i was just returning from a 400 mile round-trip to Boston…. and as i closed the back door with relief, the phone was ringing….it was Bill saying that Denis had reported great ice on Moosehead Lake…and the wind prediction was that aggravating 5-10 knots….10 knots and we’d have a blast….5 knots and we’d have uselessly pushed 258 well-known miles of asphalt past our tires…I tried to convince Bill to let me put Icywood on top of his car and save me driving, but he was already up to his neck in group logistics…as Brenda emphatically signaled a “thumbs down” ….and, putting her face close to mine, mouthed “just say no!” ….I bowed out of the trip.
But within minutes, i knew i would come. Denis has posted a seductive video. Curtis, Bunting, and others had committed. My time in Boston, dancing a long dance with a low-risk cancer, had reinforced the shortness of life…..then there’s the shortness of my ability to iceboat…then there’s the especial shortness of this particular season….if the lads had a blast, i would face months of ice-less regret….so i started packing….
arriving at The Birches at 930 the next morning, Denis and Bill were half-setup…..the ice was the best i had ever seen on Moosehead….a slightly pebbled surface, but the thaw and rain had smoothed all the earlier slow-downs…and the wind was giving promise of arrival…I mentioned to Bill that i was there with one and only one desire: to cruise right up to the northern tip of the lake…15 straight NE miles….while Fred Muser, David Godin, Bunting, Bill Grenier, and Curtis were finishing, I cruised down to lovely Kineo, relishing the smoother ice and a wind which, in gusts, brought storm sails to mind.
One by one, white sails were espied emerging from the launch, and 4 of us converged on Hardscrabble Strait, slowing carefully to cross its healed pressure ridge….we stopped at the even-more-dramatic cliffs on the east side of Kineo, and then joined by Bill G. and David–all now of one obsessed mind–we headed on the long, long reach to the NE. I knew we were rolling the dice….any breakdown, any loss of wind, would leave us with hours of pushing…
after a few miles, we crossed a tricky pressure ridge, hacking the vertical ice with an axe, and guiding each runner across….then….sailing on…it seemed like the immensity…. the smooth, windy, vast immensity….began to overwhelm our senses….take a hundredth of this plate and plonk it in New England, and it would so eagerly be sailed….after another 7 miles or so…can you grasp that?…we came to an offshore island and examined it’s unusual nests, perhaps loon nests….this may have been Green Island, a coveted trout fishing spot…ever on we sailed, close reaching in the NW wind. Then crossing a second pressure ridge….i now had one finger approaching frostbite…my determination was dwindling….the two coves which form the end of North Bay were clearly visible…did we have to follow this adventure to the very hand-crippling end?….Bill swapped a glove with me and i hoped the numbness would reverse.
Finally, we crossed a third pressure ridge, came close into NE Cove and, aware that our luck could change at any minute, happily turned and headed South. Then disaster struck: 5 boats had re-crossed our first returning pressure ridge and had clustered closely beyond it…I was the last to cross and since our return was a broader reach than before, my sail was slightly drawing as others helped my runners cross the brash…then a puff from a new direction sent the boat accelerating, and i bore off to port, my only option….shouting “watch out” i barely missed the nearest boat, and, unable to run fast enough, the wheel jerked out of my hand. i lunged for the runner plank, gripped it with a death grip, while the boat dragged me ever faster, sliding on my side on the ice. I knew i had to get that wheel, so i struggled to pull closer to the boat, and eventually brought it to a luff….whew!….in this vast space, what if?….
Far to the SW we could see the dramatic shape of Kineo, yet only slowly did the miles bring it nearer….finally, after 30 to 40 miles of sailing, we set our brakes in front of the lodge and ordered welcome drinks and sandwiches…then, a wonderful afternoon romp…a long, dark, tired drive home…and Wednesday finds me hard a-bed with the symptoms of mild concussion…but as i lay here, dizzy, headachy…..every cell of my body happy to be still….staring blankly at the woodwork…i realize that i’m really more stoned than concussed….our community—wonderful and warty–has allowed me to experience something i would not encounter alone…a vastness….a beauty….a sacred space….