Sunday, December 30, 2012

Strangely Familiar

We never took the opportunity last year to really enjoy what winter we had. The problem was that down here in Massachusetts, we never really got a winter. One storm was really all that we got, in January, and then it was clear, dry and above average temperature wise. This is what got me started on the riding stream that I will hopefully finish up tomorrow, pedaling a bicycle every day of the entire year.

Anyhow, this year the weather has turned of recent to be much more traditional. In Maine we received a good amount of snow on top of what was already a respectable base. Cathy and I used to absolutely love snowmobiling. We got into it partially because of the Seib's and spent a bunch of time riding with them early on. Later, Cathy and I latched onto doing fairly epic days of riding. We would regularly leave our house in Maine at 6AM with sleds loaded in the trailer and hear to Errol, NH, the start point of our ride. By shortly after 7AM would would be in Errol unloading and suiting up for a long day of riding. Often the temperature at that point would be well below zero and where we were going, the Canadian border and back, it wouldn't really warm up despite the sun coming up.

We became very accustomed to doing more than 200 miles in a day, which may not sound like a lot but consider that average speed with stops to regroup and make sure we were together at intersections in NH were about 30mph and the parts of ME we rode, they were significantly slower than that. A 250 mile day could be 8 or 9 hours on the sled, in sub-zero air temperatures plus the windchill. Lets just say it gave you a new appreciation for being chilled to the bone. I remember a night ride with Don from ME to Evan's Notch that we started after dark with a -15 degree air temperature. No idea how cold it was at elevation at 9PM or so but I remember my hands being frozen solid and thinking that if anything happens, we may be done. Sleds are enablers, allowing unprepared people to get in well over their heads. I came to learn that and had a different respect for them. I always assume that we may have to hike 10 (or many more) miles through the snow, so we dress accordingly with gear that can handle that.

The years of big miles lost some of their luster, partially due to gas prices going really high, partially due to me having my fill of having my core frozen but also because wasting resources like that just seemed wrong. Add in the fact that we got really serious about bike racing and we broke up with snowmobiling. We never sold the sleds though, the brand new ones that we had purchased at great expense in 2006. They were top of the line 2007 Ski-Doo 600 SDI (Semi-Direct Injection) Renegades, which are high performance long/wide deep-lugged track models designed to go off trail. They also got very good mileage for the day due to the 600 SDI engine. They are awesome rigs for sure and the second set of Rev platform machines we had owned. Unfortunately, these never saw the use their predecessors did. In fact, all last year they only left the trailer once for a brief loop around the lawn and even the year before they were only use a few short times.

This past Friday we (I) decided we were going to get some use from them. I began preparing the trailer first, which included cutting off a rusted lock from the tongue, dislodging the trailer jack and lubing the axle bearings, which I hoped were still OK. Then prep the sleds, shove the snow so I could get the trailer out and then register the sleds. The latter ended up being a nightmare but we finally found a place that could handle the request. Lastly, we hooked up and prepared to go. Unfortunately the connector for the trailer lights wasn't lighting just right, or at all. Off to the auto-parts store for a new adapter and harness, then home to wire it in in hopes that it fixed the issue. After much cursing and frozen hands the lights came on. We headed to to gas station to fuel up and trailered off to Grafton Notch for what we hoped to be better conditions. We suited, unhitched the sleds from the trailer and I went to back them out only to realize we'd left the digital keys for the sleds at home. Pack back up and head home, grab the keys and drive back to the lot, luckily only 12 miles away. It was now 5PM.

Ill prepared is what we were. I'll blame it on being out of practice. We made the best though and headed out through the trails of Newry and up toward Grafton Notch. The trails were still very early season and most water was still open. Though they had a decent amount of snow, the rocky, rough and not fully frozen trails had not filled in yet, let alone been groomed. It's December and I know the drill. We were delighted that when we reached the state trail about 8 miles in, the groomer had been out packing the ample snow they had had. The state trail is a major route, funded directly by the state of Maine as a major corridor trail and is thus, a much better trail surface. In fact most of it could be considered road-bed. Doesn't take much to make that smooth, especially is yahoos have not been out ripping it up. Did I mention that I don't really care for most sledders, especially as someone who used to groom trails?

Some of my fondest winter memories are on the sleds. I grew up adoring them as a kid from northern Vermont and in my early youth was able to ride my father's old Ski-Doo in the back field. Beyond that and despite the fascination, I never really had one until much later in life, when Cathy and I got the place in Maine, at which point I plunged in like so many things. Compensating I guess. We went so many places and covered so much ground. We found three different antler sheds from moose, which we still have. We used to carry birdseed to feed the nearly tame Gray Jays who would land on your hand to eat, in the absolute back-woods of Pittsburg, NH. Of recent the mode for the memories has changed, transforming from sleds to bikes or skis or snowshoes.

We had a great time and went until we didn't feel like going any longer, rather than going until we were done. There is a distinction you know. It was fun and we could have done more. This left us in the hope that when conditions get better a bit later in the season, we can do some more riding. A pleasant change from the norm I must add. Maybe there is still some room left for the sleds though. Will see.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

mike, you bring up some good old memories. i too used to be a "hardcoresledder" before gas was 3.50

some of my favorite loops include errol, success through the east side of pitts. to indian stream and back down to milan through groveton. dixville at night going up the the steep side is a hoot and backcountry around stub hill pitts is a blast.

Canada is always great, especially lac st jean and mount valin.

thanks for the walk down memory lane.
jody adamonis