Friday, March 22, 2013
More ice road fun
Both before and after the annual St Patrick's Day party at the Frontier Bar last weekend, SSMatt and I drove the ice road from Bayfield over to LaPointe on Madeline Island. As in past escapades of this type, the VOR refused to join us with her usual irrefutable logic. "There are things I have to do, like go to work. One of the things I don't have to do is drive over 165' deep Lake Superior water on a few inches of frozen water". I guess I can't argue with that. Matt and I cruised over before the party and had a beer at the Beach Club, it's namesake beach covered with snow and abutted by frozen water. The next day, bloodied yet unbowed by the Bushmills that was served up along with the music at the Frontier the night before, we had RangerMark join us for a return trip to the island.
RangerMark used to work on the island and had to get there via ferry, wind sled, or ice road for years. The road is a boon for islanders during its short annual lifespan. For that limited time of the year they can move freely back and forth to the mainland without worrying about schedules or cost, hauling stuff that was too bulky or too expensive to move via ferry boat. Anyone who had spent any time on Madeline Island has raced down to the dock to avoid missing the last ferry of the day at some point. Most of us have made it. In addition to being convenient, driving on ice is just plain fun. In the golden age of rear wheel drive cars, a turn of the wheel and application of some gas could have you careening across the ice in circles instantly. These days with the front wheel drive cars, one needs to hammer the emergency brake to get the vehicle sideways on the ice. It is still great fun and I firmly believe great practice if a driver ever loses traction for real on a snow covered highway.
There is a large sign at both ends of the road saying 'travel at your own risk'. Those like the VOR choose not to risk it. Like kayaking and many other endeavors risk analysis and management is a valuable skill. It had snowed the night before and we noticed that the ice road had been nicely plowed. The inarguable fact that it had not been above freezing for a week, combined with a heavy snowplow crossing the road a couple hours earlier made for an easy decision to head out on the ice. We also saw two pickups and fish houses just off the road. When we got closer I realized that it was Charly Ray, ISS head and former czar of the Living Forest Co-op, the group that assisted us with our timber sale. The fish were not biting but we agreed that it was a great day to be out on the ice. We did notice that the road had been re-routed a bit past the fishermen. The ice can be like the tectonic plates in the earth. Fault lines can cause the ice to buckle and heave with wind, waves, and expansion and contraction. This often results in a cannon like crack or boom, very disconcerting for those uninitiated in the ways of frozen water.
The key is to stay on the road. RangerMark tells the story of the kids driving on the ice road and practicing their Louies, Shitties, or whatever the vernacular term was for spinning your car in circles as described above. They careened over the plow berm, off the road, and came to rest, stuck in a snowbank. They got out and trudged to Madeline Island to get help to pull the car out. When they got back the car was gone. Stolen? Nope, bottom of the lake in 100' of water. Cars generally don't just crack through the ice. First the wheels break through, the frame begins to settle, and eventually, like the scene in the movie Titanic, the car slips below the ice. Veteran ice road drivers take the precaution of removing the seat belts and rolling the windows down, just in case (Insert VOR shaking head right here). RangerMark was actually the hero in this case because the next time he drove to work he stopped and punched a gps reading next to the hole. When the thaw came the DNR was on the kids to get the car out of there. Unfortunately they didn't know just exactly where it was. Enter RM. Between divers and barges with winches it cost around $6,000 to drag the car out. Moral of the story: Always stay on the ice road. It is checked several times a day. The usual reason for closing is a gigantic pressure heave that can't be dealt with or ice melting away from the shore, logically the thinnest point and the first to thaw.
This is another low ice year on the lake. That can be seen in the sat photo image. We could have easily driven across the ice road, headed to Big Bay State Park on the east side of the island, and seal launched through the shore ice and had a lovely paddle in open water. I suspect the same thing could have been done Meyers Beach and the mainland sea caves. This weekend is Palm Sunday. GalwayGuy, ChrisG, and I visited Eagle Island on that day a couple years back. MrEngineerGear and I did the same thing two years ago. The Coho Salmon are biting through the ice in the bay and that may trump any thoughts of paddling. I do need to move some boats this weekend however; you just never know what could happen when I get that Explorer on my shoulder.......