Friday, December 26, 2008

Minnesota snowmobiling

Thanks to my father, who organized the trip, we were able to spend a whole day snowmobiling, MN-style, the way I did during my childhood. There are a lot of snowmobile fanatics in my family, including my father, brother, uncle and cousin. During my childhood, my father would go up to twice a month and he often took us with him. At one point, I even had my own snowmobile.

By the age of 13 or so, I wasn’t interesting in spending the weekend in the cold with my family and I stopped going. I hadn’t been on a real snowmobile trip since.

We traveled about 25 miles, from Faribault in southern Minnesota (known as the place of manufacture of the Tilt a Whirl rides) west to Madison Lake, then 25 miles back. The trail was straight and easy. Part of it went through the attractive Sakatah State Park, where we crossed many wooden bridges and drove along a tree-lined path.

The noise and gas-guzzling nature of snowmobiling goes against my generally eco-friendly nature. It’s not something I’ll engage in regularly. However, for an occasional event, it was fun. The roar of the snowmobile makes it almost impossible to talk, even if sharing a vehicle. So I fell into a meditative-like state, left alone with my thoughts as the scenery passed by.

My prior memories of snowmobiling center on the way that my snot would freeze to the facemask. This time, it wasn’t so cold which made the ride much more comfortable. My long underwear, snowmobile gear and facemask did their job, with the heated handlebars an added bonus. My dad said that the freezing snot is still a problem though.

“My glove can only take so much,” he joked. He’s thinking of using an antihistime before going in the future to reduce the drippage.

Part of the Minnesota snowmobile culture is frequent stops at the bars and restaurants along the route. We stopped three times, which was at least one more than I needed. Our first stop was my favorite. Tucker’s Tavern is a small cafĂ© decorated with bright wood and with a clear dog theme. The burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads were consistently good and the service friendly. The quaint little town of Elysian was also a sight to see.

Snowmobiling itself it easy. It’s more exercise for the fingers than anything else. The most difficult part is navigating narrow trails, taking sharp turns and getting out of a snowbank. It’s good to have an experienced person in your group if possible, or at least a couple of people strong enough to tug a snowmobile back into place.

If you want to try it, here are a few tips:

  • The best snowmobiling is up north, where the trails run through the forest and you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere.

  • Plan your trip for winter, at the time that maximizes the chances of cold and snow.

  • Be cautious at night, especially of other snowmobilers, who may have been drinking or may be speed demons. Also, be cautious crossing water, especially if temperatures have warmed up in recent days.

  • The Department of Natural Resources website has helpful information about trails and services along or near the trails.

  • These sites provide information about snowmobiling in their region (these are all in the north) as well as contacts for snowmobile rentals.
    The north shore
    Ely (this is a mecca for snowmobilers)

  • Remember that the speed limit is 50 miles/hour in state parks. Also, that driving a snowmobile while intoxicated is illegal and can get you an DUI just like driving a car drunk.

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