After that busy stretch in January, I needed a chance to unwind. I wanted a few days to just ride a snowmobile without a pressing deadline or hard-nosed story that needed to be churned out. Fortunately, there was a perfect opportunity on the horizon: the inaugural Snow Goer Great Escape Tour led by Decker Tours. But there was one small wrench in my bogey wheel.
My boss, Editor Tim Erickson, conveniently scheduled himself to attend the Snow Goer-sponsored tour I dearly wanted to be a part of. It was four days of snowmobiling in Brimley, Michigan, which is in the eastern part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
About 25 Snow Goer readers had signed up for the trip and I really needed this break, so I thought I’d see if I could talk Erickson out of the so-called “work trip” and take his place.
I asked Erickson if we could talk about my rigorous schedule. He obliged. We sat in his office, adorned with model snowmobiles, motorcycles and pictures of the Blues Brothers and Richard Petty, where I pled my case to take his spot on the tour.
“I’ve been running my shorts off for the past month and busting my chops trying to get everything done,” I said. “With this short lull in my schedule, can I go on the Great Escape Tour in your place?”
After a half-hour pleading my case, Erickson felt so bad that he’d worked me so dang hard that he gave up his spot and let me go on the tour.
Western Riding In The Flatlands
Snowmobiling near Brimley, Michigan is much like riding in the mountains. Lake-effect snowstorms that bring whiteout conditions blow in and out due to the area’s close proximity to Lake Superior. There might be bright sunshine in one spot, but 2 miles down the trail a snowmobiler may not be able to see more than 100 feet ahead because the snow falls so heavily.
The oft-experienced whiteout conditions build a thick base of snow that makes for ideal trail conditions. The area typically receives 125 inches of snow per year.
Decker Tours led us to many sights in the area, including the Tahquamenon Falls State Park, the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum — not to mention all of the gorgeous scenery between those destinations. In total, we tallied almost 400 miles over the course of four days.
Because a trail boss needs to know what he’s in for, Dick Decker used the first ride to learn riders’ abilities.
The “Shakedown Ride,” as Decker called it, was a short 40-mile jaunt. We rode north from Brimley through the woods, then south to Raco. Near Raco, we headed off trail for some backcountry snowmobiling through the woods. The ride went off without incident, so we were ready to get our adventure started.
Our first, full day of riding started early. Decker led us north again to an overlook between Lake Superior’s Waiska Bay and Pendills Bay. From there, we could see miles out onto the big lake. This part of the ride lasted for most of the morning as some riders were challenged by icy inclines. Fortunately, there weren’t any incidents.
The afternoon’s destination was the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie. No ships passed through because the locks were shut down for the winter, but we checked out the facility, snapped photos and learned how ships make their way between Lake Superior and Lake Huron. After we visited the locks, we tried to fulfill some riders’ dreams.
We headed to the Soo I-500 Enduro racetrack, also in Sault Ste. Marie. We rolled into the facility just two weeks after the annual 500-mile race was held. Some of us hoped to turn a lap on the one-mile oval track, but it was gated shut and littered with piles of snow, so our dreams were dashed.
With pent up energy not released at the Soo racetrack, a group of riders split off to make a longer loop back to our home base in Brimley. We headed south toward Kinross. From Kinross, we shot northwest to Raco and then farther west toward Tahquamenon Bay.
The trails were wide, with sweeping corners and rollercoaster-like terrain. They were a blast. Shadows grew long, so we doubled back to Brimley and parked our machines for the night, as did the rest of the group.
Many highlights of the trip came on the second day of riding. Decker led us to a spectacular waterfall and a museum dedicated to Great Lakes shipwrecks.
The Tahquamenon Falls State Park is home to one of the largest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River. Up to 50,000 gallons of water per second flows over the edge year ‘round. The park is about 8 miles east of Paradise, Michigan.
The Tahquamenon Brewery and Pub fed us lunch before we checked out the falls. Snowmobilers owe it to themselves to stop at this unique restaurant and micro-brewery. Its menu includes filet mignon, ribeye, country-style pork chops and other gourmet foods. The rustic setting warmly welcomes snowmobilers.
We suited up and boarded our sleds after checking out the amber-colored waterfall, but we couldn’t depart before brushing several inches of freshly fallen snow off of our sleds. A snow squall had passed during our two-hour rest.
We pointed our sleds east toward Whitefish Bay to check out the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. We stopped a few miles up the trail for more off-trail riding. The sun shined brightly and the snow was deep. A 900 Fusion was my cubicle for the day; I didn’t miss my computer one bit.
After horsing around for about 30 minutes, we got back on the trail and rode winding trails to the museum’s parking lot. We headed inside to see exhibits of Great Lakes shipping disasters.
The museum’s main attraction is the bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald. The ship sank 30 years ago in nearby Whitefish Bay, but its bell was recovered and restored in 1995.
We spent that night in Paradise, Michigan. The small town welcomes snowmobilers, which we took full advantage of. We actually wore out our welcome in one establishment.
A group of about eight of us were in a local tavern unwinding from a full day of riding. The scene went well for a while, until our surly waitress revoked our “privileges.”
To this day, we don’t know why she suddenly got salty with us, but the revocation coincided with us asking her to toss a lime in a drink. We’ll stick with bottled beverages next time.
Snowmobiling To Brimley, Then The Office:
The next morning came too quick. Of course, hitting the sheets just a few hours before breakfast makes for a short night of sleep.
We took trail No. 8 south out of Paradise and made our way toward Eckerman, then into Raco. Trails were rough as the area had seen a lot of weekend traffic, but it had lots of variety.
It meandered through the woods on what was a road in the summer, which allowed us to open up our throttles. Then it weaved through heavily wooded areas and eventually opened up to swaths that were drifted over.
We picked up the rail trail in Raco and made our way 8 miles back to Brimley. My respite was over, but at least I had a 10-hour drive back home to prepare for the return to my computer and cubicle the next day.
The best sight was certainly saved for last. Our last full day of riding brought us to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. The museum is normally open November through April, except when arrangements for groups like ours are made. We rode our sleds to the snow-covered parking lot.
The museum overlooks Whitefish Point near Paradise, Michigan, and features a spectacular assembly of artifacts and history from Great Lakes shipwrecks. Its most famous exhibit is one dedicated to the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The 729-foot ship and its crew of 29 men sank November 10, 1975 just 17 miles from Whitefish Point.
A group of four sledders from Pennsylvania earned the Long Haul award for driving farther than anyone else to join the Snow Goer Great Escape Tour.
Joe Scotch, Lauren Kenyon, John Critelli and Erin Robinson packed themselves and their gear into a pickup and made the 800-mile trek to experience riding in the U.P., which was something they had never done.
All members of the posse were proud Arctic Cat owners, but one person was particularly emphatic about the brand. Scotch, a 37-year-old from Carbondale, said the following when asked what products he suggests to a friend: “Buy only, and I repeat ONLY, Arctic Cat snowmobiles — period!” The ZR 900 owner also said he likes to grab “a fist full of throttle.” Kenyon enjoys new faces and smooth trails, she said.
Critelli, who rides an F7 Firecat Sno Pro, said he likes to boondock and catch air in the Tug Hill region of Upstate New York. “I like the pure rush of adrenaline while snowmobiling,” he said. Robinson said she enjoys being in the cold air and crisp snow with nothing but the sound of her Sabercat 600 EFI beneath her.