The scene is familiar to small towns across Minnesota: A dozen or so buddies gather at the local cafe for coffee and chitchat. Outside, their pickup trucks are scattered across the parking lot, each with a trailer and a four-wheeler in tow. Soon the men will depart for a day of cruising ATV trails and logging roads.
This specific scene unfolds Tuesday mornings — no matter the weather — at Wilbert Café in Cotton, Minn. They’re a group of mostly retired men, ages 65 to 87, mostly from Cotton and surrounding areas. Their riding season lasts about six months of every year, said 87-year-old “Bobber” Bob Reed, who leads the informal group and selects their weekly route. “We quit riding just before deer-hunting season.”
With temperatures hovering around 50 degrees and freshly fallen leaves littering the ground, Reed and his friends drove their trucks to the Chisholm ATV Trail the other morning. They planned for a 20-mile round trip on their ATVs, heading all the way to the Highway 5 Bar and Grill, where they would grab lunch before driving the 10 miles back to Chisholm.
“We don’t drive very fast,” said Reed, who sports an un-fancy 1996 Polaris 500. “Fifteen, 20 miles an hour — that’s our limit. You go any faster and you can’t see what you’re out here for.”
The pace proved slow enough for enjoying the seasonal landscape and spotting some wildlife — the occasional whitetail deer, a ruffed grouse. “We stop at some of the scenic overlooks,” added Bill Kubiak, 68, who drives a Bombardier Can-Am.
After just 5 miles, Reed and company were already braking for coffee. “We have a rule,” said Bob Randall, 77, an ATV enthusiast who owns two Arctic Cats and a Polaris. “You bring more coffee than gas.”
On warm, sunny days, Reed is occasionally seen leading a caravan with upward of 40 fair-weather four-wheelers. “There’s another group of guys our same age who also meet at Wilbert Café every Tuesday,” added Randall, underscoring the popularity of ATVs in these parts. “Sometimes we cross.”
ATV ridership is booming in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, registrations for recreational ATVs increased more than fivefold in the past 20 years. Nevertheless, Reed and his buddies had the trail to themselves this time around. They didn’t pass another soul during the whole trip.
After stopping for lunch, the men pointed their vehicles back toward Chisholm. The weather kept getting better, climbing into the 70s with comfortable breezes from the south.
The trail skirted clear-cuts and majestic pines, with accents of this year’s rich autumn pallette. It was a glorious day for a ride. □