JANUARY 2 – I’m not going to lie: I woke up sore this morning. The lower back was barking. The leg muscles didn’t want to extend. My hands feel shredded. That spot in my back right between the shoulder blades? Yep, that ached too. Everything started loosen after the first couple of trips up-and-down the stairs, and the hot shower helped too, but the first time swinging a leg out of bed and then standing made me think that I might know how Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt last Monday morning after getting sacked eight times by the Arizona Cardinals defense.
And the sick part? I’m already aching (get it?) to go out and do this to myself again!!
Friday my buddy Steve and I continued a tradition we started a few years back: Breaking in the new year with a snowmobile ride, no matter how far we have to travel to unload the sleds.
For the first day of 2016, we considered leaving our respective homes in Minneapolis’ western suburbs and heading south toward Mazeppa and the state’s bluff country, but a late, positive report out of Northeastern Minnesota had us pointed north instead. About three hours later, we were unloading at the Two Harbors parking lot and getting ready to hit the C.J. Ramstad North Shore State Trail and Tomahawk Trail.
The start of the ride was dubious. Within the first mile of leaving the lot, there was a wash-out on the trail that exposed some mud, and when crossing it my right ski caught and jerked the handlebar. That, in turn, sprayed some of that mud all of the side of the 2016 Polaris 600 Rush Pro-S I was riding, making the sled look custom-prepped for an ATV ride.
After that, things took a turn for the glorious. For the first 12 miles, the trail was quite good, with only one other wash-out section and just enough bumps to keep things interesting. Conditions were generally good, and we were having fun. Then, the trail started to border on great – there was plenty of snow cover as we worked our way north, the trail got a bit smoother and the coniferous trees we passed were dramatic – each laden with heavy snow pulling down the branches. Later, at lunch, I joked with some other riders, “Imagine how much snow would be on the trails if those greedy trees were hanging on to so much.”
We left the North Shore Trail to dive down into Silver Bay for gas, and that feeder trail offered some rough stretches and some icy patches, but was generally OK. Returning to the state trail, we continued to blaze north, with our intention of eating lunch at the famous Trestle Inn.
One thought kept flashing through my mind during this part of the ride: Why aren’t more people up here riding? We snowmobilers wait all year for this, virtually everybody has the day off of work, and the conditions, while short of perfect, and pretty damn good!
Once we got north of the city of Finland, the trail got a little rougher, and there were a few shocking G-bumps that allowed us to find the bottoms of our suspensions. I bumped up the compression rate on the rear shock, but I had no idea what lay ahead. When we left the North Shore Trail and joined the Tomahawk, we received a rude awakening.
The Tomahawk was about as rugged as a snowmobile trail gets. It clearly hadn’t been groomed or leveled even once this year, and it has seen a ton of traffic, so it was a true rodeo, with unending, huge, froze-in bumps and moguls. Work had been done to clear a lot of downed trees and branches that had previously been on the trail, but it was hurting for a good grooming.
I must admit here that I have been stricken with a sort of weird illness: Sometimes I really, really enjoy charging down trails like this, as if I want to see exactly how much punishment both me and the sled can take. Well, the devil’s horns were probably visible sticking out the top of my helmet yesterday and I ran that last 5 miles to the Trestle Inn like I was being chased by a pack of wolves (while slowing for corners, obviously – I’m not a reckless jerk!). By the time I got to the parking lot, I was absolutely soaked with sweat, but I had a big grin on my face. Steve – being the smarter of the two of us – arrived several minutes later and shook his head at my stupidity. “You’re going to feel that tomorrow!”
There were about 35 sleds at the Trestle Inn when we arrived, and the inside was abuzz with activity – although many of the conversations centered around how rough the trails were.
“Still a hell of a lot better than sitting at home today watching college football,” I quipped to one complainer, and his attitude matches mine. “No doubt, man,” he replied.
After lunch we had to retrace the same exact route to get back to the truck, and the trails had gotten quite a bit worse. Some of those people I wondered about earlier who were missing out on riding were now out, in droves – we met a lot of groups as the sun showed for the first time of the day as it dropped off of the horizon. Later my headlight illuminated those snow-laden trees again and I was still enjoying myself immensely, despite the bumps.
After going through those two wash-outs we faced previously (which re-muddied the sled I had washed off with snow earlier), we finally made it back to the truck around 6:30 p.m., with 139 miles on the odometer. It was a great day, with plenty of mind-clearing activity, yet plenty of time to think.
Things took a negative turn on the trip home, however. After riding a lot of rough trails, we climbed in the truck for the 3-hour drive home, and every muscle in my legs and back seemed the shorten. When we stopped for gas near Rush City, Minnesota, I thought we might have to call in paramedics to get me out of the truck! But, after a few steps, I started to loosen up. Just like I did this morning.
There is still time to get in your own holiday season ride. Yes, a lot of places are still short on snow, but the dedicated snowmobiler is willing to tow to the snow line, and it’s always worth it. Even the next morning.