The winter of 2000/2001 left its mark on the Midwest with colder-than-average temperatures and a lot of snow. While this may not have made all Midwesterners happy, it certainly wasn't a problem for the Minnesota Go-4 Wheelers of Minneapolis. The folks in this 4x4 club really, really like winter. They look forward to it. They celebrate it. As a matter of fact, the club holds numerous winter trailruns each year just as an excuse to go out and romp in the snow. And some of these are two-day events in frosty, northern locales such as Cloquet, Minnesota (near Duluth).
One of their most popular winter events is in River Falls, Wisconsin, in early February. At this time of year, it just doesn't get any more wintry in the Midwest, and this guarantees the kind of deep snow and cold weather these four-wheelers love. This run is so popular with the warm-blooded club that it's now a 12-year tradition, and it continues to grow each year.
It's held on private property near the town of River Falls, and the land is accessed through an agreement with the landowner, whereby they trade labor for the privilege to explore the property. This works out well for everyone involved, and the land is absolutely stunning. It's part of the St. Croix River Valley (the St. Croix River separates Minnesota and Wisconsin), and the terrain in this area is a mixture of rolling woodland and tillable farmland with bigger-than-you'd-expect hills, and enough challenges to keep your full attention.
We met up with the club on a balmy 5-below-zero morning as light snow was falling from thick clouds. While a few of us stood shivering in six layers of clothes, insulated boots, gloves, and hats, most of the others were cavorting around in flannel shirts or light jackets. After a drivers' meeting, the 30-plus vehicles were split into two groups. Mother Nature had looked favorably on the event because the acreage was covered in well over 1-1/2 feet of snow, which added plenty of challenge to the day.
Throughout the course of the one-day event, we traveled down wide, frozen creeks, up long, icy hills, through thick woods, and across snow-choked pastures at a leisurely, unhurried pace. The club was more than patient with less-experienced winter 'wheelers, always giving them time to work at an obstacle to learn their vehicle's limitations and capabilities. There was a fair amount of winching, and the terrain offered the equivalent of calisthenics for the vehicles if you wanted it. There was some breakage, but nothing major, as drivers honed their winter driving skills while enjoying the Wisconsin backcountry.
Many of the vehicles were daily drivers, and they came to the event shod in all-terrain rubber. Those trucks that sported the less-aggressive tires were often equipped with some type of locker, and this helped to offset the lack of tire traction. Of course, there were also many heavily built trucks, so there was a good cross section of vehicles present overall. Probably the most unusual thing that seemed to be specific to the club was the abundance of Terra tires, and these short, fat, tractor-type tires did a fabulous job off road. We hear they're not so hot on the street, though. Go figure.
After a full day on the trail, our group was ready for some warmth, so most of the participants made tracks to the local Pizza Hut to rehash the day's events. Everyone agreed that this year's event was a huge success because almost everyone came off the trail having learned something about their vehicles and their capabilities. The Go-4s are a busy club that sponsors the annual Memorial Total Off Road Rally in Dresser, Wisconsin, each Memorial Day weekend. The winter runs are for club members and friends, and you can receive more information on all of the club's coming events by contacting them at Minnesota Go-4 Wheelers, Dept. 4WDSU, 344 Independence Ave., Champlin, MN 55316, (763) 427-5903, www.memorial4x4.org.