Favorite places pop up in unexpected ways. I have a short list of all-time favorite places and a longer list of locales I just love to visit. A recent ride up north, a trip I expected to be no more than a nice little winter break, added another favorite to my short list.
The trip came about thanks to Del Wright from Mattracks, who suggested we ride some of his company's tracked ATVs. Mattracks builds track systems for trucks and ATVs. The systems have been around since 1994 and are used on all seven continents. They are particularly popular for commercial applications where trucks must cross snow or mud. The U.S. military tested the Mattracks on its military Hummers, and the tracks were vastly superior to tires in deep, soft sand. Search-and-rescue teams in heavily snowy areas also use Mattracks-equipped vehicles.
Mattracks' Litefoot system is designed specifically for ATVs and utility vehicles. As with the truck system, the Litefoot system allows access into seriously nasty terrain. It can be used in mud or snow where light ground pressure means ATVs float rather than dig in.
We took four Mattracks-equipped machines north to the 70-mile-long expanse of the Lake of the Woods on the northern edge of Minnesota, along the Canadian border. Wright made arrangements at a lodge in Northwest Angle, the small chunk of Minnesota bordered by the lake and Canada. The area offers remote lodges, good ice fishing and miles and miles of deep snow perfectly suited for the unique track system.
Our Mattracks crew of Wright, myself, customer service rep Jeremy Anderson (aka J.T.) and Brendan Dirkes was blessed with bright sunshine and "balmy" 20-degree weather. That kind of fortune is unusual, as I have a knack for bringing bad weather to the world's nicest places.
Northern Minnesota has a slightly different definition of nice. When February bares its teeth in the Lake of the Woods area, temperatures plummet to 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit and residents hunker down in their houses and hope the furnace doesn't go out.
Dirkes and I met Wright and J.T. bright and early at a hotel in Roseau. As we sat down to bacon and eggs at the hotel's restaurant, Wright filled us in on the Mattracks system and how the fish were biting on the lake.
"The system is nearly unstoppable in the snow and mud," he told us. "We've literally had trouble getting these things stuck."
Dirkes and I exchanged glances.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" I asked.
"Oh yeah," he said. "We need to get one of these things stuck this weekend!"
Wright laughed and told us to give it our best shot.
Full of coffee and eggs, we headed out of town and followed Wright to Karlstad, a burg of 794 souls whose main source of income is the Mattracks plant. We took a quick tour of the small factory and got a look at the trucks and ATVs being converted to work with tracks.
"Installation on an ATV takes about 30 minutes," Wright told us as we checked out one of the quads undergoing an installation. The technician working on the machine snorted and said, "Fifteen minutes once you know what you are doing."
The system bolts directly to the ATV's hubs and appears to be relatively easy to install. With a home lift and hand tools, one could bolt on the tracks for the winter and/or heavy mud use, then convert the machine back to use with wheels without undue strain.
Our introduction complete, it was time to see if we could bury a Mattracks-equipped machine. Our final destination was Oak Island, which is part of Northwest Angle. The Angle, as locals call it, is the northernmost bit of land in the lower 48 states, and the odd little piece is only accessible by water, air or driving through Canada. An anomaly that resulted from border confusion in the early 1800s, the Angle is a unique place with a smattering of fishing resorts, a shore lined with summer cabins ranging from rustic to stunning and about 100 hardy full-time residents.