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Winter Exists!: Three Days & 400 Miles of Snowmobiling


(3/6/2012)

Real winter finally arrived in full-glory across a large swath of Minnesota (and the Midwest) last week. Given the temperature swings of the past few months and the fact that it’s March, I knew I had to get out and ride before it melted.

Three days later, I’ve nearly forgotten just how lame most of the last three months have been.

 

Riding the Arctic Cats in Minnesota's short winter of 2012

Our adventure began on Friday with my son Calvin. We loaded up the truck and trailer and drove north for 75 minutes until we saw what looked to be ridable snow, near Rush City, Minn. We unloaded, spied some trail signs and fresh tracks, and then simply went riding. It was our first time in this area, and it’s always cool to discover something new.

 

Riding the Arctic Cats in Minnesota's short winter of 2012

Although I'd hoped to educate Cal on the fastest way to race the I-500 towards St. Paul (by hopping on the road and hoping nobody notices), we opted skip the freeway back to the Twin Cities and instead pointed the sleds North, toward St. Croix State Park.

 

Riding the Arctic Cats in Minnesota's short winter of 2012

Decent-snow and trail conditions turned awesome once we hit the Chengwatana State Forest, where the abundance of trees made a difference in the amount of snowpack.

 

Riding the Arctic Cats in Minnesota's short winter of 2012

I've learned that the key to Calvin's ultimate enjoyment of adventures is to find jumps and/or interesting things to stop and look at (at which point he can dive into the sugary snacks). This pump in the St. Croix State Forest helped wash down the remnants of gummy worms and sour patch kids.

 

Riding the Arctic Cats in Minnesota's short winter of 2012

Crossing the Kettle River. Lots of slush on this ride (not here, but on Rock Lake).

 

Riding the Arctic Cats in Minnesota's short winter of 2012

In a rare role-reversal, I got the bunny ears on Cal without him noticing. It's usually the other way around.

Cal and I switched between the F1100 and the Sno Pro 500. He liked the F1100's quiet sound and electric start, but he preferred the easier-steering Sno Pro (and the new Arctic Cat hand guards that we'd added the night before).

 

Riding the Arctic Cats in Minnesota's short winter of 2012

The next day my brother-in-law Dean and I headed further north for what would be a two-day "saddlebag" ride on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais, Minn.

When we got to Moose Lake for a pit stop, the snow was falling hard and fast. A good sign!

 

C.J. Ramstad North Shore State snowmobile Trail

We parked in the dedicated trail lot up the ridge from Two Harbors, at which point there's a great sign explaining the C.J. Ramstad Trail. I saw several people stop and get a similar pic to this, which made me smile.

God bless you, C.J.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

The Ramstad/North Shore Trail is one of my favorite rides. I first rode it around 1990, have raced on it (in the old Jeep 500) and had many, many trips along it. Since it gets lake-effect snow, it's usually one of the best places to ride in the state during crummy winters like this one.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

Dean was happy to be riding his new 2011 Arctic Cat F8 LXR with the Fox Evol shock upgrade. This was my sled last winter. After a lot of sweet-talking to his wife, Dean got the green light to buy the sled. He wore a similar smile the whole weekend.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

I'm always struck by how different the weather can be along the North Shore compared to the rest of Minnesota. The 2-3 feet of snow between Two Harbors and Finland was evidence of the point.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

I'm also struck by how quickly I forget about otherwise poor winter once I'm planted in good snow.

Sometimes it's easy to look out the windows of our homes or work and, if it's brown, simply put off riding until the snow comes to us. That same browness can easily squash our enthusiasm.

Yet whenever I seek out and find snow, I ALWAYS wonder why I didn't do so sooner?

My conclusion this time around is always take a chance on finding snow, even if it isn't perfect conditions. Because riding trails with dirty/icy corners is still a thousand times better than not riding at all. And fun stuff always happens on snowmobile trips.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

Here Dean does his best cowboy-with-a-Colt impression. Nice shooting, Dean.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

Before heading into Grand Marais, we made a slight detour to Devil's Track Lake for a bowl of fish chowder at The Landing. Seriously, this place makes the best fish chowder in the world.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

After overnighting in Grand Marais, we headed back towards Two Harbors early Sunday morning.

I always stop at this spot overlooking Lake Superior in the background (it's tough to see on this pic).

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

Beautifully-groomed trails between Grand Marais and Finland courtesty of the state's Tucker Sno-Cats.

Must have been something wonky with the groomers responsible for the trail between Finland and Two Harbors this weekend, as this section didn't receive the usual Saturday night smoothing.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

Just north of Pike Lake, between Lutsen and Grand Marais.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

This was a familiar sight the first half of Sunday's ride... Dean stopping to clean the fog out of his new helmet.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

He kept blaming the helmet, but if you can see the amount of steam billowing off his head, I think you'll agree that the helmet wasn't the main problem.

After convincing him to remove 13 of his 27 layers of clothing, the sweating stopped and the fogging ended.

As a side note, the funniest thing that happened this weekend occured when we were leaving The Landing on Saturday. The place was packed with snowmobilers, most of whom had put their helmets and gear in an area near the fireplace.

As Dean and I were putting on gear for the ride to Grand Marais, he realized that the balaclava he'd put on (and wore for a good two minutes) was someone else's! I of course had to remind him of that gross mistake for the remainder of the trip.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

There are lots of bridges spanning cool rivers along the North Shore. Rivers and creeks with great names, like Devil's Track, Temperance, Manitou, Baptism, Skunk Creek, Encampment and Sucker.

 

Heading onto the Tomahawk Trail on the Arctic Cat sleds

We opted for a slight detour inland on the way back to Two Harbors, heading on the Tomahawk Trail to Isabella, then onto the Yukon Trail back towards Two Harbors.

 

The famous Trestle Inn on Crooked Lake

We stopped at the famous Trestle Inn on Crooked Lake, but just for a photo as it wasn't yet open this early on a Sunday morning.

 

John's Sanitation Service, just another of my many jobs

We fueled up at the Knotted Pine near Isabella, where I also took care of garbage duties.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

When we arrived back at the parking lot near Two Harbors, we were pumped to see the 12 inches of lake-effect snow covering the trucks and trailers in the parking lot.

Again... seeing all the snow and riding for three straight days has gone a LONG ways towards turning around my mindset on this winter.

While I surely would have preferred 3-4 months and 2,000 sledding miles of "normal" winter, I certainly savored these three days and 400 miles in a way that I wouldn't have otherwise. It's not quantity, it's quality. And three high-quality days of riding were a blessing I'm grateful for, and fuel for the snowmobiling fire.

 

Snowmobile Trail Maps... a good sign

As always occurs on these kind of trips, I came home with a handful of new snowmobile maps I'd picked up along the way. I love maps of all kinds, and I'll save these and refer to them now and into the future.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

Warm temps are returning to the upper Midwest this week, and I'm not sure if I'll eke out another ride before season's end.

I'm glad I snapped a lot pix like this, which might have to sustain me until next winter.

 

Riding the Arctic Cat snowmobiles on the C.J. Ramstad North Shore Trail

Thanks for reading.



Comments (14):

Sandmann says:
3/6/2012 11:29:00 AM

I see the Finland Coop sign! You guys were right by the family cabin (probably drove right by it on the trail). Too bad you werent heading there next week. The St. Erhos run always brings out some cool/rare sleds.
tito says:
3/6/2012 11:46:00 AM

Cool story and pics. Have to agree about getting out in nice snow about forgetting the bad snow year. Got enough good snow days in to keep pumped through out the season
Todd Ulschmid says:
3/6/2012 12:02:00 PM

Awesome! Friday morning, on the drive up to Brule, WI. I took note of how fast the snow conditions improved just north of the Metro. Great pics! The northshore is the gem of MN. Don't get me wrong, plenty of great places to ride in MN but, the arrowhead of MN is special! The guys I went riding with were set on going to Bayfield county, though.... The snow was deep there, too! Too bad the Trestle was closed, you could have had a slice of their french silk pie and big glass of milk.... One slice(slab) is a full day of caloric intake. NICE! : ) The F1100 looks good! Ride report on the F1100 coming, soon?
Bob V. says:
3/6/2012 2:35:00 PM

Great story and pictures! It is great to have good snow in MN even if only for a few weeks! F1100 does look great!
Stephen Knox says:
3/6/2012 4:33:00 PM

Glad to hear you guys finally got some snow in MN. Your new sled looks pretty nice, I see you also found out how worthless the standard windsheild is.
Mike F says:
3/6/2012 4:42:00 PM

Sweet story and pictures as always. It's funny how a little snow and a couple days enjoying the outdoors with family and friends can improve ones spirits! Perhaps a little USCC vintage/junior 10-13 action this weekend would help you and Cal weather those hot summer months a little easier? We will be sure and save you some slush and stumps! Too bad its such a long haul for you guys. Keep up the good work!
Scott says:
3/6/2012 5:13:00 PM

Awesome story!!! Got about 10 inchs on the shores of Lake Michigan!! Trails didnt open though, no frost!!! Got a good ride in around the the yard and got some new gas in the lungs of the 77 Pantera, 78 Panther, 80 El tigre, and the wifes Sabercat!!!! Now its 55 degrees and snow is all but gone!!! Just not enough time to get the whole collection out!!! That Okay, i will take what i can get!!!! Keep up the good work!, love all of the storys!!!!!!!!!!
Greg Hallstrom says:
3/6/2012 7:42:00 PM

Looks like you had a great time! That is one area of the state I haven't ridden in yet. Will definitely have to make it over there some time. Yes, there is always snow some where. Just have to trailer the machines.

Glad to see you have introduced your son to snowmobiling. We need more young people to get involved in the sport.

Ha! Ha! You wised up and installed a high windshield. The stock windshield is definitely a big joke!

Dean needs a No-Fog mask. You could have stopped at Dennis Kirk in Rush City and bought him one.

Glad I don't have the "wife problem" any more when trying to decide whether or not to buy a new snowmobile. Been there. Done that. Uffda!
Jeff Bluhm says:
3/7/2012 1:11:00 AM

Isabella, Finland area is my favorite place to ride. I've stayed at the Knotted Pine Inn many times, and enjoy eating at the Trestle Inn. The 50th anniversary Cat looks good.
John Zanon says:
3/7/2012 7:47:00 AM

I have to compliment Cal on his good taste in sled graphic kits...the Arctic Insider graphics sure makes it look faster! HaHa
Eric Nelms says:
3/7/2012 9:11:00 AM

Looks like you guys ahd a really good ride. Riding is good at the lake also.
Greg Wagner says:
3/8/2012 5:35:00 PM

Out for a run today and saw Dean loading, getting ready to go again this weekend. Had a great conversation about the Arctic Cats and riding. Hope it is a great weekend of riding "one last time".
Mac says:
3/8/2012 7:57:00 PM

It appears we must have just missed you in our journey last weekend Sandbag. I spent Friday-Sunday in Finland and had some amazing trail riding combined with some awesome back country riding. In fact it never stopped snowing in the time that I was there.....great time on the shore...as usual..
Don Amber says:
3/13/2012 7:38:00 AM

Thanks for the great story and pictures John!!! Helps us southerners who haven't seen much snow all year. Hall of Fame ride and a quick trip to the UP riding our vintage sleds (actually that's all we have) was our only adventure this year. DA

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