December 13, 2006 Edition

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Pursuit of a white Christmas
leads to snowmobile adventure

By Sarah S. Teague
Guest Writer
Part 2 of 3

We left the highway and sped up the trail toward the Grand Teton National Forest. Soon we came to an overlook that seemed to be the first photography opportunity. We took pictures, someone excused himself into the brush, then Justin's visor popped off.

OK, we were set, off again. Then we came to another more beautiful overlook that had to be the real first photo op. More pictures, another potty break, a little finagling, off again. I studied the map and turned around to count all eight mobiles. For a while, I could only count three, so we stopped. Somebody had fallen off, but they soon caught up with us.

We came to a fork, and the sign said CD (Continental Divide) to the right, so we took it. We snaked around a 340-degree turn, all the mobiles in a row. After about 15 minutes, we stopped at a large map. We were on the 200-mile trail the manager warned us about. So we turned around, and got to enjoy the 340-degree turn in reverse. I studied the map, counted eight mobiles, looked for wildlife. It was pretty, my feet weren't cold, and I knew the guys were having fun.

We didn't see many tracks except occasionally down to a stream camouflaged by the snow. Firs and pines rose above us and the snow insulated noise (except for our snowmobiles). The land seemed at peace, the sky serene, the day ripe for adventure.

Our late start, plus the two early stops, plus the wrong turn, gave us all a sense that we needed to hurry, which I regretted, because we couldn't enjoy the trip as much as if we were relaxed. After our wrong turn, we drove in opposite order, with Dennis at the front and us at the back. Since I had taken the wrong road, I wasn't exactly lead dog material.

We weren't all traveling the same speed. We came to a fork that I couldn't find on the map. At one point during the manager's monologue, Dennis had interrupted and asked, "So as a rule we bear to the left?" and the manager had agreed. Therefore we took the left trail.

Soon the trail grew narrow, and we weren't even sure if the rest of the group were on this fork. One of the snowmobiles slid off to the right, and when I jumped to help I tore away half of the trail map held tightly in my hand. It happened to be the portion of the trail we were on. We had another map, but it didn't seem to matter because we weren't sure where we were. We switched positions, which made me a driver. I had very little confidence in my driving skills.

We came to a dip then hill. I knew we'd need speed to get up the hill, so I kept the button mashed down. We made it up about two-thirds, but it wouldn't go any more. Chris and Evan came and pushed it up to a more level place.

We started again, on a curve, and it sank the opposite direction of the curve. I couldn't have known what to do about it, because I didn't even know it was about to sink. Chris and Evan said to give it gas. I did remember from a snowmobiling adventure in Yellowstone that the people said if you're stuck, DON'T give it gas. But the guys seemed certain, so I gave it gas. The back part of the snowmobile sank a good six inches. They said to try it one more time, and down we went another three or four inches.

I started digging snow away from the inside trail. Chris, Evan, David and Jeffery had to lift the snowmobile back up on the trail. We tried again. I was trying so hard to drive the right way, with absolutely no idea what I was doing. In a matter of minutes we were stuck again, pulled out again. Jeff and Carl had stopped to make sure we could get up the next rise, but didn't leave room for us to get level, and as I decelerated, over went the snowmobile again. Thus ended my career as a snowmobile driver.

The next hour or so became aerobic exercise. We entered a seemingly shallow field, the snow creating that illusion. But a few steps off the narrow trail, deep drifts waited. We found them.

All the guys were trying to lift each sunken mobile, plus set it up on the trail again. Jeffery got flooded with snow when he was pushing from behind a mobile and Jeff gave it gas. We had to move forward enough that the snowmobile behind us had room to give it gas and get up a slope, but we needed to stay close to help pull the inevitable slide-offs. Everyone was growing snappish. We made slow progress as the sun dropped closer to the mountains.

We finally reached a very steep run, the trail rising eight or so feet, but with a log fallen over it. The trail had ended. Two mobiles sunk when we stopped. The first four or five were in a wooded area with fallen trees that prevented us from maneuvering them, and the ones in back were in snow so deep we couldn't tell the difference in trail and drift.

The sky was growing darker. Everyone was panting hard from the altitude and having to lift snowmobiles back on the trail. We would have to turn all eight snowmobiles around and try to find the route we'd taken coming in.

(Editor's Note: Sarah Shell Teague grew up in Walnut Ridge and graduated from WRHS. She has a doctorate in English from the University of Mississippi. Sarah lives in El Dorado with her husband, Jeff, also formerly of Walnut Ridge, and their three sons. She is the daughter of Rev. Frank Shell of Batesville and the late Carolyn Shell.)

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