On Monday, six friends played hooky from work so that we could enjoy the endless winter that’s graced Minnesota this year. An early start from the Twin Cities area put us in the snowmobile park-and-ride lot near Two Harbors at 9:30 am.
The mood was equal parts jubilant and incredulous, as none of us could remember riding this late into a Minnesota spring, and certainly not in the conditions that were waiting for us on the North Shore. It’s still full-blown winter there, with 6-ft. snow banks (look in the background) and WAY more snow than we saw in the same area six weeks earlier.
We snapped a photo by the C.J. Ramstad Memorial Trail sign, with a few endearing quips about C.J. told for good measure. Were he alive today, I have no doubt he would have been on this ride.
Like I said, winter is still going strong as ever in this snowmobiler’s paradise. I’m guessing there’s at least three feet of packed snow cover here even now as I write this.
The trails had been groomed a week prior; however there must have been a fair amount of traffic over the last weekend because they were rough. Fun rough, in most places, especially for a crew of riders who likes to pretend they’re Joe Racer on occasion.
Speaking of Joe Racer, we saw him on that day. In fact, he was one of only five riders we saw the entire trip. Obviously most Minnesota snowmobilers are responsible employees who don’t play hooky like our motley crew.
The rough conditions required some suspension adjustment for Kale Wainer (left) and Pat Bourgeois, both of whom are such gorillas that they mangled both spanner wrenches that came in the Cat tool kit.
Unlike riding in the middle of winter, when it’s far colder and there’s often a vibe of we-gotta-get-to-our-destination, Monday’s ride was completely relaxed, at least for me.
There was no time schedule, temps were in low 40s, we’d have see-who-can-hit-the-trail-sign-with-a-snowball contests and the only real goal was making it to the Trestle Inn for lunch. Other than that, there were no expectations.
I like riding without expectations, because such rides invariably are more fun and conversational.
The only bummer about the easy-going approach was that these two goofballs took FOREVER to increase the spring preload on the front arm shock…
… which meant I had to maintain this position for about 15 minutes. If you’ve never styled like this for 15 minutes, you have no idea how fatiguing it is.
Pretty good style though, huh?
The single best style maneuver of the day belonged to Jim Urquhart, who styled MY sled into the rhubarb and nearly Paul Bunyaned a tree! Jim tried to blame the suspension set-up I had on my sled, but we all knew the real problem.
Sixty-odd miles after leaving Two Harbors, we made it to the Trestle Inn on Crooked Lake. A snowmobiling icon, the Trestle is a classic stop along the North Shore/Ramstad trail that exudes character AND contains characters.
From L-to-R: Pat Bourgeois, Kale Wainer, Jim Urquhart, Tom Rowland, Mike Swinehart and the famous ’80s pop-star Phil Collins (aka me, John Sandberg).
We posed for a picture to commemorate the occasion, then went inside to strap on the feed bags.
A quick perusal of the guest book showed a lot of familiar names to our crew.
FYI that Snow Goer magazine editor Andy Swanson appears in this log 34 times over the past two seasons, but we were told by the bartender that Andy phones in his name, and that he hasn’t actually been to the Trestle Inn since 1993.
On the way home we enjoyed 60-some miles of trail without sight of another snowmobiler. There were constant jokes and constant disbelief that we were riding such fantastic conditions at the end of April.
For most of our group, it sounded like this would be the last ride of the season, even though there will for sure be at least another 10 days of riding in this area no matter what the weather does.
When I know it’s my last ride of a season that’s been so long and enjoyable, I feel only the slightest twinge of sadness. The overriding emotion is satisfaction and gratitude.
A bonus for many of us was that this was the second time this season that we had our last ride (THIS was our first last-ride.).
I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but anyone in the Midwest who gave up snowmobiling in January because of the lack of early-season snow really, really missed out on one of the best winters in a LONG time. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that winter still happens and you just have to be patient.
When we arrived at the parking lot the odometer showed 125 miles. Again, pretty amazing for April!
But like I said above, anyone who’s interested in riding in this area still has some time to make it happen…
… because as we started the drive home to the Twin Cities, yet another snow storm began to dump big, heavy flakes. When the storm had finished 12 hours later, another 8 inches had fallen in the area.
So the winter of 2013 continues… into May for sure. Maybe, even longer!?!
Thanks for reading.