South Paw

Written by Mike Stewart

So you’re driving along on “Neptune”, watching Chris ahead of you, and Nate behind you in your rear view mirror.

Driving along with Nate and Chris

Driving along with Nate and Chris

As you may have seen in pictures already we snow machine in a formation called quartering, where we are stacked up behind each other’s left or right shoulder (depending on the wind direction). We keep a set distance between us and maintain the same speed. This takes some concentration and is quite fun, making what could be a boring drive into what feels like a special-ops maneuver! Because we all have the same machine, and a relatively similar load that we are towing, the engines are running at best efficiency when around 6100 RPM. That’s giving us an average speed of about 42 kmh. If you look in the photo, you’ll see the little throttle lever on my right handlebar, which I have to hold constantly to keep in formation with the guys.

Right hand on the throttle and left hand hanging out, just helping to steer

Right hand on the throttle and left hand hanging out, just helping to steer

My left hand can control the brake if I need it, but otherwise just helps in the steering and can be rather lazy. Until I get an itch on my head, need to dust snow off of my dashboard gauges, or have to adjust my goggles. I could of course just stop, take off my big gloves and fix with the minor inconvenience or scratch the scratch… BUT then I would have caused Chris and Nate to stop too (that’s what we do when something is wrong or when one of us has a GOOD reason to halt our progress). Nobody wants to stop the train for something so trivial! It would be like stopping your car every time you wanted to adjust your glasses a little. Silly and impractical. So I can just simply use my left hand while driving along with my right…

The Abominable Snow Mitt!

The Abominable Snow Mitt!

Except my left hand is like a small log in a sleeping bag! Like if you picked up a bunny rabbit and tried to adjust your reading glasses with it. And if you get a bad itch on your forehead while careening along across bumpy snow and trying to stay lined up with the team?



A most inaccurate and imprecise tool

A most inaccurate and imprecise tool

That clawless bear paw makes you steam up in frustration! And the worst part (those of you who drive snow machines will smile in understanding) is that you can’t help but squeeze your right hand on the throttle while you itch uncontrollably with your stupid giant boxing glove of a left hand! So you go speeding out of formation like you’ve got ants in your pants, everybody looking over at you, as you try to calmly return to your place in the line-up. Driving out here is like driving a small boat in gentle seas. The sastrugi are little wavelets and the air is fresh and sweet to breathe, it’s pristine… until the South Paw skips the record and throws a monkey wrench in it!        


2 thoughts on “South Paw

  1. A bit more poetry for you:

    With sloping masts and dipping prow,
    As who pursued with yell and blow
    Still treads the shadow of his foe,
    And forward bends his head,
    The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
    And southward aye we fled.

    And now there came both mist and snow,
    And it grew wondrous cold:
    And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
    As green as emerald.

    And through the drifts the snowy clifts
    Did send a dismal sheen:
    Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken—
    The ice was all between.

    The ice was here, the ice was there,
    The ice was all around:
    It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
    Like noises in a swound!

    There is one recycled stanza, but the poetry has all been from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” By Samuel Coleridge. I feel like it fits pretty well with your journey- besides the south bound part..

    I have been incredibly entertained by the posts, every thing from spanglish titled muffler snacks, to Rocky themed driving!

    Your post from the weekend talked about looking for carbon in the snow layers: recently we have had two volcanoes near by beginning to rumble- Clevland to the west and Pavlof to the east are both waking up, and the kids were wondering if the ash from volcanoes is included among the forest fire ash and human produced exhaust in your pictures of the past in the layers?

    Good luck with the ants, and keep that monkey wrench near by- never know when it might be handy!

    • Hello intrepid classroom! First of all, thank you for the poetry, which I have passed along to the guys. Second of all, in answer to your question about volcanic ash…yes! we do expect to see volcanic emission in the snow. In fact, chemistry from volcanic ash, which leaves a different, measurable signal than that from forest fires and human produced emissions, that comes from major volcanic events with known dates are used to reliably date ice cores around Greenland (and Antarctica to some extent). Greenland gets enough snowfall per year (and gets enough snowfall that more importantly very rarely melts) that events such as volcanic eruptions are preserved as individual layers, which can be detected through changes in the chemistry and even the electrical conductivity and dielectric properties of the layers occuring during eruptions vs. snow deposited without an eruption present.

      Great question!


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