Winter Wonderland for Motorcyclists
Wisconsin has been called the Winter Wonderland. With good reason; you have to wonder what will happen next.
In recent years, the weather has been more than a little unexpected at times, leaving us to wonder. Of course, we have long used the old saying, “Don’t like the weather? Wait five minutes—it’ll change.”
For example, in the winter of 2007, I rode my ’99 Sportster most of New Year’s Day on dry pavement in temperatures that varied from mid-fifties to low sixties by the middle of the afternoon. I meandered the back roads until I arrived a one of the local ski hills—Tyrol Basin—about 45 miles from my place. Look closely at the image taken that day and you’ll notice that in the areas under the trees there is no snow.
Indeed, all the snow you see in that image is man-made. Later that month, our indoor-outdoor cat came in from a jaunt in the woods and we found a wood tick on him—in January!
That was one of those winters where I think I got a day or two of riding in every month of the winter. Not long rides, mind you, but long enough to warrant topping off the tank at the end of the day.
Winters like that are a lot easier to take. When you only fire up the snowblower once or twice all winter and have the chance to take a ride or two in reasonably comfortable conditions, you could almost forget how big a drag winter can be if you don’t fill the days with skiing, snow-shoeing, snowmobiling or ice fishing.
The following year was a reminder. The snows came on schedule that year and fell fairly often. The next image was taken on March 15, 2008. You can tell by the snowbanks that are higher than the tank on my Triumph that during that winter, much less time was spent at the ski hills making snow and more time grooming the natural stuff and road crews had plenty of plow time.
This is not to say winter doesn’t have its compensations. Snowscapes with wondrous blue skies can make a person forget the cold and get outside just to take a look, even if a motorcycle is not a part of the day.
Seeing the broad Wisconsin river under a blanket of snow and ice as it was in the image taken in February 2015 is a reminder of that. On days like that, when the air is crisp and still, it is so quiet along the river that there is a startling effect from the sudden, loud cracking and crunching when the ice breaks and shifts.
The month of March here in southwestern Wisconsin often offers the earliest decent riding of the season. Some years, there isn’t all that much of it, but it is sure welcome when it happens. In 2015, March 20th was a great day to hit the road and I even stumbled across some motocross action at the Sugar Maple MX course in the process that day.
The day was so great, we did a piece to tell the world. Of course, this being Wisconsin, the day after that road trip, seven inches of snow arrived on the northwest wind and the Triumph wound up back in its corner of my shed and the snowblower and I got reacquainted.
Which brings us to 2018. February brought enough snow to allow the local snowmobile trail system to be opened up for riding. I took my 1979 Chrysler Sno-Runner for the longest day of riding since I got it running in 2016. For the first time, I encountered riders on conventional snowmobiles on the trail—a small group of them were stopped because one of the machines had blown a drive belt.
I stopped to say hello; the reactions to the Sno-Runner ranged from bemusement to amazed curiosity. Nobody in the group had ever seen one before. A replacement belt was soon installed and they were on their way, but it was fun to talk to them and see their reactions.
The snow didn’t last, though and that day was the only day I spent a lot of time out on the trails so far this winter. Limited as it was, it gave me the chance to confirm that the Sno-Runner could stop, start, turn, brake and do all the things necessary to spend an enjoyable day on the trail. It also confirmed that on a packed snow trail, its handling is actually pretty good, compared to my first outing last winter on frozen, icy base. Trail conditions like that made for “twitchy” handling and left me unsure if the thing was really safely ridable at any speed.
The first few days of March 2018 have been warm enough to take in some reasonably long rides to see the country. Here in southwestern Wisconsin, only a few fragments of snowbanks remain and roads hereabouts are mainly dry and with the exception of residual sand put down on some corners and at intersections during our last couple of ice storms, in pretty good riding condition.
This early in the season, there is a mix of open water and sheets of ice on the lakes and rivers. This really shows up in the shots taken at the pond in Leland (the end point of the Slimey Crud Run).
Taking the time to enjoy the quiet of this time of year also reveals the sounds of early spring. At Leland, the Canada geese have already arrived and their spring chores include occasionally getting pretty rowdy with one another as nesting pairs square off in noisy battles over the best nest sites. In the attached image, the closest pair are the losers having been driven off by the more distant pair—with a lot of honking, wing-batting and chasing afoot instead of on the wing.
That was a great day for riding in March, but this is Wisconsin and it is still winter. Makes me wonder—will I have to roll out the snowblower again and get another chance to ride the Sno-runner, or…
One day after my last images were taken for that story of riding under blue skies in March—it started to snow. From four to six inches of heavy, wet snow fell, depending on where you were in the area. This image of the snow in my yard today tells the story. The bikes are now back in the garage on the battery tenders.