Road Trip Reimagined
Mille Mitten goes off the beaten path as travelers rediscover Michigan through 1,000 mile journey
In Italian, Mille Miglia means a thousand miles. But it’s also an iconic, 1,000-mile road rally that happened in Italy from 1927-57, and included some of the most famous and expensive race cars in the world. Today, it’s re-enacted each year, and only cars that took part in the original race can participate.
Taking a flight to witness this event might not be in the cards for you any time soon, but allow the young masterminds behind a local Mille to help you reinvent your next road trip right here in Michigan.
Inspired by what is known as the “most beautiful race in the world,” longtime friends Benjamin Bator and Matt Ferrel decided to create their own practical version of Mille Miglia in the state they both grew up in.
Now in its fourth year, Mille Mitten is an invite-only, 1,000-mile, three-day road trip that takes place in late August and showcases all the magic Michigan has to offer. Participants are friends, friends of friends, and soon-to-be friends made through exchanging common interests on Instagram and Twitter.
“Everyone loves the idea of exploration, especially in your own backyard,” Ferrel says. “And part of the fascination is experiencing the drive along the way — that’s what Mille Mitten is all about.”
What started as an idea of a fun road trip and networking weekend has evolved into something bigger with corporate sponsors like GM, who provide the road rally with fleet cars. The rally holds an intriguing mystique like the original Mille Miglia does with lots of visuals from the trip found on Instagram: @MilleMitten, Facebook: Mille Mitten, or their website millemitten.com.
“We started this as an experience just for us, but the way people are now experiencing things is by contributing content through social media,” Bator says. “It’s expanded into a content platform.”
The two travel guides intend to keep the trip intimate, capping out at 30 people, making room for lots of out-of-state people and inviting those with the same forward-thinking, tech-friendly, and creative mindset they have. Bator founded textsfromlastnight.com and does digital content strategy with his brother for clients like Shinola’s Willys, and Ferrel works as a product marketing manager at Google’s New York office.
“This isn’t a unique scenario. You can come do this, you can rent a car and be gone for three days, and go on this crazy trip — we’re trying to reinforce or reintroduce Michigan as a destination,” Ferrel says.
This isn’t your average road trip though. The duo spends months planning checkpoints, places to stay, and off-the-grid routes for attendees to explore and experience as much as they can in three days. Every year’s route is unique and tailored to the group’s interests.
“Growing up in Michigan myself, I never saw Michigan the way I saw it on that trip. I felt like I had been everywhere, seen so many things, and I realized that I hadn’t,” says Megan Gilger, co-creator of thefreshexchangeblog.com. “Ben and Matt purposely make us go on back roads, and country roads I never would have gone down.”
Starting in Detroit, everyone piles into a 15-car convoy and drives about 350 miles each day to meet at surprise checkpoints and hidden gems along the way. Walkie-talkies are thrown into the mix, and personalized playlists are a must.
“They have a morning wake-up packet that says, ‘Hey Mille-er, here’s your day, here’s what we’re going to do, bring a swimsuit,’ stuff like that,” says Mike Gilger, co-creator of thefreshexchangeblog.com. “You never really know where you will end up.”
This year a sticker party will be held for everyone to decal their car for the weekend. That’s become somewhat of a trademark for the Mille Mitten gang — you can spot the convoy on the road in cars decorated with vinyl decals.
“It unites everybody and makes it easy for other people on the road trip to spot where you are,” Bator says. “And what’s so wrong about creating a little bit of a spectacle along the way?”
Watching people experience something for the first time is one of the trip’s true pleasures. “You can’t experience something for the first time again, but you can kind of regain that satisfaction by sharing it with other people,” Ferrel says.
Some favorite places include: hidden beaches along Sturgeon Bay, M-22, M-119’s majestic tunnel of trees, and a mysterious place the group refers to as “Chetonka” in Northport — a home that looks like the DwellStudio Catalog, with a breathtaking view and outdoor wood-fired pizza oven.
Good food is crucial for a successful Mille Mitten, and after the first year they realized that either getting lunch to go or packing one is far superior to stopping at a restaurant, Bator says.
“Would you rather be in a restaurant or would you rather be on a beach?”
Every trip since, they’ve brought along local chefs — including Andy Hollyday from Selden Standard and Marc Bogoff from Stockyard Detroit — to prepare all meals. Stops are made at roadside markets before the group settles down each evening for dinner.
“Andy came with us one year, and he did a lamb and flatbread that I still think about ... this was two years ago,” Ferrel says with a laugh.
Bator highly recommends renting a house over a hotel, one reason being to make it easier to create homemade meals. Try his two favorite Air B&B spots: the Wayfarer Treehouse in Lake Leelanau or the Modern Farmhouse in Northport.
And although the duo plans the majority of the trip, they insist the best part of every summer is stumbling upon the things they can’t buy and the places they never expected to find.
“I think that’s the No. 1 thing we got out of Mille, is you can buy a great hotel experience, you can buy a great restaurant, but the things you see when you go on the road are the things you can’t buy. And that’s, I think, the thing we’re after,” Mike Gilger says.
Road Trip Pro Tips From Mille Mitten
Plan for one big meal a day. Try 9 Bean Rows in Suttons Bay (Wednesday-Saturday), Douglas Lake Bar, and of course Trattoria Stella in Traverse City.
You know, or should know about M-22. It’s great, but very busy. For the same great road, but without the tourists, explore Au Sable Road/M-65/River Road near Glennie.
Garland Lodge & Resort in Lewiston is a fantastic place even if golf isn’t on the itinerary. Ask to see the eagles.
While in Lewiston, have a legendary burger or two at Talley’s Log Cabin Bar.
Traverse City gets busy, but it’s worth a stop at night. Get a drink at The Little Fleet or check out the food trucks in the front yard.
On your way to the Tunnel of Trees (M-119), stop at Huzza in Harbor Springs.
Pond Hill Farm is a great place to feed some goats and launch some rotten vegetables into the field.
The beach off US-2 in the Upper Peninsula is difficult to get to with 25 people on a time crunch, so we never quite make it all the way. Our loss is your gain — it’s a great place to spend an afternoon and you get to cross the bridge twice. Win win win.
Have a plan, but don’t worry when it becomes your backup plan. You’re on vacation. Make an extra stop, or try another route.
Life is Too Short for a Long Lunch
Why waste the best part of the day inside of a restaurant? Grab a sandwich to go from Village Cheese Shanty in Leland, Folgarelli’s Market & Wine Shop in Traverse City, or Lake Street Market in Boyne City. Or get Mexican at Tony’s Tacos on the beach in East Tawas and take it to the nearest scenic outlook.
Travel Sandwich Recipe
Shared by Marc Bogoff of Stockyard Detroit
Garlic mayo (pulverized garlic, mayonnaise, Dijon)
Crusty hoagie rolls
Slice the roll the whole way through. Spread garlic mayo on both sides. Lay cold cuts on one side. Then lay the sliced cucumber and peppadew peppers on the other side. Add arugula and dried oregano over the top. Close tightly, and slice in half before rolling it up in aluminum foil. (“I usually don’t put in a cooler if it’s for a day trip, as I don’t want the bread too cold,” Bogoff says.)
Also, if all you have is sliced bread, toast it before you assemble the sandwich, when it’s time to eat.
“Crusty hoagie rolls travel great and won’t get too soft in a cooler. Cold cuts and pickled ingredients are my favorite for on-the-go sandwiches. A sturdy green such as arugula is good for travel as it will hold its form and flavor. That’s a pretty good basis to live by,” Bogoff says.