Minocqua, Wisconsin 2005

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The morning before leaving for our snowmobile excursion of 2005 I broke the small mirror I use to assist with shaving in the shower. It's not a true mirror; merely that plastic type of reflective material. So technically I broke reflective plastic. What does this have to do with our trip? Well, it may have accounted for our 3 near-disasters that occurred during the 600 mile expedition.

Plans were slightly different this year. Instead of doing our typical sightseeing and 150 - 200 mile weekend, we decided to travel a fair distance this time. We still stayed at the beautiful lake home of Jason's parents for the first and fourth evening (Thanks David and Sharon!), but this time we took the rentals and immediately began a 200-plus mile drive from Minocqua, Wisconsin to Hancock, Michigan that took about 10 hours. Ok, so maybe the plans were more than slightly different. About a third the way into the drive we stopped for our lunch break. We found ourselves in Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin, right at the border as you enter Michigan. The Rusty Nail provided R -n- R (rations and and refreshments).

Trails were very nice up until this point and we were making good time. The sleds we rented this year no doubt helped for the upcoming rough stretches. They had a superior suspension on them that allowed for high speed travel over rough terrain. Additionally, the snow machines sported the newly designed 135hp 4-stroke power plant meaning we never had to smell the burning oil of a 2-stroke engine - that is until we ran across others sledders not as cool as us and still running model year 2004 and older snowmobiles. Alas, no migraine headache and no clothes smelling of burned oil fuel. However, once into Michigan the trails became slightly rough, already showing wear from the weekend traffic. Without paying much attention to it, our luggage for the extra-long weekend began to slip to the side. If you look closely you can see the first disaster begin to take shape.

These new 4-stroke engines also had a dual rear exhaust system ensuring that neither driver or passenger had to smell the exhaust what so ever. However, it also meant our luggage sack was laying directly upon one of the exhaust pipes. About 20 miles shy of our destination, unknown to Kim or I, our luggage ignited. At speeds probably averaging 60 - 70mph at this time, we didn't notice or smell anything out of the ordinary. After a great deal of travel between stops the urge to drain my bladder overtook me and I stopped, unbeknownst to my fellow riders as I was presently the last sled in the convoy. It was then while I was mid-stream that my wife began screaming. I figured she was letting me know more riders were approaching but since I was a good way off the trail and it was the evening hours I wasn't too concerned about them seeing me in my present position. However, upon finishing up and turning around my brain had a hard time processing what my eyes were recording. There was my wife beating our flames-engulfed suitcase into submission. Little progress was being achieved by her present tactics and I quickly realized I needed to intervene. After relieving the suitcase of the multitude of bungi cords and straps used to inadequately hold it in place, we both began to stomp on it. In between stomps Kim tried to remove articles one-by-one. More or less, everything was pretty much lost which included two or three days worth of clothing for both Kim and I and our toiletries. Somehow my camera case was spared even though it did begin to burn slightly on one corner. Due to the stress of the situation and the lack of friends offering assistance, no photos were taken of the event. We were unable to completely extinguish the flames no matter what we tried so I decided to bury the clothes about 3 feet deep in snow. Eventually we made it into Houghton, Michigan, an adorable little town. The twin cities of Houghton and Hancock looked like the small villages one may create on a model train set. Here is a photo of Hancock, taken from Houghton.

Within two hours of waking Saturday morning we found ourselves in the infamous Keweenaw County of the Upper Peninsula. Not having any clothes to change into or out of undoubtedly saved us some time (hey, trying to think positive in the face of disaster). The Keweenaw is all we've read about and more. As always seems to be the case I didn't take nearly as many photos as I would have liked. Things like the 10 feet tall tunnels leading to and from the homes, something most of us would relate to as driveways and sidewalks, were simply mind blowing for this Illinoisan. I guess if you've been to Colorado or Utah maybe this wouldn't impress you but this was undoubtedly the most amount of snow I have ever seen. I'm still impressed that the city actually operates fluently with that much snow.

Check out this video I took while riding as a passenger as Kim was driving us through the Keweenaw.

It rarely stopped snowing on Saturday, which didn't help the cause for photos. The true destination of the trip was Copper Harbor, a small town consisting of a population of 61 year-round residents. To get here, however, also meant we would climb to the top of Brockway Mountain. Ironically enough just as we reached one of the scenic vistas the snow parted and the sun was shining. I was quick to grab a couple quick photos.

Within minutes another snow front was coming in from Lake Superior. It was pretty neat to watch the wall of snow move towards us.

A little further down the trail gave us our first view of Lake Superior. A magnificent view offered large waves crashing against the volcanic-rock shoreline of Copper Harbor, which in turn froze and created wild ice sculptures. We quickly moved off of this peak and back into the woods because the winds blowing across the peak from Lake Superior were brutal.

Jason had the opportunity to account for near-disaster # 2. In an attempt to turn his snow machine around he went off the trail and promptly lost control of the sled, headed into a thicket of bushes, and buried the snowmobile. Kim asked me, "What is Jason doing?" I replied, "Learning a very valuable lesson." For those unaware, 4 or 5 feet of powder snow does not make for a happy snowmobile unless the captain at the helm knows what they are doing. Jason apparently didn't fit that description on Saturday.

Here is a video of Jason and Clint assessing the predicament ~ Pardon Jason's language and hand gesture please :)

Unfortunately I was slightly wrong in my previous statement to Kim. In the end, Jason's mistake was a lesson to us all, as we all had to pitch in and dig the sled out. We lost maybe an hour's worth of time and we were lucky Jason was unskilled enough to crash and burn early before getting really far off the trail.

Here they are starting the digging process.

The ride home was mostly uneventful. We made great time as the trails were all freshly groomed. For the first time I made it through Presque Isle, which is a wonderful little community. We stopped and grabbed lunch at the SkyView Lodge, a place I will surely visit again. Kim was rather fond of the log fireplace. Ironically, our waitress spent the better part of her life growing up in the Champaign area and was childhood friends with most of our close friends from the Champaign area. Small world it is.

The final near-disaster actually happened once we had returned to Minocqua. We left the snowmobiles in the parking lot of the closed rental facility and grabbed our vehicle to ride quickly back to the lake home. After showering we returned to town for dinner and discovered along the way that our rental sleds were missing. Left with no other choice we phoned our snowmobiles in as stolen to the local police. As it turned out the owners of the rental facility returned from a snowmobile ride themselves to discover our rental sleds sitting there and they figured we were finished with them and thus they locked them up inside their store. Wow, what a relief that was. The owners drove back into town and returned the sleds to our possession.

One last video - a panoramic of Brockway Mountain.

To see the remainder of the photos from the expedition of 2005 click here.

To see the story and photos from other years in Minocqua please view ~
2001 ~ 2004 ~ 2006

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Minocqua, Wisconsin

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