sharing my adventures both big and small

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Icy Plunge

As I write this entry it is snowing outside here in Albany, and I think back to days where I loved waking up and seeing snow falling from the sky. Snow falling fast and accumulating meant the possibility of a Snow Day, No School. Those were the best of days, mini vacations that interrupted a grueling school week plan of math tests, history homework and clarinet lessons, and I hated clarinet lessons. Sometimes when the universe heard all the school kids prayers at once, while all the planets were aligned, the plow men decided to sleep in and the weatherman were praised for being right, a miracle happens, a three day snow-day weekend. And once in a great while this happens, and suddenly all kids remember to do their chores, learn to make there parents the perfect cup of coffee, clean their bedrooms and ever so politely ask Mom and Dad if they can go over a friends house for the day. And once in a great while Mom and Dad say, "Sure".

This particular snow day was one of those miracle snow days, with over two and a half feet of snow and school was closed for Friday and we even had a 2 hour delay on Monday. Dad drove a 4 x4 Ford Bronco, and could drive through any weather, so he dropped me off at my friend Alicia's house in Roundtop, up the mountain from where I lived. Alicia and I were adventurers naturally, her father made his career in forestry and my Dad would rather spend a day on the river fishing or in the woods hunting or making homemade maple syrup then spend a day inside. I had packed all my winter ski gear, and filled my schoolbag with layers of sweatshirts and wool socks and planned to spend the entire weekend playing outside. Alicia's parents owned quite a bit of land, at least well over 15 acres, and we loved exploring it.

We set out mid morning in our snow gear, post-holing across her yard down a path towards her backyard. Maple her old dog, on his run, had decided to stay in his dog house for the day, the snow was not as much fun as we cracked it up to be. Alicia and I picked up some walking sticks, to make it easier to trudge through the deep snow, and made our way into the woods. Entering the woods, tall hemlock trees and giant evergreens branches were weighed down with the heavy snow, all helplessly sagging down as if to say "oh bother". The birds were very chatty I remember because we watched the chick-a-dees being chased by the bully Bluejays. The sky was overcast, because the largest of snowflakes were still falling down on us. We walked along a narrow quad trail, further and further into the woods, when we stopped and turned around to see that the house was no longer in sight. I loved this feeling. Just us and nature.

Alicia had told me about this huge pond out on the property, and her mother told us not to go to the pond because it was over a mile and a half away, we would get cold and tired then have to walk all the way back. This would worry her. I assured Alicia that I went on hikes all the time, and I can handle a mile and half hike in the snow, as she assured me the same. So we went. The trail forked, and we made a left hiking up this steep hill, full of broken shale and boulders. It was a tricky climb because the shale was loose and the weight of the snow on top, and the weight of us climbing, created landslides, or avalanches. We would make it about half way up the hill, and then it would avalanche and send us back down to the bottom of the hill. We thought it was so funny, and spent about an hour playing and sliding on the hill. As I write this and reflect back on this memory, I can't help to think how stupidly dangerous that was. At any point we could knock loose a 300 pound boulder and having it crush us beneath all the snow. We really were lucky fools.

Finally we reached the top of the hill, exausted and sweaty from climbing we looked down and could just make out a clearing up ahead. Perhaps that was the pond? We continued our hike through the snow, climbing over downed trees freshly cut from a chainsaw, and under snowy tunnels of blue spruce branches, making our way out into the clearing.
"Is this the pond?" I asked, feeling pretty certain that this had to be the pond.
"Actually, no it isn't, this is just a meadow, the pond is past this down a hill." Alicia responded out of breath.
For a moment I thought, man this is a bit far, and my body was thinking, do you really care to see a frozen pond? Alicia stood there thinking perhaps the same thing as I, but didn't say a word. She pointed, and I looked out to see a group of white tail deer that must have caught our sent, running off through the meadow and disappear into the thick forest.
"Come on lets go, only about another 10 minutes to the pond." Alicia said. I thought to myself, yeah, your fine Kelsey, put one foot in front of the other and we will be there in no time!

We passed through the field and ended up in the thick woods again. There was no more trail, so I just followed Alicia, who followed the easy way around the trees and rocks. Gradually we began descending the hill, and it became steeper and steeper. When we decided to run/slide down the hill with the momentum we had, careening our way past trees and exposed roots ending up at the bottom of the hill. Standing up and brushing ourselves off we walked a bit further to see the huge opening ahead.
The pond. We had reached it!

It was a really big pond, I asked "Are you sure this isn't a lake Leash?" wondering why she called this a pond. "Yeah, its pretty big isn't it?" she responded.
It sure was.

We walked to the edge of it and dug down into the snow until we hit ice. We wanted to see if it was hard and if we could see through it. It was hard, but we could not see through the ice, it was white. I watched Alicia jump and stomp on the ice, and then wait and listen. I asked "You think its hard enough to walk across?" "I think so, it seems really hard and must be pretty thick." Alicia said sure of her statement. Now I don't know if I ever thought it was safe enough to walk across, I really did not have very much experience walking on frozen ponds. If she thought it was safe, and she has done this before, why should I doubt her? I will admit I was scared, because what if she was wrong. Then I thought, I can't be a wussy and not walk across, if she is. "You want to walk across?" she chimed in. "You bet!" I said.

We started slowly started walking across the pond, we couldn't even see to the other side because of the snow falling. I thought, well if we just take our time and walk carefully we will get to the other side in a flash. After a few minutes on the ice, the wind picked up, it was a cold gust, felt like it took all the warmth from my bones in just one second.
"Its cold out here!" Alicia said. "Yeah it is, how far do you think we are?"
"About half way" she yelled over the wind.

As we continued the ice started to make funny noises, creaking like a old door hinge. I thought, well that has to be normal, there is a lot of ice out here, I am sure it moves a little bit. As we walked further I could see the other side, relieved I yelled over the wind to Alicia, "The other side! This ice is freaking me out, I am gonna make a run for it!"

I picked up my feet and started a slippery run to the edge. Alicia was behind me and I wasn't sure if she was following me in running as well, because I never had the chance to turn around and look. As I slammed my feet down on the ice, I looked down and saw this huge crack and I looked to my right as a chunk about twenty feet across buckles and breaks down off the frozen pond. I tripped up and went right through the very thin ice.

It burned. The water touched every part of my body, at once. I pushed back up through the waters surface and saw the ice chunk bobbing up and down. I began to tread water, but it was so cold and my legs we so heavy with boots and snowpants and cotton was a huge challenge. I screamed for Alicia. She had stopped and was watching me in the water, afraid to get any closer for fear she would fall in too. I watched her and yelled "Help Me!" She just stood there in shock of it all.
I panicked and began to swim towards the shore. I couldn't believe that my friend wasn't helping me, and I was all on my own. I pushed with my feet and lifted my arm out of the water and began swimming to safety. She might have been yelling my name by now, I don't remember, just how I wanted to yell at her after I got out of this icy lifetaking water. My skin just felt burned, and it didn't make any sense, how could cold water burn your skin? I swam to where I could stand up, and walked out and stepped onto the frozen ice right at the shore, and onto the snowy ground. I collapsed. My body was freezing and tired. I just wanted to take my clothes off, and I began taking my gloves and hat off. Then my jacket and then my ski pants.

All the sudden I feel arms wrapped around me, it was Alicia, she had crossed the lake at another point and found me. I wasn't even mad anymore, just so cold, and just so glad that she was there. She was crying. I don't remember if I was even crying. She helped me take off my layers, till I was in my underwear and boots. She gave me her jacket and snow pants to put on, which I thought was really nice (but thinking back now, it sort of had to be done). We hugged some more to warm me up a bit, and then thought how we had to hike all the way back. I was so tired, there was no way I could physically do it. We started to hike. I was shivering, but my body kept on moving, "Just like before Kelsey, one foot in front of the other..". We walked around the pond to where we first started across. I looked up at the hill we slid down and started to hike up it, one foot in front of the other. I was like a machine, and I didn't even complain, I actually don't think I even said one word. Alicia kept asking, "You okay? How are you?" and I just never responded.

As we pushed on, we came to the top of the hill exhausted because of the fast pace we had been keeping. I just wanted to lay down and take a nap, I was so tired and cold. Alicia kept me going, "Come on, now we cross the field and then its down the steep hill, this part is easy!" Easy for her, not for me, but I pushed on. We crossed the meadow, then came to the top of the steep hill. We said lets slide down, it will be quicker, so we ran and slid down the hill, dodging the boulders and exposed roots. The shale scraped up my legs and hands as I wasn't wearing any gloves now, and my ski pants had rode up my butt. I was miserably unhappy. We got to the bottom of the hill, and began walking between the giant sagging trees till be came to the fork in the path. We kept on going. By now I had been coughing and started to complain out loud, this sucked so much, I just wanted to get inside and be warm already. Hiked up through the woods until we saw in the distance the big brown silhouette of her house. I collapsed. So happy, but tired and even colder.

"Come on, we are so close Kelsey, the house is right there!" Alicia tried to cheer up my spirits. "Okay, lets go."

Once inside, I was thrown into a tub of luke warm water, and my parents were phoned. The last thing I wanted to do is sit in a tub of water, that wasn't even hot, however my skin thought it was burning hot. Such a weird thing to feel. Slowly I was warmed up, and the water could be warmed until I was back at my normal temperature.

My parents came to pick me up later that evening, and I was grounded for the rest of the weekend, go figure. So much for the three day snowday weekend. ;-)

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