There and back (barely), Thompson style

A lot can happen over the course of a day when one is out sledding

by Thomas Shirtliffe

Three men next to an iceberg
This ice heave was discovered during a cross-country adventure. Photo courtesy Don Vipond

One of Rob Vipond’s most memorable days on the trails is also one of his most adventurous.

A friend of Vipond’s, Wes, was in need of a riding partner to make a cross-country trip from The Pas to Thompson. It was a trip that Vipond describes as “very foolish to undertake alone, and questionable even to do with two sleds, but only half as foolish.”

To prepare for the 390-kilometre trip, the two snowmobilers had to have fuel ready to be carried and cached ahead of time. They also need to figure out where they were going because, even though the two had done the trip before, this time they were doing it in brand new territory. Vipond and his friend were depending on a route that had only been broken through the previous summer by groomer Cathy Sangster of the Kelsey Trail Sno-Riders. The route was vital, as it would provide more or less a direct path towards Highway 6 from The Pas. Other details factored in as well.

“To set the scene, I had a slight mishap while dressing a moose a few days before we were to leave,” Vipond said, “just a small cut on one finger.”

Starting out on the right track

The pair set off early in the morning on a cool, sunny winter day with a crisp temperature of -30 C. With very few groomed trails east of The Pas, the men made a stop at Crossing Bay 70 kilometres into their ride to top up on gas. There would be no fuel stops for the next 250 kilometres.

After passing Crossing Bay, the pair of riders found themselves in the bush on unbroken trails. The last part of the bush was starting to get questionable, as it wasn’t what the two were used to.

“It no longer looked like the more familiar abandoned logging road,” said Vipond. “We were so much relieved to break out of the bush and intersect with Highway 6. We would just follow it north for 100 kilometres to Ponton service station for food and fuel.”

Vipond also noted that his left hand, the hand with the cut finger, was getting sore but was still in good enough shape to ride.

Taking it all in stride

When the two left Ponton they headed to Kiski Creek. At this point, Vipond’s sled was handling poorly and he was rolling on every corner—and his sore hand was becoming useless from the hard day of riding. Vipond finally hit one corner and the sled lost its ability to steer, nearly putting him into the steep creek bank. The stabilizer bar had fallen down into the ski, but the two men were able to be reasonably fix it with mechanical wire and good old duct tape.

After the slight mishap, Vipond and his friend still had many kilometres to go. The pair were happy when they finally hit a groomed Thompson trail.

“I was struggling with my hand now,” Vipond said. “I’ll never appreciate a groomed trail as much as I did then.”

Eventually they were met by club members and were guided into Thompson, where they received a warm reception at a club social event.

But this was only half the trip; they still had to get home.

What else could go wrong?

On the trip back home, Vipond found his pain had spread to his arm and shoulder. To make matters worse, the clutch fell off his friend’s sled. Duct tape wouldn’t work this time, so Vipond had to tow his friend. The two barely got to Crossing Bay, but the last 70 kilometres looked daunting.

“I was in no shape to carry on and Wes was an iceberg on his dead sled,” said Vipond.

Luckily for them, there was a small residence nearby that had a phone. A phone call and a pickup later, and the two were on their way home—but Vipond made a stop at the hospital first.

“It turned out to be some kind of blood poisoning caused by the moose juice that got into the small cut a week before,” Vipond said.

All in all, it was an adventure.

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