I left Washburn at 2:00pm. Finally, after a couple years of contemplating, planning, and learning, I was leaving. This bike trip was to be way different from any others I had planned so far. I had been refining my knowledge about cold weather survival, cold water survival, solo travel safety, and ice the last two years in preparation for this. Growing up near Lake Superior helped too. But, there was still a lot to be learned. Knowledge that only a first hand experience would reveal. Once again, into the womb of Mother Nature I go. In search of some lessons in reality, and a few nights good rest.

The first two hundreds yards I was pushing. The snow on the ice is typically deeper towards the shore. So I was pushing out to the deeper waters, the more wind swept harder snow and ice, for easier riding. I shed a layer of clothing.

Now I’m riding with the full enthusiasm of the moment. I hardly notice that I’m pulling 30 pounds of gear behind me and pedaling a 50 pound bike through snow. The moment is sweet.

Ice fishing is a popular pastime in these regions and snowmobile tracks make the riding a little easier. I contemplate whether or not I will allow myself to ride on these trails. Is this considered outside help? Is it morally right seeing how I am seeking a wilderness experience? I ponder these thoughts only for a moment before coming to a conclusion. Ride when and where the ridings good when you can. I knew it was very possible I could end up pushing for more than half the trip. I came to ride, and that’s what I will do.I rode these trails without grief throughout the duration of the trip, whenever they were available and rideable. Anyways, conserving energy was a must. I might need it later. Sometimes, as I found out later, it was often easier to break trail.

I stop to shed another layer, eat a little (as I do every 15 minutes, hungry or not), and drink some water. I knew the importance of staying hydrated from previous trips. No water… No water? Wha? Who? Shit. I had the container but, caught up in preparations, had forgotten to fill it before leaving. I busted out my stove and started making water. Staying hydrated was of the utmost importance.

Using my collapsible shovel, I cut small blocks out of the crusty snow and placed them next to my stove and pot. Usually I would add a little water to the pot before adding snow. This prevents burning. Not this time. I dropped in a chunk and watched it begin to melt. “Here we go”. This trip had started.

Riding again, the snow is getting a bit deeper. The trail I am riding on begins to become extremely difficult to ride. I search for a better trail but am soon bogged down in 5 inches of heavy, wet snow. It’s about 28 degrees, and also time to push. And push I do, for about 20 feet. Then it looks rideable again. I mount my bike and start to ride.

Riding again, my pace picks up. Then it begins to slow, and five minutes later I am pushing again. After another 2 hours of this pattern, I am greeted with snow that is more dense and there for more rideable. A snowmobile trail is presented to me and another 2 hours later the sun is setting. I stop to make camp.

Tonight will be a calm night. And it was so far. Driving ice screws 5 inches into the frozen water I rest on, I finish setting up camp and make a meal. I have a few main ingredients I always use, and a few improvised additions depending on what the rolling pantry holds. Tonight, and every night, would be a base of Egg noodles, walnuts and pecans, and a about a quarter stick of unsalted butter. Sometimes I would add raisins, or sardines, or just eat it plain.

I usually add some bullion to get some sort of flavor. The tiny package reads “Flavors 44 servings!”. What a deal. I’d better be careful adding this stuff. Oh so carefully… I add a little bit. Then It needs a little more. Then a quarter of the container spills into my dinner. I curse and weigh my options. Not long after, I am finishing the last salty bite. Calories and water are the two most important things in the winter. Not a calorie wasted. Without the precious calorie, you won’t starve in these environments, you will freeze to death.

This dinner ticket was always enough to get me through the night and into the morning meal of oatmeal, brown sugar, nuts, and another quarter stick of unsalted butter.

The sun was setting slowly and I decide I would go chat with a nearby ice fisherman. Usually they have a portable shack they set up, a snowmobile they drive out, a sled behind the snowmobile, and a heater for the tent. Usually they retreat as soon as the sun begins to set. Not his guy. Totally exposed, no snowmobile, no shack, sun below the horizon now, sitting on a bucket, he fished.

“Caught anything today?”

“Nope.”

“How long you been out?”

“since, oh. ’bout 7:00am.”

We exchanged a few more words and admired the natural beauty of the surrounding area. He had moved up from Virginia. He used to see people out on the ice and thought they were crazy.

I mentioned my idea of recording the sounds.

“Oh, you just wait. tonight’s gonna be a wild one out here. Your campin’? On the ice?”

“Yup.”

“It’s gonna be noisy.”

We parted ways.

I walked for a bit and noticed the man packing up his few things. In the twilight I observed his silhouette, sled in tow, walking towards shore. Now there was only a gentle glow on the horizon and myself, alone on the ice.

“Boom!”

An echo that resembles a whip cracking reflects off of a distant shore. The ice vibrates a little bit.

“Crack!” “Boom!” “shhhhwwwack!!!!! (ack-ack-ack)”

The sun beating down on the ice all day must have made it expand. Now, with the cold snap the night brought, it is contracting and sounds like it’s going to explode. (listen to: Lake Drums)

I quickly made a hole in the ice with my hand auger. Deploying my recording equipment and dropping the hydrophone into the water, the sounds gre more intense. I put on my headphones. Amazing. An entire array of sounds entered my ears. Things I could not hear on the surface of the ice.

“Bam!” “Crrraaaaack!”

The ice vibrates again. I’m startled. This is way more than I expected.

I keep recording for another hour. Soon I realize that in the excitement I have become pretty damn cold. I stow my recording gear in its Pelican case and crawl into my sleeping bag. Wow. I’m tired.

Resting my head on my piled up jacket, just an inch or two above the ice, is almost like having the headphones on again. There is no escaping the sounds. I simply embrace them, as I know the ice is only doing what it does best. Eventually, hours later, I doze off. The Lake Drums continue well into the night, backed by clear skies and an almost full moon.

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