dogs who love it and are good at it that have a home at Nature's Kennel. Nature's Kennel offers a variety of experiences for the family that can include an eight mile ride where the kids can stand on the runners of the sled to see how it feels. Another option is to drive your own sled dog team over a five mile course or drive a team on a one night/two day adventure where accommodations and excellent food are provided. Telephone 906-748-0512; www.natureskennel.com
Cross Country Sking & Snowshoeing
Located at the southern end of the UP on the shore of Lake Huron is Woods & Water Eco Tours where snowshoeing and cross country skiing are among the fun things offered. Owned by professional guide and ecologist Jessie Hadley and operated out of her Cedarville, MI base camp, either she or professional guide and high school teacher Jim Patrick III host guided tours out across the ice and through the woods. Tours can be as little 2 hours or as long as several days. As ecologists, both Jessi and Jim are committed to conducting travel through natural setting while teaching about eco systems, natural history, and how the environment can be enjoyed without leaving any evidence that you've been there (except for the prints of skis and snowshoes in the snow). During the summer they host biking, hiking, birding, family trips, teambuilding, school groups and extended kayak adventures. Telephone: 906-484-4157; www.woodswaterecotours.com
Along with pickup trucks, snowmobiles rule in the UP! Trails lace the City of Ste. St. Marie (pronounced Soo Saint Marie) on the southeast corner of Lake Superior as well as all along the south shore line of Lake Superior, out past the City of Marquette. People come from all over to ride snowmobiles (their own or they can rent them) on the hundreds of miles of well groomed trails that lace the Upper Peninsula. During winter this is big business in the UP.
There's one event that underscores what an important fixture the snowmobile is in the life of a Yooper. During the months of January or February the City of Sault Ste. Marie hosts a 500 mile snowmobile race (I-500) that draws riders from as far away as Alaska, Sweden, North Carolina and France. The locals live for this 500 mile endurance competition that is run on a one-mile oval track built thirty-plus years ago for the express purpose of hosting this 500 mile snowmobile race.
Down the back stretch speeds reaching 120 mph are often clocked and historically the I-500 race takes between six and ten hours to complete. The longest I-500 ever run lasted in the neighborhood of fourteen hours. And get this! There are some competitors who drive the entire race (the entire five hundred miles) without a relief driver or without taking a break other than during pit stops and caution flags. Need any more be said about the Paul Bunion factor? What these snowmobile racers do is phenomenal! www.i-500.com