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A Record Ride

When great expectations meet a snowy day

By David Wells
Published: December 1, 2004
It was early December and my expectations were revved up.    
Not about Christmas, though.     
Snowmobile season was upon us, and I was more than anxious to get some miles on my new Arctic Cat. The prior winter had been a complete bust due to weather and family matters, so I hadn’t had a serious ride in almost two years.
Our group of experienced snowmobilers gathered at our buddy Rex’s cabin on New York’s famous Tug Hill plateau. Located off the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the Hill is home of the biggest snow accumulations east of the Continental Divide. Rex’s cozy A-frame would be our base for a weekend of riding our brains out on the web of trails and unplowed roads that cover the Hill. Plenty of white stuff covered the ground when we arrived on Friday evening, and the crunch of our footsteps squeezing air from the compacted snow in the parking area told us that it was getting very cold.  
Four inches of fresh powder greeted us as we piled out of the A-frame in the feeble morning light. Warming the machines provided time for donning safety helmets and making final adjustments.
Moving out in the customary single file, we were ready for a long ride on New York’s Tug Hill plateau.
Photo by David Wells
Single file. Moving out in the customary single file behind Rex, we headed down a snow-covered side road and soon dove into virgin powder with our leader breaking trail on the marked route through the dense hardwood forest. The fresh snow cushioned the ride and muffled mechanical noises, making these first few miles of my winter unusually enjoyable.
Riding with my face shield partly open, it was a monumental relief to feel the brisk breeze on my face again. The sub-freezing air had a bracing effect, yanking me out of my usual morning fogginess and filling me with the exhilaration that only the beginning of a new winter can provide. Cruising through the serene beauty of the snow-blanketed forest soothed my snow fever, and I kicked back to relax.
Our evenly spaced convoy rolled on across the top of the plateau, eventually descending on the other side of the Hill. Across the Black River, we picked up an abandoned canal towpath trail that led us to Forestport Station, our lunch stop on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains.
We stomped the snow off our boots and shrugged out of our outer layers as we ordered juicy jumbo burgers and several rounds of soft drinks. It’s amazing how much you can sweat, even in zero-degree weather.
Refueled and refreshed, we returned to the trail and headed back up onto Tug Hill for a return by another route.
Fresh snow cushioned the ride and muffled mechanical noises, making the first few miles of winter unusually enjoyable.
Photo by David Wells
The afternoon rush. What a difference a few hours had made. Now it seemed like everyone in the snowmobile world was out riding. This meant no further trail breaking, just the start of the weekend moguls, the trail bumps created by uneven compaction of the snow.
Dense traffic hampered our passage as we frequently met up with other groups. We had to pay more attention to riding and less to sightseeing, so this wasn’t anywhere near as enjoyable as the morning run when we had the trails pretty much to ourselves. But, hey, we were snowmobiling so who could complain?
Nearing the cabin, we caught up with a dog sledder and slowed to a crawl until he found a good stopping point and waved us ahead of his exuberant huskies. They were just as glad to see the snow as I was.
The sun was well down toward the horizon when we got back to Rex’s, and we had quite a bit more than 100 miles on the odometers. The others lumbered inside to decompress before dinner. But a late arrival of cabin guests provided new riding company for me.
Together we headed out and did a quick 20-mile loop on a less-frequented part of the system, escaping the traffic on the main trail.

The love of winter. Diminishing light emphasized that I had spent virtually the entire day on the snowy trails. By the time we returned to the cabin, my total was 160 miles, the most I had ever recorded in one day in New York state.
I couldn’t help thinking that most people spend virtually their entire winter indoors. Me? I want to spend as much time as possible outdoors.
December darkness had regained control by the time I had my snowmobile covered up again. A hot shower and dinner beckoned.
My expectations had been fulfilled. The extended day on the trails was a great start to the new winter. It would prove to be my best ever.

David Wells has been riding and writing about snowmobiles for over 30 years, covering events and trails from Labrador to Wyoming. His articles appear regularly in Snowmobile magazine, Snow Goer, and other sports publications.
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