Today, to explore winter, I test machine and animal - both for the first time. Driving a snowmobile is a lot like cross-country skiing: an opportunity to observe nature's pristine fields bordered by naked deciduous trees shrouded in hoar frost, providing a mystical dimension. The trees glow along with the carpet of snow; their crystals
beam in jewel-like fashion, a sparkling dance in strong sunlight, glistening and forcing me to stop to revel in the magnificence of it all. The Group of Seven would love snowmobiles, $10,000 machines that transport one deep
woods, offering vistas of partly-frozen creeks and snow-clad pine and spruce, uneven land, large rocks and limbs providing a unique winter gestalt.
I witness myriad tracks, a large hare, perhaps a wolf, but no actual wildlife, and although the trails today are graded Limited, they are fine; our Arctic Cats gather speed, forcing us to pull down our visors to deflect the streaming air. Gloves, pants, boots and helmet keep us warm such that I turn off the heat on my hand controls. The Cats are responsive and easy to drive, right hand controlling gas and left hand, the brake, but as promised, the machine virtually stops on its own with the release of gas.
Joe Kennedy, 72 years of age, is my trail guide, zipping ahead in his Cat, compelled to wait patiently for me during my many stops to bask in reverie
and take pictures. Joe's son-in-law, Gary and his wife, Sharon own Homestead, an 18-hole golf course and surrounding land where we ride. Gary immigrated from Ireland as a golf pro and played on the tour for three years before starting his business. Eighty percent of customers are neophytes like myself. He markets to airlines such as Austria Airlines, El Al, Air France and British Airways, two hours away at Toronto's Pearson Airport. Here, on the shores of Wilder Lake between Durham and
Flesherton off Grey County Rd #4, Gary offers a snowmobile experience for flight crews during layovers, providing an opportunity to see deer, white owls and experience the sheer beauty of nature in Grey County's winter wonderland.
Joe says there are two kinds of snowmobile enthusiasts, hard core, racking up as many kilometres as possible and recreational, out for pure enjoyment, although further north, it's a major form of transportation. "Many people show up in business suits," reports Gary who likens a snowmobile experience to that of an essential item on a "bucket list," something to cherish for a lifetime. Eight cedar cottages punctuate a lake which, along with golf, attracts fishermen in warmer climes. Revenue from snowmobiles makes it a year-round operation.
The Arctic Cat is a 600 Panther, four-stroke machine that uses little oil and is economical on gas. Capable of 120 kph (75 mph), the trail speed limit is 56 kph (35 mph) enforced by the OPP. Cats allow for two riders and feature an easy ignition start and reverse gear. There are 3,000 km (1863 miles) of groomed trails in the Grey-Bruce area with no dangerous lake or water crossings. Our trail runs right through the Homestead Golf Course only 3m (10 feet) from the parking lot. Trails are sign-posted and easy to follow.
Next, it's "Hike! Hike! Hike!" we shout and teams of dogsleds race along a circular route at Doug Nixon's Rob Roy Dog Sledding Adventures. The Alaskan and Siberian huskies are harnessed in two teams of two dogs per sled. Averaging 20.4 kg (45 pounds) each, I wonder how four dogs will carry each sled and large musher. Mushers stand on two thin runners with a brake pedal in the middle. After a few sprints, we get the feel of it, leaning into the turns, the sled easily maneuvered on the terrain. The unfortunate part is that as Doug cautions, "This is just a taste." We travel in circles yet, like the yelping dogs, wish to sample inviting open ground. It's minus 2 C. but Doug says the dogs like it colder at minus 10-15 C. "They are snow dogs; they live outside and are born outside." He often takes them for longer runs across his 100 acres farm property.
Mike and Carol are from Elora. She celebrates her birthday today and slowed down by MS, for her, this marks a quest. We are delighted when she sails successfully around the course after "being worried all night." Later this week, Doug will host 100 students. The dogs, Nina, Jake and Rusty to cite a few are part of a 31-dog team, all born here with an average age of six. "Welcome to the snow capital of Canada," Doug says to Carol who exhibits a radiant smile with her success.
Author Bill Morgan, Jr. once said, "Winter came down to our home one night/Quietly pirouetting in on/silvery-toed slippers of snow,/And we, we were children once again." And today, I learned two great new ways to play.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
If you go
Grey Tourism: http://www.visitgrey.ca/
Homestead Resort: http://www.homesteadresort.ca/
For rates, contact: 263530 Southgate Rd. 26, Durham, ON N0G1R0, Tel: 519-369-3771
Rob Roy Dog Sledding Adventures: www.dogsledfarm.com
Contact: 469358 Grey Road 31 Rob Roy, ON, 519-922-2706
Where to stay: Days Inn www.daysinn.com
Contact: 950 Sixth Street East, Owen Sound, ON N4K 1H1, Tel: 519-371-1551
Where to eat: Rocky Raccoon Café http://www.rockyraccooncafe.com/
Contact: Robin Pradham, 941 2nd Avenue East Owen Sound, ON N4K 2H5, 519-374-0500
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