Oddchester: Ski-Doo trumps 'The Golden Girls'
Winter in the Midwest is what we make of it.
Twenty years ago, then-girlfriend/now-wife Lindy and I were living in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where it averaged 150 inches of snow per year.
We were renting a one-room, concrete-block apartment on a former military base — we shared a bathroom with a redhead named Don King — and working numerous jobs.
I worked as a sportswriter for a newspaper, refereed high school basketball and picked up shifts at a convenience store. Lindy waitressed at a casino and sold clothes at Vanity. We both bartended nights at a country bar.
We were home together, awake, for one hour (4 p.m. to 5 p.m.) per day. Our television got one station, which carried, during that hour, back-to-back reruns of "The Golden Girls."
These were dark times.
When we really started to get into "Golden Girls" — when we knew all the words to "Thank You For Being A Friend" — we recognized we had a problem.
We were in our mid-20s.
We knew we needed to pursue an outdoor winter activity. So Lindy and I each quit one of our jobs and decided to make something of winter.
We tried cross country skiing and snowshoeing, both of which were more strenuous and boring than we had hoped. We tried downhill skiing, which ended in such a way that Lindy and I didn't talk about it for 20 years. And by "in such a way" I mean "with Lindy wrapped in an orange snow fence."
We finally decided to buy two snowmobiles, which would give us the illusion of outdoor activity without all of the sweating and moving and removing oneself from orange snow fences.
I bought a yellow 1969 Ski-Doo, from a coworker, for a six-pack of beer. Since I always buy only the best for my lady, for Lindy I purchased a yellow 1972 Ski-Doo for a full case (24 cans) of beer.
We spent that winter bouncing along at 35 mph through fresh powder on makeshift trails where it seemed no one had ever been.
We saw foxes and a coyote. A snowy owl landed very near us as we sat drinking hot chocolate. Late one night, we startled a small group of deer who ran alongside us.
We snowmobiled to frozen waterfalls and across the ice to Lake Superior islands.
We broke down regularly.
The machines were relatively straightforward and easy to fix or jury-rig on the trail, and that was part of the adventure.
Once, before a trip, I fixed a leak in my gas tank with some rubberized sealer that you pour inside the tank. We were in the woods near Tahquamenon Falls when my snowmobile died. The rubberized coating had come loose and now filled my gas line in long strands of what looked like congealed string cheese.
The only way for me to remove this was to suck on the gas line until I could grab a long string and pull it out. Then suck on the gas line again.
Anyone who has sucked on a fuel line for any length of time can relate, probably by feeling sick to their stomach and lightheaded.
To this day, I still gag slightly at the smell of gas mixed with 2-cycle oil. And string cheese.
My dad and brother, who had their own beater snowmobiles, came up to the U.P. for a few trips. During one, we were moseying along a tiny trail — me at the tail end — when I revved my engine and it did not unrev. I flew past them, bouncing over and sometimes through snowdrifts.
Later, my father said he realized there was a problem when, from behind, he saw me hit yet another violent bump and, for a second, my entire body was parallel to the snowmobile seat, hovering above it as if flying, with only my hands attached to the handlebars.
The brakes were useless.
Eventually, I flew off, then jumped up and ran for two or three absurdly optimistic steps through the snow, as if I was going to catch a snowmobile traveling at 30 mph.
I watched my snowmobile speed across the field, slowly disappearing in the distance.
When my dad and brother caught up with me, we followed the tracks, and eventually, heard the motor. The snowmobile was now straight up and down, with a pine tree wedged between one ski and the hood, the track still turning at full speed.
We fixed it on the trail, and the three of us made our way back to our motel room with a story, I'm guessing, better than anything we would have seen on "Golden Girls."