Prairie Place Hall was packed when I left around 4 p.m. More tables were being squeezed in for riders coming in off the trail. I heard that there were 500 riders registered - the largest turnout yet. Grace told me the snow was good and deep, even out on the fields where some has blown off, and the sloughs have nice deep powder. All in all, the Arcola Optimists' Snowmobile Rally looked like a great success compared to last year.
I was at the hall to clear tables on behalf of the Girl Guides (since my daughter is a Pathfinder). We parents donate our time clearing tables, and the Girl Guide organization gets bags and bags of empty beer cans to turn in for the refund money. It's their biggest fundraiser, and it also looks good for the Girl Guides to be doing a recycling project.
But for me, it always rankles a bit. This time I was determined to enjoy it as best I could, so I looked for familiar faces and went visiting in between my rounds of the tables. Having some fun helped me ignore the loud music and the great show of consumption in all those shiny helmets on the tables and gaudy single-purpose jackets draped on the chairs.
When I got home though, I went looking for information about snowmobile fuel consumption. I learned something: those figures are hard to find. Of the four major manufacturers, only one bothered to back up their claims of "solid" or "excellent" fuel economy with an actual figure. Bombardier (Ski-Doo), headquartered in Canada, offered a comparison chart showing its 600 cc class engines (the smallest engines offered) on par with a Yamaha model at about 22 or 23 mpg, while Arctic Cat and Polaris models in the same class trailed behind at 18 mpg or less. Of course, for the larger engines, there were no numbers given, just claims of "outstanding" or "incredible" fuel economy. The general silence is not surprising, I suppose; when your smallest, newest, most fuel-efficient snow machine carries a single rider less than half as many miles per gallon as our ten-year-old four-passenger car, you don't have much to brag about.
Now for some rough estimates. Five hundred riders - I wonder if that means 500 sleds, or were some people riding double? Sixty-eight miles of trail - did they all do the full 68 miles, or were there shorter loops as options? Well, I'll be friendly and assume that 400 sleds travelled an average of 50 miles each. That's - gulp - 20,000 sled miles. Even with a ridiculously friendly estimate of 20 miles per gallon on average, that's 1000 gallons of gas. And then there's all the fuel used hauling those sleds and riders into Arcola from far and wide.
Well, if they're buying some of that gas at the Co-op, it means membership dividend money in my own pocket. The event brings in funds for the hall, and the local grocery stores get to supply food for it, and I suppose business picks up around town over the weekend. Do I dare complain?
On the other hand, isn't it a bit ironic that the Arcola Girl Guides pride themselves on the environmental benefits of their recycling program, when this gas-guzzling event is such a big part of it?
I wonder. Could we take all the effort that goes into this event, and spread it over the year, providing small entertainment events to help keep Arcola residents here in town, weekend after weekend? As it is, dozens of people go off to the cities for entertainment every weekend, and do their shopping while they're there. Then our service clubs and businesses get together and try to draw a big crowd out here for one weekend to compensate. Is this the best we can do for our town, and for our world?