Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Snowmachining Adventure (of the Mild Sort)

I have always disliked snowmobiles, but also been curious about it as a sport since people who like snowmobiling tend to be fanatics who go to great lengths and expense to practice this hobby. My aunt and uncle probably fall into this category. They snowmachined (the Alaska term for it) the entire 1000+ mile Iditarod sled dog race trail not once, but twice a few years back! They plan snowmachining trips, invite friends to their cabin to go snowmachining, and have way more machines than people in their family.

We ended up being some of the people they invited to go snowmachining with them. It was quite the process. The snowmachines were already loaded up on trailers, so it was a matter of packing food and clothing for overnight, driving 20 miles of icy roads (it was really a road of ice, not with 'some' ice on it!) to the trailhead, unloading 5 snowmachines, loading them up with supplies and heading down the trail. All of this took at least 2 hours, and it seemed like an eternity. The sun was lighting up the Alaska Range as it rose about 10:45, and Mt. Illiamna rose in stately wonder above the rest of the range so at least we had some scenery to enjoy.

Finally we were all set....and pretty cold too after standing around outside for an hour or so during the unloading process. We headed down the trail, stopping every so often to make sure we were all doing okay since we had 3 first-timers out there: Douglas, Aurora and myself had never really snowmachined before.

Everything was going along swimmingly until we stopped at Grandpa's Watering Hole. I walked back to Aurora to see how she was doing, and she was nearly in tears. Apparently her hands hurt horribly from the cold. I rounded up a pair of wool gloves and mittens and Hotties hand warmers, but Aurora was fading out on me. She laid down on the snowmachine, then fell to the ground. Her eyes opened and closed, but she wasn't responsive even when I yelled at her. Finally she came to enough and I got her to eat a little food and drink some hot cocoa. After 15 minutes or so she was quiet but alert, sitting up on her own and watching the other snowmachiners go by. Whew! That was a little scary! We couldn't put her back on the machine driving so Denver got to have a go at it, driving her machine the rest of the way to the cabin. He went pretty slowly, but did what he needed to do and got there safely.

We got out to the cabin we were staying at, got the fire going and got warmed up a bit. Then my uncle, Douglas and I headed out for a powder run: cross-country snowmachining. This was the highlight of my weekend. Sometimes we were heading up ravines with steep sides rising above us on 3 sides and we would head up and pop over the edge, treated to the vista of either the Alaska Range and Cook Inlet or the Kenai Mountain Range or sometimes both if we were high enough up. Down, up, around, down and back up. For 2 hours we hit powder, following no trail and enjoying the machines' power. We could not have enjoyed this treat if my uncle were not so familiar with the area and confident about his directions. This could easily turn into a disaster with inexperienced sledders as there were hidden streams and holes to fall into, stumps or rocks to run into, and the weak light of mid-afternoon hid the contours of the snow making visibility poor. I could feel the wind buffeting my helmet, but besides my right hand (no heated grip on that side!) I was plenty warm with my 4 layers: long underwear, tights, goretex pants and snow pants on the bottom; long underwear, warmup ski jacket, heavy sweatshirt and winter jacket on the top. A bakalava, neckwarmer and the helmet kept my head and neck toasty.

The evening brought another concern: Denver fell asleep. Denver only sleeps if he is sick, but he hadn't appeared sick. A couple hours later we woke him up, and after a groggy dinner he finally joined us in our game-playing. Apparently the excitement and cold had worn him out and he just needed a little "freshening up." Us adults need it more often, but I was a bit concerned there since Denver never does. Three hours of cold outdoor air did it though!

Sunday morning dawned gray, but it had warmed up overnight to about 20 degrees and the wind had died down so it was a pleasant day to be out snowmachining. We hit some powder at the start of the day to Aurora's delight, as she was ready to prove herself fit for the ride. Then we settled in for the hard, bumpy ride home on the packed trail. Denver got a turn driving in there, though neither of them got their fill. They are hooked on the speed and power of the snowmachines and would love it if we indulged in this sport ourselves.

For myself, I enjoyed it too, especially the guided off-trail tour by my uncle. I could do this more often, but I have my reservations: there was a lot of trash along the trail, we arrived home stinking of fuel, the trail were busy, and I have no doubt there were plenty of intoxicated drivers out there. It doesn't seem like the wisest thing in the world to put an inexperienced kid on a machine like that. However, I can totally see how, especially in Alaska, people love the winter because snowmachines allow easy access to areas that are completely or nearly inaccessible in the summertime. Swamps and rivers, bogs and bugs, are the nemesis of Alaskans. And yet at heart I am a silent sports enthusiast: I love the clean quiet of snowshoing and sking. Yes, I will snowmachine whenever I get the chance because it will allow me to explore Alaska, but will I become a fanatic: no. In these times of conserving resources and preserving our world, it seems like it uses more resources than recreation should, and I found myself cringing as we ran over trees and shrubs, damaging them. Perhaps I am a patsy that way. I wish sometimes I could steamroller over the world I live in without a care, but my consciousness of this earth doesn't let me. So I feel a bit guilty, but enjoy myself too.


Tina said...

Glad you are enjoying smowmachining! Where's your homeschooling blog... can't find it!!?

Michelle Waclawski said...

Find it at:

My son was asking me Monday when you guys were coming over for dinner....

Anonymous said...

We had many snowmobile races here in Kivalina over the holidays including several where each contestant needed to hold a spoon end in their mouth with an egg balanced in th one other end of the spoon for the whole race. Saw the first Polar Bear of the winter here today on the Arctic Ocean behind the school where I teach.
Pat Stonehouse

Michelle Waclawski said...

Sounds like fun! Gotta come up with any sort of fun you can up there....if you're on the Arctic then that means just another couple weeks till you see the sun??!!