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.

The ice is almost gone and what is left is a slush bowl. Spring has sprung and stinky piles of dog poo are emerging from the wintery dwellings.

Thanks to Peace Coffee for being a sponsor for my trip. They provided me with awesome coffee (which comes in a bomber bag) that provided warmth and caffinated mind bombs that often resulted in me having conversations with myself. I have written a small article for there March Newsletter (which you can sign up for at their website).

Expect a write up for Day 2-3: South Channel to Basswood Island, to be up here in couple days. It sounds like everyone is enjoying the ice sounds.

While out on the ice I did some shots for On The Road with Jason Davis.This will be airing Sunday March 21st on KSTP at 10:30pm. It will repeat on Monday the 22nd between 11:00 am and noon.

Enjoy the nice weather and Ride On~!

Marlin

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.

I‘m back from my bike trip and compiling a write up for the Journals section of the website. I’ve already posted photos in te gallery and recorded sounds under the “Ice Sounds” page.


Ride on~!

Marlin

It’s snowing out. The ice seems to have reached it’s outer most reaches this year. Departure date is set for Feb. 22nd from Washburn, Wi. Gear is in the mend, modifications being made, unpacking and repacking, menu decisions, etc.

A satellite image of the Apostle Islands from 2/13/10

Rock~!

We went and set up camp on the ice.

The tent stakes drove three inches into the ice. The ice was near 1 foot thick. We only used three stakes, as well as deadmans. (deadmen?) We made the deadmen by coiling rope around a tent stake, then piling snow on top. The ice had about 1 inch of snow on top. After the wind picked up, all the snow you see here was gone. Only dark blue ice lay after.

Taking a compass bearing off the Long Island light.

We got bearings off the Long Island light, which blinked green in the distance. This was for if it was snowing the next day. Snow, even a light snow, reduces visibility to 1-2 miles or less.

The night was quite surreal. The ice created an audio kaleidoscope for our ears. I’ve heard the ice make sounds before. But being that our ears were literally resting upon it, and our bodies surrounded by it, we felt it’s effects intensely. Many times we were startled awake by ice sliding off cliffs into the water near shore, and cracks forming somewhere out there. Needless to say, we slept well in mother natures ice womb.

The heat cleared the ice. We could see the sandy bottom 13ft under

We left early the next morning. The ride was quite easy as the wind was at our backs.

That blinking green light (smaller tower on left)

End of The Road

Small Icebergs ebb and flow in the distance.

Long Island Lighthouse #2 in The Distance

After fun and hiking we had our lunch, PB&J, and headed home. The wind had increased and the sun was going down. The wind was now blowing the snow off of the ice. That bit of snow was our only traction. The ride back was slow and laborious. It took every ounce of mental energy to stay balanced. If we began to lose our line, we would began long steady arches off course. Then, we either stopped and moved our bikes back on course… or fell on our ass. The sun was going down.

Going Home.

That was one for the books!

For the entire gallery click here.

Ride On~!

Marlin

I packed my -20 sleeping bag, compact shovel, “power mix” food (basically butter, brown sugar and oats), matches, water in an insulated container, my phone, two shortened ski poles, radio, and the camera.


I pulled the kayak down to the lake, dressed in my bright blue dry suit, and passed a few wide-eyed peoples along the way. A van stops by my side. “Hope you got an ice breakin’ bow on dat’ ting!” The old-timer that said this to me made no mention of what the hell are you doing or your gonna die, he just wanted to know if I had an ice breaking bow on this thing. “No sir.” I say. “Hm.” He drives away with a big grin which leaves me grinning as I march on towards the lake.

The lake emerges as I get closer to it. It seems to be mostly frozen over. As I get closer I can see that over to the East, my direction of travel, the ice must have blown out in the night. There looks to be about a mile or so of solid ice, then shifting plates the size of cars, then smaller chunks, then open water. I excitedly drag the kayak down to the shore and begin to go about my trip.
My first couple of steps are slow and meditated upon. It’s been 8 months since my last venture out here. I listen to the ice. It groans. Cracks. Moves a little. Makes a few bubbling sounds. I walk out further and go to my knees. Scraping away the drifted snow I can see right through to the bottom. This is a good sign. Clear ice means it’s pure and strong. The less imperfections the better. There is an air bubble stretching for about 2.5 inches. This, I assume, must be the average depth of ice of this color. Fine for walking. Not fine for cars or snowmobiles. I see one ice fisherman in the distance, to my West. He rests in a spot that I wouldn’t deem safe from my experiences. Good luck sir and I’m sure you’d say the same to me.

I walk for a while then stop and listen. Not that this accomplishes anything safety wise. But it sounds amazing. At certain times the ice almost sounds like loons. I can hear cracks forming and shooting past me. The ice doesn’t seem to move though. In the distance I can see the edge of the solid ice approaching. I’m clued in by the mirage like effects of the reflections and water rolling over the tops of the car sized, smooth, flat pieces of ice. They pitch and roll on the swells that heave the edges of the ice up and down.
Now I am within 100 yards and I decide it’s time to get into the Kayak and scoot over to the edge with the shortened ski poles I’ve brought along. I get in and do just that. I raise the poles into the air and drive them into the ice with all my strength, pushing myself forward in one complete and fluid motion. I glide over the ice at a surprising speed. I keep up the driving of the poles and within a minute or two I’ve reached the edge of the solid ice. I stop to contemplate how the kayak will react to being on this new ice thats moving around, half-covered in water. I’ve only done this in the packraft, which is wide and super stable. I expect that if I am going to tip over, now will be the time. I quickly run through a mental drill for “what if”, then I go for it.
Gliding onto the car sized floating pieces of ice, they become half-submerged and water rushes over their tops. The kayak continues to glide. I continue to ram the poles down through the water and into the submerged pieces of ice below me. I continue to scoot along. I bring the poles up and ram them down into nothing. I’m no longer over ice and I just about capsize from all my downward momentum. I pull it together though. As I switch to paddles the kayak bumps and ricochet off smaller, thicker chunks of ice. The ice is strewn about in chunks, like someone just sprinkled it out of a salt shaker.

The water is really cold. On the verge of freezing. With every paddle stroke I bust through an almost imperceivable layer of ice. This super thin ice moves with the waves. It makes the water look really thick and gooey. Almost like a sea of corn syrup or gravy. To my left are sandstone cliffs that are beginning there seasonal habits of succumbing to the lake and cold. Huge icicles dangle off the edges of the cliffs. Some of them are 30 feet long and 10 feet wide at least. Some clear, some blue, light blue, dark blue, clay colored, some sideways from the wind. All sorts. Ice is piled up along the shore.
I can see the Long Island light across the channel. I wasn’t planning on doing this much kayaking today. I am not yet the strongest paddler I should be for these things. But, I reason if the waves don’t get to big I can make it. I seem to know my limits pretty well so here goes.
As I start to leave the shoreline and become exposed to the elements and open lake the waves grow. From choppy little waves come bigger and bigger waves. Now they’ve become swells 2-4 feet high. Every fourth wave is breaking over the front of the kayak. Everything, including my poor Pearl Izumi cycling gloves, are covered in a thick layer of ice. Like a glazed donut. The kayak is yellow, my dry suit is blue, and I feel like a glazed banana with a blue berry on top bobbing up in down in a sea of corn syrup.
I‘m not seeing any white caps, or breaking waves, so things are still alright in my book. I plug along to about half way across the channel and realize, as the waves are getting bigger still, and my arms are getting tired, I’d better turn around. I drift for a moment and think. Not to long though. Spacing out in these waves is how people capsize. I can self rescue if I was to tip over, but nobody likes to take a drink if they’re not willing. The dry suit would protect me, but my waning strength keeps me conscious of the fact that it would be quite difficult to get back into the boat in this state.

I manuever the kayak in a big half circle and head back towards shore. Now the waves are at my back and I am able to “surf” with them. Distances that normally have taken five strokes now take two. I surf along at a leisurely pace while snow falls at my back and ice dangles off sandstone cliffs. I feel like a spoiled little brat. A visual schmorgasport lies before my eyes.
I travel the same route back to where I got into this whole thing. The same familiar icicles, the salt shaken chunks, the car sized half-submerged pieces. I pull up into a cave to take a leak. Going to the bathroom with this dry suit on is quite the operation. It takes me about five minutes just to get into a position where I can get my goods out. I notice to my right there is a staircase. Upon it rests a square piece of plastic. It reads “NO TRESPASSING”.

View the complete gallery by clicking here.
Ta Ta,

Marlin

Navigate this web page to learn more about the expedition goals, who I am supporting, who supports me, and The Apostle Islands themselves.

Ride on~!

MarlinOld Map