North to south, only California and Texas in the Lower 48 states stretch longer than the North Star State. So let's climb on board Rick Loge's snowmobile for a 400-mile-plus journey from Baudette on the Canadian border to the Iowa state line. You...
North to south, only California and Texas in the Lower 48 states stretch longer than the North Star State.
So let's climb on board Rick Loge's snowmobile for a 400-mile-plus journey from Baudette on the Canadian border to the Iowa state line.
You'll stop for a nap, once for dinner and four or five times for gasoline. The route may not be remote -- it follows highways -- but it's unmapped for snowmobiles and hasn't been pre-run. The expedition will begin and end in darkness.
You'll try to make it border-to-border in 24 hours.
Loge, 48, and two friends set the trip over the holiday break.
"I'd thought about it for four or five years but until this year we never had the snow cover north to south," said Loge, who teaches fourth/fifth grade physical education at Wagner Elementary in Litchfield.
He recruited two Litchfield friends, Gerry Gilbertson and Doug Lundberg, to join him. Rick's dad, Andrew, signed on to drive the sag wagon, a pick-up and trailer.
The sledding trio started at the top of the state.
"We figured Highway 72 from Baudette down to U.S. 71 near Bemidji would be the toughest part of the trip, so we wanted to attack it while we were fresh," explained Loge.
Launch time at the Minnesota border on the Rainy River was 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29. State Highway 72 runs flat and straight for 30 miles out of Baudette.
"There wasn't much snow to start," said Loge. "We had to run on the shoulder because there wasn't any ditch, just marsh on both sides."
With the lack of snow, the slides on the track that propels the snowmobile forward got hot. Luckily, flurries filled the air and soon accumulated on the roadway. They made a chancy river run at one point. In his headlight, Loge could see the snowmobiles in front sinking in the ice and wondered if his would dive in.
Coming off the creek, Gilbertson's engine quit. The sled was put on the trailer and Gerry and Andrew Loge drove ahead to Bemidji. There, they changed the carburetor jets and the sled ran fine the rest of the way.
There were six inches of new snow and no traffic at 2 a.m. as they headed toward Park Rapids. They opened the throttle, occasionally exceeding the posted speed limit.
The travelers got to Gilbertson's cabin south of Itasca State Park at 3 a.m.
"We had to stop," said Rick. "I was starting to see things that weren't there. We took a four-hour nap and set off at 7 a.m. (Friday)."
The run to Sauk Centre, where they had lunch, was the best ditch riding of the trip. Near Sibley State park, Doug's ski's snagged a dip in the trail and he went over his handlebars. He ripped his bib overalls but was otherwise OK.
All three men were on Polarises. Gerry and Doug were aboard older Indy 500s. Loge had a newer XC-600.
Rick knew his ride was less jarring.
"I had it easy by comparison," said Loge. "With a 2002 sled I had cushier suspension."
Loge had worried about getting through Willmar, the largest city on the route. But taking the 23/71 bypass made it easy. There was plenty of snow and good ditch running.
Let's take a break here to learn what drove Loge to undertake such an adventure. As it happens, he's an ardent snowmobiler with an adventurous streak. Last summer he learned to sky dive at the airport in Hutchinson. Also last year, he dove 40 feet off a tower into a pool after setting himself on fire. No kidding. He showed me the picture. It was during Gaylord's summer celebration and the retired high diver had been coaxed out of retirement. Up until five years ago, he did high-dives at Valley Fair. He also has performed at the state fair and in Canada. Appropriately, he's the girls diving and swimming coach at Litchfield and boys diving coach at Hutchinson.
The trio stayed in the ditches when a marked, cross-country trail veered away. Loge, who led much of the route, didn't want to take a chance of a sled breaking down far from the highway.
South of Olivia the running got trickier as field approaches, culverts and fences became more frequent. There are no warning signs.
"Physically, it wasn't that bad because of the forgiving suspension I had, but mentally it was hard not to give into tiredness," said Loge.
Near Redwood Falls, Rick did hit a drift, flipping over the bars, cracking the windshield and landing on his helmet looking back at his headlamp.
Lundberg, 44, is co-owner of North Star Processing, a food and pharmaceutical manufacturer. He had been reluctant to join the sno-safari. "I had been holding back, but they told me I had to come along," he said. "The first half was fun but the second half ... I was very sore by the time we got to Jackson. The last nine miles to the border seemed to go on forever."
The adventurers had a hard time getting through the snowless streets at Windom and Jackson. Additionally, at Jackson, they had to cross a high bridge. Choosing to run outside the guardrails proved a gamble.
"It was an extremely sharp slope falling off to trees and a gravel road far below," said Loge. "If any of our skis let loose it could have been a disaster."
It was long past dark now as they headed down the gently-rolling straightaway to the border. It had drizzled and ice layered the cattails and grasses. They crashed noisily again the shrouds and danced crazily in the head lights. Finally a sign came into the headlights: "THE PEOPLE OF IOWA WELCOME YOU."
It was 9 p.m. Dec. 30.
The ride was done but not the work. But the snowmobile had to be loaded onto a trailer with no ramp. Most days the four men could have lifted the snowmobile onto the bed. Tonight, the three riders were too fatigued to make the attempt.
Gerry, 48, a construction equipment mechanic, rode back up the road until he found a farmer's snow pile that could substitute as a ramp. It was awkward but eventually the snowmobiles were on the trailer and secured.
One of the snowmobiles showed 465 miles on its odometer since leaving Baudette. The state map mileage chart works out to a little over 400 miles. Whatever the miles, they had made it top to bottom in 17-18 hours of riding.
"It was a fun trip but it got to be work," concedes Loge, whose next goal is to cross Minnesota west to east.