Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bruno SK ATV Rally Review - 2014

The trees were starting to lose their leaves, farmers had finished combining, and there was a crispness in the air. No doubt about it, fall was here and snow would be coming soon. I continue ATVing well into December but the writing was on the wall that for the majority of riders the season was over. But wait, we need to get in one more really good ride. And that was when I heard about the Bruno ATV Rally and decided to do some research on it. Information was hard to come by, some said it was just riding across stubble fields and gravel roads, others said it was a good time. I decided to take my chances and got a group together to check it out.

As mentioned, it was a bit later in the year, October 18th to be exact but thankfully the weather was cooperating. It wasn't hot by any means, but with chest waders and a waterproof jacket it was just right. Our crew met on the outskirts of Saskatoon and traveled as a group to Bruno. Total distance is only 91kms, so we were there in less than an hour. This is the closest ATV rally to Saskatoon and the short drive was an absolute bonus.

My GoPro video of the rally
We arrived around 10:00, which allowed us time to have a nice pancake breakfast before heading out. I would estimate that there were already around 200 machines and riders at various points of unloading, getting ready and having breakfast. Breakfast was served in a small rec center and it was crowded. We started by purchasing our poker hands, getting some tickets for the door prizes and 50/50 draw. The atmosphere was pretty relaxed, lots of socializing  going on and nobody seemed to be in a huge rush to get out.

Bruno Rec Center where meals were served
Trucks and ATV's plugged up the rather large Rec grounds in Bruno
This was only my second ATV rally, and there were some very stark differences between Bruno and the other rally I attended in spring (Foxford). One of the main differences was that there was more family involvement in Bruno. I saw a fair number of kids, some riding with parents, others with grandparents.

Families weren't an uncommon sight in Bruno

Another difference was the rural feel of the rally. You could tell this event was a huge draw from all of the surrounding areas. Many of the machines I saw looked like they had just been loaded up from the farm and brought over. Lots of stock Honda's and Yamaha's and some machines that looked like they were held together with chicken wire and duct tape.

A map of the 40 mile route cross country and through farmers fields

Another contrast to Foxford was that snorkeled mud machines were in the minority.

Saw quite a few dirt bikes
Our group getting ready to ride out

We loaded up out machines and hit trails? Yeah no trails here, you are riding cross country from field to field, your only guidance is stakes in the ground with orange tape spaced about a quarter mile apart. For the most part we found our way pretty easily, but there was the odd time that we got off the path and had to search for that next stake.
Fields were combined, so there was nothing but stubble on the ground. It was fun to bomb through the fields at high speeds for a bit, but we wanted mud.
We came across our first slough and played around in the mud, I was worried that would be the only one but boy was I wrong. It seemed like every quarter mile there was another mud hole. Around some of the mud holes there would be a group gathered, many of them socializing among themselves and being entertained by the other guys get muddy.

The typical gathering around a good water hole
We played in that first mud hole no less than half an hour, we were all in our glory. We had one guy riding in our group who had no fear,  as soon as we got to a new mud hole he would go ripping right into the center without knowing how deep it was. To our amazement he never swamped. The next mud hole was just about as much fun...and they kept on coming.

It was amazing how most of the sloughs were no more than rack deep, although there were exceptions
 That was pretty much how things went, mud hole to mud hole with stubble field in between. Some areas were actually quite hilly and not your typical flat prairie. I was constantly amazed at just how many machines I saw, they were everywhere, you were never completely alone.
I ended up blowing a belt just before the check point and ended up having to get towed in. They were selling hotdogs so we grabbed a bite and did a quick belt swap. Again there were a ton of machines and people, I would guess around 200 ATV's a the half way point alone.

Large gathering at the check point

Hot dogs and pop were available

Thankfully the check point was a little more than half way, because I was running low on fuel. We were started to get tired and blowing a belt took some of  wind out of my sails, I was less inclined to hit every mud hole we passed.

This guy got even muddier than I was

Looks like somebody got a little too deep
We pulled into Bruno around 5:00, I can honestly say I was exhausted and completely covered head to toe in mud. The towns volunteer fire department was set up and for $10 they would spray down your quad with the fire hose. I was more than willing to leave as much Bruno mud in Bruno as I could. I knew that no matter how much they cleaned my machine I would still have a couple hours of de-weeding and cleaning at home but it helped.
We loaded our machines, had some burgers and fries at the same facility we had breakfast, and called it a day.


Crazy fun! What an enjoyable day, played hard, had some breakage but nothing major, had an awesome group of guys I was riding with. Couldn't have asked for more. The Bruno Lions club did a great job of organizing and put on a great event. If you are one of the landowners that allows the rally to cross your land, thank you.

I did have a couple concerns; one was the amount of alcohol being consumed and drunk drivers\riders, the other was seeing a number of people without helmets. These issues plague pretty much every event of this sort.

If your looking for nice tight technical trails, probably not the best rally for you. If you enjoy bombing across stubble fields and socializing with friends and enjoy getting muddy, then absolutely Bruno is the place for you. Looking forward to 2015.

Photo credits to: Michael John Charbonneau, Roger Mah, Corrinne Arnold, Matt Sutton, John Lamon, Bryan Kambeitz and others (sorry if I didn't list your name).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Foxford Run a Muck Rally 2014 Review

There are a couple of Saskatchewan ATV rallies that have a reputation for not disappointing, and the Run a Muck rally in Foxford SK is one of them. Foxford is a tiny village of only a couple of houses located just 45 minutes east of Prince Albert. I'm not sure how this tiny place can host one of the provinces largest ATV rallies, but they do it and do it well. This year I was told they had 291 ATVs registered.

My video of the ride

Foxford was the first ATV rally I've ever attended, which is weird as I've been ATVing most of my life. Most of my riding has been on 2 wheel drive sport quads which I figured weren't really rally friendly, and in the case of Foxford that is absolutley correct. Being that it was my first rally I had no idea what to expect. I did know that Foxford is not know for being dry, it is known for tons of water and muskeg, and I wanted to see what all the hype was about.


I picked up my 2009 Can Am Renegade 800X in January 2014 and it was bone stock. I knew I needed to get prepared for mud, so I wired up a winch, added some 30" Silverback tires, chest waders and even got it snorkeled.

Picking up my machine from Mad Mechanics in Martinsville
I have never owned a snorkeled ATV, in my mind that was just way too hardcore. Besides I was a trail guy, not a mudder. But when somebody explained to me that snorkels were cheap insurance compared to an engine rebuild I decided to get it done. 

I took my machine to Mike at Mad Mechanics in Martinsville to get the snorkeling done. I almost didn't get it done in time because of my procrastination but Mike managed to get it done the night before leaving to Foxford. Talk about cutting it close.

A panoramic of the parking area when we arrived in the morning, even the parking lot was muddy. By the time we got back this area was plugged full of truck and ATVs.

The Experience

I drove up with my friend Jonathan who was not only a rally newbie, but also an ATV newbie. I let him use my Yamaha Bruin 350 with the intention he would go on the dry trails and I would go on the wet.
I met up with an old friend at the rally that I rode with when we were teenagers, it just so happened that we both had Can Am's and were both heading there so I asked to ride with him and his group as he had been to Foxford a couple of times and knew what to expect.

It had rained for a number of days before the rally on June 1st and without a doubt it was going to affect the conditions. The organizers said that many of the smaller water holes had filled up and joined with other smaller holes creating even bigger holes. At this point I was very thankful I had snorkeled my quad.

We registered and got our tags which are used to monitor who has made it back safely, and if they need to send someone out to search. The organizers mapped out 3 routes and put them into the following categories; Dry, Wet and Extreme. In our opinion, they should have been more like;Wet, Extreme and Completely Retarded.

The group I was going to be joining with my friend was planning to ride the Extreme trail, ugh.

Ostacruiser was one of the guys in our group. That should tell
a lot about the kind of riding we were in for

I cannot express enough the shock I was in once I saw what we were in for. I had been in some deeper water with my Renegade but they were just water. I had never experienced anything like the sticky thick gumbo muskeg (skeg) in the stinky sloughs of Foxford.
I very much felt in over my head, but when your with a group of guys you put on your game face and just do what you need to do.

My new Kolpin jerry can adorned the rear of my machine, by the first
mud hole it was gone.
The first big mud hole our group approached was a gong show, there was a line up of no less than 50 machines waiting as in the mud hole there another 15-20 machines stuck. Most turned off their machines and chatted with the other guys, some stood at the edge of the water and strategized the best route through the hole and some wandered in to assist the guys that were stuck.
Lots of comradery with the groups. Even if you didn't know the other guys you were riding with they were all there to help. You had a rough idea of how many guys are supposed to be with you and when you were through the hole you waited until the other guys made it through before you contining on. If they needed a push or a winch, you did what you could and the other guys did the same. Even though everybody was helpful you still didn't want to be the one holding everybody else back, or worse being the one that was always stuck and needing help getting out of pretty much every hole. On this ride unfortunately, I was that guy.

A sample of the thick gumbo muskeg we encountered

Waiting for the rest of the group, thankful to have made it through

I was not at all prepared for the Foxford experience, it was a hard exhausting day. It was fun, but just a little overwhelming. It was hot that day, my new chest waders made me confident I would stay dry but they sure didn't help to beat the heat. I actually appreciated it when I got sprayed with some nice cool mud when I hit the water a little too fast. When you do get stuck and have to get off to push every step in the sticky muskeg is a struggle, your boots almost get glued into the stuff so you have to point your toes up and pull with your calf muscles....ugh it was exhausting.

By the half way point the crowds had subsided, I think a number of people had turned back. We didn't run into any more traffic jams at the mud holes but we would see the odd smaller group of maybe 3-5 guys making their way through.

Somewhere under this water there is, or was a trail
Stuck and winch pulled off its spool

One of the hardest parts of the rally for me was the fear of swamping my machine. It was mentally exhausting. We were nearing the end of the extreme trail and our group had reduced in size down to only a handful of guys. For the first time I got left at the very back of the pack and got stuck, and there wasn't anybody behind me. I got off and started pulling my winch cable out to the nearest tree, but the nearest tree was pretty far. As I pulled the line out father than I had ever pulled it before I noticed the tension dramatically decrease, and to my dismay I realized I had pulled the cable right off it's spool. I went from being a little stressed, to being right out afraid for my safety. The rest of my group wasn't too far ahead and were waiting for me, but I didn't know that. To make matters worse I was down to the last bit of fuel. Pictures of camping out in the swamp over night flashed through my mind.

The fear got my adrenaline kicked in and I found new energy and strength to get myself unstuck. Finally free, I was now presented with another problem, I didn't have other ATVs ahead of me to help me determine how deep this water hole was. And this was a huge water hole. I slowly creeped my way ahead and half way through my left side wheels slipped off an underwater ledge and the quad tipped over to that side. I jumped off just in time as my snorkels were only inches away from the surface of the water. How much more of this can I take? It was at this point I said I am done! I had my adventure and I was ready to go home. I was taking my first exit back the truck. I met up with the rest of my group who were sitting around, gabbing, and eating their sandwiches with little knowledge of the physcological torture I had just endured. We continued on and I found the exit I was looking for, the rest of the guys continued on and I headed back to the trucks by myself.

Ironically, I wasn't done yet. To get back to the trucks I had to go through the "wet" trails, which I thought would be a cake walk compared to what I had just gone through. Nope, more water, winching and boots getting stuck in the mud.

Eventually I made it back to a gravel road where things finally were dry. I headed to my truck where I met up with Jonathan, he reported that the "dry" trails were not at all dry and that he was pushing through deep water and winching as well with my little Yamaha Bruin. He had quite the adventure as well. 

Me, very weary from a hard days ride, happy to be back in one piece and
that my machine made it through


I wasn't prepared. I was a mud virgin and I didn't know what to expect. Honestly I don't think anybody could have described to me what I was about to get myself into. I think it would be a little bit like trying to explain so someone what war is like if you have never been in one. At the end of the day I was tired, physically exhausted and I kept asking myself "what was the point of that?" If ATVing wasn't fun, why would a person do it? This is medieval torture. But now that I have had some time to reflect and experience more deep mud situations my opinion is changing.
The trails at Foxford were a crazy challenge, but I rose to the occasion and completeld the task before me. Of the 291 registered riders I am one of the few that can say that I completed the extreme trail, and that feels pretty good. I learned a lot about mud riding and have been able to continue to use that knowledge.  Thank you Foxford for challenging me and being great hosts, see you in 2015.

Click here to see the route on EveryTrail

Here are a couple other videos that I came across that I just happen to be in

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Iron Horse Trail Review

Whats up? Isn't this the "Sask" Trail Riders blog? Isn't the Iron Horse Trail an Alberta trail System? Yes it is, and no I haven't become jumped ship. The reason I am writing about the Iron Horse Trail (herein referred to as IHT) is because I wanted to experience what a provincially funded, maintained trail system is like, and we don't have anything like it here in Saskatchewan. It is by far the closest maintained ATV trail system, only 363kms from Saskatoon. The majority of which is on double highway.

Heinsburg was our starting point on the trail

The entire Iron Horse Trail in red

So what is the IHT? It is an old railway line that was abandon and turned into a multi-use trail. You are welcome to use almost anything on the trail other than cars\trucks. The promotional videos show people walking, biking, snowmobiling, riding horse and of course riding ATV's. The trail system receives funding from the government, tourism and from the proceeds of ATV license plates which are mandatory in Alberta.

Rig mats being placed over mud holes so that the trail
will not erode. Photo courtesy @IronHorseTrail via Twitter
With these proceeds the trail system is maintained, meaning that the trails have been graveled and that if washouts occur they will be repaired. The longest leg of the trail runs from Heinsburg to Waskatenau, a total of 177kms. There is another leg of the trail that runs North East from the Abilene junction to Cold Lake which can ad another 98kms to your trip if length is what you are looking for.

One of the first things people ask me about the trail is if it is boring? I likely get this question a lot because many of the ATVers I hang around with are hardcore mudders. I am not so sure how to answer that question. It is a very different experience. The trail is an old rail system, so it is pretty level. The trails are covered with gravel, so that even when it gets wet it isn't too mucky. In many ways it is like driving on a gravel road. And there are some part of the trail that are straight trail for kilometers at a time which can get pretty boring. But that is not really the point of the IHT.

So what is the point then? It is about getting onto a trail, with your ATV, away from cars and other traffic. Getting into the heart of nature and seeing some amazing sights along the way. It is about using your ATV as a mode of transportation to get you to where you are going rather than your car. It's about being where the local culture not only accepts ATV use, but encourages it due to the tourism dollars it brings to the communities. There are many trails off of the IHT, and if you search hard enough you may find a couple mud holes but they will be few and far between. Keep in mind leaving the trail is discouraged because the land adjacent to the trail is privately owned. So, if you are a hardcore mudder and that what you are looking for you will likely be bored. 

Embracing the railway heritage is the theme at the heart of the entire Iron Horse Trail
I chose the IHT because I was looking for a getaway for 3 of my close friends, my son and myself. We wanted to explore and have a bit of an adventure. So we rented a tandem ATV trailer (pictured behind us) loaded all our gear into it and set off from Heisburg to start exploring.

I found that one of the most difficult parts of planning this trip was trying to figure out how much distance you can cover on ATVs when you don't know what speed you will be able to travel and what the terrain will be like. We decided that we would camp in St Paul, so we would need to travel 65kms from Heinsburg. We needed to allow time to get there and set up camp which was easily accomplished.

One of the nearly 100 cattle gates we crossed during our trip

Some of my favorite parts of the trip

Heisnburg to Lindbergh

This area was gorgeous. We had the river to our left and huge green rolling hills on our right. Absolutely one of the most scenic areas of the trail
The river is in the background and I am standing on a hill. The trail runs along the center of the picture.

A fun washout to ride through

The Windsor Salt plant in Lindbergh which is right along the trail

Lindbergh to Elk Point

I didn't get any pictures of this part of the trail because it was just too much fun. The trail was a little but wider in this area, so I cracked open the throttle an let the ponies out. Again this area was very beautiful, the deep forest green to either side of the trail blocked the sun and provided some much needed shade from the heat of the day. There were a couple areas of the trail that had been built up for the rail line and had 20-30ft drop offs on either side. A nice little bonus along this section of the trail was a very large gravel pit just East of Elk Point. I imagine that they get much of the gravel they use on the trails. There were large signs saying "do not leave the trail" and "keep out" but the boys in us got the best of us. If you do explore this area, do it with extreme caution and at your own risk as it is not a safe area.

Testing out my snorkel system, which unfortunately failed and my CVT was filling with water at this very moment

 Elk Point

Elk Point was the first larger town we encountered. We pulled in, got gas. Beside the rest stop was a car wash where I was able to spray out my mud plugged radiator from a previous ride. There was also a Pizza Hut and other fast food restaurants nearby.

Each major town had these beautiful rest stops with nice green grass and picnic tables.

Elk Point to St Paul

This leg in my opinion was the most gorgeous, even though we had already seen some beautiful areas. As soon as you leave Elk Point you are in the middle of the woods again and eventually down into a valley. This valley had the most gorgeous green rolling hills to either side, sloughs with beavers and again some much needed shade from the sun.

This is very typical of the trail terrain on the entire trail system

One of the many rest stops

A nice couple we met along the way.

St Paul

We were surprised at how large a city St Paul was being that we were not familiar with the area. We expected a small sleepy town but were greeted by a metropolis complete with traffic and large stores and even a movie theater. We got ourselves a map and found our campground, which was on the other side of town from where we entered and a fair distance off the trail. Stranger yet, we had to ride on paved residential streets to get there.

St Paul's contribution to the rail theme

We found our campground which was directly beside the RCMP regional detachment.

Our campsite, RCMP depot in background
 This was not the rustic experience we expected.

Supper at Boston Pizza? Sure
A Timmy's coffee in the morning proved too irresistible for my addicted colleagues
For the most part we felt that our ATVs were welcome in the town, but we did get the evil eyes from some. It was a unique experience to be able to ride on the streets in the towns.

The Trails beyond St Paul

The scenic trails seemed to end at this point. With an entire day to explore the area, we left our trailer at our campsite and were able to significantly pick up our pace. Unfortunately we didn't find that much to explore. As we headed West out of town the trail got very straight and rather than being engulfed in trees and forest we had relatively flat farm land to either side.

Typical farmland to either side of the trail after St Paul

The Abilene junction
We took the east leg of the junction and headed towards Mallaig, Glendon and Bonnyville

The Mallaig rest stop

We continued east and made it as far as Bonnyville, and in retrospect I wish we had pushed further up to Cold Lake to see the Beaver Trestle Bridge. But when we saw the terrain wasn't getting any more exciting we decided to head back to the Abilene junction and head west. We stopped for a hotdog roast in Ashmont and shortly after encountered some minor mechanical issues. We may have pushed further but the terrain was still dull and pending mechanical issues didn't give us enough incentive to push further, so we headed back to St Paul.

The very rustic fire pit beside Ashmont's rec center, where we roasted hot dogs


We had a great time. What we wanted to accomplish on the trip, we did. Heinsburg to St Paul was gorgeous and although the trail was flat and not challenging, the surroundings made it well worth it. After St Paul not so much. It was a stark contrast between the beauty of the valley's, forest and the shade of the trees and then out in the middle the rural farm land without a speck of shade anywhere in sight. But it was an adventure and I do not at all doubt we will head back there again in the not too distant future.

It has been brought to my attention that had we pushed further west, around Bellis there is the Bellis North Natural Area. This is a sandy natural forest area that has quite a few trails and a couple lakes. Looks like some good riding here. I would like to visit this area on our next trip.

Had we pushed on North East towards Cold Lake we would have been able to see the burnt remnants of the Beaver River Trestle Bridge. This gorgeous piece of history was burned in 2012 by arsonists. Before the fire you were able to cross the bridge by ATV. Currently the Riverland Recreational Trail Society and the Municipal District of Bonnyville are trying to raise money to rebuild the bridge.

If you would like to see our route, click on the link below to view it on