Escaping to Michigan in a Ford Escape

The Ford Escape offers a well-rounded compact SUV for highway and off-road excusions.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Autumn is the perfect time to escape to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as the leaves turn to gold around the pastie shops and moccasin stops in and around Escanaba, Manistique and St. Ignace.

And, Michigan’s own Ford Motor Company insists the perfect vehicle for the journey is a 2012 Ford Escape. Ford is hoping that by teaming up the 2013 Escape with road-hopping journeys across this great nation of ours, drivers will pick up that the compact SUV can go cross-country as easily as it cruises through the city.

With updated exterior styling and fuel saving, green Ecoboost turbo-charged engine (optional), a Ford Escape loaned my way by Ford in Dearborn for an early Fall journey through the brisk, clean air of the U.P.

Picking up the Escape near Green Bay, I was immediately struck by its smooth ride and easy acceleration. The turbo-charged Ecoboost four cylinder engine is up to the job – even though slapping such a turbo charger on any engine introduces one more item that can wrong.

I cruised north from Packer Country to Peshtigo, Wisc. – home to the deadliest fire in U.S. history. A devastating combination of drought conditions and high winds drove a blaze across the woodsy, eastern central town – killing more than 1,500 people across more than 1,800 square miles. You never heard of Peshtigo because Mrs. O’Leary’s stupid cow started the Great Chicago Fire the exact same day.

The Peshtigo Fire was so huge that it actually jumped Green Bay and burned portions of Door County on the Wisconsin “thumb.” Still, the big cities get all the press, but a quick detour off the main northbound highway takes you to The Peshtigo Fire Museum where artifacts from the massive blaze still exist – unless that burns down, too.

Crossing over the state line into Michigan at the twin towns of Marinette and Menominee, a couple hours in the Escape along the two-lane highway gave me time to enjoy its creature comforts, like dual temperature control, AM/FM/CD/Satellite stereo and contoured seats.

The highway brought me to Big Spring Kitch-Iti-Kipi. It’s just a tiny bay hidden away in the U.P. woods, but the cold water offers amazingly clear views of the bottom and countless trout filling the spring.

That trip took the Escape off-road, testing its suspension and ride comfort on gravel and dirt. Unlike some pavement-loving compact SUVs that disguise themselves as rugged, outdoorsy options, the Escape bit into nature with ease and comfort.

Kitch-iti-kipi is an oval pool measuring only 300 feet by 175 feet. Its white, sandy floor fizzes as 10,000 gallons per minute of crystal clear spring water flows up through purifying limestone. The free attraction is really on the midwest’s secret gems.

A final push east through U.P. brought me to St. Ignace – the point at which the Upper and Lower Peninsula reach out for each other like God and Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The great Mackinac Bridge spans that distance.

The Straits of Mackinac serve up the third longest suspension in the world and the longest in the Western hemisphere. If you hit it at dusk, its lit towers offer an inspiring view.

I managed the entire trip with only a couple fuel stops as the Escape’s projected 30 mpg highway  kept me cruising. Admittedly, I was watching the mpg readout on the adjustable dash display, and I never quite nailed 30 (hovering around 27), but who’s nitpicking?

In the end, the Escape was a reliable, comfortable traveling companion that seemed entirely at home in the wilds of Yooper HQ. Maybe next time I’ll be able to drive a Ferrari through Northern Italy. But, for now, the Ford Escape did the job.