Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Keeps Rolling Along

What a winter this has turned out to be! One of the top 5 snowfall amounts at home, and a pretty awesome year of riding as well. It is early Sunday morning in Vermont as I begin this blog, and 2-3 inches of fresh snow have fallen overnight, and it is coming down lightly as I type. Staring out the window into the blanketed tree line, a there is a feeling of serenity or peacefulness about it. Everything looks pristine and pure covered by a coating of white, before the sand and salt change the colors to brown.
This winter has been a winter for the books to be sure. I have been able to get up more often than in past years to enjoy my passion, largely in part to my wonderful wife. She has been on more trips and we were finally able to reach a milestone of our own, seeing our first moose in Vermont-(more on that in a bit)

Since last writing, we have attended a few events, and ridden numerous trails. We made it up for our clubs annual Spaghetti dinner, and it was a huge success! Record numbers of people rode in by snowmobile or drove in by car. Prior to the dinner on Sunday we took a Saturday ride. Karen, Pete, and I cruised over to Lancaster, New Hampshire, trying to fill in some of the trails we had not ridden on. Following a roughly predetermined route,we rode by the Moore Dam. Built in 1956, it created the Moore Reservoir, which covers approximately 3490 acres on the Connecticut River. The building of this dam caused the flooding of several villages, including Pattenville, New Hampshire, and old Waterford, Vermont. Down the trail a little way, we passed by a covered bridge in Lunenburg, apparently under repair. Fun Fact: This 266 foot bridge, built in 1911, spans the Connecticut River. It is a two span bridge using William Howe's wood and steel design. He patented the Howe truss, which uses diagonal timber compression members and vertical iron tension members. This design was eventually used in metal bridge design as well.
We stopped for a quick snack,and went down the trail. We eventually ended up in Burke, and took a wrong turn, which brought us by the ski area. Circling back we found the right trail and headed down some familiar trails back toward home. Taking a detour into Greensboro Bend, we rode by the abandoned rail station. Greensboro Bend is so named because of the horseshoe bend the railroad takes through the village. Making the last loop towards home, we encountered a small pocket of heavy snow, lasting around ten minutes. In some cases the conditions were almost whiteout! The next day was the spaghetti dinner. Due to it being on Sunday, we did not ride in, but drove instead. The turnout was greater than expected, and a great time was had by all-yet I can't seem to locate my pictures from that day.

The next trip up was the weekend of Lincoln's birthday. With an extra day off from work because of the holiday,we were up on a Thursday evening.Much to our surprise there was an abundance of snow, and work to be done. Friday morning, we planned to head west to explore new frontiers with a couple of friends. They arrived at 8 and made their way over the high snowbanks so we could discuss our options. We headed west, towards a town called Eden, and had a nice loop picked out. As usual, our local club had groomed the trails smooth for our journey. Traveling through Danville, Greensboro, into Craftsbury, the trails were perfect. As we came into Craftsbury, the trail was difficult to follow in town. Then a local pointed the way, and we looped around a building, and over a narrow path behind a house, and the trail opened up again, and the groomer had just been through! As we rode along the trails were still perfect, hardly a track anywhere. We felt like we were the only ones out there. After a while we came upon a junction with a large parking area so we decided to stop, and confirm our location, and maybe have a snack and something to drink. It was a nice spot and had all the "comforts" of home. After a brief respite, we packed up and got ready to depart and head towards our next point of interest. As we were leaving, one of the snowmobiles wouldn't start! One of our party was extremely knowledgeable and the best mechanic of all of us, and yet we could not find out what the problem was. After a 1/2 hour or so past with no luck, the groomer was spotted coming down the trail.We flagged him down and discussed our options as to where was the best place to go from here. He told us Eden was our best best 7-8 miles away. Unfortunately this meant we would have to tow the disabled sled for this distance. There was a road closer, but then no way of contacting anyone. At least in Eden there was a convenience store which meant a phone(cell service was not available in the middle of nowhere).
With that the groomer departed, smoothing the trail ahead of us, hopefully making the tow a bit easier. One of our party left his mark on the trail, perhaps like bread crumbs in case we got lost? Hooking up the disabled sled(all of us carry tow ropes apparently)we got ready to leave.I went ahead to warn oncoming snowmobiles if needed about the towing, and Karen rode in back, much like the escort service you see on the highway surrounding a modular home. Towing in the woods can be quite a challenge, especially with the varied terrain. There were a couple of minor mishaps, but we finally reached civilization. After a few failed attempts, we found someone who had a friend with a truck, and for a nominal fee was glad to come down and take my friend and his snowmobile the 40 or so miles back to the hotel. Loading the snowmobile took 5 of us, and let me tell you it is much harder when you are wearing all that snowmobile gear. After loading the sled, our friend departed. Since we had lost a bunch of time with an unplanned breakdown, we looked at our present location, and determined it was kind of late to go where we originally planned, so we plotted an alternate route back home, which would give us some decent mileage and still get us home at a decent hour.

We travelled out East of Eden (pun intended), south through Wolcott, Elmore, and Hardwick. Eventually we came upon a logging operation. A large portion of the snowmobile trails are current and former logging trails, and so we share the trails when required. Imagine my surprise when a skidder pulled out from a side trail though. We followed him for close to mile before he reached the large staging area for the trees.
After we passed the skidder, we were moving along on some unfamiliar trails. I was leading the way, so hopefully I was making the right trail choices. The signs that clubs put up vary from county to county, and even from club to club. Some are very detailed, and others are, well, not so much. Sometimes you have to orient yourself to get the proper bearings, as the signs don't always match the trail maps.

So I chose the path for us to follow, heading back towards familiar territory, and suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving. I eased off the throttle, and turned my head and I saw them. 1, no 2, no 3 moose! Wading through the deep snow about 20 yards off the trail traveling parallel with the trail. I immediately stopped and pointed, and told Karen through our helmet communicators-"MOOSE!" We have been hoping to see a moose for several years now, and in the fall went on a moose tour to see them. But this was different. We were pretty up close and it was still daytime. The moose worked there way back onto the trail, as it was much easier for them to navigate on the packed surface of the snowmobile trail than the deep snow off trail. I slowly depressed the throttle, trying to get closer-but not too close- in order to get a few pictures. The moose zigged off the trail, then zagged across the trail into a small hollow behind some rocks, and this is when I got a few pictures.
Success! I was probably 50 feet away, which was close enough for me. If I was able to turn around I might have gotten closer, but the trail was too narrow, and I did not want to irritate them. In talking with the locals, the animals tend to travel the trails more towards the end of winter, as they are struggling more to find food, and walking through the woods takes a lot more energy. I can attest to that, just getting stuck off trail with a snowmobile can be an exhausting experience. After the moose moved behind the rocks, was passed safely by and made our way back to the lodge for the evening, where I sat down and planned out the next days ride The next day was a trip south to Groton, for the Groton snowmobile club's annual Chicken Dinner. Our friend could not fix his snowmobile, because the part that went was one that had to be ordered, so we were sad he couldn't join us. But off we went, meeting up with our club, and I think there were around 30 of us who rode down together. We arrived early in the dinner, and there was already parking issues. We managed to find a space to park and went in to enjoy a nice chicken dinner. This was a fund raiser for the Groton club, and we try and support as many local club events as possible. There were plenty of people and the chicken was fantastic!
After the dinner, we decided to head out on our own, to find a way back on some trails we hadn't ridden yet. This is the nice thing about our general area. There are many trails that loop around so you can get from one location to another in many ways. Small loops, large loops, allowing you to see various terrain, and enjoy the outdoors. The route I selected took us through Groton, Marshfield, Cabot, Peacham, Barnett, Saint Johnsbury, and home. Riding through Marshfield, heading toward Cabot, we passed an area with both snowmobile and cross country ski trails, and they were marked plain as day. There was no doubt the same groomer groomed both sets of trails, but based on the signs, my guess was the groomer was only too happy to groom the cross country trail in exchange for allowing the snowmobile trail to pass through the same property. One great thing about the snowmobile trails in Vermont is approximately 85 percent of the trails are on private land. This means private land owners open up their property for the snowmobilers enjoyment. They do this with no incentive or personal gain I might add. So we always try and respect this fact and stay on the marked trails, and give a wave when we see someone walking or working near the trails.

On the last portion of our ride, we encountered the worst trail I think I have been on. It was very bumpy, had lots of ruts, and was one we on which had to stop a few times to get a break from all the jolts our bodies were taking. After what seemed forever, we came over a rise, and saw the sign we needed to see. Welcome to the Danville trail system! From that point on the trails smoothed out, and we were back to floating on a carpet of white gold. As we got closer to town, another snow squall kicked up, but it was a pretty sight, with the sun and the snow cloud fighting each other. The last few miles, the snow picked up and we arived back at the lodge, ready for a hot dinner, and a good book. It was around 300 miles of riding over the 2 plus days. As we were relaxing, the snow was again falling, and the groomer could be seen going down our trail, creating the new carpet for the next ride.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Finally..Winter has Arrived!

After hiding long past its due date, winter has arrived in the northeast! More so in CT than VT, but finally showing it's true color-white! Winter showed up early around the Christmas holiday, creating blizzard-like conditions along the CT shore, but very little in the upper northeast. The trails were bare and nearly impassable. After Christmas, the January thaw showed up, erasing almost all the base. I am sure you could hear me cursing. Then the temperatures starting going lower, and snow started falling, albeit in CT mostly. Over the course of 2 weeks we ended up with close to 30 inches here at home, and a paltry 5-6 inches in the north.

On the 14th of January, we made the decision to go up and check it out first hand rather than listening to all the reports. Early Saturday we decided to try the trails, and go up to Lyndonville to see the ice drag races. Firing up my sled, I went to meet Pete, who had come up looking to ride, and so we offered to let him come with us.
After meeting up with Pete, we headed out to gas up. The day was kind of gray with the sun peeking out on occasion from behind the clouds. Leaving the gas station, we rode by Joe's Pond, where we could see a couple of brave souls decided to take a short cut across the pond. I know it is cold, and supposed to be safe, but after last year being a year with several people going through the ice, I would pass. After a back trail warm up ride, we headed off to the north. Arriving at the drag races after a bumpy journey, we pulled up to grab a spot to watch, and a cup of hot coffee. Quite a few folks showed up by snowmobile, but even more by car.
We found a good vantage point and watched several races. They were semi-professional with a light tree and starter, and between races, they would power rake the launch area to remove loose debris and snow. Definitely all in the take-off though. Several people would have the front ends lifting off the ground and back off on the throttle. They need to keep weight more forward (or be a bigger guy like me)

After watching several races, we ventured back onto the trails. After a short discussion trail side we chose our route for the remainder of the afternoon. Unfortunately we picked a few of the rougher trails. These were rough mainly due to lack of snow. The trail system is maintained by various clubs, each having there own portion for which they are responsible. They use groomers and drags, much like a ski area to fill in the ditches and smooth out the high spots. But alas, with limited snow comes limited grooming. After the next junction, we opted for a smaller, less traveled trail, which wasn't too bad. As we rode across the fields, we spotted a flock of wild turkey. We stopped for gas again, and drove home on the rail bed, which was thin with lots of ballast rock coming loose. We decided to end on that note for the day, opting for an early dinner.

The next morning we suited up once again for a short ride before driving home. Trails were thin, but passable. We chose an alternate to the rail bed this time and it was a little less driven on, so was in pretty good shape.We disappeared into the hills, and found the higher elevations to have slightly more snow, turning everything into more of a winter wonderland.
After a quick 30 or 40 miles, it was back to the lodge, and I decided to pull out the summer toy and try it out in the snow. Needless to say, while fun, not practical. You got a feeling of floating, and it kept digging down in the snow. Fast forward one week. Snowstorm for CT hits giving us even more snow, and follows into VT and adds a bunch of snow to the trails. So I decided to take Friday off and head north. Pete was up there on Thursday, so we arranged to get together and ride Friday and Saturday. Heading out to the east early Friday, the trails were smooth, and no one had ridden since the 3 inches of fresh snow had fallen overnight. We continued south and east, snow lightly falling, then north, finally coming to the bridge crossing in Lancaster, NH. Crossing the bridge was pretty easy, as it appears there was a pedestrian section converted to a snowmobile section for the winter. We stopped for gas, and headed north for a bite to eat in Bloomfield, VT. After a hot cup of coffee and a sandwich, we left, heading south and west back towards our general starting point, all while trying to avoid traveling too much on the trails we took to this point. We stopped at "the Roost" a cabin along the trail, where you can usually warm up, sign the guest book and rest a little.
On this day there was no fire going and being ~ 4:00 PM we didn't want to start one. We signed the guest book and left. I did notice they had a home made pit stop out back as well On the way back to the lodge, we encountered a "low" bridge. Although the picture doesn't do it justice, it was pretty low, and the feeling you needed to duck was prevalent. As we got closer to home the sun was falling and it was cooling off. We were looking for gas once again, since you can never have enough. After finding one of the trail markers, we headed off through a field, where I stopped for this picture: Again the camera really doesn't do it justice. After gassing up, we made the last 30 or so miles in short order. I left Pete at the junction, he going to his hotel, me to the lodge, and we would get together for dinner after getting cleaned up. I drove the last few miles, up through the pine grove, and crossed the street, arriving safely after 165 miles for the day.Rising early on Saturday, I noticed the temperature was -6F. Donning extra clothing, we headed out in a westerly direction to avoid all the common Saturday traffic. Riding was perfect.When the temperatures are lower the snow sets up nice, and makes it faster riding. We covered 50 miles in no time, then we ran into a problem. A trail closure on the route we picked caused a major monkey wrench on the plan to go to Derby, up near the Canadian border. This required us to back track for several miles, then go via an alternate route. Now the sky was blue and clear, but the temperature was still hovering at around 10F. Following the new route led us right into another problem-fuel. Based on the original route we had plenty of fuel. With the routing difficulty, we were now lower than anticipated. Looking again at the map, there was a gas station nearby-on the map. But when we tried to find it, all the tracks ended in a parking lot. Turning back again, we thought we would try to make it, as it seemed by the map we had enough fuel. We stopped and asked someone along the trail-but they were no help...Finally, we decided to head back yet again to a place we knew for sure we could re-fuel. We made it there with apparently a lot more than the gauges would indicate. Mine was less than a quarter tank, but only took 6 gallons and holds 10 gallons. But in that kind of weather, you do not want to run out, because 5 miles through the woods and fields is a lot harder walking than down a road where you would probably come along a house. So while there we were going to have a light lunch and head to Derby. Lunch wasn't really an option however, so we ate some junk food to hold us over,(I had a huge Apple Fritter) and left.

Back on the trail, we reached the junction which would take us to Derby in one direction, and home in the other. After looking at the days mileage, and the issues, I was starting to get a chill setting in, and so we decided to head back toward home and pick up some more substantial food along the way. The town of Burke was on the way, and there was a restaurant with good options for meals. Then it was back for the evening, with another 160 miles for the day.

Sunday Pete was leaving early and I was going to originally, but decided I would jump on the sled for one more spin around the neighborhood. After checking the temperature @ 8 AM and finding it 6F, I suited up to go. I fired up the willing engine....And off I went. No one was out yet, and the trails were groomed overnight. Smooth as glass they were as I went, first down the rail bed, then up on the the recently added "Highland Trail" This was groomed and no one had been there yet, so of course I had to go. My short jaunt to the gas station turned into a40 mile ride. Every corner I took was smooth, and undisturbed, taunting me to keep riding. The trail beneath my ski was perfect in every way, the snow compacted and firm, held fast my the morning chill. It would not be more perfect for very long. Already it was after 9:00 and I knew shortly all the people that were up too late would be waking soon, and I would have to share the trail. I rounded the corner, and reached the next junction, still more untouched trails! So I decided I was going to get my riding in and kept going till I hit the trails someone had been on, then I looped back getting as much smooth riding in as I could before the long car ride home. My addiction was satisfied for now. Riding back through the woods, I happened upon this barn in an open field, with no other structure nearby. Coming back into civilization, I topped off the tank for next time, and sat down in the brisk cold and enjoyed a hot cup of soup, my reward for a picture-perfect solitary ride. Finally I headed back to the lodge, topped of the oil, spun the sled around so it was pointing in the right direction for my next journey, and hung all my riding gear where it will patiently await my return. Maybe next weekend, as our club has its annual fund raising spaghetti dinner. We always like to support our local club.

In parting I share one last photo, and it (or others very similar) have appeared before, but this is always one of my favorite shots. It is along the abandoned rail bed very close to our place, so we drive by it all the time going to and from the gas station. Every year its a little different, but every year it still reminds me how beautiful winter is, though most people think I am crazy. They are right, but that's beside the point.

See you on the trails!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Happy New Year!

Greetings all, and Happy New Year! Things have been quiet on the Vermont front over the past few months, and we patiently have been waiting for winter. Recapping from my last blog, fall came and went pretty quickly, with little fanfare. We were up late in August, and I spent some time working on a trail in the back of the property, which should allow access to the side road someday. What you see is around 250 feet or so, with about 1000 feet left to go. After working up a sweat in the woods, I decided a ride on the trails was in order. Much like the snowmobile trails, Vermont has several areas where there are ATV trails. You must get a registration and trail pass as well in order to ride on them. In our little town, you can also ride on most of the class 3 and class 4 roads (dirt roads). I headed down Pumpkin Hill Road, and saw Don our driveway guy cutting his grass. He asked where I was going, and I told him just for a buzz around the neighborhood. He said the lawn could wait, so offered to take me on a tour of some of the lesser known trails, so of course I said "YES"- always best for the locals to show you where its safe and prudent to go.

Down the back roads we went, and soon I realized something that I never had to deal with following someone on a snowmobile. DUST! You have to keep a little more distance between you on the dirt roads. After traveling down some of the dirt roads, Don took me through the cornfield, which would get us up to the main road. Here there were a few gates we had to open and close in order to keep the livestock from escaping.
After passing through the gates, we crossed the main drag, through the local farmers front yard,(generously donated to allow us to get to the gas station), through his yard and back field. Then as we came out of the field, I recognized where we were-snowmobile trail 51, leading right to Marty's, our favorite gas and snack place-they have the best soups in the winter! After a quick stop, back into the woods we went, traveling on a few smaller multi-use trails, onto the roads again, past cornfields, farms, and coming to a stop where there was an awesome view of the hill where our property is. The large building in the center of the picture is the big red barn across the street from us.As we looped around some of the sites looked very familiar, seen in the past from snowmobiling. I even "borrowed" a technique to capture a self-portrait as I traveled down the back roads: September was busy, but I did take a solo ride up in late October to volunteer for trail cleanup with our local snowmobile club. It is sometimes difficult to get up to Vermont when the work parties go out, but this worked out well. I left after work Friday, and along the way noticed that there was still a little color left, but we had missed peak season.
As the days were starting to get much shorter, it was near dark when I got close. The moon was full, and there were just a few clouds circling the moon, causing the brightness to fade and then brightly shine. I stopped at the scenic overlook, and snapped this picture: The next morning, I rose early and grabbed a quick breakfast sandwich and Hot Chocolate @ Marty's and drove to the designated meeting place. It was cold! 18 degrees and the wind was blowing. I made some small talk with some of my fellow workers, catching up with familiar faces, and introducing myself to the folks I didn't know. Soon we headed to the woods, and it was actually a little warmer. Our assignment for this day was to de-brush one of the newer trails. This consisted mostly of cutting low hanging branches so they don't damage the groomer, and cutting any branches that were hanging out into the trail. Using chainsaws and pole saws, we covered about a mile or so of trails and then regrouped and went to the other end of the trail to see how the other party was doing. After several hours, we called it quits, satisfied with what had been accomplished. I later found out that my helping out qualified me for a discounted "volunteer" trail pass! What could be better? I went back to our place and did a little trail management of my own. I moved the snowmobile trailer out closer to the garage for the winter, and took the lawn mower over to trim down the high grass to clear our feeder trail, and make the transition to the main trail easier.Our next trip up was right after Thanksgiving. This year just seemed to be so busy, we weren't able to get up any earlier to mark the driveway for plowing. We arrived to a little snow. Nothing major, but it brings hope that it will be a good snowmobile season. After marking up the driveway, I had to add my Christmas decoration-which doubles on back as a snow depth gauge.Snow continued throughout the day, lightly coating everything. The next morning we rose, and spent some time rearranging the garage-snowmobiles up front, lawn mowers to the rear. Everything is almost ready to go riding-we just have to wait for a little more snow and Opening Day. Even our guardian looked like he was enjoying the weather:I ended up back the next week. A bad storm and high winds caused several trees to come crashing down into the yard, and I wanted to get them cut back before winter. Dad and I drove up for the day and made short work of them. I was a little sad to see the snow was almost gone.

So we had a few small storms up in Vermont before Christmas, but the trails were thin. They finally decided to open the trails, but due to the holidays and our son getting married January 1, I was unable to break away. On January 1, a warm p arrived and melted almost all the base. Rats! So today-January 8, we just received a foot of snow here in CT. Everything is covered nicely. But all my snowmobiles are in VT. And here is what our front yard in VT looks like today: Irony to be sure-but I have hope things will turn around and we will be riding soon! The trails close April 15 if there is snow that long so there is always hope. And here is hoping you all have a great year!