This year's finisher's medal for the half-marathon.

This year’s finisher’s medal for the half-marathon.

When I mentioned to Joe that I wanted to volunteer at this year’s Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon & 5K, an event in its second year that takes runners around beautiful Big Glen Lake in Leelanau County, he threw out the idea of making it a camping weekend. We’d decided this spring to pack in a lot of camping trips throughout Michigan this summer—tying in different Michigan races whenever we could so I could write about them—so adding one more trip sounded fun. A little crazy since it would mean three weekends in a row of camping, but we figured why not? Summer is short, our kids are at great ages for these adventures, and this past weekend’s weather forecast looked decent (more on that last part later…).

So consider this the first installment in a series of posts to come this summer about how to explore our great state through running and camping. Of course, if you’re not big on sleeping in the wilderness, there are always hotels, resorts and B&Bs, and I’ll try to share information on any of these we may experience or ones we’ve heard are good. But mostly I’ll focus on camping—in our case, we tent camp, but we’re not entirely rustic by any stretch. We like our coffee pot for the morning, and a good skillet goes a long way in making everyone breakfast-happy first thing. So we tend to stay at spots with at least some electric hook-up possibilities. Our goal: check out as many Michigan state park campgrounds as possible. And get my(our) run on.

Back to this past weekend’s race, the Solstice Half Marathon & 5K. My assignment: help fellow volunteers Cathy and Asher at aid station #3 between miles 6 and 7 of the 13.1-mile route. I convinced (maybe bribed) Emma and Andrew to come along. It was a super early start, and I knew that would be tough for an 11-year-old and 13-year-old, but I also knew they’d enjoy it once we got out there. The stunning sunrise at 5:30 a.m. was worth getting up for.

Good morning. The campground is next to the Empire Airport, but it wasn't noisy. We were treated to a small plane taking off, which the kids loved seeing.

Good morning. The campground is next to the Empire Airport, but it wasn’t noisy. We were treated to a small plane taking off, which the kids loved seeing.

We’d booked a site at Empire Township Campground, about a 10- to 15-minute drive from Glen Arbor. It’s a small, hidden gem of a campground. Joe had driven by a sign for it and I dug around and found a link online through the Leelanau County site. I also found a review online from a woman who raved about it.

A new favorite campground.

A new favorite campground.

It IS a pretty rustic place. There are nine good-sized electric hookup sites, all nestled within towering pine trees, with the remaining 51 sites deep in the woods nearby and all rustic. There’s just one flush toilet for the entire campground, which thankfully was just steps away from our site. The trio of hot shower stalls are next to the flush toilet and cost a small fee, about $1.50 in quarters. It’s also a pet-friendly campground, and we did bring along our two Labs this time. Electric hookups cost $30/night, rustic sites are $18/night.

We found this cool old tree during a walk through the campground.

We found this cool old tree during a walk through the campground.

It was nice being so close to both Empire and Glen Arbor. It was simple enough to drive to the volunteer meeting spot at the Glen lake Fire Department Saturday morning. You could bike it if you were feeling especially ambitious.

This race has a friendly, low-key vibe to it. I predict it will continue to grow in popularity, but I am guessing it’ll also retain that small-town feel given its location in quaint Glen Arbor. Its smaller size—and no doubt because it takes place not far from my hometown of Traverse City—meant I saw lots and lots of familiar faces. This was so much fun—seeing friends and cheering them on as they reached the halfway point of the half-marathon. I kept thinking to myself, “Why don’t I do this more?” If you want to feel inspired and proud of the running community, get out there and volunteer at a race. I promise you will have a great time.

Joel, Cassy & Eric of Endurance Evolution, which puts on the Solstice Half Marathon & 5K. Great job, guys!

Joel, Cassy & Eric of Endurance Evolution, which puts on the Solstice Half Marathon & 5K.

Seeing my dear friend Krista rock it out—she was last year’s female winner and took third place this year AND PR’d!—was so much fun. I really wanted to be there for her after all that she did to help me in those final miles of the marathon last month.

The weather Saturday was cool and slightly overcast—perfect for running. After cheering on the final runners, we packed up the aid station and headed toward the finish area. We grabbed a bite to eat at Cherry Republic, a must-stop spot when visiting Glen Arbor. Its location not far from the finish gave runners a place to grab a post-race cup of coffee and breakfast sandwich (try one of the breakfast wraps with a side of cherry salsa). Every runner I spoke with said the same thing: it’s a beautiful course. And they can’t wait to do it again next year.

We spent the rest of the weekend enjoying Glen Haven beach, a favorite spot of mine which I wrote about awhile back, getting ice cream in Empire, and taking an evening walk along Lake Michigan at Empire Beach.

Enjoying an evening walk along Lake Michigan.

Enjoying an evening walk along Lake Michigan.

I love this beach.

I love this beach.

We planned to climb the Dunes, but since dogs aren’t allowed beyond the grassy area, we opted to come back another time when Max and Ruby weren’t along. Saturday turned into quite an adventure when rain came down in buckets all night long. It was a very wet Sunday morning, but thankfully we stayed dry in our tent. It made the experience all the more memorable.

If you run this race (or volunteer!) next year, Empire Township Campground is an excellent spot for camping. Other nearby camping options: Indigo Bluffs, an RV rental park and “luxury RV retreat,” and D.H. Day Campground about a mile outside Glen Arbor that’s part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. You could also stay in Traverse City, which is about a 35-minute drive from Glen Arbor.

Racing aside, this area of northern Michigan is a beautiful place to explore on foot. There are lots of trails for hiking, biking and running, including the new Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail.

Did you run this year’s Glen Arbor Solstice Half Marathon & 5K? What did you like most about it? Do you have a favorite camping spot in Leelanau County?

 

 

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