'Mud dogs' traverse the state by snowmobile

  • Article by: LYNN KEILLOR SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Updated: January 30, 2014 - 3:30 PM

Next week, hundreds of hard-core snowmobilers will descend on Mahnomen for the Winter Rendezvous. A few die-hards will get there entirely by snowmobile.

BRUCE BISPING • bbisping@startribune.com Lake Minnetonka, MN., Saturday, 12/18/10] (left to right) Ryan and Dale Haug of Mound enjoyed the Luce Line Trail just north of Stubs Bay, Lake Minnetonka on their Artic Cat snowmobiles. ORG XMIT: MIN2014012709512005

Photo: Photo by Bruce Bisping • bbisping@startribune.com,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

I’m looking at a Minnesota map taped to the wall. It’s taller than I am, made up of skinny orange and thick, green windy lines that connect towns.

Each line represents a component of the state’s expansive network of snowmobile trails, 22,000 miles in all. Some are ruler straight, following county roads or an old railroad bed. Others are squiggles that indicate a jaunty, woodsy trail.

I put one finger on the Twin Cities and another finger on Mahnomen in northeastern Minnesota. I start thinking about how I might travel from my home, in Minneapolis, to the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association’s (MnUSA) Winter Rendezvous entirely by snowmobile.

The Winter Rendezvous is an annual celebration of snowmobiling, sponsored by MnUSA and organized by a different snowmobile club each year. The weekend will include guided rides, a vintage snowmobile show, social time and good food.

I’ve already decided that I’m going to sign up for the snowmobile tour to Itasca State Park, which has 31 miles of snowmobile trail mainly around the perimeter. It’s been a dream of mine to ride among the tallest pine trees in the state and see the Mississippi headwaters under a white blanket.

But first, I have to get there. The majority of Winter Rendezvous attendees will drive, pulling their snowmobiles on trailers, just as I’ve done the two times I’ve gone to the event. However, this year I’m inspired by a conversation with past MnUSA President Mark Steinmueller, of Brook Park, Minn., who likes to use his snowmobile to get to the annual event. “We’re a snowmobile group,” he said. “So that should be the way to get there.”

I’m not the only person examining maps. Sheri Vertina is at her home in International Falls, looking at similar maps and charting her way to Mahnomen. She, her husband, Dan, and perhaps another friend or two will make a one-day ride to the event. It’s something they’ve done for several years now.

More than one way to go

With the exception of a trail desert around the Twin Cities, snowmobiling from the Twin Cities outskirts to Mahnomen is not only possible, but there are numerous ways to do it.

When I look at that map, I can see a logical route north to Mille Lacs, cutting west to Brainerd and Detroit Lakes and then north. Or a northwest route to Alexandria and Fergus Falls, then going north through Maplewood State Park on the way to Mahnomen. I can visualize myself seeing the changes of the land from agriculture to lake country to forest to town.

When I ride, I can feel the land change beneath me: how the prairie rolls, how it rises and buckles around creeks and rivers, and how a flat, barren expanse hides a lake beneath the snow and ice. I love the feeling of independence, solitude and self-reliance I experience when exploring my state from the inside out. I know I will see winter landscapes, meet people and visit places that are simply not possible via other long-distance transportation. It’s the same reason I tour with my bicycle in the summer, and one of the reasons I look forward to sledding every winter.

A ride from the Twin Cities to Mahnomen will be about 400 miles and will likely take two days. I’ll pack a minimalist’s amount of gear into saddlebags, which will drape off the back of the machine. A long snowmobile trip plays to my sense of adventure because it’s rarely predictable. Severe weather, a mechanical issue or trail detour are just a couple of things that might foil any preplanned route.

There’s a name for people like me who use their snowmobiles as transportation to the Rendezvous: Mud Dogs.

Every ride has its story

When I ride to the Rendezvous, I’ll be with a group of riders including Joel Mellenthin of Waconia. He was part of the expedition who coined the Mud Dog name in 1991. “It should have been an easy half-day trip; it took two days,” Mellenthin said. “We ran out of snow and rode in some mud. Someone called us Mud Dogs, and it stuck.” The idea of riding to the event stuck, too, and Mud Dog groups now come from all parts of the state.

Each Mud Dog ride has its story. Mellenthin recalls one year where, for extra credit, he started his ride from the Iowa border and rode all the way to International Falls. Then there was the time the Rendezvous was held in Fairmont, in the no-snow year of 2011. Mellenthin trailered a vintage snowmobile to about 30 miles north of town and rode a grassy ditch in.

These stories, which sometimes get a bit tall, are subject to prizes at the Rendezvous. Stein­mueller won the grand prize last year — an oversized, homemade plaque called the Bent Skag Trophy — for a story that included an engine malfunction at the half-mile mark, missed turns and an average rider age of 69.

For Mellenthin and those in his riding group, the Mud Dog ride became an excuse to raise money for Roseville-based Rein In Sarcoma when a colleague and fellow Mud Dog died of a sarcoma cancer in 2011. Twice he’s scattered ashes of Mud Dogs along the trail. Snowmobile riders in Minnesota raised $1.3 million last year for various charities in more than 40 events, including the Mud Dog ride, which raised $7,400 in 2013.

  • related content

  • Meet the Mud Dogs

    Thursday January 30, 2014

    Minnesota United Snow-mobile Association’s Winter RendezvousFeb. 6-9, Mahnomen, Minn.www.mn​snowmobiler.org

  • Marlin Levison - Strib 01/29/05 - Assign #93821 - Hundreds of snowmobilers headed to Ely over the weekend to participate in annual Fun Run snowmobile tour following state trails to Babbitt and Tower as well as Ely. Several thousand dollars of cash prizes were awarded to drivers with proceeds of the event to go towards maintaining the area snowmobile trails. Viking mascot Ragnar hosted the drivers. Over 500 sleds were registered to run the 150 mile loop. - IN THIS PHOTO: Sledders head down the Taconite trail towards Tower ORG XMIT: MIN2014012709541908

  • photo by Mike Ellis Special to the Star TribuneSnow was thin in 1992, but these earleeeeeeeMud Dogs went ahead with snowmobiling to Bemidji.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tampa Bay - WP: J. McGee 6 FINAL
Toronto - LP: B. Morrow 5
Cleveland - LP: B. Shaw 4 FINAL
Detroit - WP: P. Coke 6
Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann 3 FINAL
NY Mets - LP: J. Niese 0
Chicago Cubs - LP: J. Turner 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh - WP: E. Volquez 7
Miami - WP: A. DeSclafani 5 FINAL
Philadelphia - LP: J. Papelbon 4
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 2 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: M. Garza 9
Boston - WP: J. Kelly 8 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Vargas 4
Minnesota - WP: T. May 6 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: H. Noesi 4
Colorado - LP: J. Lyles 1 FINAL
St. Louis - WP: M. Gonzales 4
Atlanta - LP: M. Minor 3 FINAL
Texas - WP: C. Lewis 10
Houston - WP: D. Keuchel 6 FINAL
LA Angels - LP: H. Santiago 1
Los Angeles - WP: C. Kershaw 4 FINAL
San Francisco - LP: Y. Petit 2
San Diego - LP: O. Despaigne 6 FINAL
Arizona - WP: Z. Spruill 8
Oakland - WP: J. Lester 4 FINAL
Seattle - LP: C. Young 0
NY Yankees - LP: D. Robertson 2 FINAL
Baltimore - WP: D. O`Day 3
Miami 10 FINAL
Buffalo 29
Jacksonville 10 FINAL
Washington 41
Dallas 26 FINAL
Tennessee 10
Arizona 25 FINAL
NY Giants 14
New England 30 FINAL
Minnesota 7
New Orleans 24 FINAL
Cleveland 26
Atlanta 10 FINAL
Cincinnati 24
Detroit 7 FINAL
Carolina 24
St. Louis 19 FINAL
Tampa Bay 17
Seattle 21 FINAL
San Diego 30
NY Jets 24 FINAL
Green Bay 31
Kansas City 17 FINAL
Denver 24
Houston 30 FINAL
Oakland 14
Chicago 28 FINAL
San Francisco 20
Philadelphia 9/15/14 7:30 PM
Indianapolis
Tampa Bay 9/18/14 7:25 PM
Atlanta
Boise State 38 FINAL
Connecticut 21
Indiana 42 FINAL
Bowling Green 45
Ga Southern 38 FINAL
Georgia Tech 42
Syracuse 40 FINAL
Central Mich 3
UCF 10 FINAL
(18) Missouri 38
Massachusetts 31 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
Ohio U 14 FINAL
Marshall 44
West Virginia 40 FINAL
Maryland 37
Kent State 0 FINAL
(23) Ohio State 66
Pittsburgh 42 FINAL
FIU 25
East Carolina 28 FINAL
Virginia Tech 21
Louisville 21 FINAL
Virginia 23
Wyoming 14 FINAL
(2) Oregon 48
Air Force 48 FINAL
Georgia State 38
(13) Georgia 35 FINAL
(14) So Carolina 38
Arkansas 49 FINAL
Texas Tech 28
Iowa State 20 FINAL
Iowa 17
Miami-Ohio 10 FINAL
Michigan 34
Kansas 3 FINAL
Duke 41
NC State 49 FINAL
So Florida 17
Arkansas State 20 FINAL
Miami-Florida 41
Miss State 35 FINAL
South Alabama 3
Louisiana 15 FINAL
(10) Ole Miss 56
Minnesota 7 FINAL
TCU 30
Illinois 19 FINAL
Washington 44
Army 0 FINAL
(16) Stanford 35
Western Mich 45 FINAL
Idaho 33
Eastern Mich 3 FINAL
Old Dominion 17
Southern Miss 12 FINAL
(3) Alabama 52
Northern Ill 48 FINAL
UNLV 34
Tulsa 21 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 50
ULM 0 FINAL
(8) LSU 31
Wake Forest 24 FINAL
Utah State 36
Western Ky 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 50
TX-San Antonio 13 FINAL
(25) Oklahoma State 43
Purdue 14 FINAL
(9) Notre Dame 30
Kentucky 30 FINAL
Florida 36
New Mexico St 24 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 42
Tennessee 10 FINAL
(4) Oklahoma 34
(17) USC 31 FINAL
Boston College 37
Navy 35 FINAL
Texas State 21
(12) UCLA 20 FINAL
Texas 17
Penn State 13 FINAL
Rutgers 10
Rice 10 FINAL
(6) Texas A&M 38
(15) Arizona State 38 FINAL
Colorado 24
(24) Nebraska 55 FINAL
Fresno State 19
Nevada 28 FINAL
Arizona 35
(5) Auburn 9/18/14 6:30 PM
(20) Kansas State
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Los Angeles 1 FINAL
San Jose 1
Montreal 16 FINAL
Edmonton 33
Toronto 33 FINAL
Calgary 40
Winnipeg 9 FINAL
Brt Columbia 26
Saskatchewan 3 FINAL
Hamilton 28

ADVERTISEMENT

Advertisement
Golden Gavel by Star Tribune

Countdown to great deals

Bid Sept. 21-29

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Grade the Vikings offense

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close