Becoming complacent can be hazardous out here. The weather and the terrain change regularly, so it can be dangerous to assume that however you traveled the day before would work for today. “Traveling” refers to everything from getting from our cabin to a friend’s house on the lake, going to town, or even walking to the outhouse. In fact, some of the most dangerous terrain I have encountered has been on the walk from our cabin door to the outhouse. From waist deep snow to large slabs of slippery ice, traversing our property on foot in the winter can be quite treacherous. And, like I said, you never know what you are going to encounter, so you had better be ready for anything. Nate and I have both taken tough falls on the ice, but luckily we haven’t had any broken bones yet, just lots of bruises!
Traveling on the frozen lake in the snow has required us to both learn how to ride snow mobiles. We have become somewhat proficient in snow machining. We have mastered riding in the snow, and hooking up a sled to pull cargo behind the snow machine. We’ve learned how to get “unstuck” when the machine plunges into deep snow. And, we’ve learned how to let off the gas in wet water snow so as not to snap the belt.
My only complaint about the snow mobiles is that they are very tough to start. The pull start mechanism is a little like a lawn mower starter, but one hundred times harder. I can barely pull it, and if you can start one, you will probably have to put one leg up on the foot rest, and throw your entire body back into the pull. Nate had a sore shoulder when he first started them, but now he has mastered it. I tried and tried, but the only time I was able to start my machine without Nate was when my daughter and I pulled the start tether together. Eventually, I gave up trying to start it by myself. I just don’t have the upper body strength. Having Nate start my machine isn’t that much of an inconvenience since most of the time when we are riding the machines we are together, however, my reliance on this would prove to be somewhat catastrophic. We had taken our snow machines to a friend’s house, and when we got ready to leave, Nate started his machine and moved it down the hill onto the frozen lake. He started my machine and moved it to the top of the snowy hill, facing down to the lake. Because it was on an incline, he put the emergency/parking brake on. When I mounted the machine, I simply pushed the throttle and enjoyed the rush down the hill in the snow. I didn’t think about the brake being on because when I parked it, I didn’t put the brake on. We started heading home. It was cold and getting dark, so we both rode fast. About 500 yards from our friend’s cabin, I looked down and I could see flames coming from the engine by my left foot. I squeezed the brake to stop, but there was no response. I waited for the snow machine to slow down on its own, all the time looking down to make sure my foot didn’t catch on fire. Just as the machine started to slow, Nate pulled up alongside of me and yelled for me to jump off. When it was safe, I jumped.
Luckily, I wasn’t hurt, but the brakes on the machine were fried. Luckily, Nate knows how to cut melted-shut brakes out of the system, and we were back up and running in no time. (Note: This machine is now for sale!)
When the snow is melted and the surface of the frozen lake is a sheet of ice, we usually take the four-wheeler if we want to traverse long distances. On one particular night, we had arranged to bring dinner to some friends. Nate made a cornbread-stuffed pork tenderloin, and I made roasted potatoes. I secured these to the back of the four-wheeler, and we headed out for the big lake to our friends’ cabin. As we neared the narrow section of the lake where the little lake and the big lake converge, Nate told me that the ice we were riding on top of looked very sketchy. Three seconds later, the ice beneath us broke and we both plunged into the icy lake. When my head came up out of the water, I grasped at the ice to get out, but the ice was fragile and every attempt to climb out just broke more ice around me. Nate had found a thick section of ice and was up and out of the water in a jiffy. I struggled through a few attempts, and then finally found a section of ice that was strong enough for me to carefully pull myself out. We had traveled approximately a mile from our cabin, so we walked briskly back home to change into dry clothes and warm up. Once we changed, we went back to where we had sunk the four-wheeler to assess the situation. It was evening and the sky was growing dark. We noticed that the depth of the lake where we broke through was reasonably shallow, maybe 12 feet deep. The four-wheeler was upside down, but the tires made it buoyant and it was floating. (Dinner was no longer attached to the machine, so we assumed it was forever lost in the bottom of the lake.)
We solicited the help of a neighbor friend who is new to the lake, and we tried lassoing the four-wheeler to try and pull it out by hand. Working this close to sketchy ice was hazardous, and all three of us broke through and fell into the cold water at different times. As nightfall closed in on us and impaired our vision, we decided to tie the other end of the lassoed four-wheeler to a tree and retire for the evening and reassess the situation first thing in the morning. The next day, Nate and our neighbor friend cut a path in the ice with their chain saws and dragged the four-wheeler through the water to a very shallow area. Nate jumped in the frigid waters, flipped the four-wheeler right-side up. This way, we were able to pull it onto the hard surface of the ice by pulling it with a rope tied to the snow machine. We were then able to tow the four-wheeler back to our cabin with the snow machine.
Pulling the 4-Wheeler out after it cracked through the frozen ice.
Nate took the four-wheeler apart, cleaned and dried out each part, replaced the oil and the gas, and remarkably, it started right up. We thought it was pretty remarkable, but a good testament to the quality of a honda machine!
Before we sunk the 4-wheeler into the lake, we got it stuck in the snow!
With all of our machine challenges, I vowed to get mush dogs for traveling next year!
Our water comes from a small waterfall that runs down our mountain. We have a dam near the house and a hose that brings the water (via gravity) close to our cabin. It’s constantly flowing, even in the winter. However, some debris got caught in our dam strain, and we didn’t notice it for a little while. As a result, the water trickling through our hose froze solid. I was concerned that we were going to have to haul water all the way from our dam, but Nate came up with a quick fix for our problem. He disconnected the 300 yards of hose, rolled it up, and brought it inside the house so that the ice could thaw. The next morning, the hoses were thawed. We reconnected them outside and, “Voila!”, we were back in business with our water.
As the winter turns into Spring on Motes Mountain, we have entered the time called, “Breakup”, when our lake is not stable for travel. The ice is too weak to support a snow mobile or four-wheeler (or even a person on foot), and there is too much solid ice to be able to have a boat (or even a canoe) in the lake. And, so we are in a holding pattern, waiting and watching. The locals tell us that “breakup” is different every year. Some years the ice is broken up by mid-April, other years, not until late May. And, the breakup can happen over a 7-10 day period, or it can take 6 weeks. While we are “stuck”, we plan to prepare our garden, and do work around our home and property. We have moved beyond the short winter days and now we have lots of beautiful sun, beginning at 5:30 am, and lasting until 8:30 pm. So, while we are stuck at home, we are busy working, enjoying the chance to be working outside on these beautiful days which will be characteristic of our entire summer for the next 4-5 months. The air is full of butterflies and bees. The squirrels and woodpeckers have returned to the trees. All manner of birds can be heard and seen. Greenery is peeking up from under the newly uncovered earth. We are carefully and cautiously aware that moose and bear will be on the move, searching for food. We are happy to say goodbye to the mishaps and misfortunes of winter, and we are anxiously awaiting all of the miracles that spring will bring.