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Sports Archives The Altamont Enterprise, December 4, 2008
Davis logs many miles on a snowmobile, breaks record
By Jordan J. Michael
GUILDERLAND A person needs a lot of free time to be a serious snowmobile rider. Just ask Bobby Davis.
Davis, 55, and a Guilderland native, started spending time on a sled after he moved to Eagle Lake, Maine in 2004. He ended up buying a 2005 Yamaha RS Venture and the rest is history.
The Guinness World Record for longest snowmobile journey belongs to Davis. He set it by riding 12,163 miles in 60 days from Jan. 11 to March 11, 2008. He rode through trails in Maine, Quebec, and New Brunswick.
There are about 40,000 miles of trails in that area alone.
“I got 6,000 miles in the first year and then 9,000,” said Davis, from the Guilderland home of his mother, Inga. “I read about the record in some magazine and realized I broke it, but not officially. I decided to go for it.”
The old record was 7,211.25 miles, set by Yves Leblanc two years ago. Davis blew that mark out of the water, but not without a lot of paperwork, proof, and money.
“I had to pay Guinness $630 to even have a chance at the record,” Davis said. “I had to log all the dates, times, and locations of the trip. I needed signatures from places where I got gas to places where I slept. No joke, I sent Guinness seven-and-a-half pounds of paperwork.”
Davis spent over $15,000 in those two months, but had total support from his friends and family. “He always loved to ride and challenge himself in life,” said Inga Davis. “He had enough free time and passion to do it and I think it’s great.”
A handful of riding partners accompanied Davis on the trek through the snow, including his brother, Paul Davis, and Altamont native T.J. Johnstone. “It was good to have others with me because you don’t want to get lonely out there,” said Davis. “I thank everyone for the great support.”
“I took vacations whenever I could to ride with my brother,” said Paul Davis. “It was easy to work with him and very enjoyable. That record was a big deal.”
The Davises got their first taste of snowmobiling when the family bought a machine in 1968. Davis and his brother would ride around the field whenever possible.
“It was a good way to spend free time in the winter,” Davis said. “We would fight over it, but sleds weren’t that reliable back then. You would repair it more than you rode it.”
Davis was a running back on the Dutchmen football team before graduating in 1971. He set another record then that still holds today. “I scored four touchdowns in two consecutive games,” he said.
The Marines came calling after high school and Davis became a helicopter pilot. He would ride a snowmobile whenever he had a vacation, sometimes taking day trips to Old Forge with his brother.
Davis retired from the Marines as a major in 1996 and has worked for Homeland Security over the summers since retiring.
“My experience as a pilot actually helped me set the Guinness record,” said Davis. “I would always heavily prepare before every flight. So, I knew exactly what to do in those two months in the snow.”
Preparation and execution
Davis already had over 22,000 miles on his snowmobile before the trip. He knew his sled like the back of his hand.
“The wheel bearings need to be replaced every 8,000 miles or so,” Davis said. “I had planned to swap them once I hit 6,000. I brought it back to my shop at home and then continued the trip.”
However, things don’t always go as planned. On Day 42, the candy-apple-red Yamaha broke a drive shaft and a suspension spring was snapped on Day 58.
“A lot can happen over 12,000 miles,” said Davis. “I was lucky to have only two malfunctions. The repairs did set me back a little bit, but I made up for it the next day.”
Davis’s goal was to exceed 200 miles per day and he ended up averaging 202. “I did all the mileage calculations beforehand,” he said.
Besides issues with the sled, Davis also had to deal with storms, extreme cold, and wildlife. Many times the temperature was around 20 degrees below zero and some mornings were 34 below. Moose and deer would frequently roam the snowmobile trails. “You just have to drive around them,” said Davis.
“There were 27 major snowstorms during the trip,” Davis said. “You have to go slower and it’s hard to see. You have to be on the ball with navigation. If you’re sitting on your thumbs, something is wrong.”
Davis told The Enterprise that he did fall asleep on the snowmobile a couple of times and succumbed to “flicker vertigo” at night. “When the snowflakes pass through your headlights, it mesmerizes you,” he said. “As for falling asleep while driving? Well, I did much more riding than sleeping.”
Riding would begin around six in the morning because the sun went down early. Davis and his crew would find a place to stay as the night fell.
“We stayed out there until 12:30 a.m. once because we couldn’t find a place to stay,” Davis said. “It makes me tired just thinking about it.”
Breaking the record was a highly physical challenge for Davis, being 55 years old. He suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and he was always achy and sore.
“I spent an amazing amount of time on my machine and I got worn down,” said Davis. “Some days, you don’t want to ride but you have to. I turned the “have to” into a “want to.” I love being on the sled.”
Davis carried a survival kit on the back of his 2005 Venture, filled with maps, propane canisters, water, spare gloves, a 2.5-gallon gas can, and extra oil. “I also had a saw on me in case I had to make a cave in the snow,” he said.
Special clothes were provided so Davis could set the record while staying warm. “I had lots of layers with no flesh exposed,” he said. “I also had special snowmobiling gloves.”
His own record
The excitement set in when the record was broken, but there was no real celebration. Davis went on to ride another 2,000 miles for 2008.
“Guinness writes you this wonderful letter and you’re part of an elite club,” Davis said. “This accomplishment is solely mine and that’s what makes me feel so honored.”
Davis has over 36,000 miles on his machine and wants to run it to at least 40,000 to show the reliability of a Yamaha snowmobile. “My sled has treated me well. A different machine wouldn’t have lasted,” he said.
The real enjoyment of the trip was seeing the beauty of the sub-tundra region of Quebec. “We got to cross the biggest snowmobile bridge in the world and see all the wonders of the winter,” said Davis. “Looking at scenery is a big part of why people ride.”
Breaking his own record is not in Davis’s plans but he would defend the feat if it got broken. “I’m getting old so I hope this holds up in the books,” he said. “If someone breaks it in the next few years, then I’ll be right back out in the snow.”
Paul Davis has joked about breaking his brother’s record.
“I have a Yamaha and it just went over 10,000 miles,” he said. “I told Bobby that I’m going to try and break it. He said he would help me out, just like I helped him out.”