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.