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Jean Woodruff: Snowmobile interest ran hot and cold
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It's winter in Wisconsin. Snow is on the ground. The temperature is in the teens and the forecast is for temps in the single digits. This makes me think of snowmobiling and previous snowmobiling adventures. A couple decades ago, my husband and I were crazy about snowmobiles. At one point we owned five snowmobiles for just the two of us. Some friends got us interested. They were pleasure riding and then racing the machines. It doesn't work for us to just go watch some events, we get involved. My husband had purchased a used sled. Soon we each wanted a sled, as it wasn't as much fun riding together. Plus, it's much more fun to ride with a group. In the fall we went looking at new snowmobiles. At one of the dealers we visited, a contest was being held to win a new snowmobile. I filled out an entry form, sent it in and forgot about it. We purchased a new sled. Several weeks later I received a letter telling me I had won a snowmobile. We went to our dealer friend and he said, yes, I had won a sled. We made the necessary arrangements and then traded it in on a more expensive model without even riding it. Soon we were both riding with friends. I recall one of the early rides. Our friends just lived a couple miles away. We donned our new snowmobile attire and rode our sleds there, intending to ride from Rock City to Brodhead for supper. Shortly the trail took us through the fields ... right by our house. I thought we had been riding for hours. It was only a few minutes. We eventually got to Brodhead for supper and then the return trip. It was dark, cold and bumpy. I was cold; my arms hurt. Don helped me off the snowmobile and into the house. He helped me take off my boots, helmet, jacket and snow pants. I was thoroughly beat. The next day I could hardly move. Then we went riding again. I was horrified to see in the daylight the trail we had taken at night. It took me some time but eventually I even did a little racing. Remember the early barnyard type snow races? In my first race, I came in last out of four. The next race, I won. I got my trophy and retired from racing. Racing in the snow was too cold for me. One afternoon after working on sleds and visiting, we started talking about the snowmobile races that were going to be at Eagle River the next day. We all talked about going sometime, then it dawned on us. If we started out at midnight, it was about 6 hours away, we would be there in time for breakfast and then go to the track. So what if we got home late and had to work Monday? We decided to go home, rest and meet again at midnight to travel to Eagle River. I remember about eight of us piled into a friend's van and off we went. The guys traded off driving so each one could sleep a little on the way. I don't recall a lot about the races; the format was foreign to me and I didn't know any of the competitors, but I could root for the Arctic Cat drivers. Over the years I still hear some of the names of the drivers in the news. For several years we took winter vacations, snowmobiling in and around Minocqua, Woodruff, Park Falls, Boulder Junction, Rhinelander, St. Germain and Presque Isle. On one of those vacations, there were four of us on this particular afternoon, two women and two men. We got lost and cold. We found a local snowmobiler who tried to direct us, then decided to show us a short cut. It was across the lake. The five of us headed across the lake. Our guide told us to be aggressive with the throttle. I wasn't ... and I was stuck and sinking fast. The other woman saw me stop and stopped. Then she was stuck and sinking. The guys were well ahead, looked back and saw we were stopped. As soon as they slowed down, they too were stuck and sinking. This particular lake was a favorite of ice fishermen, so there were holes for fishing, and it had snowed several inches. The weight of the snow had pushed the ice down and water had come up through the holes. We were stuck in icy water and slushy snow. Fortunately, our guide lived close by and did not abandon us. Since us girls were still close to shore the guys were able to get our sleds back to shore and we rode them back to our guide's home. Our guide picked up some ropes and instructed his wife to have his son come to the lake as soon as he got home from school. She was gracious to let us stay in the warm and helped us dry out our wet clothing. After many hours in the frigid water and much frustration, the guys got all the sleds out of the lake. The other woman had frostbite on her face. The guys did very well, only suffering slight frostbite. None of us handle the cold as well as we did before getting stuck on the lake. Our guide and his family were wonderful. In addition to helping get the sleds off the lake, they dried our clothes in the dryer. They turned the heat up to warm us up thoroughly and dry our boots and items that couldn't go in the dryer. We bought pizza for all concerned. About 10 p.m. we were fed, all warm and dry, and headed back to our motel via a different route. Remember I said racing in the snow was too cold for me? We switched seasons. Snowmobile racing on grass took over our lives for a couple years. Then we both retired from racing. We still have one snowmobile. It hasn't been out of the trailer in years.

- Jean Woodruff is news clerk at The Monroe Times. She can be reached at