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February 29-
    Gotta roll one out here before I take off (literally). I was going to write yesterday, but then I realized I should today. After all, how many times do I get the chance to write on February 28th? I guess every 4 years, but it is not something that I get to do very often anyway. I felt the need to write because I will not be getting the chance to do so for over a week. Tomorrow I board a plane, get off it, get on another, get off that one and get on another and then land in Jackson WY tomorrow. Heading up to Togwotee to spend 6 full days riding in the beautiful and fun terrain they have out there. Lots of snow this year and they look to get some tomorrow and then Monday night through Wednesday, so it should be more fun than a guy should be allowed to have. I am a little worried about being able to fly into Jackson from Salt Lake City tomorrow evening as the snows will be underway. My older brother is a pilot for Delta and fly's into Jackson many times, so I asked him about the restrictions for landing a plane there and it is going to be close tomorrow when we are suppose to be landing. I really need to get to Togwotee tomorrow so that I can do my regular Sunday work Sunday morning for my clients and then get on my sled and ride the rest of the day. The worst case scenario is that I need to rent a car and drive from Salt Lake City to Togwotee. A friend that lives out there said it is a 5 hour trip. If the flight is canceled, then I should be able to get to Togwotee by around 10 pm. If the flight takes off, but cannot land in Jackson, it could either go back to SLC, which would not be too good, but I would still get to Togwotee by around midnight. The other place the plane could deviate to would be Idaho Falls. In which case I was told by the same friend that it is a little over 2 hours from Idaho Falls to Togwotee. I am not going to worry about things and will just hope for the best and prepare for the worst. At least the weather looks clear to SLC, so I will get 80% of the way by plane at the very least.
    Nora and Burt will be watching over the compound when I am gone. I sure wish that they could come along, but there really would not be much for them to do but to hang out in one of the cabins. So they will hang back and hang out. Nora has a friend and her husband coming to visit for most of next week as well, so she will not be bored. I just hope she does not throw any more wild parties. Only Burt and I are allowed to do that!
    It's been a pretty quiet week. The 800 was not running quite up to speed. It would only rev to about 7200-7300 rpm's and then eventually climb to it's peak rpm of 8000 if I held the throttle wide open long enough. Thankfully I have a good friend in Al who is a master mechanic when it comes to anything with an engine. At first I thought it was the power valves, but I got them all cleaned on Sunday and that did not fix things. So then I was thinking perhaps the secondary and talked to Al and he agreed. He also mentioned it could be the belt, even though there was not visible problem seen with the belt. So on Wednesday I went down to Al's shop to change over the clutches and jetting in the carbs, but before so was going to try some different belts and secondary clutches I have. Tried one of the belts first and the sled flew out of the hole, revved to 8000 right away and did not let the skis touch the ground for about 300 yards. I wish all the fixes were that easy. 5 minutes of work and all was good. That still does not mean the sled will rev to 8000 out west, but I have a better setup than last year and last year was better than the year before, so we'll see.
    My body seems ready to go out west. The back has mended pretty well. Still a bit sore at times, but it should not hold me back. Most of the stucks out there do not involve lots of lifting. More digging and pulling, so we'll see.
    All my bags are packed and actually could even be on their way out as I type. The rest of the gang is driving out and are leaving sometime this afternoon. We bought a used 6 place and borrowed a 4 place trailer. Both are enclosed and my sled got loaded with others yesterday. I also dropped off all of my gear and cloths that I will be wearing out there with them and they are hauling it out. I will only have Nora's laptop and a book with me as I travel. The book? "Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain" by one of the foremost experts in avalanches and avalanche safety Bruce Tremper. I have actually read the book 3 times cover to cover and refresh myself every time I head out west. This year I plan to highlight the important points for future ease of refreshment in years to come. I think had I lived out west I would have most definitely become an avalanche forecaster. They fascinate me and you also get the additional bonus of being able to get out in avalanche country a few times a week to dig some test pits and examine conditions. Anyway, I am by no means an expert, but I do know enough to keep me from making stupid mistakes because I do not know any better. I also carry a probe, shovel and always wear a beacon as to all of those I ride with.
    Things up here weather wise have been pretty quiet. We did pick up some snow overnight and a bit fell earlier in the week, but there has been enough ice that has built up in the big lake to the west of us that our LES formation will be somewhat muted for the next week or more at least. I am not too overly concerned about things as the month of March is known more for it's system snows than lake effect snows. We can still get lake effect snows through all of the month and the big storm last April was in part due to lake effect snows. However, a lot of our March snows come via the storms that traverse the Midwest and start to track a little further north as the atmosphere starts to warm in the early springtime. Plus some warmer temps and some stronger winds can also melt and break up the ice enough to make LES. I know last year in March the lake had enough ice on it to limit the LES, but then it did break up and go away enough to allow that monster April storm do tap into it's resources.
    The conditions up here are still very good. My riding on Tuesday's testing runs provided me with pool table flat trails. Obviously I did not ride the entire trail system, but because we have not been the only place with snow this year, our traffic has been down and that has allowed the trails to stay in good shape- even on the weekends. My only experience with bad trails was a section just south of Mohawk on a Friday afternoon. Nasty 1-2 foot whoops. The next morning they were gone. So if you are headed up, I feel confident that you will find very good conditions.
    We are leaving to go out west earlier this year, by two weeks when compared to other years, so that means we will be back sooner and should have at least 4-5 weeks of riding left. That will be nice as well.
    Well, I think that about covers it for this one. If you can hold your e mails to me and any Ask John's until I return on the 9th, that would be much appreciated. I will be checking in on things while out west, but any work that I do not have to do will be appreciated! Talk to you all in a little over a week!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-

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February 24-
    Mother nature must have been listening to me wish to get out of the deep freeze in my last entry, because that is exactly what we did. Friday we rose to the low 20's, yesterday the upper 20's and today we rose all the way to 39. I was outside doing some work this afternoon and it was nice to not have to have a hat or gloves on and also just a lighter coat. The warmer temps today did melt some of the snow a tiny bit, but I think it was really more settling than melting. On Thursday night and Friday we picked up around 8" of very fluffy snow off the lake. I think our locale here outside of Mohawk was hit the hardest because they did not get as much north or south of us with that activity.
    It's always fun to get those surprise snows. The snow itself was not a surprise, but the 8" was. It looked like around 1-3" would fall and that is what other areas around here did pick up. But we awoke to around 5" in the early morning hours and it kept snowing pretty steadily for the rest of the morning, with another 3" by noon. I snuck out of the cabin Friday morning to take a shot of the front of it for the website. The snow fell with very little wind, which is somewhat unique to lake effect snow as it takes wind to transport the air over the lake where it picks up moisture and then the wind needs to blow the clouds and snow over land. There was some wind aloft, but here at the surface, the air was pretty calm, so the snow stuck to everything. Here is a shot of it sticking to the hardwoods. That is actually the view out of the front of the cabin. With the hardwoods coated in snow, you know that the softwoods had to be coated too. That would be the view out of our living room window.
    Friday afternoon the crew from CrashedToys.com came up to ride for the weekend. I gave them directions on how to find our place from the trail and then took them out into the backcountry for an afternoon ride. Even though the snow Thursday night and Friday was just fluff, the snow we had received earlier in the week was not and the two layers of fresh snow combined to produce about a foot of fresh powder to play in. Given those conditions, there were a few places I wanted to get to on Friday so that we could be assured of being able to play in the snow while it was still untracked. One of those is a rather pond. I am not sure if it is man made or perhaps just a naturally occurring pond, but it is somewhat tucked away and usually can be counted on being untracked and that is how we found it Friday afternoon. That is until we started to put some tracks in it! Not all the carving went exactly as planned, but everyone had a good time playing in some really nice conditions. You know when everyone is stopped for a picture and the hood of every sled is caked with snow, the conditions are good.
    It didn't take our group too long to put a mark in almost every square yard of the pond, so we moved on to the next play areas. We road some logging roads and then found some fun hills to climb and pick our way through the trees. At first everyone seemed a bit reluctant to do that, but soon we had everyone in the group finding their way through the trees. The hills were really a good training ground for hill climbing through the trees as they are not extremely steep and in most cases there is plenty of room between the trees. None the less, we had a few stucks in there. After the hills, we got back on some logging roads, which can provide their own source of trouble if you are not careful.
    We were riding some more logging roads and sort of on our way back when I spied some steep hills where some others had been playing earlier in the day and had gotten stuck a few times. The hills looked challenging, but also something that I thought the 800 should be able to carry me up and over. I managed to make it past the point were someone else had gotten stuck, but did not quite make it all the way and this was my first stuck of the day! Thankfully I was just about at the top and all we had to do was give it a quick yank and it popped out of the hole and on top of the hill. After digging me out, we found a few more play spots and then headed back towards home and a bite to eat for dinner.
    On Saturday we hit the backcountry in hopes of finding some good snow still left out there. Initially we found the exact opposite. Lots and lots of tracks and even a group of what looked to be around 10 sleds. It does not take 10 sleds long to beat the living heck out of a play area and I am pretty sure that we came across a few spots that this group of sleds played at. I almost could not believe the amount of tracks in a few of these areas. Thankfully there are still a few off the beaten path spots out there and we were fortunate enough to get to them and find fresh snow awaiting us. Before everyone got out and played in the fields, I took a group shot.
    After playing in those fields a while, we made our way north and were able to ride in either untracked snow or snow that had only a track or two in them for much of the rest of the afternoon. We had a nice lunch at the Bear Belly Bar and Grill in Lac La Belle and then headed out to play some more. Found some more fresh snow and ended up riding by one of the grand daddy hills to climb in the entire Keweenaw. I did not have any intentions of climbing it as I was nursing a bad back and did not want to get stuck in a spot where I would be left to my own devices to get myself unstuck, but as we passed the hill, temptation got the best of me. The bottom of the hill is not too bad and there is a little plateau after the initial climb where I could turn around and head back, so I thought I would just climb that first section and then turn around. Well, I got going and the adrenaline rush got the better of me and I got back on the throttle full speed and continued climbing, hoping to make it to the top. The total climb of this hill is around 400 feet and I made it somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3rds of the way to the top, but then the little engine that could just could not take me any further. I tried to turn out, but had to pass a tree first and by the time I passed it, I ran out of steam and stuck it.
    The first time I ever tried to climb this hill I was on the old "Pol-Cat" and I don't think I even made the plateau. Actually I am not even sure it was there back then. Several years ago I went in there on the 700 and made it a little less than 1/2 way. A few in our group did make it all the way to the top. A few years back I managed to make it all the way to the top, but the snow was a bit more set up. Yesterday's snow conditions were very soft and very deep. When I got off my sled I sunk up past my waist in the powder. It was not too bad getting the sled unstuck. I did not trench in too bad and had started to turn out, so all I had to do was dig some of the snow out from downhill of the sled and finish off the turnout process and then ride down. It was pretty cool coming down the steep hill in all that snow. I had a mini avalanche of snow all around my sled. Too many trees to get a real avalanche going on that hill, but if those trees were not all over that hill, it would slide many times in a season for sure. Before heading back down, I did take a shot of where I was trying to go. I sure would like to "bag that mountain" for this season, so hopefully I can get another try before the season ends.
    Before we left the hill, a few of the others gave the lower section a try. Here is Joe on the Phaser and here is Stefan on the 600 RMK. After the hill climbing we went and rode some logging roads for a while. I wanted to get us down to a lake we have been to before, but managed to get us down into a nasty cedar swamp instead. That is where I ended up getting stuck pretty good and throwing out my back even worse! We all made it out of the swamp fine and I spent a rather uncomfortable ride home, but made it back and then medicated. I do have to thank Nora for taking off my boots when I got home though! If it were not for her, I may still be in them! This morning was a challenge to just get dressed, but it is feeling better as the day has progressed. I have a few stretches I want to do before going to bed and the week ahead is a nice quiet one, so I will be able to rest it and be back in action soon. I hurt my back about 6 years ago washing windows of all things in Lake Linden and this is about the 2nd or 3rd time I have tweaked it again since that initial injury. It takes a few days of rest and I get back to normal.
    So I think that about covers it for this one. As mentioned I plan to have a fairly quiet week, but will try and write by Wednesday or Thursday to catch you all up on the goings on up here. Looks like some lake snows to fall from later tomorrow through most of the week, so perhaps I will have some nice winter wonderland so share with you again.
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
February 21-
    I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I was planning to go for a ride today, but sled problems with the group I was meeting up with nixed the ride, so I am getting an early start and should not run out of steam before I run out of things to say. The bad news is I was planning on having the ride provide much of the material for this entry! The new cam arrived on Monday and I have been playing around with it. It is a ton smaller than the other one. Still not as small as the smallest cams go, but small enough to fit in a pocket pretty easily and will be a whole lot easier to tote along on rides. One of the first pics I took with it was a front of house shot back on Tuesday. I figured I could take one today for this journal, since I did not get any riding photos. So here is a front of house shot from this afternoon. The camera seems to take some nice shots, although it does not have viewfinder, only the LCD screen to see. I am actually used to using the viewfinder only and they work much better in a sunny and snowy setting as the bright light can really wash out the view of the LCD. So that is my only bone to pick with this new camera so far.
    As you could see from the front of house shot we had some sunshine today. Sort of a mixed clouds and sun day actually, but it was nice. I say as long as it is not snowing, it may as well be sunny. It would have been a nice day for riding, with all the details of the snow showing up very well. On Monday's ride it was snowing and the light was really flat and a few times I could not tell what the lay of the land was too well. Not fun to hit a bump you are not expecting and it is also not much fun to expect a nice bump to launch off of and have it be just a tiny ripple on the snow! Still, the ride Monday was really fun. Just one other rider and myself. He is a local (Chris) that has been wanting to hook up with me for a while and finally we were both able to take advantage of a day off on Monday to ride. He is a good rider, so we had fun climbing some hills through the trees, cruising down untracked logging roads and even did a little lake riding for a short time. I am not really a big fan of lake riding, but most of the small inland lakes have good ice on them now and I have seen ice fisherman out on this lake for several weeks now. With that said, do not take this to mean if you are riding up here you can just freely go out on any lake without concern. Each lake is different and unless you know better, best stay off.
    Yesterday was a work day. We have been storing the boat, lawn mowers and an outdoor swing in the garage in Lake Linden all winter, but come next Monday afternoon, the home in Lake Linden will no longer be ours. Yep, we finally had someone want to purchase it and we close on Monday afternoon. It sure is a bittersweet situation. I really love that place and I have TONS of great memories there. It was the first home for me in the UP, it is where I met Nora for the first time and of course all the great memories there with Burt and Baileys. In ways I really did not want to sell it, but also did not want to deal with the hassles of renting it out and it was just a waste to have it sit there, so selling it was the only real option for us. It will be nice to not have to worry about cutting the grass, or moving snow and I will not miss paying the mortgage, insurance and taxes! We have been out of there for almost a year and a half, so it does not really feel like our "home" anymore. Where we live now is home, but like I say, there is a ton of great memories in that place and while they will not perish from my head, it is kind of sad to be selling the place where they were formed.
    The weather up here has been quite chilly. Not just the past few days, but for much of the month. 14 out of the first 21 days of the month have been below average and on many of those days the departures have been double digits, which is pretty big. The wood supply seems to be holding up pretty well. I think that is because we are into the somewhat seasoned hardwoods. I think that green wood, while it will burn, uses up some energy to dry it out so it will burn and thus it does not make as many BTU's per log as wood that is more seasoned. Just my casual observance. Plus hardwoods have a lot more BTU's in them than softwoods and we burned mainly softwoods last season. I seriously doubt that our wood supply will make it the entire heating season, but should get us through the middle to end of March, which after that the heating season is not as demanding with the longer daylight and warmer days.
    I am not complaining about the cold as I would rather have departures of 12 below average than 12 above average, but it has been the kind of cold that makes it a little uncomfortable to do things in. Moving snow or other work outside leads to a numb face and sometimes cold hands. Riding is not too bad, but it would be nice to not have to bundle up as much and not worry about the air getting by the goggles. The snow situation is pretty good. I really cannot complain too much about this year. We have had snow to play in since the tail end of November and it seems like there has never been a time when conditions were not at least "good". The trails have been maintained very well and the backcountry has been pretty good. I think last weekend was about the most beat up it has been all season, but then we picked up some fresh snow this week, so there are at least some areas where things should be very good right now. Plus if we have an average rest of the winter, we still have 7-8 weeks of good riding left and perhaps as many as 10-11 weeks left if we get some decent March storms and no major thaws happen in March and early April. Only time will tell, but I have a feeling that it will be a good spring for riding up here.
    I will be riding tomorrow and Saturday with the crew from CrashedToys. They usually come up one or twice a year to ride up here with me. Last year schedules conflicted and they did not make it. I am sort of going into "cautious mode" right now, trying not to wreck the sled and myself. In just over a week I will be heading out west with the boys to play in all the snow they have out there. In fact tomorrow and Saturday's rides will be the last two I will take up here on the 800 until I get back. I plan to start changing over the clutching and carburation on the sled for the altitude early next week. I am one that likes to be planned and prepared and do not like to leave things to the last minute. Too many things can go wrong and I just do not see the point in creating that needless stress in waiting until the last minute. I have actually done most of my shopping for out west too. Got a dozen and a half bottles of G2 from Gatorade, some candy bars to snack on while riding and some other things like blank tapes for the video camera and some new socks. Exciting stuff huh?!
    I am trying not to think too much about heading west at the moment. It will just make the time go by slower and also lead to too many expectations about the trip. Right now my biggest concern is the traveling weather for the trip out. I need the weather to be good at 4 airports. Houghton County, Minneapolis/St.Paul, Salt Lake City and Jackson. Not as much to ask for as it may sound. If Houghton is good, then chances are MSP will be and if SLC is good, chances are JAC will be. Right now things look good, with just some lake effect snow showers up here. However, the forecast is still over a week out and can certainly change. I am not as worried about the trip back as I can get my work done from just about anywhere now with so many wireless hubs available. However, I will be anxious to get back to Nora and Burt, so I am not hoping for delays on the return trip either. That is unless it is because of a record breaking snowstorm at the Lodge!
    Well, I have been sitting here for over 5 minutes trying to think of something I may have missed that I wanted to say and have drawn a blank, so I guess I am about out of things to say. I do have one more picture to share with you. It is of Old Blue sitting next to some snowbanks we have up here. They are about 7 feet high and have already been cut back and down a few times. Even though we are not breaking any snowfall records this winter, the banks are still large and the snow still pretty deep. Just the way I like it!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
February 17-
    I am in kind of a weird place right now. I have had a busy week which would typically give me lots to write about, but for some reason there is a bit of a block going on that is causing me to struggle for things to day. I guess I can start out with an announcement. There are about a dozen shirts from the ride in that need to be claimed. Please note that these are shirts that were ordered before the first cut off, so they were there to be picked up at the ride in itself. For those of you that ordered after that first cut off, those shirts are in the process of being made and will be shipped out when they are ready- thanks to the Ron and Greg at the JohnDee Store for that! So if you were to pick up your shirt at the ride in, but did not, please send me an e mail with a mailing address for you and I will get them off to you. Again, this is for ONLY the folks that were to pick them up at the ride in, not the ones that ordered too late for the orders to be processed in time for the shirts to be available at the ride in.
    Ok, lets see, what else has been going on around here. We have been in a bit of a lull in the snowfall activity lately. Not a snow drought, but we only picked up about 1/2" with the current system and only picked up a few inches this past week, so the backcountry is starting to get really tracked up. We are still finding some untracked snow, but it is getting harder and harder to do and just today when we found an untracked logging road it actually seemed a bit weird to not see tracks! There is snow in the forecast for the next several days and I have no fear that we will be having some good powder days yet this season. In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that we will be seeing some decent spring storms this March and perhaps even early April. Not that I think we will get another 60 incher this April like last April, but we usually see a storm or two in March and I just have this feeling that we may see more than just one or two decent March storms.
    I have been doing a fair amount of riding the past several days. On Wednesday Skylar and friends came up this way and we hooked up with a local friend of mine Scott and rode the backcountry. It's funny some days a backcountry ride can mean just a casual ride down the logging roads, other days it can be death defying climbs on heavily wooded hills and then other days it can be riding on narrow skidder trails, over downed trees, across creek beds and up and over the hilly terrain. Wednesdays ride turned out to be one of those rides I described last in that list. We probably did not ride the groomed trail more than a mile or two the entire day and also did not spend much time on a true logging road either. Most of the day was riding on narrow little skidder trails that at times seem to just disappear and in many cases just do. When they do run out you can either decide to continue on and try and pick your way through the woods or double back and look for that next little trail and hope it goes through. We had our fair share of turn arounds on Wednesday, but also had some nice trips through the woods. There were also a few technical climbs through the trees, but everyone made in through all the areas we needed to.
    We did find some hills to play on a few meadows and swamps to carve up and also a few untouched logging roads. However, as mentioned those untracked logging roads are becoming harder to come by. It would be nice to get a quick foot or so of snow to cover up all the tracks and put some fun snow back on top of everything. I am planning to ride tomorrow and then take a few days off, but will be back on the sled for the end of the week and weekend and then will be taking most of next week off to get ready and rested for WY. I plan to beat the Christmas rush at Al's shop and get my 800 in early in the week to get it changed over for out west. It does not take long to change out the weights and springs and get the carb tuning done, but I also know that waiting until the end of the week could mean that the shop will be full with the sleds of the rest of the group.
    I also rode yesterday and today. A friend Mike from high school was up and we rode the backcountry up to Lac La Belle yesterday and then tooled around areas to the north of the cabin today. Unfortunately my camera's shutter button broke, so I did not get any pictures from these rides, but the good news is I ordered up a new cam for using when I ride and it will be arriving tomorrow. Not in time for that ride, but I may see if I can resurrect the old camera for that ride and then have the new one for the end of the week rides. The new one is smaller and should even be able to fit into my pocket if I want. For those of you wanting to know which one I have coming it is the Sony DSC H3. It will be replacing the DSC H2.
    Well, I have been sitting here for quite some time trying to come up with something else to say and am stumped, so I guess this will be a fairly short one. Until next time...
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
February 10-
    This Sunday writing thing is just something I cannot seem to get away from, so here I am! Not a whole lot has happened in the past 2 days since I last wrote. The weather has taken a turn for the nasty. The snow started up around 1:30 yesterday afternoon and has not stopped. That is not the nasty part. The nasty part is the fact that we have not risen above zero yet today and the winds have been blowing at a steady 25-35, with gusts to 45 and 50. Second blizzard in as many weeks up this way. I suppose the school kids up here wish it had not happened on a weekend- perhaps a few teachers too! Oh well, maybe the next one.
    I have some good news to share. We have a close to final number for the ride in funds raised. That number is just shy of $11,000! Actually I think it is safe to say that we have gone over $11,000 because our number is currently at $10,894 and there are some donation buckets out there still and word is that the one in Krupps Mini mart was full. It is a paint can, so I would venture to guess that it and the other have more than $106 in them and if they don't I will make up the difference to make sure we top out at 11 thousand for the event. We did not have any goals to reach, other than to raise as much as we can and I think we achieved that goal in good fashion this year.
    Getting back to the weather, it is pretty hard to tell how much snow we have picked up in the past day and a half. The winds has been blowing the snow around plenty. I know when I got home last night, the wind was just picking up and I drove through about 2" of new snow. It has been snowing at around 1 inch every 5-6 hours since then, so I would venture to say that we have picked up around 6" with this event. It would be neat to find a spot where the snow is being piled up right now. I am sure that the drifts in spots could be pretty huge. Brian, Dave and some of the other gang were actually heading out to go bust some drifts that formed near Dave's, but I chose to stay home with my wife and dog in a nice warm house!
    We did all go out for a ride yesterday. We were actually shooting some footage for the next Born to Ride DVD. Dobson Entertainment was up filming the Ride-In and stayed in the area all week and got some footage just about every day. Most of the riding and footage was shot south of the bridge all week, but yesterday we rode in our neck of the woods, with most of the regular subjects, minus Al. He banged up some ribs and is trying to heal up. The snow conditions were not exactly optimal for filming, but we still had a blast riding yesterday. We found a few spots to carve, rode some logging roads and then went to a favorite play spot to jump. I am not known for my big air, so I parked my sled and broke the camera out to capture some of the other fellas putting some air under their tracks. Here is Kenny on his M. Here is Chuck on his XP. Here is Brian on his M and here is Matt on his Summit. It looked like the boys were having too much fun, so I actually joined in for a few. No pics of me, but if you substitute my sled for Brian's M and put me on it, you pretty much have what I was doing. I guess white men can't jump!
    After the jumping, we headed back into the bush to do some helmet cam filming. For those of you who are wondering what that is all about, we take a small camera that is about the size of a case of lipstick. It has a wire that runs from it to a small recorder that is put into a fanny pack. The camera is it secured to the top of a helmet so you get a riders eye view. The thing is, the camera needs most of the action to be happening right in front of it for it to look good, so Rick is always telling the person with the camera on their helmet to be right up behind the person they are filming. Brian had the camera on his helmet and for a while was following me, but at one point too that being as close to me as possible thing a bit too far. No harm done to either sleds, but it did take 3 guys to pull his sled out of mine and it was a good thing he was using the flexi skis!
    As the afternoon wore on the snows became a little heavier and the winds started to pick up, so we decided to call it a day. Matt took us through the woods on some untracked paths through the woods and we stopped for one last break before heading back to the vehicles and then home. All in all a pretty good ride. The gang is starting to pull it together again and I can tell that we all are starting to think more and more about heading out west. The snows are deep out there this year and we all are looking forward to playing in it.
    I am actually out of things to say for now, but should be back in not too long. I know I am riding this Wednesday and then this weekend. Snows look to fall fairly steadily for the next week or so, so hopefully we will start to get some decent powder riding. The base is awesome right now, so a foot or so of fresh would make things just perfect. So until next time...
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
February 8-
    As promised, I have some information that I think most snowmobilers will find of interest. The cat is already out of the bag as Yamaha lifted it's media embargo on one of it's '09 sleds, the FX Nytro XTX. You can read up on it more by going to this web page. But that is not the big news that I have to share with you. The news is not only did I get to see it yesterday, but I got to spend most of the afternoon on it. And I don't just mean sitting side saddle on it while it was parked! Yamaha had it up in the Northwoods this weekend for a big event in Minocqua and Rick Dobson from Dobson Entertainment talked Yamaha into bringing the sled up to the Keweenaw yesterday so the me and some of the KSE guys to take it for a ride. I had to work yesterday, so Dave and I met up with the rest of the group in Twin Lakes. Most of our group got to take a turn riding it, but as mentioned, I got to spend much of the afternoon on it.
    Before I go on to give my impressions of it (which will be the main content to the rest of this entry) I will first like to thank Yamaha for bringing up the sled and letting us play on it. It is one of only 4 sleds like it in the world right now, so I think we were all pretty lucky to be able to not only see it, but pretty much do anything we wanted to on it- and did! I would also like to say that I am not one to hold back my true feelings on anything. Sometimes this is good and sometimes this gets me into trouble, but I am a straight forward guy and that is just the way I am. With that said, I think I am also a "glass half full" kind of guy, tending to focus on the positive rather than the negative. I say all of this, just so that you all can try and get a feeling for how honest my write up on the sled will be.
    When I first got on the sled to ride it I have to admit that it felt pretty uncomfortable. Not to mean I physically felt uncomfortable, but going from my 03 and 05 Polaris RMK's to this was making a giant leap in riding position and handling. After about 10 minutes on it riding some logging roads, we came to a frozen swamp that Dave Sleeman thought would make for a good photo shoot. Rick was up shooting footage for the Born to Ride 7 DVD. Kenny and then Matt took their sleds out there to do some jumping and carving and then I went out on the Nytro XTX. I was not yet feeling all that comfortable on the sled and add to that the fact that there were some trees and stumps out there was well as a few spots where a trickle of running water created 3-4 foot deep indentations in the snow and that was enough for me to not have the best of carving experience on the sled. Although had I been out there on my sled I would have been pretty concerned about those stumps that stuck out of the snow here and there! I did pound my way through one of the big indentations in the snow and got to get the sled to dance around a bit which was fun.
    After my experience on the swamp, I let Dave of KSE take it out and his better riding abilities were shown pretty quickly as he was able to do some pretty decent carving on the sled right out of the box. He too hit the bumps in the snow and had some fun pounding away on the sled. After we left the swamp, Dave continued to ride the sled down the logging roads, throwing it around and jumping off the occasional berm or deck of logs. Seeing him have all that fun on the sled I hoped that I would get a chance to ride it again and after about 20 minutes on it, we came to a stopping point and I was able to get back on it. I think I spent just about all of the rest of the ride on it which was probably about another 2-2 1/2 hours on it and I did grow to feel very comfortable on it after about another 20 minutes on it. After being on it for about an hour I was having so much fun that I was hoping that I did not have to give it up! In fact every time I motioned to Rick to see if he wanted to get back on it and he shook his head no, I was very happy! We rode a mix of the pounded pole lines between Twin Lakes and Toivola, logging roads and even a few meadows and I tried to put the sled through all of the paces in these different settings. On the pole line I looked for spots where I could do a little jumping. Those that ride with me know I am not a big jumper at all, but this sled did give me the confidence to jump with a little more aggression. The suspension is just so much superior to my older sleds that landing is a lot more enjoyable. Plus the sled seemed to be more stable, which allowed for me to jump off camber, but still land flat.
    On the logging roads, I tried to carve most of the corners and jump off the occasional berm or lump of snow off to the side of the logging road and I as I grew used to the sled, I ended up finding it easier to carve than mine. I was told by the Yamaha rep that they did change the geometry of the front end on this sled from the previous Nytro to give it better handling and while I do not have enough saddle time in the 08 Nytro to back this claim up, I can say that this sled does respond well to body english. Not as tippy as the M series from Cat, but like I say, it did take less effort to get the sled to carve than it takes on my RMK's.
    We did find our way to another swampy type area, only this one had no stumps in it and very few trees to avoid, so the setup for carving was better. I was also feeling a whole lot more comfortable on the sled, so the carving went a whole lot better this time around than the last. I got to go first and Rick shot video of me. KSE Dave went next on his M and then I went again on the yammy, but asked if Rick could use my camera to take some stills. He was happy to, so here are some shots of me carving on the new yammy. Shot one, shot two and the money shot. Dave also took a turn on the XTX carving in that meadow and seemed to have a good time too.
    After that we started to work our way back to the main trail. The one thing that both Dave's mentioned is that they thought it had a flat spot in the mid range. At first I did not notice this and perhaps it was just the power of suggestion, but I did seem to notice it a bit as I rode it too. However, my mind was changed as we got onto the groomed trail for a bit and I let it all hang out. The sled pulled hard through all of the midrange and I did not have the courage to see what the top end was like as the trails were starting to get some traffic on them. However, I think that "soft" spot in the midrange could well have been some track spin. All of us are used to riding sleds with 2" paddles that have limited slip in the softer snow. This one has a 1.25" track that could very well have slipped in the softer snow as all the torque in the midrange spins that track.
    I also noticed that the sled had a very good hole shot. Something that for my and my riding style is of up most importance. Whether it is to bunny hop over a creek or jump a little berm or even to give a quick shot of momentum as you are getting ready to climb a steep hill, I just cannot be on a sled that does not want to try and run away from me when I crack the throttle from a dead stop or slow crawl. I can report that this sled has that low end quickness, which actually surprised me as it was always my impression that the 4 strokes have lots of power and torque, but can be a bit boggy at the low end. Riding the power line I was able to lift the skis at a moments notice coming off any little undulation in the terrain.
    With that knowledge of the hole shot and midrange pull, I decided to challenge Dave to a little impromptu drag race. We lined up and took off and the first race the XTX was able to get off the line quicker than Dave's M which by the way is one heck of a sled and can hole shot right along with my 800 RMK. However, about 2-3 seconds after starting the race, the yamaha nearly stalled on me. A second or two later it was back to normal, so we did not get to see what would happen after the initial few seconds of the race. So we lined up again and it did the same thing! This time being a tie in the hole shot category. So Dave and switch sleds and the same thing happened to him, with the sled nearly stalling. We gave up on the race, but it was puzzling what was going on with the XTX's near stalling. I let Dave ride it on the trail for a while so he could see if he thought the midrange soft spot was gone. I do not remember if he gave any feedback, but I do remember him commenting on how fast it was on the trail, so I think that means he too found it to be gone on the harder packed snow.
    We rode the trail north and got to Painesdale and everyone showed up but the Yamaha rep Eric and the XTX. We doubled back and it turns out it ran out of gas! So that explained the near stalling. As we took off the line, all the gas sloshed to the back of the tank and left the pick up dry for a moment. As for it running out of gas, it had been running all day and I can say I was on the throttle very hard for most of the time I was on it. Plus when I went to look at my gas gauge it too was nearly dry and I had only been riding with the group since the mid afternoon! So the gas mileage is just fine with the Yamaha, but I did want to explain why it was almost stalling on us.
    So my conclusions on the sled are these: The sled has plenty of power. The claim from Yamaha is 130 HP out of it's 1049 cc motor, but I would have to say that it felt like more than that to me. There was no hesitation in the sled at all. As mentioned, it hopped right out of the hole and pulled hard from there on out until I ran out of courage. As for the weight. I guess I need to come clean and say that I think the whole weight issue is not just about the numbers, but how a sled feels. I thought that the sled did not feel heavy at all. It was easy to throw around and I have already talked about the quickness of the sled. Now, I did not take it into the steep and deep, so I do not know how it might handle that type of situation and I did not get it stuck, so I cannot comment on what it would be like to get it unstuck. Dave did stick it once and it just took a guy on either ski to pull him out, which is standard operating procedure for any sled that gets stuck. So is the sled heavier than others, yes. Did I actually feel that weight while riding it, no and neither did Dave or anyone else that rode it. The ride down the trail was good. It handled the studder bumps that were developing well and the bumps did not cause me to have to change my speed to remain comfortable or in control.
    Did I not like anything on the sled? Well, I am use to having a set of high end aftermarket skis on my sleds, so I am used to a sled that can corner very well as well as float in the powder very well. This sled did OK on both the snow conditions, but because I am used to the aftermarket skis and what they bring as far as performance, I would likely add a set of them. I would also add a set of handle bar risers as I am used to the ape hangers I have on both my RMK's. However, I am a boondocker and ride 90% of my time standing up. This sled is a crossover, which means it is meant for not more than a 50-50 split between trail and off trail and probably more likely a 70-30 split with the lean towards trail riding. For boondocking purposes I would also put a deeper lug track on it. I was told it could handle up to a 1.75" track and I would do it for my riding needs. Again, a crossover is more likely to be in the 1.25-1.4" range, so for a true crossover I think the lug depth was fine. I also think the 144" track is the way to go for any sled that intends to go off trail. I am very confused as to why most of the other crossover sleds are dropping to a 136" track. That seems like a waste to me. It really does not give you that much more floatation like a 144 does and a 144 with the tipped up rails like this sled has does not ride that differently on the trails than a 121.
    I wished that we could have had bottomless powder to ride in to see how it handled that. I have no doubt it had the power to get through that type of snow, but power alone will not get you through snow over the hood conditions. Perhaps we will get a chance to ride it again before this season is over. I know I would have to ride it in the steep and deep before I would be confident enough in it's abilities in those type of conditions before I bought one, but for someone that rides the trails and then goes off trail a bit to play in the untracked snow it is fully qualified as my ride yesterday proved to me. I did ride it through the woods (no trail what so ever, just boondocking through the trees) in the 8-10" of fluff on top of the 3 foot base we had and it did not have any problems with that at all. I think a 136 would have had problems with those conditions.
    So, is this THE sled for EVERYONE? Obviously not. Not everyone needs a crossover sled and those that just like to cruise should be looking into a cruiser. Is this a great boondocking sled? I have to say the verdict is still out on that. The sled did everything I asked it to do yesterday in flying colors. I think as I grew comfortable with it, it even made me look like a better rider than I am! With that said, we were in some pretty set up snow conditions and I would really like to see how it does in the really deep stuff and even the steep (UP steep) and deep. This is not a mountain sled, so I am not expecting it to climb 500-1000 foot hills with 2 feet of fresh on them, but I would like to put it through the paces with a foot or two of fresh on the hills we have up here before I can say it would be a good boondocker. I know a longer lug track would help to make it more of a boondocker, as would some risers and aftermarket skis. Perhaps I will get the chance to try this sled out again. For those looking for a crossover sled, you should give this sled some very serious consideration, it will do all you want it to do, all with a motor that is pretty much bullet proof and chassis that allows you to do what you would want in a crossover situation.
Good day from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
February 5-
    Ok, I'm back! Batteries are not quite fully re-charged, but are getting there. It's funny, I read the note I made on Sunday and I have absolutely no recollection of writing my quick note saying I was going to wait a day or two to write. I cannot remember the last time I have been that wiped out! It was for a great cause and please do not interpret it to mean I was complaining or sorry about being so tired, but it was my excuse to not write. Then yesterday I was catching up on my energy and needed to catch up on some business dealings. I ended up taking a nap yesterday and went to bed at around 6:30, although I could have slept in about another 3 hours this morning and think I will retire as soon and I am done writing this tonight.
    The Ride-In was just fantastic! We had a full house and everyone I talked to said they had a blast and were looking forward to next years event. I have not set the date just yet, but it will be very close to the date that this event was. In fact, several persons said that Super Bowl Weekend worked very good for them and I think that weekend is good because it is a little quieter up here. I also need to make sure that we are not competing with Tech's Winter Carnival. So keep Super Bowl weekend 2009 open for next years event.
    Getting back to this years event, I need to do a quick thank you to those that helped: Lori and Kathy from the Wildlife Refuge Cabins, John Stachler and his fiancé Donna, Dave Sleeman, the entire KSE crew, Big Vin and of course my wonderful wife Nora. There is no way that this event could ever take place without the help of these good people. I also want to thank all the businesses that help support the event with their generosity. I will be compiling a list soon and will post it here as well as on the ride in page and also in our local news paper. This years cache of prizes was by far the best we have had and helped to raise a lot of money for the event. Speaking of the amount raised, we do not have a final number out yet as there are still some donation buckets out there, but Nora and Donna counted up the money raised at the banquet, plus the money collected before the banquet and I added the approximate amount of money that the registrations raised and we were in the neighborhood of $8000. Add to that another $1500 donated by a customer of mine from the Iowa Grain Company of Chicago and we are closing in on $10,000 raised for this years event! That is just incredible and seems hard to believe in some ways. Everyone was just so generous that the thank you's alone could take up an entire journal entry. This years event was bigger than the previous two years, but also went smoother than the previous two years. We are learning the ropes and almost have it down to a science!
    The weather cooperated nicely. We did not have snow over the hood like last year, but we also did not have a monster snow storm for folks to try and fight their way here through. Several parties of people could not even make it here last year due to the storm, so it was good that the travel weather was good. Friday morning I got to the meeting room for sign ups at about 8:40 and there were already riders waiting to sign up for the back country rides. As the next hour went on, more and more riders showed up for the back country tours and we ended up with 40 riders wanting to go out. We were suppose to have 4 guides that morning, but one of the guides sleds would not start, so we were left to squeeze 40 riders into 3 groups. Dave and Lori Sleeman took a big group of around 15 out as well as Dobson Entertainment to film things. Matt from KSE took a group and I took the final group.
    As mentioned, the fresh snow was not over the hood deep, but we had picked up around 4-8" of fresh snow in the days leading up to the event and it had settled to the point where there was around 4-6" of fresh snow to ride. Not the best for carving up, but we still managed to have some fun in some of the fields Friday morning. After playing in the fields we headed north and grabbed a bite to eat for lunch. Following lunch, we suited back up and headed back into the woods to continue our way north. The plan was to ride as far north up the Keweenaw until we ran out of time, gas or daylight and then take the trail back down to Houghton. We worked our way through the woods, heading further and further up the peninsula. I secretly nicknamed my group on Friday the "Energizer Bunny" group as we took very few rest breaks and at one point I was worried we might run out of land before it was time to turn around! The land held out and we made it to just a little past Lac La Belle before turning around, finding a groomed trail and taking it all the way back to Houghton. I was very grateful that the trails are being maintained so well these days, as we had perfectly flat trails to ride on all the way from just north of Lac La Belle down to Houghton and even made it back into town as the sun was setting.
    I loaded up the 800 and headed back home. The 800 started to act up again, the same problems as it had before with the spark cutting out. So on Saturday, I loaded up the 700 and took it down to Houghton to hook up with my group for the day. The amount of riders wanting to go out on Saturday was smaller than on Friday. 24 folks had signed up for Saturday's back country tours and of that number, 8 were repeats from Friday. Also in attendance Saturday morning was the Make A Wish child Robert and his dad Mike. They were wanting to head out on a ride and I offered up my services to take them out for the morning and early afternoon. So after getting all the groups out on their respective tours, Robert, Mike, John Stachler and I headed over to Evert's in Hancock to get Robert and Mike hooked up with a sled. Everts was gracious enough to donate a sled rental for the day for Robert and his dad and here they are getting aquatinted with their sled for the day. Here is a picture of (from left to right) Mike, Robert and Shawn from Everts.  We hooked up with John Stachler's dad, and a friend of his dad's and headed down the trail for some riding. I decided a nice ride would be to head to Dreamland for lunch and then back and depending on time, maybe take the long way home. I needed to get back in the early afternoon, so I could get home, cleaned up and down to help setup for the ride in, so John took the group for a little longer ride after I split from the group.
    The setup went very smoothly with the help of Lori and Kathy as well as Nora and some good folks from Castle. They came with boxes of goodies for the event, including a balaclava for everyone at the banquet. As mentioned we had a ton of great prizes to auction off as well as give away in the raffle. Everything from dinner and lodging here in the Keweenaw and in other locales in the Midwest to aftermarket items for all different makes of sleds to DVD's from most of the major production companies. In fact we had so may prizes we had to just put a sign up sheet for the prize on the table and not the prizes themselves to save room.
    As folks were socializing and signing up for the silent auction prizes, I brought over a special package of goodies given to Robert from Castle. We also put some DVD's from Dobson Entertainment in there as well. It was really fun to watch Robert open up the gear bag and find the DVD's and then a snowmobile jacket and then a really cool helmet. He was just thrilled with all the great gear he was getting and as far as I am concerned, the event could have ended right then and there and been called a huge success. But things were just getting started. We did some more socializing had dinner and then final calls for the auction items. We got into the raffle and then last but not least were entertained by "Big Vin". My only regret was that we were not able to get onto being entertained by Big Vin sooner. He is really an awesome singer/song writer and I promise that if we are lucky enough to have him up to entertain us next year we will get him singing a lot sooner!
    There was one bittersweet moment of the event and that was when things were drawing to a close and we had to say good bye to Robert and his dad. I had only met him around 12 hours earlier, but we spent most of that time together either snowmobiling or hanging out at the banquet and by the end of the evening were pretty good buds. He is really a special boy. Not only for battling his illness, but also for having such an upbeat attitude about life. He already knows what he wants to be and that is an attorney for the Air Force "JAG" and I know he is plenty smart and driven enough to be just that. He and his family will be heading to Florida the first week of March to go on a Disney Cruise and Mike assured us that he will be getting in touch with me to share some of that trip with us all.
    For those that missed this event, we missed you, but understand that things can keep us all from being able to attend and hope that next year we will see you there. For those that did attend, a huge thank you from the bottom of my heart. It was so great to meet everyone of you and it just makes me feel so good about the kind of people that visit this site that so many would take the time out of their busy schedules to partake in this event. Each year it gets bigger and better and as mentioned, plans are already getting underway to make next year even better! So from the bottom of my heart, thanks to everyone for everything. It was truly an event to remember.
One quick note. I plan to write a journal on Friday and it should contain some very interesting info for snowmobilers, so be sure to check in!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-