It’s Head High, Hollow, And There’s An Occasional Iceberg In The Lip
Lake Michigan, this week. You paddling out?
A violent scream jolted me awake. Damn phone. Was it 4:30 already?
After a moment of contemplation, I forcibly removed myself from a warm cocoon of blankets, only to be met with the sound of wind ripping through every alley and crevice along my street.
Why do I do this?
Peering outside into the 11-degree abyss, I saw a silhouette of trees dancing to and fro. Several inches of fresh snow blew and shifted around my front yard, trying to find a place to settle. It reminded me of the lake.
Oh right, the lake. That’s why I’m getting up at this ungodly hour.
Lake Michigan has been mostly frozen by the coastline for a couple of months now. Unstable ice buildup along the shore leads to deaths every year in this region. The coastline turns into a dangerous labyrinth of ice shifting and jostling for position. Under these conditions, surfing is only achieved by traveling elsewhere — either physically or figuratively. Videos, photos, and wandering minds are what get us through the winter.
I hesitated as I scraped the snow and ice off my van, wondering if this speculation and hope of surf were worth the effort. There was a chance that some spots had shed their icy barriers from a bout of warm days and favorable wind earlier in the week. Daydreaming about the worst-case situation — breakfast at a favorite greasy-spoon diner — rekindled my spirits, and the allure of potential waves stoked the flame. I continued my efforts and headed west.
After an hour or so of gripped driving, I arrived at the spot. The sun was still down, as sounds of waves crashing in the distance echoed through my head. An excited energy surged through me as I got my first look at the lake. The unstable ice shelf was gone, and in its place was a slurry of slush and smaller ice chunks undulating from the movement of the water.
And there was plenty of movement.
Wave quality aside, the session did not last long.
Battling a heavy current, winds strong enough to push you over, and the relentless cold, the boys’ will to surf dissipated quickly — but not before a thick layer of ice could form around their wetsuits, encasing each of them in a natural cryogenic chamber.
Meanwhile on the shore, my hands and fingers ached from holding the metal camera body and lens, and my feet were numb.
We’d had our fun and it was time to retreat.
The drive is easier on the way back. It didn’t hurt that the roads were freshly plowed at this point too. My van’s heater was still blowing at full blast as I slowly thawed, and that earlier daydream about the greasy-spoon diner popped into my head.
Now that I’d warmed my body and my soul, it was time to warm my belly.
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