From Twig to Hudson Bay, on snowmobile

TWIG -- Brad Shannon took a critical look at the track of his Ski-Doo Renegade snowmobile. The machine was new when he left on a recent trip, the pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Twig said. It's not new anymore. "It's going to take some work...

Brad Shannon and family
Brad Shannon (center) and his wife, Brooke, along with their children (from left) Ryan, 7; J, 9; and Katie, 3, sit on the snowmobile Brad rode from Twig to Churchill, Manitoba -- a journey of more than 1,800 miles -- to raise money for his church's building project. Brad Shannon is pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Twig. (Bob King /

TWIG -- Brad Shannon took a critical look at the track of his Ski-Doo Renegade snowmobile.

The machine was new when he left on a recent trip, the pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Twig said. It's not new anymore.

"It's going to take some work," he said.

Little wonder.

That February trip took Shannon, 44, and his snowmobile at least 1,885 miles from outside the Shannon home on Bergstrom Junction Road to Churchill, Manitoba, a community on the shore of Hudson Bay best known for polar bears. Often accompanied by another snowmobiler, but sometimes alone, he crossed forbidding tundra and lonely lakes interspersed by the occasional Manitoba Hydro dam or rural settlement.


While Shannon made the journey on his sled, his wife, Brooke Shannon, 38, and their children, J, 9; Ryan, 7; and Katie, 3; traveled a complementary route in a Chevrolet Suburban and -- where there was no road -- on a passenger train that chugged along at a maximum speed of 30 mph.

It originally had been conceived as an individual trip to raise money for the church, which is badly in need of a new building. It also would serve, Shannon said, as a sort of living parable. The 12-day journey could be accomplished only in daily chunks, just as "doing something big for God ... boils down to the daily things."

But they decided they didn't want to be apart from each other as a family. As it turned out, the Shannons said, meeting at the end of each day and sometimes along the route gave Brooke the opportunity to chronicle the journey and keep followers posted through tweets and Facebook posts.

It was the right decision, both said.

"We went through this together," Brad said during an interview on Saturday. "That was a gift, to do this as a family."

The journey began Feb. 9 after worship and a potluck. Brad Shannon arrived in Churchill on Feb. 20, and the family returned together starting on the evening of the 22nd and arriving back home on Wednesday.

The 1,885 miles on snowmobile, tallied by GPS, is a minimum figure; it may have been as much as 2,000 miles. There's some doubt because of weather. The temperature always was below zero, Brad said, and wind chills sometimes were much lower. A week after the Shannons were there, Churchill recorded a wind chill of 68 below zero.

The battery in the GPS eventually died because of the cold, Brad said.


It's certain that at times he rode farther than planned.

Traveling between The Pas and Snow Lake, Brad and a fellow snowmobiler rode 15 or 20 miles on Tramping Lake, following a Manitoba Hydro power line, when they came to an impasse. An insurmountable cliff was in front of them; open water was at the end of the lake. They were about a mile from where they needed to be.

But they had to turn back, give up those 15 or 20 miles and follow a different route.

Meanwhile, Brooke and the kids were having their own adventures that same day.

"I didn't see anybody," Brooke said. "And they had only plowed half of the road. I had to plow through 6 or 7 inches of snow."

Prudent thought processes were needed, she said, but there was never a sense of fear. They had a certainty that God was in control.

"There are so many little things," Brooke said. "We call them God moments, in the sense that ... there was no real surprise."

Added Brad: "The snowmobile ran perfectly."


He seemed a little sheepish about that. Brad Shannon is a Minnesota native and Minnesota proud and would have preferred to ride a Minnesota brand such as Arctic Cat or Polaris. But his research suggested the Ski-Doo he chose would be ideal for the conditions he'd face.

That was true even though the third night of the trip was spent in Roseau, Minn., the birthplace of snowmobile manufacturer Polaris. While there, the Shannons were introduced to 91-year-old David Johnson, one of the three snowmobile inventors and a Polaris founder.

Their host said, "This is the first and probably the last Ski-Doo that will ever be parked in my driveway," Brad Shannon recalled.

Riding on the tundra gave his machine and his body a beating, he said. But the only real physical toll was frostbite on his face. Following local custom, he treated it with lotion and duct tape, earning some teasing from his children.

The fundraising was a success. Somewhat reluctantly, the Shannons set a goal of $12,000. They far exceeded that, raising $27,000, all of which will go to church construction.

That project, scheduled to begin when the ground thaws, is the next big endeavor.

But there's also the thought of that next big adventure.

"One of the things that strike me is that I've been dreaming about this thing for a long time," Brad said. "I've fulfilled this dream, so now I've been asking myself, 'What's next?' "


What To Read Next
Get Local