March 7, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 9

Poker Run a winner for rookie

I don’t know what a royal flush is, but my sister, a friend and I threw into Saturday’s Poker Run at 26 Mile anyway. All I needed was a snowmachine and $5 for the pot.

The Chilkat Snowburners have been hosting the recreational ride for about 40 years, nearly as long as the group’s been around, said Chris Brooks, one of the event’s main organizers. “It’s really, really encouraging to see people who haven’t been on sleds,” Brooks said.

My previous snowmachine experience amounted to riding one about the length of a driveway, but I didn’t share that with event volunteer George Campbell, who graciously loaned us two machines, helmets and goggles.

As the day was the first sunny, clear one in weeks, I cringed at wearing the massive black helmet I was handed.

“All right, this is the gas and this is the brake,” Campbell said, gesturing toward each. “This is the emergency button. You would press this, for example, if (the machine) flips over on top of you.” The helmet was definitely staying on.

Campbell said the second and third most important things to remember about snowmachining were not sticking out your legs and not stopping on an uphill. The single, most important thing I immediately forgot.

It didn’t seem particularly pressing, though, as my machine didn’t want to start.

As my friend Karen – who would be riding with me – and I struggled with the 2007 Yamaha Bravo we’d be sharing, I looked at the other riders, confidently revving up their sleds and zipping off toward the course.

“You’ve got the real sledheads, and the families, and the beginners,” said Campbell, noting the “pretty good” turnout of about 50 participants.

Seeing us soliciting help from a 13-year-old boy, Campbell came back over and got us started. Possibly sensing that we’d fudged our credentials as experienced riders, he hopped on his machine and stayed close enough to lead us through the start of the course.

I can’t recall the first few minutes of the ride, as I was still trying to remember Rule #1, but they must have been rough because Karen, I later learned, fell off the seat behind me and into the machine’s cargo basket. She managed to stay on.

My focus was mainly on not tipping over, but a snowmachine crossing the river at my left caught my eye.

I learned this is called “water skipping.” Campbell explained: “You aim at the water, and hit the throttle, and pray… Let me put it this way: We really should own jet skis, but they suck on the snow.”

In between runs, we picked playing cards from a deck, grabbed some Doritos from the table of food by the fire pit and switched drivers. We gained more confidence and ventured off the packed trail a few times, but my snowmachine poker buddies and I were not about to try crossing open water.

After collecting our final playing cards and finishing our last lap, we headed to the food table, where a crowd including 6-year-old Ohlin Brooks gathered for hot dogs off the grill.

Ohlin, whose snowmachine career started a year ago, told me he likes driving them “because you can do a lot of tricks” and “go as fast as your can go.” The first grader said it’s not scary – for the most part. “The only time I get scared is when I do side things, because then my snowmachine tips over on me and my boot gets stuck and I have to get help.”

Somehow, my measly pair of sixes won me $13, making the run the most lucrative poker game of my life.

Thanks for the use of the sleds, George.