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!