Update: Willie Ewing talks about record-setting 2,125.04-mile snowmobile ride on Lake of the Woods
Ewing embarked on the 24-hour marathon snowmobile ride as a fundraiser to help send underprivileged kids to Bible camp.
BAUDETTE, Minn. – His quest to set a new world record for the longest distance driven on a single snowmobile in 24 hours didn’t happen where originally planned, but Willie Ewing still reached his destination in the end.
Ewing, of Becker, Minnesota, started the fundraising ride Sunday afternoon, March 13, and set an unofficial new world record 24 hours later on Lake of the Woods, driving 2,125.04 miles on a 1,000cc, four-stroke Arctic Cat Thunder One snowmobile.
Do the math, and that’s an average speed of 88.5 mph. His top speed on the 10.5-mile oval course north of Wheelers Point was 116 mph on the final lap of the marathon snowmobile session, Ewing says.
In the process, he crushed the existing snowmobile record of 1,908 miles in 24 hours. The ride now awaits verification from the Guinness Book of World Records before it becomes official, a process that can take months.
Ewing made 202 laps during the ride, finishing the last lap Monday, March 14, with mere seconds to spare or it wouldn't have counted.
“I probably got more time at over 100 miles an hour on a snowmobile in one day than most people would ever dream of doing in their life,” Ewing, 45, said in a phone interview a few days after the marathon ride. “The sled was still capable of more, but you can’t just take off and beat the life out of it; you need the sled to finish.”
The snowmobile performed “phenomenally,” he said.
“This feat has been attempted quite a few times over the years, and nobody has ever gotten more than like 1,300 miles before their first sled broke down and they had to proceed on a second,” Ewing said. “So this is a major accomplishment in the snowmobile world and for Arctic Cat, that we managed to go that far and do it all on one snowmobile.”
Riding for a cause
Owner of The Shock Shop in Becker, Ewing began snowmobiling when he was 5 years old and has been a certified snowmobile technician since he was 16.
The marathon snowmobile ride was a fundraiser to help send underprivileged kids to Bible camp, Ewing says, specifically the Living Word Bible Camp near Grand Rapids, Minnesota. As of Monday, March 21, Ewing’s effort – dubbed “1 Day 4 Kids” – had raised more than $45,000.
A cousin who’d planned to make the marathon snowmobile ride before getting killed a few years ago inspired Ewing to attempt the feat, he says.
“I grew up going to summer Bible camps and realized it’s a very good activity or something to do in a kid’s life,” Ewing said. “My wife and I talked about it, and we decided, ‘Let’s do this as a fundraiser to send kids to camp.’ The camp we worked with is a camp she grew up going to, and their goals already are to make sure every kid has the opportunity to go to camp.
“They’ve already kind of made it their mission to try to find funding to give every kid an opportunity to go, so we decided, let’s take this opportunity and see how far we can make it go.”
Ewing's wife, Rebecca, admits she worried a bit as the ride approached.
“I prayed a lot,” she said. “It was really stressful right up until he started. Then it was just a big relief. Once he made it through the night, I was like, ‘OK, the sun’s coming up, it will give him hopefully a second wind or a third wind.’
“He’s a determined person.”
Some three years in the planning, the ride originally was set for March 8-9 on Devil Track Lake near Grand Marais, Minnesota, but deep snow and slush conditions forced Ewing and his planning team to scrap that plan.
“A couple of the engineers at Arctic Cat that really wanted to see us put this sled through the wringer, started calling around and scrambling trying to find a new location, and we pulled it all together in about six days to do it on Lake of the Woods,” Ewing said. “It was a very quick, last-minute reschedule to be there.”
Sportsman’s Lodge on Lake of the Woods had used the trail that ultimately became the course to haul anglers out to fish houses in Bombardier tracked vehicles, Ewing says.
“The snow was just rock solid all the way down to the ice, which is what we needed,” he said. “So we took that snow and started pushing it around grooming and made the track we needed.”
The narrow shape of the oval course allowed Ewing to make faster turns than he could have made on a course with long sweeping corners. He received a special permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to complete the high-speed marathon ride; the state’s regular speed limit on a snowmobile is 50 mph.
“I was doing 105-110 miles an hour, and I’d basically slow down to 25 miles an hour, slide the sled around the corner and get right back up to 105-110 in 10 seconds or less,” he said.
A pit crew set up on the ice included a half-dozen snowmobile industry professionals, Ewing says. He talks about his record-setting ride in terms of “we” instead of “I” because it truly was a team effort.
“It was kind of a hand-selected group of friends of mine that are professionals in the field,” Ewing said.
On the track
Ewing, whose training regimen included “plenty of time hanging out at the health club,” says he carried a “whole arsenal” of energy drinks and energy pills in case he needed help staying awake during the 24-hour ride, but he didn’t have to use them.
He’d even weaned himself off coffee and sugar for several weeks beforehand so they would be more effective during the ride if he needed a pick-me-up. Before the ride, Ewing says, the farthest he’d driven a snowmobile was 450 to 500 miles, but once the adrenaline got going, he never felt like he wasn’t going to make it.
He kept himself hydrated by drinking water with electrolyte capsules.
“There was no chance to even relax for a second to get yourself tired,” Ewing said. “I was kind of shocked at how incredibly rough (the course) got on me.
“There's a lot of added challenges when you start running speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour the whole entire time,” he added. “And a lot of the people that are out there have no clue. They’re like, ‘Ah, he’s just riding, that’s no big deal.’ I’m like, ‘I’d invite you to try it for an hour.’”
Because of the rough trail conditions, Ewing’s pit crew changed out the suspension on his snowmobile about halfway through the ride so the sled had stiffer shocks and tighter springs, he said. They completed the job in 3 or 4 minutes.
The snowmobile also was retrofitted with a wider fuel cap to accommodate a “quick fill” fuel system that allowed the pit crew to refuel the sled in seconds during pit stops, while also reducing the risk of splashing gasoline.
“It was more for safety because we come in from doing 100 miles an hour, and five seconds later, we’re putting 9 gallons of fuel in this thing,” Ewing said. “So, we needed to be extremely careful not to splash gas on anything because of all the small, red hot components on the sled.”
He made 33 fuel stops and burned through 278 gallons of gas during the marathon ride.
“Fuel’s cheap now anyway, right?” he said with a laugh.
With the marathon ride in the rearview mirror, Ewing says he’s feeling pretty good, despite the 24-hour pounding his body took. He slept about 7 hours the night after the ride, he says, and was back at it the next day, cleaning up after the trip and tending to other chores.
The entire effort ran like a well-oiled machine, Ewing says – in this case, a 1,000cc Arctic Cat four-stroke snowmobile – despite the scramble to change venues.
“The team did a phenomenal job,” he said. “It just could not have gone down any more perfectly. We had everything planned out to a ‘T,’ and it went the way we had it planned.”
Running the same sled the entire 24-hour ride was probably the biggest accomplishment, Ewing said.
“We had a spare sled sitting on the sidelines if we needed it, but the thing never moved in that entire 24-hour period,” he said. “The fact that we did this on one snowmobile, which is what we went into it wanting to do, we determined it’s something that may never get done again – go over 2,000 miles in 24 hours on the sled you started with.
“Nobody’s even come remotely close to going that far in 24 hours on one sled.”