“The approach of a Yeti is often times preceded by unusual changes in the weather.” -Ancient Himalayan Proverb
“Chasing Something Legendary.” That is the motto of the March of Dimes Yeti Tour. From its inception in 2011 the Yeti tour has indeed been legendary – legendary in its ability to coincide with freak weather conditions. Yeti Tour 2011 went off without a hitch, perfect weather and an extremely smooth execution of the event, instantly making it one of the premier fundraising rides in Northern Minnesota. Unfortunately the winter weather gods have not cooperated since. The ride portion of the event was cancelled in 2012 & 2013 for lack of snow. Brutal cold hit the Yeti Tour in 2014 but trail conditions were excellent. In 2015 the Yeti tour was hit with an extreme lack of snow, the ride went on as planned but trail conditions were poor. 2016 saw record setting warmth and rain. All winter we watched the extended forecast and everything for 2017 looked great. The previous weekend saw fantastic trails and perfect temps but a record setting warm up was on the way and that is where my Yeti Tour 2017 adventure begins…
It was Wednesday night February 15th and I was making last minute preparations for the upcoming Yeti Tour on Saturday the 18th. I knew the forecast had called for warmer weather and I thought I would get a quick ride in on my 2015 INDY SP to make sure everything was working well for the ride. I was going down the trail and noticed snow coming up through the top of my ski. I stopped and was shocked to see that one of my carbide bolts had come loose and somewhere along the line my carbide had literally broken in half and was now missing. I rode home and in the process shaved off most of the bottom of my ski to a point where I now needed a new ski. I went to our local dealer only to find they didn’t have a ski in stock and that it would take until next week to get one. That meant no riding of the new Indy for the Yeti Tour, so I had to switch to my trusty old 2000 Indy 600 Touring sled. The Touring sled had been the centerpiece in our family’s sled line up for years, but as my daughter grew up she eventually wanted her own snowmobile and the Touring sled now sits idle and only goes out if we have guests. Since I hadn’t put a lot into it I gave it a good going over and made sure it was ready to go.
By the time Saturday arrived the weatherman’s predictions had come true and I woke up to the sound of melting snow dripping off of my roof, I checked the temp and we were already at 37 degrees. I rode to the Yeti Tour staging area (an advantage of living two blocks away from the state trail) and joined the group of about 20 riders. There had been over 40 riders registered but half had dropped out due to overheating concerns. I too was concerned about the overheating issue but decided to give it a go anyway. I paired up with my longtime friend Allen who was going on his first Yeti tour. He too had been concerned about the heat the night before but like me had decided to give it a go, we figured that if the temperature looked like it was going to become an issue we could simply turn back.
We rolled out of the Sunset Bar and Grill staging area right at 9:00 AM. We hit the Hermantown trail heading north to Fish Lake and were amazed at how perfectly groomed it was even with the now rising temps, a phenomenal job of grooming performed by the Hermantown snowmobile club. We did encounter a few bare spots in areas where the trail ran north/ south and was a victim of southern exposure. By the time we reached Fish Lake a few riders had already had overheating issues and elected to turn back. The rest of us continued on to find before us absolutely pristine trail conditions thanks to the efforts of the Reservoir Riders snowmobile club. We soon reached a well-traveled CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail that despite the heavy traffic was still in good condition. From there we turned onto the Pequaywan trail which was in even better shape. After a quick stop at the Pequaywan Inn it was off to Hugo’s on the Brimson Trail for a fuel stop. The Brimson trail was in even better condition than the Pequaywan. It had become evident that the farther north we traveled the more snow there was and the better the trail conditions were in spite of the warm weather.
While we were at Hugo’s getting fuel a conversation ensued as to whether we should go back the way we came or continue on the route. It seemed that several riders were worried about the rising temps and possible deteriorating trail conditions and going back the way we came meant assurances of a familiar trail that we knew was still in good shape. I argued that there was no reason to believe the trail conditions would be worse ahead of us with the fantastic job the Pequaywan snowmobile club had done earlier in the week. Half of the group turned back and half decided to go on. At this point Allen and I had hooked up with Jim Bianchi, the president of the Hermantown snowmobile club. The three of us decided to leave the rest of the group at Hugo’s as they decided to hang back and have some food and beverages. I was worried about the increasing heat and wanted to get back to Duluth as quickly as possible. At the moment it was 47 degrees, the forecast high for the day, but it was only 1:00 and I thought the temp could continue gong up for at least the next few hours.
As we left Hugo’s I soon found that both of my predictions proved to be correct, the trails remained fabulous and, in fact improved the farther we went, but the temperature kept rising and soon the old Touring sled started letting me know it wasn’t happy. There was a great deal of hesitation and the engine started giving me a strange tone. We hit the Yukon trail and rode to the John A Brandt Memorial Shelter and I loaded up my running boards with snow to cool the heat exchangers. Once we got back on the trail the snow melted almost immediately and the sled became more and more doggish. I crossed a remote gravel pit road and pulled over to load up my running boards again only to find that Allen and Jim were no longer behind me. I waited and waited but they didn’t arrive. I doubled back to find Allen and his 2008 Ski-Doo broken down on the side of the trail. He was cruising along just fine and then the check engine light went on and the engine just stopped. We thought it may be hot so we waited to see if it would start, it did not. Another Yeti group came along and we tried in vain to get Allen’s sled to re-fire. We called the support vehicle crew and told them we would meet them at the end of the Gravel Pit road. I towed Allen to the road and was dragging him down to the highway to meet the support vehicle when we came across a gate blocking the road. It was locked and there were huge boulders on both sides of the gate to prevent anyone from driving around it. Now we were really stuck. It was so warm out that my sled would overheat if I had to pull Allen any further and the gate was blocking us from moving forward. I unhooked Allen’s sled and theorized that there was so much snow on top of the boulders that I could probably ride over them. Allen thought it was an insane idea but we really didn’t have a choice. I made a ramp of snow and took a run at it and sure enough I was able to ride over the top of them. From there we pulled Allen’s sled over the boulders to the other side of the gate. We decided that with the rising temps it would be foolish for me to continue attempting to pull Allen’s sled any further and I gave him a ride to the Highway where we waited for the support vehicle to pick us up. We loaded up my sled first and then drove down to the gate to pick up Allen’s sled. When we got into the truck to make our way back to Duluth we were astonished to see that the temperature had risen to a whopping 58 degrees- a horrible temperature for any snowmobile. Thus ended the ride portion of the 2017 Yeti Tour.
Later that night we all met back at the Sunset for the post Yeti Tour banquet where we ate pizza, gave away door prizes and had a Chinese auction which featured some fantastic items like an autographed Adrian Peterson football, a Yeti cooler (of course) and a snowmobile lift system for your garage which I just happened to win. The night ended with us giving away the grand Prize for the Yeti Tour Raffle, a new Yamaha Viper, which went to a lucky snowmobiler from Two Harbors, and one lucky person walked away with a baby Yeti. You don’t see baby Yetis every day but at the Yeti Tour you can count on finding things you never expected.
Overall, Yeti Tour 2017 was a success and raised tons of money for a great cause. What will Yeti Tour 2018 be like? You can find out yourself by joining us for the 2018 Yeti Tour. Just log on to www.yetitour.com for more information. There’s one thing we can be certain about, the Yeti Tour will always be legendary.