I have just taken a new job in Great Falls, Montana. A new state and new areas to explore.
By: joealaska , 8:49 PM GMT on December 08, 2013
Woke up this morning expecting to go to our usual Sunday family breakfast, but Dotmom had an email saying the snow was coming down and was a problem. I looked outside and saw nothing. Then I squinted and I did see a very fine snow falling. It soon got heavier, big wet flakes. At one point I got a little excited thinking, NOW we are going to get some real snow. But 10 minutes later it was done. Just enough to smooth out the footprints in the snow we got Friday.
But that snow coming down reminded me of a snow story from my college days. I may have told it here before. If you have heard it before, skip ahead, or just amuse yourself by guessing the next sentence.
DAYTON OHIO, circa 1976. Living at 452 Kiefaber in the student housing neighborhood affectionately and accurately called The Ghetto. One of my housemates was Jeff Ramus from Michigan. Great guy. He was a rare student who had a car. A brand new Triumph TR7, bright yellow. He not only would let me drive it, he encouraged it. When we both went along, he let me drive. I took it out a few times just for a cruise with the top down and drove around beautiful Dayton checking out the sights. Short trip.
Jeffs family had money. I think it Grandpa who was on the Board of Directors of BF Goodrich. I think Jeff got free tires. Anyway, Grandpa owned a cabin and land north near Alpena, Michigan. Way north. So we were able to take a long weekend and take a cruise to check it out. This was during the heart of the winter. Plenty of snow on the ground, and more coming down. This only made it more exciting and we hit the road. The CB craze was in full swing, and Jeff had one in his car. So we listened to the truckers and took it easy.
We pulled in late at night. We could see nothing of the land, it was way out in the woods with no lights anywhere. Even the cabin was dark. It was a vacation place, nobody lived there regularly. And “cabin” does not do that place justice. It was NICE.
There was about a foot of snow on the ground, and the snow was coming down steady and heavy. We had a few beers and talked about our futures. I had that dream of ending up in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Might have been the beer. Then we hit the sack. There were no real plans for the next day. Probably spend most of the time stoking the fire and watching some football.
But next morning we looked outside and it was WINTER WONDERLAND. The snow had worked overtime all night and DUMPED another two feet of new powder. POWDER is the perfect word to describe that snow. I had never seen snow like it. It was a surprise when we first walked outside and stepped into it. If I closed my eyes and walked I could not even feel it. Light and dry and fluffy.
Growing up in Ohio and going to UD I had seen plenty of snow, none like this. Not since then either.
Then Jeff says, EVER RIDE A SNOWMOBILE? (“Snow Machine” to those farther north). No, never. He opened up the garage door and there were a couple machines in there. He fired one up and brought it out, doing a couple of loops in the big yard. Then he pulled up and said TRY IT. This was the extent of my training. Jeff explained there was not much to it. Aim it, and gun it, no brakes to worry about.
He told me there were plenty of trails through the woods. Someone had cut paths through the trees with one of those cute mini-bulldozers. The woods were pretty dense, but there was those 8 foot wide highways leading you through the snow covered forest. A maze of many paths. Grandpa had 800 acres, and it seems they were solely for snowmobile riding. Jeff assured me I could not get lost, as all the trails ended up back at the cabin. Eventually. Even an idiot could handle it, so I headed off INTO THE WILD.
At the first sharp turn I went straight into the briar bushes. Not good, but much better than a grove of oak trees. Here I learned my first two important lessons of snow machines. First: No reverse. And second, they are heavy. It took 20 minutes to get out of that mess and pointed in the right direction. What Jeff had not told me (years later I still think it was on purpose) was the importance of shifting your weight while making turns. In fact, you do not sit at all. You kneel, and put your foot in back in a loop so that you can literally throw the rear end of the machine left or right to help in the turn. The snow machines I see nowadays seem to be twice as big as the one I rode. Maybe this is not correct anymore, as they seem to weigh to much to move very easily.
All I know is that if I was going fast at all and turned left or right without that weight shift, the sleds would turn, but the machine would just continue straight ahead with the momentum. OK, lesson learned. I admit, I was shortly in the brambles again, but I figured out the weight shift thing to a degree and continued onward.
It was great. I had no idea where I was, and there was nobody around. The snow and woods were beautiful. Then all of a sudden I popped out into a huge field. No trees, wide open. Everything was white. Blinding. Hard to get any depth perception. How deep was the snow? Hard to tell. But it was deep and was a bit more damp than that fluffy stuff I mentioned earlier. Next thing I know was I bogged down in deep snow and leaned to the side about 45 degrees and stopped. I was stuck in a snow drift. Getting out of that was much harder than the bramble bushes. It took a lot of hand digging, and revealed to me the unfun side of snow machines.
But I got out. Would have been interesting if I did not, as I was a couple miles down the trail and alone. Just another carcass to be found in the spring melt. Sure was pretty out there, though.
So I started to wonder if the secret in the deep stuff was to get up some speed so I could plane on top? Only one way to find out. Plus, I wanted to see what that PIG would do, especially since there was nothing but snow for another half mile or so. In a few seconds I was flying. There is a little windshield on there that perfectly directed that fluffy stuff straight into my face. I could see nothing, except off to either side. Those machines can easily go 70 mph. I was not anywhere close to that. It was hard to tell, as I COULD NOT SEE. I was a human comet, flying along virgin snow in a big cloud of snow.
Next thing I know, I slipped off the seat. I was still holding the handlebar and accelerator, and now my legs were dangling behind me as I flew along, kinda like Superman. But it was fun, and I was still almost in control. Was this the way the regulars did it? Who knew if they were way out there by themselves? Wish I had some film of it. I can imagine some local farmer catching a glimpse of me. DAMN TOURISTS...
I enjoyed the ride for a minute or less, but decided to back off as I may have been heading toward a barbed wire fence for all I knew. How could I know? I could not SEE. I slowed down and immediately sank into deep snow and got stuck again. Looked like I may have been right about that planing thing after all. Eventually I dug out again (riding snow machines can be extremely taxing) and I headed back from where I came from. I wanted to ask Jeff how a path returns to the cabin when it crosses a huge field.
It was a lot of fun riding that machine, especially being Superman for a minute. But all that digging out got old.
When I returned Jeff got out the other machine and we both went out. I cannot remember why we did not do that in the first place! But he showed me how to hook my foot in the back, and while I followed him I could see the secret way to use your weight while making turns. It was a great weekend.
Hard to believe that was my last time on one of those machines. Probably a good thing for all.
I remember driving back to Dayton in a blizzard.
Meanwhile, I am trying to sell some photos. Have opened a new website. The name is a bit different...
Still working on it, probably will keep adding to it. Eventually there will be a link to another site that will let you buy photos if you like. I am also setting up that site. For a guy with no job I still do not have enough time.
I am even back on Facebook. Hard to believe. If you poke me, poke with purpose.
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