The biggest area of local parkland is now open for the season. One catch – there is no land.
It is a beautiful winter day…27 degrees (-3 C), a light breeze, and lots of sun. Since there is very little snow on the lake, no need for sunglasses. Sunday there was an iceboat regatta, dozens of skaters and ice fishers, a few people out walking, and one person riding a bike across the lake. A few skaters used hand-held sails (to which I was introduced by my uncle about 60 years ago) and several had kites or parasails.
The breeze was from the north, so I didn’t notice it walking to the lake, nor on the shore. Once out on the ice, it was a tailwind, so I didn’t notice it until I crossed the lake (about 1.5 miles plus a bit of meandering around snow patches) and turned around to skate home. On the other side, I stopped to take a picture of the boat above. Seconds later, the sailor appeared and set sail, as shown below.
According to the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club, some boats can achieve speeds of 5 times the wind velocity and Skeeter class boats have been known to exceed 100 mph (160 km/h). Water offers little resistance when it is frozen. We spoke of covering skin when biking in the winter – at 100 mph there is always a wind chill.
The second video (drone video of Sunday’s regatta) is by Deb Whitehorse, widow of Ho-Chunk artist and iceboat designer/builder Harry Whitehorse. We have mentioned him in these pages before.
Out on the ice, it’s pretty quiet. The only motorized conveyances are the 6-wheeled ATVs the fishers use to haul their equipment onto the ice. No permanent shanties are allowed on this lake, so folks carry pop-up shanties along with an ice auger and something to sit on (plus fishing gear and food/beverage). Some walk and drag a sledge, others drive.
Otherwise, it’s the wind, the sounds of blades carving paths along the ice, and the echoing booms of the ice shifting. That sound takes a bit of getting used to, especially if it happens close by.
Skateable ice is a rarity. If the lake freezes on a cold, clear, still night, the ice is great. If it’s particularly cloudy/foggy, the ice won’t be as smooth. If it’s windy, the ice won’t be as smooth. If it snows the night it freezes, the ice mixes with snow to create a lousy surface. There may be great ice, but it’s cold enough for only the hardiest to want to go out. There may be great ice for a day or two, which is then buried under a snowfall. Freeze/thaw cycles will cause the snow to mix with the surface of the ice, ruining it for the rest of the season.
A day like this means get out while the getting is good. The last year with skateable ice that lasted, it was so clear and so cold that the ice was totally transparent. I could see the bottom. I could see fish. I had to hope to skate over a crack so I could see how thick the ice was. It was eerie, and I turned back before I got across the lake. This year, while the ice is dark, there are enough air bubbles to tell I’m on thick ice and not a thin film over water. It has more of the frosty appearance of ice cubes made in your home freezer and not the total transparency of store-bought ice.
Joni Mitchell famously skated on Lake Mendota for a photoshoot for her album “Hejira”. The woods in the background are Picnic Point. This is the “other lake” from the one I skated today (1/17). If it’s still nice Sunday (1/23), I’ll skate there to watch the next regatta. Meanwhile I may make a trial skate to work (maybe a hundred yards out of the frame to the left above) to see how long it takes and maybe add another form of transportation to my commute.
On a prior album, she sang about skating:
On the album “Hejira” she sang “Furry Sings the Blues”. Rather than that song, I’ll leave you with Furry himself – Furry Lewis – nothing but Furry and his guitar. He has recorded this a few times, but this is the version that introduced me to his work.
Addendum: The regatta was postponed for a week due to drifting snow that hardened, making sailing dangerous. As of bedtime Saturday, it is snowing, and I just shoveled the first couple of inches. And with new snow falling, skating on the lake is probably over for the year. The regatta will likely be postponed again, if not canceled. We’re in a drought and about 15 inches behind on snow for the season, so that’s a good thing…but I was hoping to skate to work. I’ve commuted to this job by walking, skiing, biking, bussing, carpooling, and driving. Skating would have been a nice addition.