Every year in a snowmobiler’s life, the riding season eventually comes to an end. Spring does its thing, the snow melts and life turns a corner towards the stuff we do in the non-winter months.
Last Friday was (or appeared to be) that day for myself and a handful of friends, all of whom played hooky from work/life to spend a day in North Central Minnesota.
We all met at Thomas Sno Sports in Ogilvie, Minn. From L-to-R: Tom Rowland, Eric Bergstrom, Randy Holland, Pat Bourgeois and Lanny Stegeman. I’m not sure where Bill Weikert was when I snapped this shot, but he was there too.
Unlike many of our trips that begin at ridiculously early times in faraway locations, this end-of-the-season rumble had a more leisurely vibe. So much so that we left our homes at reasonable times and arrived at Thomas with plenty of time to chat about wherefores and whatnots. Everyone in the room put money down on a new ALPHA ONE that morning, then it was time to drive 30 miles up the road to Isle, Minn., where we would meet our mutual friend Les Pinz.
Mother Nature was smiling pretty on us that morning as we drove to Isle, delivering an unexpected snowfall that belied the fact that April was only two days away.
We met at the Corner Cafe, where my truck and sled enjoyed a nice blanket of snow while we got down to the business of talking snowmobiles.
The conversation halted abruptly when breakfast was served. For 8 minutes and 23 seconds, the cozy little cafe was nearly silent as we wolfed down the calories we’d need to spend the day laughing, sharing stories and riding sleds.
After breakfast we went straight to Les Pinz’s place on the outskirts of Isle to see his vast collection of snowmobiles and related memorabilia.
I’ll post that story later this week as it’s worth its own dedicated feature.
For now I’ll leave you with this photo of Pat Bourgeois and the sled he cozied up to for several hours that morning.
After the tour of Les’s collection, we donned our gear, unloaded the sleds and headed out for what we all suspected was a last ride of 2018.
We started on the famed Soo Line North trail, a 114-mile converted railroad grade that serves as a corridor to many great riding areas across a swath of North Central Minnesota.
Thank goodness for the 1-2 inches of snow that had fallen that morning, otherwise the rock-covered Soo Line would have been a bit ugly, at least in the sections without trees where the previous week’s melt had cleared most of the white stuff.
It was a different story in the tree-lines sections, where a light base combined with a fresh layer were enough to make it feel like middle of the winter conditions.
There was no hurry to the pace or to an agenda. With Les guiding us on the very trails he and other members of the Mille Lacs Drift Skippers have worked to make so perfect, we had a front row seat to great riding and great stories about how some of the trails were built and why the Drift Skippers have been so successful.
During stops like this we also solved several concerns and answered many pressing questions, including:
-How to get new people into the sport
-How to make kids and families the focus of snowmobile manufacturers
-What Arctic Cat is like after one year of ownership under Textron?
-How quickly can eight men consume the two packages of M&Ms and one package of Almond Joy that Tom bought at the gas station that morning?
-Are snowmobiles truly the same price now as they were 25 years ago? (YES!)
-Should we have been more concerned about how much time Pat spent with that Skiroule?
We also learned via the convenience (and curse) of modern smartphone technology, that a winter storm was brewing in the North Dakota that was going to dump 10-15 inches of snow AT THIS VERY SPOT beginning later this night.
The question we weren’t able to answer was, “Why in the heck didn’t we plan our ride for one day later?”
Some of the nicest riding of the day occurred in the tamarack swamps that characterize the lowland areas of this part of the state. Not quite full-on soggy swamp but also not exactly solid ground, these vast areas of tamarack tree covered lowlands make for awesome snowmobile trails. Their general lack of rocks meant that the 1-2 inches of fresh snow was enough to provide a great trail surface.
After meandering through the tamarack for 20 miles or so, we headed out to the big lake that this area of Minnesota is famous for: Mille Lacs.
The fresh snow on what was already a massive base made the big lake joy to see and ride. Everyone stretched their legs while exploring the furthest reaches of their sled’s throttle lever.
We stopped at a couple spots not far from shore, including this VERY SMALL island with an old cabin on it.
Again, more problem solving that’s made possible only because we had the kind of clear minds that come from riding snowmobiles. On this stop we:
-Determined the exact role the Russians played in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
-Pinpointed the exact date that riderless/self-driving snowmobiles will debut
-Confirmed with Tom that 10 packages of M&Ms and six Almond Joy candy bars would have been more appropriate for a group our size
After tackling these issues, it was late enough in the day that everyone was ready to return to their respective homes and the stuff of spring
And so we posed for what MIGHT be the last ride for several of us this season, outside of the Drift Skippers clubhouse in Isle.
I say “might” because after the photo and the loading of sleds and the handshakes goodbye, mother nature actually did deliver 14 inches to a large swath of Minnesota beginning that night. And now, three days later, there’s 6-8 inches falling outside my window as I type these very words.
The calendar says April 3, but it’s feeling a lot more like February right here, right now. So maybe a few of us will get in another bookend ride to the winter of 2018?
If so, I’ll share the story. And if I don’t get out again, I’m content with the great day in Isle last week.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that snowmobiling is an unpredictable sport. Weather and life sometimes mesh in perfect harmony and allow us to ride thousands of miles in one season. But sometimes they collide and leave us desperately short of the goals and dreams we’d anticipated back in October and November.
So we make the most of it and hope to ride another day.
Thanks for reading.