Our group of 19 was made up of riders from Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa, New York, Michigan and Florida. Plus our fearless leader and guide Richard Decker and his wife Audrey who was driving the support truck with trailer. We came together to ride on this Circle Tour with Decker Sno-Venture Tours out of Eagle River, Wisconsin. The tour began and ended at the Derby Inn located in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
We departed February 14 and rode in a clockwise direction around the lake. Due to a heavy rain in lower Ontario and Upper Michigan a few days before we started, much of our riding route turned to ice and lacked snow. The weather and snow conditions were such that we rode on snow, ice, snirt (dirt and snow mixed), bare roads, groomed trails and no trails. The temperature varied from 50 degrees to -35 below F. It was misty, foggy, sunny, clear and windy at one time or another. We saw a couple of moose on the trail, a wolf, a lynx carrying its lunch, snowshoe hares and a couple of deer.
On several different occasions, mostly for lack of snow we had to get help from local snowmobile clubs (thanks again) to transport our sleds on trailers because we ran out of ridable snow. Our thanks goes out to Steve in Eagle River. He spent hours on the phone changing our hotel reservations a number of times due to us changing our route because of changing snow conditions.
Here are a few of the highlights of our trip – too many to cover them all.
We made a remote border crossing on Gunflint Lake that was challenging for some riders. The lake was very wet and slushy, about six inches worth. Fortunately everyone made it without getting stuck or wet.
We knew that there was no trail from Kakabeka Falls, Ontario, around Thunder Bay, so a local snowmobiler met us and took us around Thunder Bay. Conditions were so bad that it took us 4.5 hours to travel 40 miles. We had to ride in the ditches or on bare roads. I lost count of how many times riders got stuck in the ditches, due to lack of snow and icy conditions. Thanks to a couple of local people in trucks, we were pulled out of ditches a number of times. When people found out what we were doing, they went out of their way to assist us if they could. This was true for both U.S. and Canadian citizens.
Later that afternoon, we met with a snowmobile club member who transported extra gas out to us at a remote location so we would have enough gas to make our destination for that day. A couple hours later we came to a wind farm under construction. This was the route of the trail. Because of all the heavy equipment and work crews we had to be guided through the site by one of the construction workers. They sure picked a good location for the farm, the winds that afternoon in the area were blowing 60/70 mph. The construction roads were all iced over and if you tried to stand on the road the wind would actually move you down the road.
Then there was the morning we left the motel in Nipigon, Ontario. Originally we were going to ride to Marathon, Ontario, but we had to change our route due to poor snow conditions. Again we had to trailer the sleds, this time to Geraldton, Ontario. We didn’t have enough trailers to move us all at once, so four of us stayed behind with the last five sleds and waited for our support trailer to return for us. While we waited for its return, the owner of the motel showed us the area where two wolves had taken down a deer that morning. It was only 30 feet from the last room we were staying in and no one heard a sound. The carcass was still warm when the manager removed it.
By the time the last of us left Nipigon, it was late in the afternoon and we didn’t get into Geraldton until approximately 9 p.m. Everyone else had time to work on the snowmobiles before we arrived at the motel. They changed carbides or hyfax and completed any other required maintenance. The next morning before departing we saw a news report on TV that a 36-inch gas main had exploded the night before in Beardmore, Ontario. They had to evacuate part of the town and close down the Queens Highway during this near disaster. Lucky for us, we got through that area prior to the explosion.
One evening while eating dinner at a restaurant in Hornepayne, Ontario, a few of the guys were talking about going into town to pick up some beer. They were overheard by a woman at the next table who told them that it was a holiday (Family Day) and the stores were closed. She then left. When she returned, she had a fifth of whiskey with her. She gave this to the guys but would not take any money in return. She then said, “just come back again.”
The next morning we left for Wawa, Ontario. It was -35 degrees and two sleds wouldn’t start, so we loaded them on the support trailer and the riders took backup sleds off the support trailer to continue riding. When we departed Wawa for Searchmont, Ontario, it was -26. At Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, we loaded the snowmobiles onto trailers to cross the border into the U.S. because of no snow on Drummond Island and DeTour, Michigan.
Our next step was Raco, Michigan, where we unloaded and attempted to complete our journey on the sleds. But, as fate would have it, we ran out of snow in Trout Lake, Michigan. So we left our sleds in Trout Lake and got a ride into Newberry, Michigan, for the night, then discovered no ridable snow from Newberry to Eagle River. Once again, we put Steve to work on the phone. He made arrangements for a number of trucks with trailers to come up from Eagle River, Wisconsin, and help transport our sleds and riders back to the Derby Inn in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
Journey completed: February 24, 2011. Total miles traveled – 1,765. Miles on snowmobiles – 1350. Miles on trailer – 415. Was it a difficult Circle Tour? At times, yes. Would I do it again? U BETCHA!
John & Sharon Zak, Fox Lake, Wisconsin
Don & Lorrie Barret, Manorville New York
Peter Burgher, Port St. Joe, Florida
Ken Bettis, Wataga, Illinois
Roger Johnson, Genoa, Illinois
Jim Carmichael, Rochelle, Illinois
Steve Haas, Rochelle, Illinois
David Everett, Eagle River, Wisconsin
Jim Crandal, Pembine, Wisconsin
Jim Crowder, Muscatine, Iowa
Rick Meyers, East Alton, Illinois
Mark Snyder, Champaign, Illinois
Bill Ruth, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Bill Lewis, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Ray Hazelbaker, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania
Ray Tencza, Toivola, Michigan