Wertz Warriors Journal – Day 1
In my four years on the ride, we had never been able to drop the sleds so early. Only once had we ridden at all on Day 1. The snow just wasn’t good enough on the East Side of the state. But this year was VERY different.
The ride started with a quick stop at Narski’s Meat Market in Skidway Lake for some fueling and snacks. Most of the riders are coming from the Metro Detroit area so they convoyed their way up to Narski’s before we made the next stop, the Skidway Lake American Legion.
This has been a stop for decades. And like many of our stops, the folks in charge are getting up there in age. Running out of energy to raise funds but not out of spirit. Between the Legion and about four other groups in attendance, we started the ride with about $2,000 in donations.
That’s kind of how we work. Each rider is responsible for raising their allotment through out the year but then we make stops at bars, clubs and small towns where they hold fundraisers throughout the year for us and they give us the results. That’s how a group of guys riding sleds is able to raise so much money, because we have so much help.
From Skidway Lake, we then went on to the Sand Lake Sports Bar where we were able to unload the sleds and get dressed for the near zero wind chills. Before taking off, we enjoyed sloppy joe and pulled pork sandwiches and received our first MAJOR donation of the ride, $24,700! Just an insane amount of money from such a small area.
We then left Sand Lake on the sleds. We are booked with 46 riders this year, another 30 or so in support crew. The conditions are god enough to ride, but not good enough to ride well. A lot of rough trails and roadsides but we made it work. We like to ride as much as possible. The desperation may have showed. On the path we lost our first two sleds. One to a rollover and damage making it unable to ride and another with a track being split and torn off. We also lose a sled or two on each ride but usually we get through the first day…
After about 25 miles we rolled into T&C Sports Bar in Au Gres. The folks at T&C worked together with our other stops the rest of the day with several different fundraisers. Pontoon boat raffle, golf outings, half-marathon, Elvis Night, anything you can think of, they did it to raise money for Wertz Warriors and Special Olympics.
After T&C, we hit the trails again, this time for about 40 miles. Involved some trails and even some river riding. It also gave us a few scares with our celebrity rider. This year we added former Detroit Lion Luther Bradley to the ride. He’s new to Special Olympics, new to the sport but very eager, maybe a little too eager. I ride just two people behind him and saw him thrown from his sled twice, once after catching some ice as we entered the river and another hitting a hill at too much of an angle. He’s learning. He was alright, this is a guy who has had to tackle Herschel Walker, some fresh powder isn’t going to stop him.
Next stop was at Hank’s in Alger. Always a favorite stop in the early goings, they were part of that $40,000 check presentation. At this point we realized we were running an hour behind schedule (actually riding slows things down, not used to it this early) so we quickly hit the road again, just five miles down the road, to Home Pub. We again thanked them for their work raising the $40,000 (they hosted the Elvis Night, among other things) and made our final run, in the dark to West Branch where we fueled up before hitting out hotel, the Quality Inn.
We hosted a few local athletes and their parents for a banquet style dinner before finishing the night in the bar with some live music playing. Day One is in the books.
8:30 AM – West Branch Masonic Temple
10:00 AM – St. Helen Snow Packers
11:00 AM – Clear Lake Bar
1:00 PM – West Branch Eagles
4:30 PM – Lakeside Resort (Houghton Lake)