The following is a documentation of an annual snowmobile trip, including the trials and tribulations of backpacking around Quebec for a week.
On a February morning, six of us left Moultonborough, NH by truck to St. George de Beauce. Everything went well until we came into the village of St. Honore. Following the truck and trailer in front of us, the smell of burning rubber was followed by smoke while going downhill into the village. As we made a right hand turn to head to St. Georges, we pulled along side the trailer that had a very bent, soon to break axle. We stopped them before this happened.
Snowmobile Trailer Repairs
Our first lucky break of the trip arrived, as it was right in front of a garage that did repair and fabrication. We connected with the hardware store manager across the street that helped communicate with the garage owner to install a new axle and tires while we went on our trip.
We unloaded the two sleds from the trailer and loaded up the gear. I drove the pickup truck to St. Georges while the two sleds located Trail number 535 behind a gas station at the end of the street and rode to our hotel which just happened to be on Trail 535. All arrived at the hotel within 15 minutes of each other.
Hair Dryer Trick
It was 22 degrees below zero on Saturday morning. All the sleds were started after breakfast and were warmed up. We loaded up and upon leaving, my sled was totally dead on the re-start. So, off comes the side panels and hood at negative 22 Fahrenheit. Three relays were yanked and taken into the room, then heated with the hair dryer. Everything was good after that.
We rode Trail 75, 55, 547 up to Mt. Du Midi for the view. Then we proceeded to Trail 549 to 35 which is an old railbed. Then we took a local spur over to Trail 5 as the preferred route was closed due to logging. We ended up in La Pocatiere for the night. All in all, it was a good day with abundant snow cover and smooth trails.
Rimouski on the St. Laurent River
On Sunday we headed out towards Trail 5 east to numerous regional trails, in the direction of the upper end of Trail 35. We finished the day in Rimouski on the St. Laurent River. A few sleds were acting up, like we had ice in the fuel tank, so fresh gas and fuel conditioner were in order. We then haggled with the desk clerk to get a good rate at Hotel L’Empress.
It was still frigid on Monday but trails were smooth and fast. We headed out on Trail 5 towards the Gaspe. Lunch was at the relay in Matane where there are a hundred windmills along the way. We made it to Mt. St. Pierre Hotel by evening and got to view the first of the large mountain trail climbs before dark. This mountain is well known for cliff kiting off over the St. Laurence.
On Tuesday we were still on Trail 5, as that goes around the whole Gaspe. We decided to cut across on regional Trail 597 towards Murdochville, a former copper mining town. We got gas, as the next stretch of trail was 90 miles in mountains and river valleys. This is where my sled started acting up. On the straights I could go 40 mph, uphill down to 29 mph, downhill 50 mph. It was surging back and forth on the throttle, and if pushed, would backfire and stall. I determined it was a fuel flow issue as backfire is a lean condition.
Near Chandler, on Trail 5, was a Yamaha dealer, so I nursed it there. Our second lucky break occurred here, as no diagnostic code showed up. However, they did recommend replacing a fuel pump as this same issue occurred to another Sidewinder customer of theirs.
I became the owner of a new fuel pump at 8,550 miles on the odometer, which they took out of a new 2020 Sidewinder on the showroom floor! We located three rooms at Hotel Chandler as the other hotel was full. That night it started snowing at 10:00, lasting until dawn, dumping 10 inches.
Clutch of Complications
On Wednesday, February 19, we broke trail on number 5, now heading west all morning. Just before noon a Ski-Doo secondary clutch gave out in the group. We nursed it into a clubhouse, where our third lucky break was finding an English-speaking local who had a pickup and the will to take the sled and rider to a dealer in New Richmond.
We continued by trail. At lunchtime at an Irving station-convenience store in Port Daniel, we learned that the dealer found the secondary spring to be broken and took a new one out of a 900 ACE floor model to get it going, but not until the next morning.
Also, we were informed that the two local hotels were full and the one in Maria was also full. So quick thinking, from previous trips I knew there was a hotel in Bonaventure and booked three rooms. The sled transporter had to drive through Bonaventure to return home, so he dropped off our stranded sledder at the hotel.
Come Thursday it was 18 below zero with a stiff wind. The hotel owner offered to drive us to a breakfast place on the other side of the bay and pick us up after. Our stranded sledder also got the owner to drive him to the Ski-Doo dealer that morning.
Where Did He Go?
The five of us continued along Trail 5 to New Richmond, about 40 miles, and met him at 10 am at the dealership. All was good, trails were super smooth and groomed. Another 40 miles out, we stopped for a break, but there was only five of us. The last guy was missing. We waited about ten minutes, then two of us rode back looking for him.
Seems he missed a turn in the snow dust and went off a corner into deep snow, close to a ravine. I rode back a way and located a farmhouse along the trail and knocked on the door, wondering if the occupant had a utility sled, as I had seen tracks around the property. He did and was willing to help with a 20-inch track Expedition.
Three Hour Rescue
With straps, a come-a-long and a log we pulled it out backwards taking about three hours of work. This put us behind schedule even more, in addition to the two other breakdowns. We ended up in Pointe-a-la-Croix at 6:15 after riding up and over an old defunct ski hill that had a grand view of Campbellton, New Brunswick. The only hotel in town was in the last stages of a remodel but had rooms. We got a very good rate at the Interprovincial Hotel. The Italian restaurant in the hotel was very good.
After a nice breakfast on Friday we headed out Trail 5 towards Amqui, which is in the middle of the peninsula. The trail went up a small mountain, crossed a river in the valley that was single sled width, then went up another small mountain into Amqui. As we crossed the river again into a gas station, the Ski-Doo 850 was acting up. I was feeling like we could not catch a break.
Clutch of Complications Round Two
The owner said it was not shifting right. In pulling the clutch guard off, the secondary was stuck open with the belt lodged down into it. I’m thinking this could not possibly be another secondary spring broken. Anyway, the map showed a Ski-Doo dealer just about a mile down the road from the gas station.
I directed the sledder to ride down the sidewalk along the road to the dealer, while the five of us rode the trail across the street and followed the signs to the dealership off the trail. When we pulled in, we were told they were busy but would lend us the tools to fix it in the yard.
Special Tools Not Included
Looking at the secondary helix and spring, I observed a broken roller piece lodged between the spring coils. I told the owner we could not fix this in the yard as the whole jackshaft had to come out to put in new rollers, and an alignment tool is needed to hold up the sprocket, chain and spacers in the chain case. The service manager came out, took one look and decided to pull it into the shop side door so they could make the repairs.
All of us went back to the gas station, which had a nice restaurant at the other end, for a long lunch. When we returned to the dealership, they were just pulling the fixed sled out of the shop. Although this put us even further out on our schedule, luck was still with us, as the quick repair minimalized downtime.
Amqui: Dixville Peak on Steroids
We proceeded on, taking Trail 587N out of Amqui. This trail is one of the most scenic you will ever come across. The wind power company cleared several mountain tops (imagine Dixville Peak on steroids) and the trail followed and crossed the access maintenance road several times. Sometimes we were six feet above the side of the plowed road! There was that much snow. They use a PistenBully to get to the windmills.
As we were on the powerline section of Trail 5, the wind picked up and the temperature dropped. It was late. Somewhere near Three Pistoles we came across a sign on the trail advertising a Lac St. Mathieu Domaine. We called them and got several two-person cabins with dinner and breakfast included.
As we turned off the powerline, I notice the trail was freshly groomed and we were the first ones on it. It twisted up, down, left and right, and all I could think of was meeting the groomer on its return as the sign had said about 6-miles to the compound. Well that is just what happened. Up a small hill and around a corner the PB took up the whole trail.
There was no room for me to pull over as the alders were on both sides of the 8-foot trail. The operator twisted the serrated blade to the right and proceed to roll over the alders on the opposite side to allow us six to pass by! Then we went down and down, and the trail turned to a gravel road leading to the bottom of the hill.
We rode down the plowed road following the signs to the KOA campground. The campground also owned the lake-side of the cabin compound. We got fuel at an outrageous rate from a new pump fed by an above-ground tank. They even had 91-octane for three of us. The wind howled all night, building up drifts that I knew would make the morning powerline ride interesting.
Day Eight of Seven-Day Trip
Now we are into Saturday, day eight of the seven-day trip. We rode into Riviere-du-Loup (means Wolf River), and decided to work our way towards Trail 35, as it is a railbed all the way to St. Marie, well over 125 miles. To make things even more interesting, we are on a weekend and two of our group had seven-day trail passes!
Anyway, we took Trail 85 a short way to Trail 526, a regional trail that met Trail 35 in short order. The reason for all of this? It was going to be over 250 miles to St. Georges to the trucks, and we still had to pick up a trailer with a new axle and tires.
Not Exactly Tourville
Everything was fine until we got 10 miles out from Tourville. The 850-sled decided it did not want to run anymore. It just stopped. It did not sound normal turning the starter over. We took off the belt and started to tow it. I went ahead to the large relais in Tourville, hoping to broker a ride for the broken Ski-Doo to the trucks.
Last Lucky Break
There had to be 75 sleds parked around this place. I went in and found a gentleman who was willing to speak English. He had a friend in St. Georges with a pickup truck that would drive up (two hours away) and take the sled back for us.
Well, the last luck-break just happened. Another Canadian overheard us negotiating a ride and started waving his arms, “stop, stop!” he said. He could take care of everything and we did not need the help being offered.
It seems his broken sled was towed to the same relais, and he called his employee in St. George, who was on the way with a company truck and trailer. He offered to take our broken sled back with his. It would be about four hours, as two up and two back by road.
Here we are on the last day, overextended on the trip, and delayed yet again. I figured it was about 100 miles to St. Georges, so the remaining five of us headed out, down the railbed to St. Marie, almost running out of gas, then picked up Trail 75 to St. Georges toward the trucks.
We did 1,538 miles in eight days but the adventure wasn’t over. Only five miles from the truck I almost hit a deer. Then one of my buddies had his extra fuel caddy break off the LinQ system, along with his luggage, all of which came to a tumbling halt in the middle of the trail. We decided to stay at the hotel where we started, as it was now 5:30. The broken sled showed up soon after, at 6. The trailer was retrieved that evening, all fixed.
I guess the point of all this is we can persevere, have fun and adventure, meet astonishing people willing to help stranded snowmobiles in a foreign country, and do what we snowmobilers live for. Yes, we plan on doing it again. Probably to the Lac St. Jean region.