AMDS Outdoor Adventures - 02/11/02
by Ken Baehr
We just finished the boat show. Wait a minute; what does a boat show have to do with snowmachining? I'm getting to that part. The annual Anchors Away Boat Show is a ten-day mid-winter event that gives our customers the opportunity to see, order, have built, and get delivery of their new boats by early spring. The manufacturers come up to Anchorage to answer questions and the dealers go all out to put over 150 boats on display. It is a lot of work, but it is also a change of pace and a lot of fun at the same time. However, after ten days of talking about boats and with two feet of new snow on the river, the conclusion of the boat show means it is time to ride.
Mike Boulton at Trapper Lake Lodge
Mike Boulton, the marine engineer and designer of our Aurora Boat line, had come up to the show and had expressed an interest in going "snowmobiling," a lower 48 term to be sure. Chuck and I decided that we would make the "sacrifice" and take Mike for a ride. We arranged to have a 380 fan cooled machine available for this "beginner" and had mapped out a nice easy ride to introduce him to Alaska boondocking. Then we got the rest of the story. In addition to being the best marine engineer I have ever known, it turns out that Mike was the U.S. National Champion jet boat racer in his younger days, and that he had specialized in the unlimited power class of racing boats. Here was a man with a need for speed and definitely someone that needed a little more power than the 380 touring could deliver. It was time to change plans.
The first part was easy. We put Mike on a Summit 800 with a 151" track and an M-10 mountain suspension with Ohlins reservoir shocks. The second part was harder. We had to try to keep up with him.
We drove up to Susitna Landing to hook up with Ron Wilson, who just happens to own one of Mike's Aurora riverboats. It is a 24-foot beauty, a sport boat with a five degree-seven foot bottom, a big block 496c.i./425HP engine, and a Kodiak three stage special-blend jet pump. Ron guides with it during the summer months, and is delighted that he can take six clients over shallows that are only 4 ½ inches deep. Ron "loves his boat" and was waiting for us, ready to ride his Ski-Doo. We unloaded, suited up and headed west toward Trapper Lake. At first Mike rode in the middle of the group single file along Ron's groomed trail. We crossed the Kashwitna River and the Susitna River and then climbed up through an erosion gorge to a plateau that led us to Trapper Lake. There was new untouched powder on the lake, the visibility was forever, and there was no one around except us. It was pedal to the metal time. We had a ball just running the lake and enjoying the capability of the sleds. I caught a glimpse of Mike cruising across the lake, busting through snowdrifts. He reminded me of a porpoise on the open sea. His machine would skim on step across the powder and then bust through a drift only to jump back on step within a few feet. Mike was having much more fun than authorized.
Ron Wilson Coming Down Hill and Ron Wilson & Mike Boulton
After a while, we got the urge to explore a little. We left the groomed trail system and drove southwest toward Neil Lake. There was a trail, sort of, but no one had been on it. Sometimes it was there and sometimes it was invisible. We used our GPS units to keep our bearings straight. It was nice to lay a line of digital breadcrumbs to help us find the way home. As usual the ride was pure pleasure. Somehow when you find yourself in the middle of untouched wilderness, you experience a piece of mind that can be equaled no other way. The snowmachines took us there. They allowed us to get there and back safely, and in time for supper.
When we arrived back at the landing, Marylyn was waiting for us with hot coffee and a totally decadent chocolate dessert. I have to believe that there is an enzyme in chocolate that cancels out the calories. It may not be true, but I have to believe it. After we were done feeding our faces, Ron presented Mike with an unexpected bonus. He had been working with Kodiak on a modified impellor for his jet pump. I have no idea how it works, but the end result is more lift and speed with no change to the engine. Mike was really interested, so we all gathered in Ron's shop for a close up inspection of the new impellor. Most of the conversation was above my head, as I am neither a mechanic nor an engineer. But, Mike and Ron were having fun.
All in all it turned out to be another great day in Alaska. As we drove back to town Mike said it best. We had a great ride, with good friends, and didn't think about the stresses of work for the entire day. You can't ask for more than that.
~ Ken Baehr