Sleds line the trail at a checkpoint along the poker ride

Sunshine, snow and sleds for the 2011 Fort St. James Poker Ride

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the annual Fort St. James Snowmobile Club Poker Ride.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the annual Fort St. James Snowmobile Club Poker Ride.

I am not normally a motor sports person. I come from a family of self-propelled sporting enthusiasts. My father and mother both are avid horseback riders. My dad has also spent a lot of time hiking and cross-country ski touring in the mountains.

As a small child we usually canoed, not power-boated.

For the most part, I have followed their example.

When I told them I was going on the Snowmobile Poker Ride last weekend, I believe the comment went something along the lines of, “Oh no, you’re going over to the Dark Side.”

But I was excited to try it out, as I had only been on a snowmobile a handful of times before, and never one as powerful and fast as the one I would be riding shotgun on for the poker ride.

My generous driver was kind enough to offer me up the spot, giving up a more exciting and comfortable ride for himself for the day as well.

Little did I know what I was getting into as a passenger.

The day started out beautifully, with warmer temperatures, and my driver and myself were getting prepared for the ride when we received word that the group we were going with was pushing back our start time, from 10 until 11 a.m.

Perfect, it allowed time for a more relaxed coffee and breakfast routine before everyone met up.

The fresh snow and sunshine were promising a great day on the trail.

I arrived at the start with my $20 in hand to buy my poker hand, and drew my first card. Participants draw cards at each station throughout the day, with a total of five stations to draw from, producing a poker hand at the end, with cash prizes for the best hands.

I think I drew a two of spades, and was reassured that I had no way to go but up.

After the usual group delays, we were off, and the snow and sunshine were fantastic. In the first open field we came to, I hopped off so my driver could play in the waist-deep fresh powder, while I took photos.

It soon became obvious to me that the ride was as much about socializing as it was about snowmobiling and there were multiple stops in between checkpoints to provide opportunities for visits, snacks, drinks and regrouping as sleds caught up.

We wound our way through filtered sunlight in pine stands, cut blocks and open fields, the occasional powder face shot obscuring the view.

With over 200 participants on the trail, it soon became bumpy and rutted, bouncing the seated sledder around endlessly, hence most sledders stand up when riding on rough terrain.

Spinal compression might have taken a few inches off my height over the course of the day and as the powerful sled we were on kept my head whipping back intermittently preventing whiplash began to seem more and more impossible.

As I got a bit worn out over the day, I felt myself become worse at anticipating the leaning, lurching and terrain changes.

Throughout the ride, there were snowmobilers stuck, stalled, and out of gas, and my conscientious driver stopped each time to help and make sure everyone got back safely.

By the time we were on our way back to the start point at the fairgrounds, the sun was dipping low and the temperature was dropping, making it harder to stay warm.

We missed the final draw, and the highest I managed in my unfinished poker hand was a pair of twos.

I did not win big, I did feel like I had been in the ring with a prizefighter, and I did wake up on Sunday with leaden arms and a sore neck.

But (sorry mom and dad), I’d do it all again tomorrow.

The winners of the Poker Ride:

First ($976): Terry Hill with four Jacks

Second ($488): Carla Howell with four 10s

Third ($292): Adrian Barr with a full house

Fourth ($97): Bill Taylor with three Aces

Fifth ($97): Rick Slorstad with three Aces as well

While originally scheduled for March 5, the snowmobile club decided to hold off until the temperatures were more favourable, said Wayne Moll, club president.

The decision paid off, because with around 200 participants, the ride raised about $4,000 for the club, including the draw prize money and memberships.

This will be a good start to covering the club’s annual expenses, which include about $3,500 in fuel alone to help maintain the over 300 km of trails in the area.

The club also must pay to maintain the club’s two snowmobiles, one of which needs some repairs.

The club is considering expanding into summer, with a four-wheeler poker ride as well.

Moll figured it was about the 15th poker ride by the club, and while this year saw probably more people getting stuck and having problems than in past years, it still went well.