Southwest Angle Classic Story
Incredulous Rob

One of the first stories I did after starting t the Pioneer was about Polaris co-founder David Johnson. He eventually invited Trapper and I to accompany him on snowmobile to his cabin at the Northwest Angle. It happened in February of 2008.

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February 2008 Snowmobile Trip to the Northwest Angle

In my early years, before marriage and children, I took many a snowmobile trip. Winter temperatures make the snowmobile one of the few true ATV's, areas inaccessible at other times are easily seen from the seat of a snowmobile. When Polaris founder David Johnson mentioned last fall that he'd like to take me on an overnight snowmobile trip to his cabin on Bear River, saying I was overjoyed would be an understatement. At some point, David also extended the invitation to Lyle (Trapper) Roseen, my landlord.

We kept in touch throughout the winter, David was monitoring the snow conditions and weather. He'd decided to wait until February, and told me one Wednesday night that we'd leave the next Tuesday, February 12. I think it was an extension of his 85th birthday celebration. David's wife Eleanor is having some problems with her knee so snowmobiling is not in the works for her this winter.

We monitored the weather, and closer to the date it looked like the Tuesday/Wednesday trip would still work out the best. David would provide the snowmobiles and helmets, all Trapper and I had to do was to show up with enough clothes to keep warm on the trip. Tough assignment.  

three travelers and snowmobiles

The snowmobiles were beauties. David's personal sled is a 2007 FS (four stroke) IQ Touring model, it's on its second winter but is low mileage. Trapper would be riding Eleanor's machine, a 2007 600 IQ Touring, about a hundred miles on it. David had borrowed a new sled for me from son Mitchell, he didn't say much about it except that it had just come off the line. It was a wide track FS, he said it was a 750.

We dressed up and motored the sleds out of the heated shop, took a couple of pictures and headed out, west across the Roseau River and north past the Polaris factory.  It was snowing lightly and, as usual, the wind was blowing.  

The big Polaris was comfortable. I soon realized that it was well suspended, as we crossed Hwy 11, I gave it the gun to cross the road and the ditch on the other side was unexpectedly deep, it soaked up the drop with little effort. Extremely stable, riding it was as simple as point it where you want to go and open the throttle. It has the IQ IFS and composite skis. It easily transversed the ditch banks as we headed north towards the Lost River trail.

I'd liken riding this big machine to driving a super cab, 3/4 ton 4X4. Large, comfortable and capable, willing and able to do lots of work. It had plenty of power at the slower speeds, easily hitting 50 mph, however most of our riding was much slower. David likes to set an easy pace on less than smooth trails, opening it up a bit when conditions warrant.  

Trapper and I switched machines for a little while. The 600 IQ Touring is a nice sled, very responsive but much noisier than the FS. According to the spec sheet, it has about 45 more horsepower than the 750 FS and it shows. The 600 two stroke has an interesting reverse feature, push the yellow button and the engine stops, restarts the engine in reverse, back up as far as you want and push the button again. It then restarts the engine in forward. Novel idea for a couple of snowmobilers stuck in the past. Trapper and I have personal machines built in the early 90's.

Things went pretty well until we hit the big lake. The woods trails were pretty good except where they morphed into logging roads, but that was only a couple of miles or so. When we got to the lake, the signage wasn't too clear and visibility was poor. The staked lake trail led to the southeast so we headed towards Buffalo Point, thinking to pick up the trail east of there. The wind and snow lowered visibility to near white-out conditions. When we got near the point, a pressure ridge was in the way, we went almost to the Point before finding a crossing place. A staked trail lay just beyond it, however David led us to the Northeast, thinking this wasn't the right trail. After wandering among the fish houses for awhile and not seeing any eastern trails, we found an occupied fish house and asked the owner, Ross Soiney, where the trail was. He said it was the one we'd crossed, this year the trail is quite a bit to the west compared to other years.

We thanked him and headed back to the north following the staked trails. The wind had caused drifting on the trail, 15 - 20 mph was the norm. It is not easy to see the numerous drifts, especially with a fogged up face shield. At one point, I unexpectedly found myself almost suspended about several feet in the air, both seat and feet far above the sled. I'd hit a huge drift, almost invisible under the conditions. It was like landing on a huge pillow, the machine handled it very well.   

Eventually we turned off the lake trail and followed the Boundary Trail through the black spruce swamp north along the U.S./Canada Border. The trail is pretty much flat except for one rocky outcropping, the trail veers to the Canadian side around that. We broke off on a local trail on the north end and ended up at David's Cabin on Bear River. The trip took about 4 hours. We'd hit a little slush coming off the river to the cabin so we cleaned that out and parked the sleds.

snoozerDavid opened up the cabin and lit the wood fire to warm the cabin to a comfortable temperature.  He has electric heat to keep things from freezing when he's away, but warming it up higher than 43 0F is what the wood stove is for.  We shoveled out the BBQ grill. David started supper while I read some NW Angle History and Trapper talked to David about the old times.

Supper was good, Trapper and I washed up. Since I'd stayed up late the night before writing newspaper articles, I claimed the couch for some shut-eye. Somehow or other Trapper figured out how to take a picture of me snoring on the couch with his wife's camera, a feat he'd never before accomplished. Seemed somewhat proud of the picture, too. David got a couple pictures also. After I revived, David fed us some Maple-nut ice cream for a bedtime snack and then we rolled into bed.

We got up about 7:00 AM. Neighbor Tom Kastl, marred to Linda, the Angle Schoolmarm, arrived at 8 for a pancake and bacon breakfast.  He said that the morning temperature at his place was 20 below. The guys were wondering how many miles we'd put on the day before so I went out and started up the WideTrack to check. It turned over and fired, but took a little bit more cranking before it wanted to run. I checked the speedo, we'd put on 70 breakfastmiles from David's house.

After the leisurely breakfast, we cleaned up and spent the morning watching the deer and birds around the cabin while David regaled us with stories about long ago Halloween pranks and more recent snowmobiling incidents.

About noon we prepared to leave. The other sleds started but protested a little about the outside ambient air temperature. While they were warming up, David closed up the cabin. When he was done with the routine, we headed up the river with Tom and stopped at his place for about 5 minutes, then on to the settlement.

We gassed up at the J & M General Store. The mileage figured out at 13.7 mpg for the FS Touring, 12.8 mpg for the Widetrack FS and 11.1 mpg for the 600 Touring. We headed out from there for the Red Lake Trail. This was the most scenic section of the trail system, at one point we sledded through some stately white pines intermixed with the predominate balsam and spruce.

We intersected the Border Trail and headed south on that to the lake. Once we got there, it was much different than the day before. We could see an ice mountain just west of Stony Point we hadn't seen the day before. The lake trail had been groomed so we traveled at twice the speed and soon were near Springsteel, and followed the marked lake trail up to the Lost River trail. This hadn't been groomed so we had some more suspended in the air experiences, but the machines handled them well. It was still very cold, but we'd all taken the multiple layer approach so we were comfortable.

We ended up doing a little swamp running on the way across to Roseau. We'd run into a large group of snowmobilers headed east so dropped off the narrow trail and rode the ditch for awhile. The big Widetrack proved to be a capable swamp runner, taking everything in stride. As we neared Roseau, David was back in the lead again, one would never guess by his riding he's 85.

We motored back into Roseau, past the Polaris plant and over the river to David's house. We put away the sleds and went into the house for a warmup cup of coffee. Eleanor had expected to have to drive up to the Angle to retrieve us when she'd seen the morning temperature. She chuckled when we told her about our near white-out experience and lack of a compass.

Trapper and I bundled ourselves into the pickup and headed home. We were tempted to take the new sleds with us but managed to get away without them. It was a great trip, but one of the nicest things always is coming home.