February 26-
    I'm not sure how many of you reading this can remember the old children's book called "The Little Engine That Could". It was one of my favorite books to have read to me when I was a tot. Perhaps leading to me doing such crazy things like moving up here all alone and not knowing a sole, or starting and continuing to run this monster of a website in addition to a regular- full time job, or deciding to build the house we are in totally on my own (with Nora's help too). But I digress. The story is about a little train engine that is faced with the challenge of pulling a big load of train cars behind him, up a hill and all kinds of challenges. As it encounters those challenges, it keeps saying: "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can..." and that results in it manages to pull the entire load of cars up the hill and to their destination to save the day.
    Well, we had the "Little Snowstorm That Could" on Monday night, Tuesday and Tuesday night. What was suppose to be a little dusting of an inch or two Monday night found me waking up at a little after 4 am to about 4" new and heavy snow still coming down. It kept up at a heavy pace through the morning hours and at 9 am, I measured 7" just before plowing. It did taper off a bit Tuesday afternoon with about an inch new from 10 am to sunset. But then started back up in the late evening and by Wednesday morning I had to move another 4-4 1/2" of snow. So a 1-2" snow turned into a 10-11" snow. The reason why I give it the name of the "Little Snowstorm That Could" is that we REALLY needed fresh snow up here. The combination of another mild spell with a busy holiday weekend too their toll on our snow quality up here. Plus, when I first woke up, all signs pointed to the snow to be ending very shortly. I was even in consult with the school superintendent about what the weather was suppose to do and told him it looked like it would taper off with maybe another inch at best. 
    This system had other ideas though. It got it in it's mind that it was going to just sit here and dump across Keweenaw County. The snow was not the typical fluff we see up here either. It was not a wet and heavy snow, but was a dry and heavy snow. It took me 75 minutes to clear my driveway, when a typical clearing job takes about 30-40 minutes.
    So we went from looking like April with drab snow and bare roads to flocked trees and bright, fresh snow. My spirits were really lifted by the surprise snow and so were the pups. They just love the snow. Their play level is so much higher when there is a fresh dumping out.
    So I am sure you are all wondering, did I get out and play in all the fresh snow? Well, yes and no. I did get out, but not right away. I had some other business to attend to on Wednesday afternoon and then Thursday had to pick Grace up from the sitters and be with her the rest of the evening as Nora had to stay late for parent-teacher conferences. Plus, I was technically without a sled. As you all know the 2012 was in the shop and earlier this week, I sold the 09. Yep, I loved the new one too much to take the risk of having to give it back, so I decided to sell the 09 to generate the funds to be able to help pay for the 2012.
    Friday evening, the new owner of the 09 stopped by to pick her up. Here is a shot of him on it, getting ready to load it up. For those of you who do not recognize who that was, it was Zach Westcott, the son of Troy and Cathy from the Lac La Belle Lodge. He sold his two sleds and was in need and knew I was getting ready to sell mine at the end of the season, so all the chips fell into place. I was a little sad to watch it head down our driveway in the back of someone else's pick-up, but the sadness was eased by who she will be spending her time with now. Zach is a super guy and I know he will take care of it well and have a blast with it. And I will still get to see it every now and then! The sadness was also tempered by the fact that the 2012 was sitting in the back of my truck, all ready to go for Saturday's shake-down ride.
    Yep, the new ride is all put back together, my thanks to Chad and the crew at M & M for doing a great job! I sure wanted to take it for a shake-down ride before heading out west in a week. So I hooked up with Brian and a friend from Chicago as well as his friend from northern WI and we all took off from Brian's place yesterday morning. The snow that fell earlier in the week had settled some and we all but missed out on the lake effect event that hit other areas of the western UP and far north central WI with anywhere from 2-15" of snow Friday night and Saturday morning, but conditions were still pretty good for a ride with about 6-8" of fresh on top of the older snow.
    It's always fun to ride with Brian or Dave when we ride in their neck of the woods. It's an area that is fairly land locked by private property, so it does not get explored much by tourists or locals alike and they know every little goat path out there, so we can spend hours just riding around in circles, yet never going over our same path twice and never venturing more than a few miles from their house. There are also lots of old farmsteads scattered about the valley and many of the buildings are in some state of falling down, such as these.
    We did eventually find our way north of the valley and crossed into Keweenaw County. The snow was a bit deeper there and trails were in great shape too. Here is a shot of 124 in the Thayers Lake vicinity. We even came across some strange looking tracks in the snow. Can you make out what made these tracks? I couldn't, but Brian told me they were from otters. Pretty cool and if you look closely, you can even make out where they can push off and slide for a while. Some pretty good otter sliding going on there. And to think I did not even know we had them up here. And no, we did not have otter for dinner last night!
    Speaking of sliding... With the fresh snow this week, I decided to use the ATV and plow to build a little ramp for Grace to slide down. Here I am getting her ready to go, here she is all set to go and here she is heading down the hill. The smile on her face was worth all the work to build the ramp. Huck and Millie had their own fun playing with a ball and hunting for critters in the snow.
    Speaking of snow... we are getting it good as I type. The snow started to fall from the sky around 8 am this morning. Not too heavy at first and then by around 9 am it was snowing pretty hard, but with tiny flakes. By around 10-10:30, the flakes became bigger and it has been coming down good since then. So far we have picked up around 8-9" new since this morning and it looks like we could be in store for several more. There is also an even bigger storm for later Tue-Wed, but right now ideas are for us to be on the northern fringes of the heaviest snow, with the man band of heavy snow running from northeast SD, across central MN, the northern 1/3rd of WI and most of the UP. So well see, but for sure looks very wintry out there right now! 
    My final picture of this entry is of the bookcases I build for my woodshop "office". Nothing too fancy and I am not even going to put a finish on them as they will just sit in the shop the rest of their lives. But it was nice to get all my magazines out of the boxes and into the cases to straighten up that corner of the shop. When I get back from WY, I plan to get onto the next project, which will be a pedestal for our bed, with some storage drawers in it and then perhaps back to the shop office for a hanging bookcase for my woodworking books and a drafting table with a set of storage drawers. That is if I am not too busy moving and playing in the snow!!!
Good night from the Keweenaw.. 
-JD-

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February 19-
    Not that when I signed off for last week I was expecting to be able to share with you pics of tons of fresh snow, but what a wimpy winter this has been. I realize that for folks to our south, I am preaching to the choir here, but at least many of you had a rambunctious winter last year and some areas had three good winters in a row prior to this one. This will be our third winter in a row that has been significantly milder than average. I am actually beginning to wonder how the locals will take to it when we finally do get back into the winters like we should.
    I cannot even remember the last time I had to move snow. I know I have not had to the entire month of February and we are nearly 3 weeks into the month! The snow moving the past three winters has been very limited as well. I can remember several winters where it would snow for three weeks straight. Maybe only a trace to an inch one day, but we have had many, many 3 week spells where we have recorded at least a trace of snow every day. Moving snow up here is usually a daily ritual. Much like going to get the mail or maybe the morning paper. You just make time for it every day, because you are going to have to do it every day. So that is why I really think that there could be a lot of re-adjusting that will have to be done once we finally get back into the winters of old around here. 
    Pretty much too late for this one. Not that I think this one is over, in fact, there are signs that it could get colder and snowier by Tuesday and continue for the rest of the week and perhaps into next week, but in just over a week, February will be behind us and March is certainly the beginning of the end of winter for these parts. So I guess my hopes of this being the new record snow year for us will once again have to be put away until next autumn. Truth be told, but about the second week of December, I was starting to put those thoughts away for this season.
    But we still have snow and look to get some more and there are rumors that by around Tuesday of this week, I will have the 2012 sled back and I may just have to take it for a spin regardless of conditions!
    If there is one hope left, it's that the lake is still wide open for business. Many times at this point in the season, the big lake is getting ice covered enough so that the lake snow production is significantly impacted, but this year, the lake is basically ice free. There is some shoreline ice that has developed and I was sent some pics of it from Mark Upton, a visitor to the site, that lives not far from us. This first one is of the ice castles that have formed. Some of them are estimated to be 30 feet tall. If you are wondering how those form, this pic probably best describes it. I have actually seen them form into structures much like a volcano, where the water squirts up through a hole in the center of them. Always something cool to see up here, even in an off winter.    
    It was a pretty uneventful week for me. For the first time since I can remember, I did not have a ton of things on my plate. I did square up a few things and then spent quite a bit of my free time in the wood shop. I am building a set of bookcases for my trade magazines and some books I have. I thought I might have them done in time to share pics of them with you for this entry, but that will have to wait until next week. They are really nothing too special and I am not even going to put any finish on them as they will just be sitting in the shop, but they are my first significant project in some time and it has been fun to be able to get out into the shop and work some wood. It is always amazing to me how I can completely lose myself out there in my work and how fast 2 1/2 hours can go by. Sure wish time could go by that fast during other parts of my life!
    I was left home to be a bachelor this weekend as Grace and Nora went to Chatham to visit Nora's aunt and take in the start of the UP 200 sled dog race. It was a little strange not having them around. They did go to visit Nora's aunt last year about this time too, but for some reason this time around it was harder for me to be without my girls. They returned this afternoon safe and sound and the cabin is once again filled with the sounds of Grace prancing around the house....and Nora telling me what to do!
    Yesterday, the pups and I took advantage of our freedom and went up to Copper Harbor to take in the vintage sled gathering they were having up there. I am not a huge fan of vintage sleds, but do enjoy looking at them and marveling at some of the designs used 20, 30 and even 40 and 50 years ago. It is also neat to see how some of them have been restored. Speaking of being restored, we have a vintage sled restoration of our own going on in the Discussion Board. A visitor of the site is restoring a 1976 Ski-doo TNT 340 fan and it will be auctioned off to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. You can read about all that has been done and follow the progress here. I am amazed at the job being done and can't wait to see it all finished!
    Anyway, there were a lot of vintage sleds at the harbor this weekend and it would have been a lot of work to take pictures of them all and post them here, but I did take some pics of some of the ones that stood out in my eyes and will share with you. Here is a shot of some of the sleds lined up for folks to see. I thought this one was unique because of the way you sit in it and also because of the great shape it was in. Not sure if it was restored to that condition, or just kept in it, but it looked like new.
    I am not super knowledgeable when it comes to vintage sleds and many times when I go to a gathering for them, I am amazed at how many different companies used to make sleds back in the day. Up until yesterday, I had no idea that Ariens used to make snow machines. Of course they make snow machines of a different sort these days. These ones from Bolens were probably the most unique designs I have ever seen. Actually, I have seen this model before and even in action. I can only imagine what it would be like to take one of those for a spin with today's 160+ hp power plants in them! When I came across this early 70's Polaris model, it sure brought back some memories. That was a model very similar to what my brother and I first rode the UP trails on. What makes that story even more interesting is that it was not back in the early 1970's. but 1991! Yep, there we were, cruising down the Bill Nichols trail, wide open throttle, going 45 mph and all the other sleds were passing us like we were standing still! Needless to say we left those dinosaurs at home the rest of our trips and rented from then on! I will never forget that first tip up here though. Lots of great memories. These two oldies also grabbed my attention. Not sure of the year, but they sure look to be vintage, even for a vintage show.
    So after touring the sleds on display, I decided to drive up the road a bit, parked the truck and I let Huck and Millie run around on Highway 41. Normally, an act like that might have ended me up in jail for dog endangerment, but it's the very beginning of HWY 41 and in the winter is pretty much as dead a roadway as you get. If it were not for the handful of folks living up past downtown Copper Harbor, that stretch of the highway would not even be plowed. We walked about a mile or so back towards town. Took in a view of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse and then turned around to head back to the truck.
    On our way back through town, things were hopping even more. Quite a few more folks and sleds had arrived in town for the festivities, including my good friend "Big Vin" and his crew. Randy "Big Vin" is the gentleman who has volunteered his services to be emcee for all of the ride ins and up until this year did all of the entertaining as well. It was great to see him again and look at his vintage ride as well. Great guy!
    So I guess that gets you caught up in life in the Keweenaw for another week. With a little luck I will have some fresh snow pics to share with you next week.
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
February 12-
    Well, it slowed down a bit for me this past week, but I guess I just keep too many irons in the fire as I still was kept busy with different commitments all week. Some business and some play, but still busy. I believe I have completed the list of contributors to this year's Ride-In and have posted it here. If you see that I missed you or someone or a business that you know of, please let me know! Also, I am unable to put all the names of the individuals that showed up to my bartending stint at Lac La Belle and to the Karaoke party at the Mosquito, but there were some very generous donations made by lots of great folks at those two events. To the tune of over $2900!
    The week ahead looks a little calmer, so maybe I can finally find my way into the woodshop and get some "me time" before the crew comes home for the day. 
    The weather tried to return to a state that is a little more like we should see around here this time of the year. A cold front came through early in the week and cooled us down, but did not bring more than a few flurries Monday afternoon. We did then stay below freezing the rest of the week and Thursday night and Friday morning another front came through and brought us some snows. Not a ton, but enough to freshen things up and put some white back into the cabin roof.
    That snow Thursday night and Friday morning was well timed as I had a ride planned with some friends on Friday afternoon. The snow was enough to both freshen up conditions on the trail, but also made getting to and from the trail nice as the roads were also well covered. Prior to that, it really looked more like April up here, with all roads completely bare and dry and the snow old and crusty.
    I know that there are folks planning to come up this week or even for the holiday weekend next weekend, so I can give a report on the trails I rode. We rode many of the trails north of Mohawk on Friday and I must say that although I had heard from various reliable sources that things overall were in pretty good shape, I was pleasantly surprised at the shape of the trails we rode on Friday. All had been groomed recently and we even passed three groomers on our travels that afternoon and evening. The snow quality was good to excellent in almost all areas. The exception was right around Phoenix, where the snow seemed to be a little sugary, but not total sugar snow. It did hold the groom ok, but not as well as the trails with no sugar snow mixed in. Here is a shot of the trail in Phoenix where the snowgauge trail comes in, taken Friday at around 2:30 in the afternoon.
    One of those trails that did not have the sugar snow mixed in was the trail to Lac La Belle. We hit that and it was flat and smooth and the snow condition was excellent. It only got a little sugary and bumpy just as the trail came to an end about 1/8th of a mile before getting to the road. It was pretty cold on Friday, so the grooming likely held better with those conditions and I was actually surprised to see all the sleds and riders there on Friday afternoon. It looked like more a Saturday afternoon! I am happy for them there, they are good folks and run a great business. 
    It was also nice to get indoors for a while and warm up. My feet are much more prone to get cold since my surgeries and I also was told that two of the medicines I am on can lead to my extremities getting colder faster. So my feet enjoyed the warmth of the indoors and my belly enjoyed the treat of breadsticks and a few pops.
    After the warm up and snack, we hit the trails again for a quick ride down to the Eagle Harbor Inn for dinner. I am trying my hardest not to sound like a travel writer or someone working for the Chamber of Commerce here, but I know there are still folks reading my journals that wonder where some of the good spots to eat are and I think the Eagle Harbor Inn can best be classified as one of the hidden gems of the Keweenaw. It's a little off the beaten path and does not get the attention that other places get, but ever since my first visit there back in 1994, it has become one of my favorite places to go to, both on sled and during the off months. It is also a nice local hang out and it was fun to see a handful of folks we know there.
   The trail down to Eagle Harbor from the main trail in Delaware is on a closed road almost the whole way. Because the roadbed makes for an excellent surface to start a snowmobile trail on, it rarely gets in too bad of shape. I think also because it is not used nearly as much as the other trails up here, it stays in better shape. I know we found it to be in nearly perfect shape Friday evening as the sun was getting ready to set.
    So if you have not been able to read between the lines of my trail report, the moral of the story is if you want to enjoy the best conditions and lowest traffic...GET OFF THE MAIN TRAIL!!! Not that it is not a good trail and an excellent way to get from point A (usually somewhere well south of Houghton) to point B (usually Copper Harbor) in the shortest and quickest manner and is usually in pretty good shape these days. Because about 75-80% of the folks riding up here use it and it only, it tends to show the most wear and tear. North of the bridge we have many loops off the main trail that see far less traffic and are usually in very good shape. It may take you 30-60 minutes longer to get to Copper Harbor by taking the Eagles Loop rather than the main trail that parallels the highway, but for me it is worth it. Same thing goes for the snow gauge trail, almost no one takes that one. 134 and 135 also are awesome ways to get to Copper Harbor instead of Brockway Mountain. The views off Brockway are not to be missed, so take that route one way and the other trails the other way.
    I don't mean to make it seem like I am preaching to you, I am just truing to lend some friendly advice from a local that is in the know. The main trail gets a ton of grooming from Mohawk north these days, so even with the high traffic, it usually is in pretty decent shape. However, the loops are almost always in great shape. Now watch... we will have a groomer go down and have to put more concentration on the main trail than the loops this week or weekend and I will be made a liar of! I hope that does not happen, but in any case, I would say get off the main trail, slow it down a little, enjoy the scenery a little more. After all, you are on vacation! Seems to me if you want schedules, and deadlines and racing from one point to the next, you can stay home and run errands! Ok, soapbox speech over! Oh, and we did pick up another 4" of the white stuff yesterday afternoon, so things should be even better out there than they were on Friday.
    That was all the riding I did this week. I forgot to mention that the 2012 sled went down last weekend. I was with a group in the back country on Friday and we had only been out for around an hour and I had a rock go through the front heat exchanger. That heat exchanger is actually part of the tunnel (really stupid design if you ask me!), so the sled is in need of a whole new chassis. I did drop it off a M&M in Hancock and the chassis is on it's way and with a little luck, I was told I will have it back to me by this coming weekend. So watch the site, I may have a slightly used chassis for a 2012 Arctic Cat ProClimb with a welded front heat exchanger for sale! If I can cover my deductible on the insurance, I can break even on this situation!
    Not much else going on. With it being so cold out, we have been staying in as a family. The big thing is for us to read. Nora a book or magazine (or Facebook!!!), me a magazine and Grace a book. Here she is reading to Huck and I while using Huck as a pillow. Man does he love her!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-
February 5-
    Wowza, what a week! I think I can officially say my goose is cooked, my eggs are done. stick a fork in me! One of my favorite drives every year is the drive home from the Ride-In. I am on such a high from having so much fun and meeting and seeing so many great folks from the site and also raising money for a great cause AND the event is over and I can relax a bit and breathe normally.
    It was a bit of a short night last night (on top of a very short night Friday night), so I always fret when I sit down to write this entry that my exhaustion will somehow come across as me being in a bad mood or disappointed somehow. I certainly am not and while exhausted, am in very good spirits about all that went down this past week.
    I actually took most of the week pretty easy. In previous years leading up to the event I accepted offers to do things like meet up with friends coming up for the ride-in and ride with them, but I have come to the conclusion that it really is best to just take it easy the week leading up to the event. So my batteries were pretty well charged heading into the weekend.
    I think if I could, the only thing I would have changed about the entire weekend was the weather. All the perfect snow conditions we had just a week ago were really beat up by this nasty side of mother nature. She gave us temps at or above freezing just about every day this week and even some sun, just to make sure the snow quality went down hill. All the hard packed and well groomed trails last weekend were soft and mogul filled this weekend. Grooming was almost a lost cause, although it did help to knock down the moguls for a few hours. The back country did not fare much better. Our guides for the event still found some fresh snow for folks to play in, but it was not the soft and bottomless powder we had last weekend.
    So old ma nature through us a curve ball this year, but either folks were being really polite to me, or it just did not seem to phase too many of them that conditions were not the best. Everyone talked about the fun they had out riding and also seemed to be having a great time at the banquet.
    For many, the fun started Friday night at the Mosquito Bar. Owners Don and Donna hooked up with a friend of the website and hosted a Karaoke party, with proceeds from the event going to the Make A Wish Foundation. If you have not been to the "new" Mosquito, you are really missing out on quite the phoenix of tavern revivals up here. Don and Donna took a dark and dreary and unfriendly place and have worked very hard to brighten not just the walls and ceilings, but the entire atmosphere of the place. All of their hard work was illustrated by the packed house they had Friday night for the party. 
    Scotti, the Karaoke-King, did an excellent job of managing the tunes and getting the karaoke machine going for anyone that chose to go up and sing a song. Even yours truly got enough liquid courage in him (Nora was designated driver) and joined forces with fiends Big Vin and Deuce to do a little rendition of "Sweet Home Toivola". There was even some fancy footwork done by a few Friday evening at the bug bar.
    It was one of those nights I wished I could have stayed and closed down the joint, but the reality of getting up at around 7 am and going down to set up the registration for the back country rides and poker runs as well as managing the banquet the next evening caused me to have to leave around 11:30, which was still much later than I had planned to stay out and probably some kind of a new 10 year record!
    I am also thrilled to say that the event at the Mosquito Bar raised just over $1500!!!
    The banquet ran very smoothly. All of my co-organizers (more on them in a bit) and I have really slipped into a nice groove when it comes to putting on the banquet. There is a TON to do, but yet every year we are able to get in there just a few hours early and get things set up and be ready to put on a party.
    I guess this is where I can apologize to all that signed up to attend the ride in about me not putting the start time for the banquet!!! Not quite sure how that one slipped by me, but as I was heading down to help set up the hall, Nora said: "Hey Honey, there is a thread on the discussion board where folks are asking what time the banquet starts". I promise to have that info available next year!!! 
    Despite my blunder, everyone made it to the banquet in good time and we settled into a night of entertainment and bidding on silent auction items. We also have a raffle that goes on throughout the evening and Gracie got involved with that by helping with the tickets. Big Vin did an awesome job of emcee work and got some special help from Susie, the owner of the Brownstone Hall during some of the raffle calls. What gas it was to watch those two go at it on stage!
    As I am sure you all know, the Ride-In is put on to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation- Michigan Chapter. We also try and get matched up with a local Wish Family every year and this year we were matched up with a local boy named Zeph from Calumet. He was diagnosed with a form of Leukemia as a 6 month old boy and was able to battle it successfully and is now 9 years old. His wish is to go to Disney World and will be heading down there this March. He is a great boy and even got involved with helping out Big Vin in the raffle calls.
    Grace caught wind that a few hands of poker were going to be played, so she snuck over to the decks and made sure that they were all set up for the poker run play outs.
    Those were all the pictures I had on my camera, but not all the pictures that we will have from the event. There was a friend of the site there taking pictures as well as he will be helping me set up the collage from this years event. If you have pics you want to share, you can e mail them to me and we will get them posted.
    I really do need to take the time to thank all those that helped me with this years event. First off, Lori and Kathy from the Wildlife Refuge cabins do a ton of prize collecting and help set up the banquet hall. Susie is the owner of the hall and goes way out of her way to be involved in the setup of the hall and was a great assistant emcee. John Stachler is the man responsible for starting the Ride-In 7 years ago and is still a huge help in handling the registrations, shirt orders and prize gathering. Kathy's husband Bob and his friend did another great job of setting up the bar and then tending to it for the night. All the businesses that donated prizes for the event- there will be a formal list completed and posted soon, but a special thank you needs to go out to Troy and Cathy at the Bear Belly Bar and Grille as well as Don and Donna at the Mosquito for hosting the special pre-event parties. Big Vin for his emcee work, Tom Katalin for his musical entertainment, Bobby-Jo for help with the raffle and silent auction, my beautiful wife Nora for putting up with me and for helping with the logistics of the event and last, but not least, to all that took the time to come up here and partake in the event. We had over 140 persons sign up and attend the event and part with some of their hard earned money to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. All of the accounting has not been finalized, but a quick look over of revenue and expenses this morning looks to have us in the neighborhood of the $12,000 raised last year.
    So another Ride-In is over and was a huge success. Now I must go to bed for the next 3 days!
Good night from the Keweenaw..
-JD-

 

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