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First Ride of the Season (aka: If There's Snow, Then Go)


No question it's been a lame late-fall/early-winter across much of North America this season. And this is on the heels of what was a pretty terrible winter last season for many of us.

Warm temps, several inches of rain...RAIN!?! in December...and a yard with still-green grass are painful reminders that we and our favorite pastime are at the complete mercy of Mother Nature.

During times like these my mood ranges from anger to exasperation to melancholy. If I hear one more person tell me how great this warm weather is, I'm going to punch them in throat. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Like you, I've been waiting for winter to arrive. Because I know that all the crap gets flushed the moment that Ma Nature dumps some snow.

Which is exactly what happened last week over parts of Northern Minnesota.

Some parts of the state received upwards of 20 inches, other parts much less. A half-hour of scanning various websites last Thursday indicated that upwards of 5-8 inches fell in a narrow band beginning around Garrison, Minn., and extending northeast.

A text to my friend Paul Hein, who lives in this area, confirmed the reports.

"It's not a lot of snow, but there's enough to ride some ditches," was his response.

After another round of texts it was Paul, myself and Tom Rowland agreeing to do some ditch riding on Friday. No big expectations, just hoping to break in some sleds without breaking anything.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

Where I live, south of the Twin Cities, the storm dumped only rain. So for the first hour of driving Friday morning, all I saw was grass. But by the time I picked up Rowland in Ogilvie, south of Mille Lacs Lake, there was a coating of white. And it was lightly snowing again, enough that the plows were out!

My mood was already lighter, happier.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

An hour later we were unloaded at Paul's place. The sight of snow covered roofs and trees mixed with the sound of crunchy snow underfoot, erasing a months worth of weather-induced anger.

A quick pre-ride shot next to some spruce trees and we headed out to the road and onto the ditch of Hwy 169.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

As the first snowmobilers to hit this section of ditch this season, we were riding carefully and cautiously, trying NOT to accidentally discover a discarded television set or car battery.

It also meant that we were knocking down a summer's worth of tall grass as Tom points to.

We'd been moving along nicely, albeit slowly, for a few miles when I turned around to see Paul, but no Tom.

I had that ugly feeling that he must have hit something.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

Indeed he had...a huge section of cattails, which sucked him in deep. Though he frantically raced to extricate himself before we arrived, alas he was too stuck to avoid photo documentation of the situation.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

Always a good sport about grown men laughing hysterically about his misfortune, Tom smiled and let us capture ample photographic evidence. It took 10 seconds to get him out, 10 minutes to remove a garbage can's worth of cattail fur from his sled, and another 10 minutes to quit laughing.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

We rode the ditch for a couple more miles until we hit a trail junction. The ditch had been decent, but we wanted to see what the trails were like despite being quite sure that the ground and swamps weren't yet frozen.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

To our surprise and utter delight, the trails were stunning in their beauty. Snow-covered EVERYTHING. First tracks! And while the ground wasn't frozen and there was some water to contend with, most of the riding was great.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

We probably stopped five times in five miles, waving our arms towards the incredible winter scene that we'd ridden into. None of us were expecting this, and the surprise was as great as the actual experience of riding.

(Pause for a philosophical interlude.)

I think a lot of how people respond to the world depends upon their expectations. I know it's true for me: when I have high expectations, I tend to be critical of whatever it is I'm experiencing, which takes away from the enjoyment. High expectations also prevents me from doing some things, because I waiting for just the right conditions.

I keep learning that, for me at least, the high-expectation mindset is a dead-end. Instead, when I dive into something no expectations, I'm almost always rewarded with a great experience.

Such was the case last Friday.

(Philosophical interlude over, thanks for indulging me.)

First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

Being the first on this trail for the season meant we were the first to tackle a culvert that didn't have a bridge and that would normally be frozen. Nobody wanted to do a headlight-inspection-handstand after spearing skis into the other side, nor did we want to take a bath.

It's funny, but it always seems like on first-rides, everyone rides so cautiously, like we're beginners to the sport. A few weeks into a normal riding season we blow right through the potentially tricky stuff without thinking much about it. But on those first few rides such situations have us riding slowly, almost fearfully. 


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

After a few minutes of "should we/shouldn't we" at the culvert, we manned up and went across without incident.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

Thirty miles after leaving Paul's house, we pulled into the Sunrise Cafe in Malmo, Minn., wolfed down a hearty meal while laughing and talking about how great the ride had been.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

We backtracked the route home as the sun, having emerged from heavy cloud cover for most of the day, made its slow arch across the afternoon sky.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

Long shadows fell across the trail, creating a winter scene that I won't soon forget.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

We played in a couple open areas, pretending we were Rob Kincaid and David McClure.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

A few miles from Paul's house, we ran across this guy who was lost and looking for the Sherwood forest.


First snowmobile ride of the 2015-2016 season. Photo by

When we arrived back at Paul's, the odometer showed 55 miles.

(Another philosophical interlude.)

Total miles don't mean diddly when it comes to snowmobile experiences!

I've had 150-mile days that were pretty unremarkable and I never think about after the fact, and I've had 10-mile jaunts that have given me lifelong memories.

The ride last Friday absolutely nailed the memory meter. We experienced gut-busting laughter (thanks Tom), great adventure, a tasty meal, spectacular scenery and the sense of accomplishment that comes from taking a chance on something.

And all of that put my head straight back into full-on winter mode. I'm happy again (seriously, ask my family)!

The weather might continue to be crummy for the rest of the winter. It might turn cold next week and deliver a snowstorm that shuts down the state. Who knows?

What I do know is, if winter is available somewhere that you can get to, then go. Really...GO! Because winter is magical even if you have to drive a bunch of hours to experience it. It will make you happy, I promise.

(Philosophical interlude over, thanks again for indulging me.)

And thanks for reading.

Comments (8):

s.t.i.c.s.9 says:
12/21/2015 8:08:00 PM

Agreed. It's not about the miles, it's all about the smiles!
Scott Watters says:
12/21/2015 8:20:00 PM

Thanks John, you just gave me some hope that I might be able to ride my snowmachine this season!
I bleed green! says:
12/21/2015 8:28:00 PM

I am completely jealous! We did however take the kids around the yard yesterday, and my daughter fell off her kitty cat 3 times. It's a start!
Tom Rowland says:
12/21/2015 9:01:00 PM

I bleed green: You mention your daughter fell off her Kitty Cat 3 times? You and her will certainly be asked to join us on some future ride, she'll be right at home with some in our riding group.
Mark Schoeder says:
12/21/2015 9:51:00 PM

Thanks for sharing John ! A nice snow storm would be nice to get things going! Saw Tom on Saturday and was still smiling and wanting to go again.
Paul Hein says:
12/23/2015 5:39:00 PM

I saw a forecast that has us getting 3"-6" over the weekend ! There is hope !
It was an awesome day , always a good time with Tom and John ! ; )
Aasen says:
12/24/2015 9:31:00 AM

Sitting at my computer in Arizona looking out my window but not seeing what is there. Far from it, I am thinking about all those wonderful first rides I had. One of which, was in that same swamp and I also, got stuck. I do have a smile on my face. Thanks for creating the memories John.
Brian says:
1/5/2016 3:29:00 PM

There aint no snow here in S. Wi yet :-(

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