THROUGH THE WOODS: Adventures of snowmobiling

WATCHING SOME KIDS on snowmobiles has been a reminder of many happy winters touring around the countryside of our farms by snowmobile. We are not sure why, but our father, Donald Kern, was enamored with these amazing machines. We were one of the first families of our area to own one, thanks to Bob Geel of Ghent. Bob raced and sold Skidoos and my father would purchase his racing machine at the end of the season. It was a good deal for us and gave us some zippy rides across our long farm fields.

We four kids were used to being outdoors and riding our horses, so this was just a new and faster mode of transportation. We were already prepared for the weather with ski gloves, thermal underwear, wool socks, insulated boots, balaclavas, hats, and scarves. Steering these machines was interesting and dependent on the conditions and terrain. Varying approaches and techniques were needed for hills, snow depth or icy conditions. We cut trails through our many acres of woods, which challenged us with hills, stone cliffs, low hanging evergreens, and crooked runs. One beautiful afternoon I didn’t realize there was ice under the snow as a sharp turn was made through a bunch of trees and I skidded into one. I didn’t want to hurt the Skidoo, so put out my hand to soften the blow and jammed my hand so hard it bent my favorite turquoise ring, and I couldn’t get it off my finger. Eventually we tapped it back into a round shape and it came off. The Skidoo was unhurt and neither was I.

Another time I was racing full throttle across what looked like a perfectly flat field until I hit a bump which threw me off the back and onto my rump. I kept sliding forward until almost reaching the stopped machine. Thanks to luck, snow and all that thermal padding it was only a good shakeup and a reminder to first check out the territory at a slower speed. One day I came home from work and decided to take a quick run before dark, not knowing my brother had been doing some hard jumps over and up banks with the Skidoo. He didn’t tell anyone because my father expected us to at least try not to wreck the machine; although I had a feeling my father had been doing some of this too. I got a long way from home and the right ski fell off. It was a long walk home, so I tied the ski to the side of the Skidoo and stood on the left side of it to lift the weight off the right side and onto the left ski. It worked and I made a slow but successful trip home. Of course, I was blamed although no one seemed surprised that it happened.

However unlikely it would seem, we often saw lots of wildlife while snowmobiling. One of our of local game birds, the ruffed grouse, likes to burrow down in the snow and these would occasionally blast up and out of the snow as we rode by. I ducked under a pine tree one day and came eye to eye with a sleeping northern saw-whet owl. I don’t know which of us was more startled. Deer would run short distances, but mostly ignored us. I had a red Siberian husky dog who loved the snow. It was always difficult to give her enough exercise, so the Skidoo was the perfect answer. She would race after me for miles with the most joyful expression on her face.

You had to be prepared for anything when you went out, including total breakdowns in deep snow. We always kept basic tools and some parts aboard and made sure we had a full tank of gas. One day the Skidoo completely died and could not be resuscitated. Back then there was only a pull starter, which was a heavy workout if you had trouble. After trying everything I could think of, I had to walk a long way home. It was an inaccessible area in deep snow, and I got a more reliable means of transportation, my horse. I rode back with a rope and towed it home by horse. In later years we had two snowmobiles which helped with problems like this.

These were fun years and were a lot more physical work than one might think; you didn’t just sit there because riding required constant movement and physical strength. The thermometer is telling me that at this point in my life, I better stay home and keep warm by the fire.

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