SnowBlind 2001
By: Tom Mueller

For the past three years now I have been writing stories about the Sno*Blind weekend. And for the last three years I start the story out like this:

Wow. I don’t know how the Mudchuggers continue to have great weather, great runs, great conditions, great times, great people and a great banquet. Obviously this years Sno*Blind was GREAT.

Or like this: I have been looking forward to these dates for a l-o-n-g time. Back in September I bought a used Bronco, full size and this would be my first run in my new truck.

I could start it out like; Kathy told people that she bought the winning ticket for the winch on Friday night but nobody believed her, including me!

I think that would be a bit too arrogant. I also think that it would be bragging and I don't think that other club members would like that. Who cares?

Kathy told people that she bought the winning ticket for the winch on Friday night but nobody believed her, including me! At the banquet Saturday night I believed her. We got to the banquet late so we didn't have to wait as long to find out if Kathy was right. When Diane pulled our ticket out of the bucket Kathy and I couldn't believe it. But that was Saturday night and there is a lot of story telling before we get there.

The group that went up on Friday morning included Paul Phelps, Eric & Kristen, Tom, Kathy, Chuck, Diane, and Steven. Paul, Eric, and Kristen met at Tom and Kathy's house at 9:00 am. Matt Macchiarolo was supposed to meet here also but called and said that he was running late. I thought that Lee and Cec were supposed to meet here also but couldn't remember. We left the house at 9:01am. I have learned that when traveling with Paul that you are ready early so you can leave on time.

We picked up Bill Green, Lee & Cec, Rick Ingman, Kevin, and Matt caught up to us at the Burger King in Mt. Morris. Kathy and I and the kids ordered breakfast. Over twenty bucks later, and after the major shock of the price for breakfast at Burger King we sat down to eat. Kathy whispered in my ear "Do you remember the good ol' days when it was just you paying for just yourself?" I didn't tell her this then but I do remember those days and I wouldn't go back. The smiles and the memories that Kathy and the kids are getting are more than worth it to me.

After breakfast we got on our way to my favorite event of the year. And I am not saying that just because I won the winch! Sno*Blind is my favorite run of the year. We arrived in West Branch around 12:30, checked into our rooms and got ready for the Friday afternoon run. Jeff and John met us there before we left on the run so Jeff went on the run with us while Kathy took Diane, Steven, and John shopping.

Those I knew on the run Friday were Paul Phelps (trail leader), Eric and Kristen, Tom, Jeff, and Chuck, Lee and Cec, and several others that I don't know but was very happy that they were with us. They broke the trail for us.

Now I am not sure if Paul has very deep pockets or not, but it seems that he should owe buck-a-stuck a lot of money. It seems that every time I saw him he was either winching himself out or getting his tow strap out. And this was just on Friday!

Now for those of you who may not know Paul got me pretty good at the sand dunes. He kept unlocking my hubs, once while he was talking to me and using his toe! I was planning on getting him back this weekend but we decided to call a truce. Well, the first time that he was stuck I asked him if he checked his hubs. I asked him this before the truce and Jeff, having the same sense of humor that I have asked him if his front tires should be spinning. I think that he checked his hub on the left side. Jeff told Paul that we aren't going to make the six o'clock dinner reservations if he keeps this **** up. It is good to have and keep a sense of humor on the trail.

After Paul was unstuck and gave up breaking trail the rest of the group was able to make it through. A few got stuck and had to winch out, that is the fun of four wheeling.

Meanwhile in the Bronco Jeff was telling Chuck to look for dear, bear and eagles. Chuck believed him on the dear but was a little hesitant on the bear and eagles. Of course I jumped in right away that there are bear and eagles up here that you just have to look for them. Jeff explained how to look for dear in the woods. The rest of the day Chuck was looking for dear, bears, and eagles.

Once the trail was broken it was pretty easy going. At one point I let Chuck drive. He is only fifteen and was looking forward to driving. This was also his first time with a clutch. When I decided to let him drive we were on a slight incline. I did not do this intentionally, but that is the way it worked out. He would try and get going but would stall. We were in four wheel drive low and starting out in second. Now I can do this all day long and keep my passengers neck attached and not give them whiplash! Chuck on the other hand… Both Jeff and I tried to explain to him how to start smoothly. It didn't work on the first try. We switched and got going again.

The jeeps that were in front of us were having a great time testing out their lockers. They would drive off the trail in the deep stuff and then come back onto the trail. Sometimes they made it and other times they didn't. When they didn't they got a strap out and were pulled out. In fact one of the guys lost his transfer case!

When the trail leveled out I let Chuck have another try at driving. This time he was able to get going and leave our necks somewhat attached. He did a fine job driving on the trails for his first time. I was sitting in the passenger seat; Jeff was sitting in the back seat. Chuck wasn't taking his eyes of the trail even though you could drive and didn't have to steer. I looked out the window to my right and said, "Wow, look at the deer over there on the hill! Oh, look there is a bear chasing it." Jeff piped up with, "And look at the eagle in the tree watching it all!" Chuck never took his eyes of the trail.

The trail got a little dicey for Chuck to handle so he passed the driving back to me. Sound familiar? Just like his mother! Let Tom get stuck and make the payment to buck-a-stuck!

I am not sure what time we made it back to town but Friday's run was fun. Jeff, Chuck, and myself met up with Kathy and the kids and went out for dinner. We didn't do Friday night's run.

On Saturday morning we woke up early to go to Sandy's for breakfast. Sandy's is on the other end of town, on the left, and is all pink. Good food and good coffee. On the way back Jeff, Kathy and Steven stopped at K-mart to look for a pair of snow pants for John. They didn't find any but did get a pair of lined sweat pants for him. These would keep him dry at least.

The rest of us continued back to Comfort Inn to check in and to go to the drivers meeting. Our run time was leaving the parking lot at 10:00 and I wanted to make sure that we would have everybody.

Heading out to the trails was no big thing. Paul, our fearless trail leader, introduced himself, told us were we will be going, all the 'things' that a good trail leader does. We would be running the same trails that we did on Friday. We got close to the trailhead and stopped to air down and check the hubs. Again, Paul and I made the agreement that we wouldn't mess with each other's hubs. Of course this agreement was with me and not with Jeff!

The morning part of the run went pretty smooth. The afternoon and evening part of the run went downhill. Ah, no pun intended.

At one part of the trail we all had to back up and go out the way we came in. This shouldn't have been too much of a problem; after all we all have to back up and should be able to do it in a straight line. For others backing up seems to be a problem. The group sat for at least two hours waiting for him to get unstuck. After they were unstuck we were able to get moving again. By this time it was starting to get late in the afternoon and we still had trails to do.

The next part of the trail is where things got hilly, sticky, and stucky! For me it was stuck! We were waiting our turn to go down the hill and then come up the other side. We were given the go ahead by Rich. In the Bronco were Kathy and John with me driving. Going down wasn't a problem it was coming up the other side. We were coming up the other side and hit a patch of ice. I gave it at least three attempts and gave up. Seeing as I was on a hill I turned the steering wheel hard over so that if I did roll I would roll into the bank on the trail. Kathy didn't know this. I got out of the truck to get the strap from Rich, at least a 90 foot strap, and hooked up to the front tow hook. While I was out of the truck it rolled back. Kathy told me later that she has never gone from the passenger seat to the drivers seat so fast! Oh, did I mention that John was in the back seat? I guess that I didn't mention that the right front tire was flat either. Well, I do travel with a spare and a little floor jack. After a group effort of changing the tire we were pulled up the hill.

About a half mile or less later the truck wanted to get up close and personnel with the trees. I didn't see any ruts, or steer the truck towards the trees; it almost seemed that someone pushed the left front over to the right and in the trees we went. I tried backing out without any luck. I had to have a strap and a pull. After we were back on the trail someone noticed that my right rear tire was flat. Now I only travel with one spare. We tried getting a spare from Mike but his spare had a lock on it and he couldn't get the key in to unlock it. As far as I know nobody had a pair of bolt cutters. There was another Ford in the group so he went to get his spare. The lug pattern didn't match up. Now Mark has a set of 35's. I was running with 33's, bias-ply. Mark's are radials. Bill Green said that Mark's lug pattern was the same as mine. The only problem was that Mark was at the front of the line. We had to get everyone up to the rest of the group to have Mark back down, which he did without any problems, and let me have his spare. The lug pattern fit and we were towed up the hill. By this time it was around 9:00pm.

Around this time is when John wanted to be reunited with Jeff. Jeff was at the trail end and couldn't be reunited with John. Well, lets see. You are nine years old, in the middle of the forest, stuck, it is dark and the banquet is well underway, and you want to eat - tonight! Can you say panic attack? Thanks to Myra and Kathy for calming John down. I did hear Paul on the CB telling John that we will make it out and make the banquet.

During all of this Bill Green was on his cell phone giving updates back at the Comfort Inn. At first he told them 1/2 an hour. That turned out to be about an hour and a half! Once we were all back together we headed out and back to the motel. I had to remember that I had three bias-ply tires and one radial tire. I later told Kathy that is an equation for disaster, but we made it back without losing control.

I had to run back to the Super Eight to get our meal tickets and our winch tickets. Boy, am I glad I did that! Kathy and the rest of the group headed to the banquet. Upon entering the banquet a round of applause was heard for getting back. The kitchen staff kept the food out for us late comers and I was really glad they did. Although I think that John was even happier!

We didn't buy any door prize tickets, just the winch tickets. Steven was chosen to draw for the 50/50 and Diane was chosen to draw the winch tickets. As soon as she drew the number and it was read off I knew that it was our number. It took Kathy a few more seconds to realize that we had just won the winch. No, I promise that it wasn't rigged!

Sunday's run was up in the air. I had two flat tires to fix before we left for the trail. I had to get Mark's tire back to him, as I didn't want him going on the trail with out a spare. I got up early and jacked the truck up and had Mark's tire ready to go if he wanted to take it. I called Jeff's room to see if he was up yet and found out that he wasn't feeling well. He told me that he was running a fever of 102 and had thrown up at least twice. So much for going out on Sunday! I loaded the tires in Jeff's two wheel drive jeep and drove from one end of town to the other looking for a tire repair shop that would be open on Sunday. I ran into Joe, Bill, and Margaret at the far end of town and Joe suggested that I stop by the local cop shop. I did and was told that Quality Farm and Fleet fixes flat tires. The time was 9:30 and they opened at 10.

Meanwhile, back at the motel. Kathy had taken the kids swimming while I was getting the tires fixed. Thank you Bill Green for the use of your room.

With having a half-hour to kill I went back to the motel to check on Jeff and to see if I could find Mark to let him know that his tire is ready and to take it. I found Jeff still in his room and looking like death warmed over. He told me that he had lost it a few more times and that I should call him at 10:30 so that he can get ready to check out.

By this time, 9:40, I got back in the Jeff's Jeep and was headed back to Quality. I saw Bill Green, stopped and told him what was going on. While talking to Bill, Bill Paquette and Joe drove up. I brought them up to speed. Joe and Margaret wanted to go with me to Quality to do some shopping. Bill P. found out that he had broken another shock on his Jeep. I mentioned to Bill that Joe has to stop riding in the back!

The three of us made it to Quality shortly after they opened. We told them that I had two flat tires. They told me that the tire shop is closed on Sunday's. One of the employees, Donald, over heard us and said that he would fix them for us. He wrote up the work order and gave it to the cashier. She told me that it would be $6.00. I told her that I had two tires. She still said $6.00. I was floored!

Quality Farm and Fleet did more than just put air in the tires. They took the tire of the wheel, cleaned up the wheel, cleaned the tire and balanced them. They did this to both tires, for just $6.00! I went back in and bought a floor jack from them for doing a great job.

Joe helped me change the tires while Kathy and the kids started bringing out the luggage, boots, and whatever else that was in the room. It was decided that Kathy would drive Jeff's Jeep, and all of the kids would ride with me. I had gone to the front desk to get some ice buckets and rags in case Jeff lost it on the way home. The Super Eight was super in letting me have those items without charge.

I knew that Jeff wanted to get going as soon as possible. I still had to air up two of the tires and get the kids some food. While I was airing up the tires I had Chuck go into Subway and get sandwiches. Kathy went to find Paul or someone in our group to let them know that we would be leaving right away due to Jeff's illness. She didn't find anyone but I was able to find Margaret and told her. Thank you Margaret for passing the word on to everyone.

Finally, we were ready to head home. Kathy and Jeff (riding in the back seat lying down) were in the Jeep. Kathy asked Jeff if there is anything she should know about the Jeep. Jeff's response was, "Yea, it's Margaret's." Jeff's wife. Enough said! Jeff also told Kathy that he is not worried as he has his ambulance driver with him.

Meanwhile in the Bronco Tom has all of the kids, a portable CD player, and the kids' music which he listened to almost all the way home. It was a non-stop trip home!

Before we left the parking lot I had hooked up my portable CB radio in the Jeep. For some reason it wasn't working. Kathy could hear me but I couldn't hear her. Of course we found this out while we were on the expressway. I wanted to know how Jeff and John were going to get to their house. We started playing twenty questions. Kathy would answer with her high beams, once for yes and two for no. I think that I asked more than twenty questions but finally figured it out.

Jeff slept for most if not all of the trip home. Kathy had a quiet ride while Tom had a loud ride! About twenty miles from home the CD player was turned off and WDET was turned on. The kids didn't waste anytime in asking for the CD player back! I told them that the CD player is off and that I am listening to WDET as they were allowed to listen to their music most of the way home.

About an hour after we got home Jeff's wife came to take them the rest of the way. Margaret told me that Jeff is not allowed on any more trips with me because he always comes home sick.

I am sure that I have left out a lot of details of this trip. But for me it was another great trip, not just because I won the winch, but because we had a great time. The trail ride was fun despite the fact that we had two flat tires, got stuck, and were out on the trail for twelve hours! Again, the kids had a great time and I am sure that Chuck will remember his first driving experience for a long time to come. Diane had a great time riding with Rob (thanks again Rob) and I am sure that Steven had a great time too.

I would like to thank the Mudchuggers for another great Sno*Blind and I am already looking forward to next year's run.

Tom Mueller
Wolverines