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trails,safety,upper peninsula

A Word of Caution!

By Jim Duke, Contributing Writer

With the winter’s snow melting away and several periods of torrential rains experienced in most locales across the Upper Peninsula, it’s little wonder that more trails and back roads haven’t been damaged in one form or another. In many cases the run-off has been significant enough for washouts and some dangerous hazards have developed. While it is true these washouts are fairly common in the late spring season, it is rare that an entire roadway, or trail, disappears and requires major repair to put it back to a safe and usable condition.

As the snowmobiles are put away and the off-road vehicles are prepared for use, here is a word to the wise! Be extra cautious when heading out into the woods or using some backroads for your adventures, even if you have traveled over that particular trail or two-track many times previously. Conditions change with the seasons and almost without fail, there will be a waterhole, a failed culvert, or a new beaver dam that wasn’t there the last time you were over that path.

Like little children, many can’t resist the opportunity to go splashing through that new water puddle, even though they have no idea how deep it might be or what could be hidden under the surface of that muddy mess. One close associate grinning widely said, “that’s why we have a winch on it”, then adding “that’s part of the fun.” But that being said, it’s all fun & games until someone gets hurt, and then everything changes!

trails,safety,upper peninsula
An inviting stretch of trail, hard not to drive a bit faster than allowed, but danger may lurk just ahead.

Driving the same two-track for a few miles to get to the main trail, it’s best to go slow and make sure the surface hasn’t become unstable. Even when riding on the primary trails in a designated system, it’s best not to be running at a speed where it’s impossible to stop in a short distance, should a hazard appear in front of you. What may appear to be a long straight stretch of trail with no obstructions could be hiding any number of pitfalls. Just such a condition occurred recently in the Hiawatha National Forest when the several days of rain caused a major washout on a forest road that is part of designated trail #7 in Alger County.

Fortunately, the washout was observed well in advance and the lead vehicle was able to stop in plenty of time. Under different circumstances it could have been catastrophic. There are some unsubstantiated reports of other floodings, washouts, and even some logging operations that can cause temporary trail closures, so it is always best to know before you go and heed a word of caution. In a single incident recently, a group of four SXS were on a trip with scheduled stops for fuel along the way. Unfortunately, after several miles into the ride they came across a trail closure with no alternate routing, and they had to do some considerable backtracking. With fuel running low and still well into the wilds of the forest, some of the machines became disabled.

Two of the four units had the foresight to bring along spare containers of fuel, so they pooled their resources, put all the fuel into a single unit, and prayed it would be sufficient to get to a place where fuel would be available. While the other three units sat idled just off the trail and waited. Mobile phones were of no use due to lack of service, and the minutes seemed like hours, but eventually the sound of a vehicle could be heard coming, and it was their companion with fuel enough to get them back to the gas station. Although in this instance all turned out well, it could have resulted in a tragic outcome had it been only one unit alone or had no one thought to bring additional containers of fuel along.

To summarize, it’s always best to plan ahead and know what to expect along the selected route, to bring some snacks, water, and extra fuel, to always let someone who isn’t going along know where you plan to go and approximate time you will return, and above all else, unless it’s absolutely necessary, don’t go out alone!

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