Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Home Stretch

Sorry for the delay in getting this updated. I am back in Chicago after a very long travel day yesterday in the rain. Total mileage for the trip was 1167.

Craig and I left Valentine Farms in Chapleau around 8:30AM Friday. It had rained a good portion of the night and was still raining when we left. It was overcast and visibility was poor as our face shields continued to be hazed by raindrops that were falling on our heads. It was tough sledding as it continued to rain all morning, and the snow was very moist and heavy, almost like quicksand - making it hard to turn the handlebars, especially on the rage with its aggressive ski set up. We pressed on and made pretty good time in spite of the conditions. We stopped at Flame Lake Lodge about 60 miles in to gas up and then pressed on to Aubrey Falls, the half way point, for gas and lunch.

At lunch we had some good homemade chicken noodle soup and a grilled ham and cheese - just what the doctor ordered. The guy who owned the place liked it the concept so much he decided to make it the daily special. The large group of Ski Doo guys that had stayed at Valentine the night before started to trickle in, as this was also the half way point to their destination of the day, Elliot Lake. We had a few more laughs with those guys and said our goodbyes as we headed out for the final stretch, another 130 miles back to the car in Sault Saint Marie.

The final ride took us through some big country. It continued to be all twists and turns with few straightaways, and Craig and I were getting tired. We stopped to take some pics and the scenery was awesome, but it was a little lost on us given our state and also the dreary day.

At the point when my odometer indicated that we should be home things got pretty stressful. Not only did my fuel light come on but we came to a trail head that was mismarked (in hindsight) as it indicated we still had 80KM to go, and we both about lost it. We were ready for a beer and a hot shower, and the last two days of riding were extremely technical and it was a grind.

It turned out the sign was wrong and we were pretty close to the Water Tower Inn, the hotel where it all started, and our base. At that point I had to take a cab to the rail depot to get the truck, so Craig stayed behind to guard the stuff and I headed out. I went and got the truck and we loaded up the sleds and got ourselves packed up. At that point we decided we were not going to make the drive back to GR as we were just too tired, so we crossed the border and headed to the Kewadin Casino Hotel in Saint Ignace. As luck would have it they had 1 room left. We checked in and headed down tot he casino for a bite to eat and a few drinks, and we ended up playing some slots and had fun reminiscing about the trip.

Yesterday we left Saint Ignace around 10AM and I did not get home until 7PM. It was a long day and today I am tired. Go figure.

All in all it was an awesome trip. Some good, some bad, but a true adventure for sure.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Long and Winding Road

Yesterday we woke up in Timmons to several inches of new snow. We got ourselves together and headed out to Tim Horton's (of course) for a quick breakfast. After that we set out for Chapleau, which is 170 miles away. The new snow made it a little hard to find the trails in Timmons, as it was the biggest town so far on our journey (28,000) and there are a lot of local trails that traverse the town. Eventually we found our way and were on the trail to Chapleau.

The only incident yesterday was a minor one. We lost the trail at a bridge where it crossed a pretty big river. I did not realize that the trail crossed the river on the road, and instead we crossed the road and ended up in some pretty deep powder. It would have been very difficult to turn the sleds around, and it would have required us to dig them out manually and physically turn them around. So instead I opted to try to jump the large snow bank at the top of the hill to get back on the road. We ll the snow bank turned out to be a guard rail and I proceed to launch off it and land cockeyed in the middle of the highway, and it threw me from the sled and I landed on my butt. Craig got a good laugh but it was no big deal. Then we took it a little slower the second time and soon we were back on track. Stopped in Foleyet for gas and some lunch and then headed out for Chapleau. Passed the groomer and once again had great trails the whole way.The trail all the way from Timmons to Chapleau yesterday was all twists and turns with very little straightaways. It was difficult riding as we are both pretty sore and fatigued at this point. It was definitely the most tiring day of riding so far despite the fact that it was our lowest mileage total not including the first day, which did not really count. It was a long and winding road for sure.

We are starting to get in to some very hilly country and by then end of the day we were both delighted when we arrived at Valentine Farms, a very cool old egg farm that has been converted to a B&B.
We got here and Ross, the host, showed us around. Craig and I fixed a drink and headed for the hot tub, and it felt good let me tell you.

Soon after a large group of (10) older guys showed up who have been on a week long trip as well, and then a bit later 2 more guys from Grand Rapids MI showed up. Everyone is cool and we made a bunch of new friends, and it turned in to a little party. One of the guys is an old timer that has raced in the Derby at Eagle River multiple times, with several top 5 finishes. Frenda, Ross's wife, fixed us Shepherd's Pie, Mac n' Cheese, a big salad, and chocolate cake, and Lizzie, the resident German Shepherd, kept us all company. It was a great time sharing stories and such from the trip. This is a cool place and when we come back to Canada it will be a stop on the tour.

Craig and I have a long 220 mile ride today back to the Soo. It rained last night and is misting as we speak, so we'll see how it goes. We are going to take our time today and finish the trip with a bang. This has been one hell of an adventure so far and I would like to end it on a high note.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Smooth Sailing......Till the Bitter End

Today was (almost) the perfect day. We got an early start from the Hotel and headed to Tim Horton's - Craig's new favorite place - for a quick breakfast.
After that we headed out for the Abitibi Canyon, which is just 170 miles south of the James Bay Frontier.

Twenty miles outside of town we ran in to the groomer..... and the trails were so good that at one point I was literally screaming with joy in my helmet.

and for the next 70 miles we experienced snowmobile was amazing riding.

We even saw to Moose frolicking on the trail, which was pretty cool.

By 11 AM we were at the Extreme Tours base camp where we got some gas and had a snack and a warm up.

After that we headed out and crossed the damn Dam - the major power source for a large part of Northern Ontario - and then played around in some big hills by the power lines.

It was a bit intimidating but fun. Then we left and made the big turn, finally headed back toward home. By 12:30 we had put 180 miles on and were on our way to Timmons. I made a wrong turn, however, and we were soon in a predicament when my low fuel light came on and we were still 35 mile from Timmons. We decided to double back to Cochrane for fuel and a burger at A&W.

Then we headed for Timmons. One mile from the hotel in Timmons we had a close encounter with some careless riders that were ripping around a corner on our side of the trail. We avoided a head on collision but ended up in a minor fender bender with each other as I slammed on the brakes and Craig could not stop fast enough to avoid me. Minor damage but enough to put a damper on an otherwise perfect day. Checked in to the Super 8, showered up and headed to Casey's for a bite to eat. Once again met some cool locals who overextended themselves to make sure we were having fun. Cool people up here for sure.

We are headed to Chapleau tomorrow - about 170 miles. Supposed to rain for the next two days so we will see what happens, but we are having fun and life is good. With any luck our troubles are behind us and we will be back in the Soo Friday night. Mileage count at present is high 700's with a little over 400 to go.

Playing Catch Up

Sorry for the obnoxiously long one but the last two days have been interesting to say the least. After solving the dead sled problem in Wawa yesterday morning we headed out and were hoping the worst was behind us. Unfortunately not the case. Before we even left town the temp light on the Rage (one of the machines) came on indicating the sled was overheating. I was pretty sure it was because we had to run a bunch of roads to get to the trail, and so we decided to cross the lake where there was some deep snow to see if it kicked off. It did and that was good. Off we went. It was very cold - as in 30 below Celsius - but it was a bluebird day and the riding was awesome. After a few cold weather adjustments to our gear we finally left Wawa around 9:30, and by 11 we were in Dubreuilville, an old logging town that has been decimated by the economy.

The main (only) employer in town is the mill, which recently shut down, so the town is dead. Thankfully for us the gas station was open when we got there, because from there the next gas was not for 90 miles. We gassed up and headed to Hornepayne, which is another interesting town. In Hornepayne the whole town (practically) is in the mall, including a hotel, some apartments, the bar, the restaurant, the school, the community pool, the library, and a drug store. So we ate lunch at Craig's place (fitting huh) in the mall and both agreed it was the best meal so far. After lunch we went to gas up and got to meet the groomer guy at the gas station. We complimented him on the condition of the trails and he was a real nice guy. When we left town the trails were fresh groomed and it was fast riding.

Perhaps too fast because Craig and I both blew the same corner and ended up buried in like 5 feet of powder.

It took us awhile to get the sleds out but we did and off we went at a more moderate pace, at least initially. We headed for Hearst, this time 106 miles before the next gas stop. On the way in to Hearst the trail ran along the highway and I was really ripping. There were two Canadian National trucks that were on the highway and we were racing - it was a blast. There were these whoopseedoos and if you hit them fast enough you could launch and lose your stomach. It was a riot and when they finally past me for the last time they were laying on the horn and giving me the thumbs up, so evidently they were enjoying it too. We got to the Companion Hotel in Hearst around 6 and on the way in met some older (in there 60's) guys that had put on over 300 miles that day. Craig and I only managed 246. We grabbed some beers, hit the hot tub, and then headed down to dinner. We had a great Steak Au Poivre and the turned in early - around 9. All in all the day turned out pretty considering how it started. Some of the best trails I have ever ridden - just awesome.

This morning we woke up and the sleds started right up because the Companion had a heated garage. We met some guys on the way out and one of them had my same sled. He told me the problem was a relay switch and it as any easy fix. We headed out toward Cochrane and were hoping to squeeze in the Canyon today - time permitting - which would have made for a 300+ mile day. We started out on the right track; 15 miles out of Hearst we passed a groomer and the trail was like the Autobahn.

We left at 9:30 and by 11 we already had over 100 miles on. I saw 114 on the speedometer today and it was a rush. We stopped in Kapuskasing for gas, and then Craig headed to Tim Horton's for a doughnut and coffee, and I headed to the Yamaha dealership to get the relay switch replaced so we did not have to worry about the sled starting after a real cold night. Newsflash - it gets real cold up here this far North in Canada - so that is not a good problem for your snowmobile to have. We left town after that and were making great time once again, and by 1PM we were in Smooth Rock Falls. But when we got there Craig told me I needed to look at the sled because the check engine light had come on a few miles back. I checked it and it was an error code 42, so I called a dealer in Cochrane and he informed me it was most likely the drive shaft bearing was failing - NOT GOOD. He told me how to disconnect the sensor so the motor would not shut down and told me if I could get the sled there he would get it right in for me. So we crossed our fingers and headed out for a 45 mile run to Cochrane. It they was nerve racking but we made it there around 4PM, and they took it right in and got started. Two hours later they had it fixed, and they also took the other sled in and did a little preventative on it to make sure we (should) make it back to the Soo.

The people here are amazing - very friendly and really helpful, and BIG TIME in two Ski Dooing as they call it. We left the dealer at six and did a quick 20 mile loop to make sure everything was good and it looks like it is, so we went and had a pizza and some ribs for dinner and a few beers. Now we are at a little motel in town and Craig is already sawing logs. Damn that guy can snore - I might try to make a video of it.

At this point we are very far away from home, but are still planning to go 100 miles further north tomorrow before we finally make the turn back for the soo. If all goes well tomorrow we will end up in Timmons, and hopefully nothing else can or will go wrong. But then again there's always something eh?

I am really starting to get good at working eh in to sentences - almost natural. Noel - Shamus has been here almost the whole trip - you would be proud.

So good night for now and tomorrow is sure to be another adventure.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Local Mechanic

It wouldn't be a successful adventure without a trip to the local mechanic. Apparently a burned up backpack & computer wasn't enough.....

Erin again......Shawn just checked in. They had to re-route to Cochrane and are at the Yamaha dealer. About 40 miles outside of Cochrane an equivalent of a "check engine" light came on in one of the sleds. They called the local Yamaha dealer, who informed them that the light meant there was a problem with the drive shaft bearing - and basically the sled was not driveable.

They then proceeded to drive the "un-driveable" sled 40 miles to the Yamaha dealer, which was nerve wrecking, but they made it. The folks at the dealer are very nice and are working on the sled as I type. It will definitely be fixed for tomorrow's ride.

He continues to report incredible trail conditions. Hopefully there will be a computer at the lodge tonight, because I'm sure Shawn's stories will be more colorful.....Stay tuned.

March 2nd Update

Erin here - I talked with Shawn last night. They were able to put in approx. 270 miles yesterday, ending up in Hearst, Ontario. This puts them back on schedule. Shawn reports the trails to be in good condition and there is a lot of powder if you get off the trail - as evidenced when they took a few corners too fast.

Everything seems to be going well and they are meeting some really nice people along the way. Today's riding takes them into more populated areas, which they are looking forward to.

The only hiccups they had yesterday was the fact that one of the sleds had difficulty starting due to the cold conditions (-30 F). But they were able to convince some locals to let them put it in their garage to warm it up ($10 CDN charge). Last night the place they stayed at in Hearst had a heated garage, so that should not be a problem today and the weather (like here) is expected to warm up. However, they won't be getting 50 F like we are expected too.

Shawn will update more later, but did not have access to a computer last night.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Working the Bugs Out

Well today did not quite go as planned. Got to the train a little late because the very nice woman from the hotel directed us to the station and not the railyard, which is where we needed to go to load the sleds. So we ended up with a 6 pack of Tim Horton's doughnuts and a coffee for breakfast, but we made it and off we went. Of greater importance, we did not have time to put gas in the sleds before loading them up. Should have done that last night but we were excited and didn't so....
Train was cool and very scenic - but it was a long ride. We met a nice couple from New York who were also on the train, doing a short two day trip from Hawk Junction back to the Soo. We ended up getting to Hawk at 3:30, not 2 like we were supposed to. Given the fuel situation and the late arrival, I decided we should head to Wawa and not try to push to Hornepayne. So we are already behind schedule on the trip.

We rode over with the couple from New York, which was nice, because we all sort of helped each other get situated and find our way. There was no marked trail from the station so we had to wing it and just follow some tracks. We found our way but it took a little while and was a bit confusing. Hope it is not like that the whole time. On the way over Ellen (I think that is her name anyway) missed a corner and crashed in to a tree on a big hill. No damage but scared her a little. As Brian pulled the sled out it got away from him and came down the hill unmanned, but Craig drove up there and stopped it. Pretty funny site as we see the sled coming down the hill with nobody on it, and Ellen and Brian standing on the top of the hill watching it.
After that we found the trail and headed toward Wawa. We were on the throttle pretty hard coming across a lake with a lot of deep powder, and when we got to the other side I could smell something burning. I looked back and my backpack, which I had tied to my saddlebags because it was really heavy, was smoking. It had fallen in front of the rear exhaust and was literally smoldering. Not good, and I lost some very valuable stuff so I am not happy right now. I lost a very nice Yamaha Fleece Jacket, which i had used to wrap my.......BRAND NEW HP MINI COMPUTER. It is toast ladies and gentlemen - burned at the stake. Surely that will take a toll on my ability to Blog and post pics, so I am sorry about that. Also lost a bunch of paperwork, maps, and the backpack itself. I have pics I will post one day for all to see, but this computer here at the motor in does not have a card reader and is pretty old. Maybe at one of our future stops the setup will be better.So, in a nutshell we are behind schedule and have already incurred a several hundred dollar catastrophe. But we are safe and tomorrow is another day. Life goes on, and so will we.

Tomorrow we need to get an early start and we will make up as much ground as possible. In a perfect world we will get back on schedule, which will require a several hundred mile day. Based on today I am not overly optimistic.

All I've had today is a few doughnuts, so I am going to have something to eat....and drink. Ciao for now.