Tuesday, January 26, 2010

1-25-10

Ok the trip is done and another Bucket List item is crossed off. I’m writing this as we fly the last leg of the trip home; Denver to RDU. I’ll try to capture some final thoughts on the trip.

This was my first trip with this particular group. While we’ve been friends for almost 30 years, and I’ve been with them in various settings dozens of times, it’s my first time “on the road” with them. They are a fun bunch to run with. Clay is one of my very best friends; we talk almost daily, just running our mouths and trying to figure out what’s going on with the world. I’ve known Joy almost as long as I’ve known Clay; she’s a very special person who shares a birth date with me. Of course, I’m 8 years older than her (I think). And Libby. I’ve known her longer than Clay or Joy, and she is a wonderful friend and person. She is a widow; her husband, Stacy, hired me 28 years ago, and became a terrific friend and a very good boss. So, we all go back a long time. They are good traveling partners.

Yellowstone was everything I wanted it to be. Beautiful, majestic, and magical. While we did not see a lot of wildlife, I enjoyed what we did see. The snowmobile trip into the park was good for the first experience with the machines. A tame ride was good for the start.

The trails were a lot of fun. Very challenging at first, with the veering and bobbing, but became easier as we gained experience. The first day on trails was hard; I think we tried to over-control the machines. The second day I worked much less hard and let the machines more or less do what they wanted to do. That was much easier.

Having lunch at two unique places was a bonus. Both were very different, but each was unique. These trips to strange places make life better.
Characters we met along the way were interesting. We ran into a number of people from NC—it’s sorta weird to go that far to go snowmobiling and run into people from places we know well. I guess North Carolinians like to travel.

I’m glad I did the trip. Initially the idea was to do this “once in a lifetime” thing and never do again. But now, I’m not so sure I won’t do it again! A good time was had by all.

1-24-10






Today was great. We slept in a little, had breakfast at the hotel, and got out to the machines about 10am. It was about 14 degrees outside and sunny. A beautiful day for a ride.

We had to refuel the machines, so we headed back to the rental company to refuel. That done, we asked for directions for some trails headed north out of town. It happened that those trails started right across from the rental place, so we took off, looking for more adventures.

The trails were very good; much smoother (no washboard effect for a long time). We had one potential destination in mind—a place called Einos. We were told that it was a restaurant where you cook your own food! I had never heard of that concept, but it sounded pretty interesting. It was on the highway to Boseman. So, we tore off in that direction.

We went through an area near a big lake, and saw probably hundreds of Moose tracks through the deep snow. At least we think they were Moose tracks. They were about 2 feet wide and just meandered though the woods. Some tracks were much narrower; we figured they were done by deer or something with much smaller feet. But, alas, we saw no Moose, deer, or any other critters. But it was a beautiful ride.

After a while, the trail meandered out to the highway, crossed the highway, and continued north. Several miles further, we spotted Einos on the other side of the highway. So, we crossed and pulled into the parking lot.

After disembarking the machines, we walked up to the door to see if it was open. Being 11:00am on a Sunday, we weren’t sure if it would indeed be open. As we approached the door, an old, rough-looking guy opened the door and welcomed us inside. We were the only ones there other than the operator.

So, we asked if we could get a meal, and he said yes, indeed we could. Then he proceeded to show us various things about the place. He was very unique in that each time he told us about some feature of the restaurant, he would do a bird whistle! He told us about the menu and whistled, then the bar, then how the food operation. After each item, a whistle. I couldn’t keep from laughing, but tried to hide it from him.

The décor was interesting as well. It had large windows with a great view of the mountains in the area. It had high ceilings and big beams to hold up the ceiling. On the beams were dollar bills with various things written on them. On the top beams were hung women’s underclothes—bras, panties, and other assorted pieces of clothing. Interesting….. And the final unique touch to Einos was in tbe men's bathroom. Most urinals are attached to a wall. Not in Einos--the urinal was attached to a shower stall, complete with a floor drain. Not sure what that means, but it was unique...

We ordered a beer (Alaskan Amber, a good one) and decided on the Teriyaki Chicken. The options included sautéed onions, a salad, or cheesey potatoes. We decided on the cheesey potatoes and we wanted onions. We also got bread.

He led us to the kitchen. It had two grills under a stainless steel commercial exhaust system. He showed us where the utensils and pan for sautéed onions. That was pretty wild—us cooking the onions and chicken. The owner, Jean, did the potatoes.

So, we put the onions and the chicken on and cooked them while he told us about the history of the place and other interesting things about the area. At one point he mentioned that he might want to relocate to NC and asked if he could get a job as a waiter on the coast! So, we told him about the towns on our coast and how they differed as the food cooked. All of this was almost surreal!

The food cooked, and we took it to a table and he brought the potatoes and we ate. VERY GOOD! The potatoes, in particular, were terrific. Topped off with garlic toast (which we also cooked), it was a meal fit for a king!

We finished, paid, and went back outside to the machines. He had told us about the Big Sky trail that went on north for another 9 miles and then became ungroomed for 15 miles and then picked up as groomed for another 30 or so milers. We decided to do the trail until it was no longer groomed.

The trail was great! It wound through the woods, some fairly level, and one place so steep for a long time that I did not think I would get to the top. The track kept spinning and the sled was barely moving. But it did get to the top, and all was well.

Just beyond the steep place, it began to snow as we climbed in elevation. It got colder and darker as we proceeded, but had no problems. When the groomed trail ended, the area just opened up for freestyle riding. Since our machines were not designed for freestyle riding, we turned around and started back.

The trip back was good and uneventful. One thing I wanted to do was to run fast, to see what it was like. So, several times I lagged behind Clay to get some space between us, and then put down the hammer until I got scared or got too close and needed to slow down. Using the GPS, the fastest I went was 52.3mph. Not fast, but it felt like I was flying. With the machine wanting to follow other tracks, it jumped around like a jitterbug. It felt like it feels when you’re in a speedboat going really fast on choppy waters. For entry-level machines like we had, that was fast enough.

The trail ended in town and we decided to get a picture of us and the machines at the Yellowstone National Park sign, so we went there and did that.
Then we rode through town to the trailhead running south of town. We had been there the day before, but weren’t ready to turn in the machines yet. So, we took off to ride some trails we had not ridden earlier.

We went down several and time was waning when I looked at the odometer and discovered that we had ridden 72 miles. The problem with that is the gas tank has sufficient capacity to go 80-100 miles, according to the rental people. So, rather than finish a fine trail, we made a U-turn and headed back. Going back we rode much slower to maximize our gas.

Back at the rental place, the odometer read 84 miles. So, we made it!
Tomorrow—back home.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

1-23-10




What a day! Adventures found us all day. We had a ball, looking back at it, but, some times were not so much fun at the time things were happening. But things in retrospect are always different from how they look at the time they occur.

We slept in a little later than the day before. Libby and Joy were scheduled to ride a snow coach into Yellowstone for the day. Clay and I had a different snowmobile for the day, and were eager to get on to real snowmobile trails to see what true snowmobiling was about. Somehow we knew that the machines in Yellowstone was probably pretty tame.

We went out to the machines, fired them up (2-stroke with a manual choke) right away, and took off for the trails. We had carried a 6-pack of Moose Drool beer to drink along the way, so we knew it would be a good day on the machines.
We found the entrance to the trails just fine, but were pretty tentative in knowing where to go. We watched a few machines zoom by and decided to just follow them. Yeah, right. They knew what they were doing; we were true rookies. Where they could fly, we could creep!

The trails were much narrower, about one lane wide (for a road), but had 2-way traffic. So, you had to be alert and watching out for oncoming traffic all the time. In truth, we met very few machines, and had no close calls, but we were tentative because of our inexperience.

The other major difference from our trip into Yellowstone and today's conditions was the washboard surface conditions. If you can imagine a road with a speed bump every 10-15 feet, that is what we experienced pretty much all day. It was hard to hang onto the machine, with it veering left and right AND up and down. We learned pretty fast that the only way to manage was to stand up so my legs could absorb some of the shock. That worked pretty well, but was hard on the legs and knees.

The first evidence of problems for the day came when I got my camera out to take some pictures. It turned on, the lens extended, and then it did NOTHING! Would do nothing at all, including turning off. After messing with it a few minutes, I put it in the backpack with the lens extended. I don’t know what happened to it, but it could be the cold. It just would not work right.

We did several trails, most in heavily wooded areas, and some in open meadows, passing through farmland of some kind. We had been told about a restaurant (Meadow Creek Lodge) that was accessible only by snowmobile, so we wanted to find it for lunch. So we went looking for it.

One of the trails ended running parallel to Hwy 20 in Idaho. The maps showed the trail crossing another road and continuing to run parallel to Hwy 20 before crossing it and veering off to the west. At a point, the trail just ended. We were at a junction of Hwy 20 and another road, and there was no evidence of others going where the trail was supposed to go. Instead, there were tracks of other machines crossing Hwy 20 and running parallel as far as we could see.

After looking at the tracks and the maps, we decided to go where the tracks led. So, we crossed Hwy 20 and ran parallel to it for a while. Ahead, we could see a Sinclair service station on the same side of the road as we were running. Just before the service station, the trail got really tough, with steep drops and steep hills, combined with a tough curve. I went through it, worried that I’d get stuck or turn the machine over in the soft snow. But I did okay.

Just past the tough place, I heard a whistle and stopped to look back. What I saw was Clay, half on and half off his machine. One leg was still over the seat and one leg was buried in the snow and the machine was at a 45 degree angle.

So, I got off my machine and went back to his. The snow was deep; mid-thigh, so the going was tough. I got to him, totally winded (funny how short your breath is at 7,000 feet elevation). After resting a minute, I went to the side on which the sled was leaning to help keep it from tipping over. He yelled at me to go to the other side, and I told him I could not pull from there, but could push from the side I was on. He finally explained that his foot was caught on the other side and he needed me to free it. So, I went to the other side and freed his foot. Then back to the other side to help him power it out.

While this doesn’t sound like much, the effort it takes to maneuver in snow up to your crotch makes you tired quickly. I had never seen such deep snow! And it wore me out. Then I went back to my machine and pulled it into the service station parking lot. He followed me and we went inside to ask for help finding the trail and to rest.

The owner happened to be from Gatlinburg, TN, so Clay talked to him a lot about things in common. This kind of thing happened throughout the trip—finding people with NC connections. It has happened to me on other trips, but it’s always neat when it does happen. After a bit, we got back on the machines and followed the owner’s advice and found the trail again.

We rode a while and came to an intersection of trails. There were two choices-[-one that started heading back to West Yellowstone and one that we had been advised by two people not to take. The one back towards West Yellowstone led us away from the restaurant. The other one was iffy because of the warnings we had been given.
After some consternation and discussion, we decided to take the more adventurous one. So, we took off on what we thought was the trail. Unfortunately, it was not a trail. About 100 feet after starting, I began worrying that we had gone wrong. It was evident that there was not much traffic where we were going, and it was clear that the snow was much softer and deeper. But there was nowhere to turn around, and I was scared to stop.

After about 200 yards, I found a spot that seemed to be safe to stop. I stopped and Clay stopped about 30 feet behind me. I got off my machine and started walking back to him. Initially the snow was about knee deep. About 15 feet from him, one foot sunk up to my crotch. There was no bottom! I had to roll out of the hole and crawl to him.

We talked a minute and decided that maybe the best thing was to see if he could back his machine out of the deep snow. Well, that did not work! It just went deeper into the deep stuff. It would not move forward or backward. We looked around and tried packing snow under the track and skis to support it. But when he started it up to move it, it only dug deeper.

We were both exhausted, about 200 yards off the trail. I thought about our survival skills in the cold. I remembered we had trail mix and beer and water. But in truth I was not too worried about us since we were not lost or far off the beaten path. Mostly I worried about the huge towing bill we’d be facing.
After a little rest, we decided that I should try to get my machine out of the deep stuff and find help. So, I got on it and decided not to stop or slow down until I was in a safe place. Luckily, I did not get stuck and found a route back to the trail.

Once on the trail, I flagged down 2guys and asked if they would help get Clay’s machine out. They agreed.

One went down to Clay, got off his machine and he and Clay then moved it off to one side. Then Clay got on it and rode it out, following my tracks. He got back to the trail with no more problems.

We thanked them, offered to pay them, but they refused. ‘/So, we continued on the trail we thought we were on but had missed.

This trail led to several others, all working towards the restaurant we wanted to see so badly. At one point, Clay took the lead, and I followed him. Shortly thereafter, I could see his backpack flapping on the back of his sled. I tried to flag him down, but he did not see me waving my arms.

I tried to catch up with him, but then saw something odd on the snow. I stopped to see what it was and quickly realized it was the pull for one of the zippers on his backpack. So, I slowed down to look for things being slung out of the backpack. A little further along, I found hand warmers, binoculars, a Leatherman tool, more hand warmers, and 3 beers. I then spotted him crossways in the trail, working on the machine. He was freeing the backpack that had gotten caught in the sprocket of the machine, stopping it in its tracks.

By the time I got to him, he had freed the backpack and was assessing damage to it. Two or 3 zippers were pulled apart. It had a hole in one side. Unfortunately, it was a brand new backpack that he had never used before this trip. Pretty much ruined by a bungee cord that slipped, freeing the backpack. We secured it again and continued towards the restaurant.

Not too much further down the trail, we came up to the restaurant, parked the machines, and went inside for food.

In truth, the food was ok. I guess the thought of a place in the middle of nowhere, accessible only by snowmobile is better than the reality of good food. But we did get some rest we needed while getting our food.

After the meal, we loaded back on the machines and rode trails back to the motel.
It was an adventurous day. Several close calls, but no harm or damage. All is well.
We rode 66 miles today.

Tomorrow—more of the same.

Friday, January 22, 2010

1-22-10






Another dream realized! Yep, we did it today. Rode a snowmobile all day. In the snow. And the cold. And it was terrific!!

We started the day at the snowmobile rental place, getting some limited instruction on dos and don’ts, getting snowmobile clothing, boots, gloves, etc. The instructions were pretty simple, and the equipment was first-rate. Heavy, insulated boots, and one-piece coveralls from Cabelas that kept us warm and dry.

The first few minutes on the machine were somewhat tentative. With no clutch nor gears, and with steering that works opposite of a motorcycle, it was very different from what I was used to experiencing. The automatic clutch did not engage until about 3,000 rpms, so there was a lot of engine revving with nothing happening. The machines have better brakes than I expected, but still don’t stop quickly. Gunning the engine at speed also has much less acceleration than my motorcycle.

There were 9 snowmobiles plus a guide going into Yellowstone Park. Our destination was Old Faithful; we wanted to see her spew in the snow. With about 30 miles from West Yellowstone to Old Faithful, we were covering a pretty large area in our inaugural trip.

The sleds tend to follow tracks laid by earlier riders, so the sled tends to veer left and right constantly. Not far, but maybe 6 inches or so, but the effect is that the rider is constantly swaying left and right, following the sled’s motion. In a day of riding that motion was not kind to my back. The ride was generally relatively smooth, and would have been terrific, if not for the swaying left and right.

It snowed all day. Sometimes light snow; sometimes heavy. It left a coating of about 4-5 inches on top of what was there before we started. The sun popped out a time or two, but most of the day it was dark, snowy and cloudy. Temperatures started at 11 degrees and went to a high of probably 28 or so when the sun popped out for a few minutes. But with the clothing, we stayed warm and toasty all day.

Old Faithful did her thing, slightly behind schedule. It is an amazing sight, especially in cold weather, to see the water spew so high into the air and the resulting steam occluding the view. Outstanding—better than in the summer. It was what we wanted it to be.

Wildlife was fairly scarce. We saw a few Elk, a good sized herd of Buffalo, a bald Eagle, some swans, and birds. No Moose nor Wolves, both of which I wanted to see. The Buffalo were pretty awesome, with snow covering their shaggy hair and ice hanging off in places. Neat!

We had no mishaps or problems. One in our group got too close to the edge of the road and the machine skidded sideways, running off the road and overturning. No damage to people or machine. The guide and some other riders righted the machine, and the guide backed it back onto the road. I saw it all happen, and it taught me that I needed to not get too close to the edge.

We returned to the snowmobile rental place to turn in the 4-stroke big machines and pick up smaller, more nimble 2-stroke machines that Clay and I will use on the next two days. We had ridden almost 70 miles for the day, and I was tired.

Back to the hotel (it’s neat riding these machines on city streets) for some rest before dinner. We all had a good day.

Tomorrow—trails outside Yellowstone Park video

1-21-10

Another item about to be checked off the list. Since childhood, I’ve wanted to ride a snowmobile. It was not one of the major accomplishments of my life, but something that intrigued me anytime I thought about it. The idea of riding a motored vehicle (is a sled a vehicle? ) on snow, going uphill and downhill with speed and no effort just sounded like great fun.
But, it was not something that I had to do. Actually, as I think about it, there weren’t many things that I HAD to do but go to college. There was never an option to not go to college. So, I had no set dreams as I grew up and matured (ugh, I’m not sure I like that word—“matured” –it sounds like OLD). But I digress. The main thought is that snowmobiling was something that I wanted to do when I happened to think about it.
It took almost 2 years to put this trip together. My friend Clay mentioned it to me one day, and it immediately brought great interest. Going snowmobiling in a remote northwest place—Yellowstone, had great appeal. I said “YES” loudly and clearly.
But, as often happens, when we started trying to put the trip together, including several couples who we play with the clock kept ticking and we made no progress. The others hemmed and hawed, not saying “No” but not saying “Yes” either. Non committal. In the end, the clock simply ran too fast and we ran out of time.
So, when Clay and I realized it was too late, we made a pact to go this year, whether anyone else went or not. Our mindset became “We’re going snowmobiling in Yellowstone. If you want to go, too, you’re very welcome.” We were going snowmobiling.
The date was set, a 5 day trip in late January. We began talking it up amongst the others in August-September, and they were pretty much like last year, not making a decision. As time went on, people finally said, in essence “We’re not going”. It turns out that the trip has 4 participants, Clay, Joy, Libby, and me. All the others dropped out.
The adventure started with booking the flights. It happened that Southwest had a 2 day deal with $100 fares across most of the country. We quickly booked flights and saved at least $300 on airfare. The catch was that we had to fly to Salt Lake City and rent a car to get to West Yellowstone, our destination. A 5 hour drive on top of an all day flights was not great, but we wanted to keep costs somewhat in check.
On January 20th, in the afternoon, Joy and Clay arrived at my place. About an hour later, Libby arrived. We visited a while and had dinner at a local pub. The food and company was very good. Then we went back home and watched State beat Duke (yeah!). Since we needed to get up by 5am the next morning, we hit the sack pretty early.
An alarm at 5am is never a welcome sound. It was not this morning! But we all got up, got dressed and had some coffee before loading the car for the airport.
Getting to the airport was easy; amazingly, there were no problems or hitches. Even security was not difficult.
The flights were easy; a little turbulence from time to time, but not bad. We were delayed almost an hour in Denver while they dealt with a “load” situation. I told Clay it was the lasagna he and I had for lunch—if we had eaten a salad, there would have been no problem. On the Salt Lake City end, the luggage took a while to arrive, and the rental car company had a line of people in front of us. All said, we were about 1.5 hours behind the schedule I had planned. Not a problem, but things just took longer than we expected.
A guy I met over the Internet who lives in Salt Lake City had given me some advice about the trip, including how to get on the Interstate towards West Yellowstone. We followed his advice, and it worked just great. No problems getting moving.
And move we did. Speed limits of 75 on the Interstate and 65 on Hwy 20 to West Yellowstone really helped to cover the miles quickly. The GPS had said just under 5 hours to cover 345 miles. Now I can see how –high speed limits eat up miles in a hurry.
The drive was fine until Hwy 20 narrowed to 2 lanes. Still 65 mph, but more evidence of moisture on the road. The final 60 or miles had lots of ice/chat/and moisture on the road, so I had to slow down some. There were patches of fog also, sometimes I could see about 50 feet in front of the car. Tough going. The last 60 miles were covered at an average speed of about 40 or so; it was not easy, especially on top of a long day of travel.
Found the hotel just fine; about 2.5 hours later than we had hoped. But they had our rooms, so all was well.
Tomorrow—Realizing a dream!