Sunday, January 24, 2010


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.

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