I’m riding passenger in my mom’s Oldsmobile Delta 88, thrilled that I nabbed the front seat from my brother for this trip up north to go snowmobiling with my uncle and cousins during Christmas break.
The front seat is best because it’s easier to see snowmobiles and snowmobile tracks through both the windshield and door windows. I expect there will be plenty of both on this familiar two-and-a-half-hour drive north from our home.
As we make our way out of the city, every thought that passes is a good one: No school for a week; After years of wearing crummy hand-me-down boots, I finally have my own new pair of brown Sorrels with the thick felt liner…no more cold feet; Tomorrow we’ll eat the world’s best potato soup made in a Crockpot; And the next three days will be spent snowmobiling on and around the lake on which my uncle lives.
To my 10-year-old mind, there is nothing better than exploring this adventure land on snowmobile. I think about the narrow trail that goes down the hill to the lake by the boat landing and wonder if I will finally muster the courage to attempt riding up it? Will my I, my brother Dave, cousin Jill and her friend Kitty explore the trails on the far end of the bay, or will we stick closer to where the grownups will be ice fishing?
Before I can ask myself another question, I spot the first snowmobile tracks of the day!
They emerge as a single trail from a clump of woods, land onto a lake and then fan into a dozen different directions.
I swing my head to catch the last glimpse out of the rear window and, when the tracks are no longer visible, I return to my position as sentinel, looking out the windshield for more evidence of snowmobiles.
As the long, green Oldsmobile gobbles up the miles, I wonder to myself about what distant places these tracks must lead to? What brand of snowmobiles must have made them?
I’ve been absorbing every picture in each of the handful of snowmobile magazines we have at home. In my mind’s eye it, these tracks were made by Nitros, Trail-Twisters, El Tigres, TXs and Bruts. I can only imagine how fast those sleds are, or how stable they must feel with skis spread apart twice as far as Uncle Stan’s old sleds?
We’re off the interstate now and onto the 55 mph two-lanes that will guide us the rest of the way north. This means snowmobile tracks in the ditch and the likelihood of seeing people riding.
The tracks tell a story not just of travel, but of playfulness.
Wherever there are hills, the tracks diverge to climb up, out of the ditch-bottom to crest the summit before arching downhill and back onto the main path.
There is still enough new and untracked snow that the weaving and crisscrossing of tracks is evidence of what must have been a pack of riders slaloming down the ditch and up each bank. There are some hills that I wouldn’t dare to climb, unless maybe it was on one of those new, wide snowmobiles displayed on the pages of the magazines stacked next to me.
As we pass through a familiar town my excitement ratchets up a notch upons seeing more evidence of my favorite sport. A couple sleds have recently busted through a snow bank to cross the highway on which we’re driving, leaving a large puff of powdery snow spread onto the shoulder and a few trailing clumps that rattled off of skis as they shot to the other side of the road.
Ugh, I wished I would have seen them! Were they coming into town, perhaps to get gas? How recently had they crossed, and where are they now?
I no sooner wonder these questions when I spot the first snowmobiles of the trip. In one swift gesture I point to the machines while proclaiming the brand and models being ridden, startling my mom and rousing my brother.
My family has endured my mastery of spotting and identifying snowmobile for a couple years. They dutifully look whenever I point to such machines. They never see sleds before I do. If this is a game, I am always the winner.
The next 30 miles pass in whirlwind of excitement. There are more sleds and even more tracks. I alternate between pointing out such wonders and simply soaking it all in.
We pass a couple lakes that are tracked with well-packed “freeways” running through their mid-sections. Sprinkled on each side are a few ice-fishing houses and the tracks that lead to them. Over the next few days the number of ice houses will quadruple, creating small neighborhoods abuzz with ice-augers, cars and of course more snowmobiles.
The outskirts of our destination welcome us with ditches nearly devoid of untouched snow. A moment after the star atop the Holiday Inn sign reveals itself, so do vehicles, trailers and snowmobiles crowding its parking lot. I see a half-dozen brands represented and accurately name them without hesitation.
Minutes later we pull into the driveway at my uncle’s house and see the most glorious of all sights: uncovered snowmobiles; a funnel perched upside-down on top of one of the two steel 5-gallon gas cans; and a few tracks in the snow indicating everything’s ready to ride.
Finally, it’s our turn to make tracks. Where will they lead to?