Algoma Snow Train

Our Snow Train trip had been rescheduled to February due to a lack of snow on the trails we would be riding. Unfortunately, that resulted in a much smaller group than we had originally planned on when it was scheduled for January, and the folks that did not make it for this trip were missed. This was the first time that I rode a saddlebag trip, and I learned a lot from this experience. I had been worried that I would not have enough clothing, which was not a problem at all. I did not wear about half of the clothing that I brought as it was. I did find that my snowmobile outfit is not warm enough for the conditions we had up there. I layered up to the max that I could squeeze into my suit with, and still I had some very cold periods of riding. My hands were quite cold the whole time too, and I plan on buying some gauntlets to remedy that.

We traveled to Sault Ste. Marie on Tuesday night without much to speak of. We arrived at the Catalina Motel, settled into our rooms, and got the details and instructions for the train ride from the Hotel. There was an Arby's across the street from the motel and we went there for some dinner and picked up some sandwiches and beer for the train ride the next morning. We were all pretty tired, and after a couple beers we called it a night because we had to be up early to get our train tickets and get our sleds loaded onto the train.

Day One February 18, 2009
Train ride from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst
We were warned by the motel to get an early start, and fortunately we took their advice because we had a bit of a tough time finding a Tim Horton's and the train ticket office (in that order). We got things settled and showed up at the train yard where we very quickly had to load up the sleds after a fight with the frozen locks on the trailer. The train was almost empty, and I was surprised at how big the box cars are inside. There was another group of about 6 or 8 guys that were going up with their sleds too, and you could tell that everybody was excited to be doing this trip. Our sleds were loaded into a cargo car and we had the car ahead of it. There were two cargo cars ahead of us that were mostly empty, and then a passenger car with about 12 people in it. I'm pretty sure that the engine was ahead of that. From what I could tell, there was only the conductor and the driver on the whole train.

The train got started fairly early (I want to say 8:30am), and I was very surprised that within 20 minutes we seemed to be right in the wilderness. There was a lot of snow on the ground, and the trees were flocked making the scenery beautiful. I shot a couple pics with my phone, but they did not come out great. I had higher hopes for better pictures and next time I will definitely bring along a dedicated camera. My Mino video camera was along though and I took a few videos out the window. The windows were not very clean and that is pretty obvious in the pictures and the videos. The seating was quite comfortable, and there were many seats that faced one another which was nice for having a conversation. We had all of our snowmobile gear in garbage bags, since we would not have anywhere to store our gear bags once we get on our sleds. I'm not sure if the train offers a service to allow you to send some gear back on the train once you arrive, but that would have made the trip a lot nicer. As it was, we did not have much of anything to pass the time except looking out the window at the scenery. I brought a book, and read a bit of it, but by evening we were all quite anxious to get off the train. I think the train ride ended up being 12-13 hours in all. There is not much of anything along the train route except for a couple tiny towns. Every once in a while the train stopped and people got off (some with snow shoes) in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I began to get a little concerned late in the day because of the distance covered, and was worried that we might have too many miles to ride comfortably.

When we got to Hearst, our hotel parking lot was right where we got off the train, and we found out what cold really means. I think we only had to travel about 150ft to the hotel, but it was so cold that my eyes were tearing up and freezing in that short distance. It probably did not help that we were all carrying a lot of gear. The Companion Hotel was great because they had indoor storage for the sleds, a bar, restaurant, and other amenities. We had some dinner in the restaurant and a couple beers before hitting the bed.

Day Two February 19, 2009
Ride from Hearst to Hornepayne click here for log

The next morning we headed back down to the restaurant for some breakfast. Joe had to get a new battery for one of his sleds, so we had a bit of time to eat before the store opened. We did not have a lot of miles to cover today, so it was okay to get a late start. We geared up and rode over to the store where they changed the battery and we gassed up our sleds and hit the trails. It was obvious within the first few minutes of riding that it was going to be a cold day, and we stopped several times in the first hour to add gloves, cover up exposed areas and take care of things like that. I had not been really cold in my jacket/bibs before, but I was chilled to the bone this morning. I think the temp was around -29°C that morning, but the wind chill was totally unbearable. We stopped complaining, and began to just knock out the miles with only a couple breaks along the way since it was kind of hard to enjoy a break when you’re freezing cold! The trails were very wide, smooth and well signed, but there was a very long stretch near the beginning that ran along the Highway (11). We only saw 2 other sleds the whole day. There were no gas stations between Hearst and Hornepayne, and we traveled the 100 miles without any problems, arriving at around 2:30pm.

Hornepayne seemed more like an outpost than a town. Our hotel was actually a complex that served as a community center, strip mall, Restaurant, Bar and hotel. Once we checked in we headed down to the restaurant for a bite of lunch, since we hadn't eaten since breakfast. All of us had the open faced hamburger platter, which I hadn't had in years! This must be a Canadian specialty, because I've never had the likes of it in the US. It consisted of a large oval plate, with two slices of bread, and a hamburger patty on each slice, and fries on the rest of the plate. Cover the entire lot with about 3 cups of gravy and you have one delicious albeit unhealthy meal. There was a LCBO in the strip mall, and we were able to get some wine and some cosmopolitans to enjoy the rest of our day while Joe and Jake took off on their sleds to get a bit more riding in. Gord, Rich and I relaxed with cocktails and a nice cigar. I think I passed out for a while, and woke up when Joe and Jake returned from their ride. We grabbed some dinner, which was a buffet that was pretty good, and then headed back for a quick cocktail and bed.

Day Three February 20, 2009
Ride from Hornepayne to Wawa click here for log
We got an early start on what was my favorite day of riding this trip. The sky was clear and blue, and the temps had climbed up a bit. I put an extra layer of clothing on which kept me perfect the whole day. Today’s trails were wide and really well groomed, as before, but there was a little more terrain today, and a few rather large areas that were bare from recent logging. I didn't realize it at the time, but most of our pictures were taken at places that the trees had been logged. My helmet has a built in visor, which I was glad to have due to the bright sunlight and snow reflection.

We stopped in Dubreuiville to gas up and get lunch, and arrived earlier than expected. Dubreuiville was very nice, with the homes dotted around a rolling landscape and a nice main road running through the middle. We went into the restaurant and had some lunch, where we found out that the Mill which the town was named for had closed, and not much was still open. The gas station was only open for an hour each day, and so we headed over there and filled up before moving on to Wawa. The trip to Wawa went really quickly and we made one nice, long stop where we had a couple refreshments and took in some of the scenery. When we got to Wawa we found our lodging and decided to change from rooms to a log cabin. The view was beautiful, and the cabin was really nice too, so we had a few beers and a cigar before cleaning up and going to the lodge’s restaurant (lather, rinse, repeat). Dinner in the lodge was excellent, and a bottle of wine back in the cabin topped off a great day.

Day Four February 21, 2009
Ride from Wawa to Sault Ste. Marie click here for log
This was our longest stretch, and we had a lot to do when we completed it, so we got an early(ish) start and began to knock out the miles. The trails were beautiful again today, although they were a bit narrower than the previous trails and we began to run into some other traffic too. We expected this, since it was Saturday and we were closer to Sault Ste. Marie. The sky was blue all morning, and we were making pretty good time. Rich began to notice his sled was running badly, and we stopped a couple times to check it out. At halfway haven, we found another identical sled to Rich’s that was suffering from the same problem, and after we gassed up we got back on the trail to try and finish up the day while the sled was still drivable. Unfortunately, the situation just got worse, and the miles were getting tough with lots of winding as well as some congestion with other traffic. By the time we got to Searchmont, it was so bad he decided not to chance it, so we planned to leave him there and come back with the trailer to pick him and his sled up. We hurried as quickly as we could, and Joe took the lead bringing us to Sault Ste. Marie, but still it was getting late. We finally made it back to the trail head, and found that Rich had managed to get a ride to the trail head (with his sled too), which was great, since it was late (around 7) and none of us had eaten any food since breakfast. We loaded up our sleds and headed back to the Catalina where we checked into our rooms, cleaned up, and cracked open a much anticipated beer! This was the first time I had gone over 200 miles in a single day, and it was pretty grueling. I probably could have covered the first two days of our trip easily in a day, but today’s riding was more difficult.

We headed over to a local steakhouse to cap off a fantastic trip, and I gorged myself on a very big meal that included Escargot, Caesar salad, steak Oscar and a desert (along with a couple glasses of wine). This was a fantastic meal to end a long day and wonderful trip.

On the way home, we discussed the trip, train, and other aspects of the trip. I think the general consensus was that the train ride was very long, and could be avoided. The area was spectacular to ride in, and we loved all of the places we visited. I personally would love to do this again either with or without the train ride. My thanks to Joe for putting this together and I hope that we get a chance to go again next year with our friends that could not make it this time. Saddle bagging was easy, and I look forward to doing that again! It may be difficult to find a “loop” that will take us back to our truck, but I plan on working on that early and having a good route for next year.

© 2014 Dean Abraham