This is the article from Peace Coffees’ most recent Peace Spokes Newsletter. Check out the Peace Coffee for cool gear and great coffee!

Exploring The Sounds of Ice

It was a day when most people are crawling out of bed to the sounds of an alarm clock, suiting up, and going off to work. It was a sunny day, bright, fresh, and warm for the season. I searched ferociously, frantic like, not finding what I wanted. Sweating, still not finding what I was sure I had packed, obsessevly, I searched for my coffee. No joke. I had packed and repacked my gear three times last night, making sure to have everything in it’s most useful location on my bike and sled. Now here I was, out on the ice, ready to go, unpacking everything. Tossing things out onto the snow, cursing, and searching.
My plan was to go out onto the frozen surface of Lake Superior for a week, self supported, solo, to seek out and record the sounds of the shifting ice. It was late February and unseasonably warm. All the ingredients were there to make for a vast array of sounds, created by the expanding and contracting of the ice. Cold nights, warm days. Thick and thin ice. I had my recording gear, which included a Hydrophone (for recording under water), food for two weeks, a solid understanding of winter ice travel and the proper gear to do so, my bike with raft in tow, and motivation. All the ingredients were there…except for the coffee. Eventually I found the coffee. It was in the first place I thought to look, but the last place I did look. Now, repacking my gear for the fourth time in the last 12 hours, I was actually ready to leave.
Pulling my 35 pounds of gear behind me proved a very useful method. My bike, the fat tired Surly Pugsley,  cruised smoothly through the drifts and over the small pressure cracks that etched and weaved their way across the frozen expanse. The riding was good. Almost too good. Almost as soon as the thought crossed my mind, the snow got deep and heavy. My bike slowed to a crawl and soon after that it came to a halt. Now I walked along side my bike, pushing and pulling, until the next ride-able section presented itself. For my first three days this would be a reoccouring pattern. Ride for 15 minutes then walk for 15 minutes. It wasn’t until I reached Basswood Island on the third day, that the riding became truly a breeze.
I left Washburn, Wi. at 2:00pm and reached the South Channel between the mainland Bayfield Peninsula and Long Island around 6:00 pm. That was 7 miles in four hours. Not bad for cycling/ pushing a 64 pound bike with a 35 pound sled through 2-4 inches of snow. But I knew the riding would get better the further I got from shore. With a little patience and endurance the true pleasures of this trip would reveal themselves.
It was at the South Channel that I set up camp for the night. I used 6 inch ice screws as tent stakes. After screwing in the last of these ice screws I began to hear booming sounds. They seemed to begin far away, on some distant shore, with a crack. The cracking sound would travel through the air, echo off of the opposite shorline, and the echo would make whipping sound as it rushed back across the surface of the ice. Then, seconds later, a gutteral boom, thud, and more cracking would travel past me below the ice. These sounds I recognized. It was the very thing I had sought to capture: The Lake Drums.
I set up my recording gear and drilled a hole in the ice. Putting on my headphones and lowering my hydrophone down below the surface of the ice revealed even more grunts, squeaks, groans, and cracks. It never stopped. Sounds not audible above the ice went on without end. Intertwined with all this was the booming, whipping, cracking, and echoing sounds of the Lake Drums. I recorded for about an hour and began to get chilled. Time to move. In these cold environments, without any outside source of heat (I never once built any fires), your only warmth comes from either crawling in your sleeping bag or moving about. This time, I chose to move. I constructed a marker on the ice near my camp. After creating a bowl shape on top of a pile of snow, I placed a candle in the middle. This reflected the light and gave me a beacon to guide me back to camp. Then, without any headlamp, I walked off into the bright, yet still amazingly dark, cool, and lonely night.
As the night went on the sounds only grew in complexity, intensity, and frequency. Sometimes the ice would move. I’d feel it below my feet. A slight shift to the right, left, up or down. Sometimes just a jolt of sorts. Other times the ice seemed to be vibrating around me. The sky was crystal clear, a halo encompassed the nearly full moon. The stars seemed to reflect off the ice, and all this created a very bright night.  I grew tired and retired to my sleeping bag. The ice sounds only continued, undaunted by my desire to get a good nights sleep.
That night, as with the other four nights, I slept little. Not out of fear, but out of curiosity, interest, and amazement. Here I was. The places I was eating, sleeping, and riding literally floating and drifting upon 120 feet of 38 degree water. Never once did I feel endangered, and not once have I felt so inspired and strong, yet so small and so weak. At the whim of the freezing cold, in the womb of mother nature, I was a guest in somebody else’ home. Here was a place of uncomparable beauty. Unending vistas of visual plendor. Coyotes howl at the moon, sunsets ignite the skies. Here was a place of thin ice, deadly waters, and sub-zero nights. A place were one would freeze to death before they had time to starve.
These sounds, sights, and places are everywhere. Incredible beauty waits for us in our back yards. In a world moving ever more frantically into the depths of instant gratification, it’s ironic that only with a little patience and understanding, the natural world reveals it’s secrets.

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