If it’s true that variety is the spice of life, then some snowmobiling days are a particularly semi-toxic blend of Mexican habanero, Chinese kung pao, Indian curry and a scotch bonnet pepper.
Two close friends and I experienced such a day in Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula last spring. As I’ve said before, days like these that make lifelong memories – not the relatively common rides where you put on 110 easy-going miles in perfect conditions.
The tale of the ride actually starts the night before. We trailered out of the Minneapolis area on a windy, warm late-March day, with sun-tricked bank thermometers claiming mid-50s. Several sources told us there was still snow in the U.P., but a lawnmower sighting would have been less surprising than seeing a snowmobile as we headed northeast.
Things got worse when we entered the U.P. Usually a bastion of late season riding, the Lake Gogebic area looked downright depressing – occasional patches of white were overwhelmed by spring’s dusty brown hues. “Looks like we should have brought the four-wheelers instead,” my buddy Steve muttered north of Bruce Crossing, as we passed a huge group of deer grazing in a field that should have been covered with feet of snow. Our destination was Krupp’s Resort near Twin Lakes. The folks there had assured me they had snow, and they had always been a trusty source, but there were increasing reasons for skepticism. But, sure enough, within about 10 miles of Twin Lakes, the scenery took a turn toward winter, though it was rather crusty looking, dried out snow.
We unloaded the sleds the next morning in a muddy parking lot, and made jokes about what likely lied ahead – marginal riding at best. The trails were slightly better than expected as we headed north toward the Keweenaw — snow packed but thin in corners – all the way to the bridge in Houghton-Hancock, where we found a rocky surface. There, it appeared to be a great day to be in the carbide and hyfax business.
North of the bridge, though, the trails became downright spectacular as we powered up the ultra-smooth, wide, rail trail as we pushed hard to make it to Copper Harbor for lunch. The scenery was wonderous, with bluffs and river crossings and, finally, stunning views of Lake Superior under brilliant blue skies.
After lunch the clouds moved in, and, as we took a significantly more twisting trail south, the riding conditions changed dramatically. An endless patch of frozen-in stutter bumps, with occasional huge craters, loosened fillings as the suspensions that hardly cycled in the morning now struggled to keep up to the constant pounding.
We made the mandatory stop at the Gay Bar (so named because it’s in the town of Gay) for a soda pop, then ventured further south as the sun set behind heavy clouds. Soon the sky began to spit snow.
As we neared the bridge again at Houghton-Hancock, the light snow was increasingly turning into a blizzard. Huge flakes made a dizzying pattern in our headlights. If it was summer rain, they would have called it a monsoon or downpour. We merely called it a blessing. Speeds slowed significantly as our eyes struggled to see the path ahead.
By the time we got back to the parking lot at Krupp’s, the mud had been covered with about 10 inches of snow, and it was still coming down hard.
In our 12-hour riding day, we saw more than 240 miles of trails, some tabletop smooth, some rodeo-ground bumpy, some wide and straight, and some tight and twisting. We burned hyfax in the morning, and pushed through fresh powdery snow in the evening. There were a few minor mechanical issues to overcome, a desperate search for a gas station, Great Lakes views and blinding snow. Ah, variety – I’ll take my snowmobiling with extra jalopenos!