When I'm not fishing or working on this web page or somebody else's, I do have a day job. I work for a large Fortune 500 company. For the last 17 years, 8-10 of us working grunts have taken a weekend to ourselves to go on an annual ice-fishing mission. With that many guys away from their wives for an entire weekend, you never know what's going to happen, but you know that something definitely will. This is a tale of missions past. Please do not try to imitate any of the incidents mentioned. Remember, these are professionals (at least we thought we were), especially with the help of Jim B., Jack D. and old Granddad.
Hey I know its Zipple Bay Resort at Lake of the Woods. but my brother Don wanted to get his mug on our site. Besides, in the winter, all the big lakes look pretty much the same.
Mike B. and I left my house at around 5:30 p.m. that Friday. We were in Mike's brand new Toyota 4X4 that he had just picked up two weeks before. We were pulling a trailer with our snowmobiles strapped down on it. It had been a cold and snowy winter and we thought we would get a little sledding in during the slow times of pulling up walleye and monster perch.
"Which way are you going?" I asked Mike a couple of miles from my driveway.
"35 to 95 out of North Branch to Princeton, then get on 169..." He rattled off and I relaxed, thinking that I wouldn't have to drive or navigate on this trip.
Everything went just fine all the way up to the lake. We checked in with Doris at the resort where we had rented the three icehouses. After we had paid her and got some quick directions sketched out on a paper napkin, we got back in his "Toy" and started driving the seven miles on the frozen lake. The road was ice-covered and black except where the headlights on Mike's truck bounced off the five-foot high snowbanks. When the winds are blowing, and they usually are, the plows have to work hard to keep the road open all the time. With new and drifting snow it's possible to lose the road in a couple of hours.
"Hey, remember that year we were driving on water?" I asked, remembering the time when the temperature got up to 65 degrees and with a 30 MPH northeast wind, the snow and ice were melting and blowing to the southwest side of the lake. Which, of course, was where our shacks were that year.
"Yeah, that was wild!" Mike replied. "I remember we kept the windows open all the way into the restaurant. We were driving in eight inches of water and we were all thinking that we were going to drop through some unseen hole in the ice. Now, that was scary."
"Look out!" I yelled.
Just then, as we were rounding a left turn in the road, we discovered an ice bridge a very short distance ahead of us. The ice on Mille Lacs and some of the other bigger lakes heaves up and cracks due to the pressure of expansion from cold weather. These "ice-ridges" can be miles long and the "cracks" may never freeze over. In order to get out to the flats, resorts construct bridges over them. I only wish they would put up signs letting you know when one was coming up.
"What should I do?" yelled Mike, meaning it was too late to slow down, and, since we were on glare ice, steering out of it was impossible.
"Jump it!" was my only solution. I sure as heck didn't want to nose dive into that ridge at 55 MPH. I could see us smashing into that crack and sinking to the bottom of the lake.
"Don't touch the brake," I ordered, looking at the bridge and at the same time bracing myself for the unknown.
Mike hit that bridge ramp straight on and that little truck took off like a Boeing 707 taking off from the Minneapolis/ Saint Paul International Airport. We must have jumped forty feet or better, considering our speed and the angle of that ramp. We never touched the top part of the bridge or any other part of it.
"Holy Schinnnnnnngles!" Mike let out as the little truck rolled to a stop.
"Wow!" is all I could muster up.
"We still got a trailer?" he asked, as we both opened our doors.
I could not believe my eyes. The two sleds had moved a little bit, but, for the air time those two snow machines just took on, it was a miracle. We looked the truck and trailer over and decided we really got lucky and headed for the ice shack. We already had one heck of a story to tell the guys and, when we saw them, we did. As it turned out though, it would not be the BEST story of the 1986 fishing mission.
The start of that story happened the next day, Saturday. Fishing had been the usual, slow. Mike and I were letting the other guys use our sleds to take rides around the lake. Pete, one of the guys who had never been on a snowmobile before, hopped on at 3:00 p.m. and at 6:00 p.m. still wasn't back. Gene and I decided Pete must have headed for the Blue Goose, a popular bar and restaurant about 10 miles away by ice. We both got on my snow machine and headed out. The problem with two guys on my sled is the guy in back doesn't have anything to hold on to, since the handles broke off years ago. Unless you hold on to the driver, which is okay for the many snow bunnies I've given rides to, but not for me holding on to Gene. Alas, during the 10-mile trip into town, I fell off four times. We took a quick look around the bar, the restaurant and the gas station, but no Pete. The trip back was a little easier. I drove and Gene fell off three times.
By the time we got back, Pete had returned. He told us that he had driven out to the middle of the lake and when he hit a bump, his engine killed. After pulling the rope repeatedly for hours, he changed the spark plugs and, when that didn't work, attempted to pull the machine back to the shack. A couple other sledders came by and showed him the kill-switch on the handlebars.
We had a good laugh and I figured "all's well that ends well". Except that now Mike and Tim knew it was possible to get to the Blue Goose by ice and decided to give it a try. We started playing poker as the ‘ding, ding, ding' of the sleds faded into the night. Tim on my sled and Mike on his own, heading for the Blue Goose at 8 p.m. As I remember it, I was doing pretty good at five card draw, but lost the farm when I started dealing blackjack. That could be another story... By the time midnight came around we started wondering what had happened to Mike and Tim. They were just going to grab a burger and a beer and were supposed to head right back. 1 a.m., 2 a.m., and still no Mike or Tim. Then, at 2:30 a.m. ,Tim walked through the ice shack door. He had somehow lost Mike and then had gotten lost himself. He had been driving aimlessly from one Icehouse City to the next Icehouse City in search of us. He said he had driven up to one shack, knocked on the door and it opened by itself. An older guy was busy pulling up extra fishing lines. When he realized that Tim wasn't the game warden, he was so happy that he gave him a map and some good directions that got him back to our shack.
"Where's Mike?" I said.
"Dunno," replied Tim. "I was waiting for him on the other side of the road and he flew right past me. I don't think he ever saw me and, by the time I got the snowmobile running, he was gone."
"I'm going to bed," Tim stated, and we all went off to ‘snoozeville', thinking Mike was a big boy and would eventually find his way back. After all, the lake wasn't that big.
I awoke two hours later to the door opening and smacking into the wall. It was Mike. He knelt down and kissed the floor of the shack. All the lights came on and we all waited to hear what had happened.
"Where were you?" Mike and Tim both asked at the same time. Mike went first. "When I got on the lake I figured you must be ahead of me so I opened her up to catch up to you."
"You went right past me!" Tim exclaimed. "I was right by the access waiting for you."
"Didn't see you," Mike replied. "I got about a mile out on the lake and then I hit that ice ridge. I must have hit it going at least 50 MPH. I drove over the first ridge and the sled smashed into the other side. I kept going. Oh, am I hurting!" He stopped and took a breath. Everyone just looked at him, waiting for him to start laughing and say, "Just kidding..." He didn't.
"I rolled into a big hunk of ice and I think I got knocked out for a while. I got up to get my sled but she's totaled, no chance of driving it. I headed back to town on foot. The Super America was the only place open so I walked in there. There were a few people working in there and they all stared at me like I was from another planet or something. They gave me the key to the Men's Room. When I went in there and looked in the mirror I could see why they were looking at me so weird- like. I still had my helmet on, but all that was left was the white Styrofoam shell. I was walking all over like that." We had a good laugh but he went on anyway.
"There was a guy in the parking lot who couldn't get his car started. He said that if I got him a jump he would give me a ride back here. So, I found someone to jump his battery. He didn't have cables, so I bought him some. He was almost out of gas so I had to get him ten bucks worth of gas, too." Mike was turning real red by then.
"I'm going to bed," he announced, and the lights went off until the sun came up.
We all went to see his sled the next morning. What was left of it. We each took a souvenir from it, either a chunk of fiberglass or a piece of plexiglas, and lifted what was left of the doomed machine back on the trailer next to mine. It was beyond repairing and the parts had scattered a good fifty yards. A new record for any crash I had ever seen. I drove Mike's truck back to my house and he took over from there.
The next day was Monday and another record was set. More guys called in sick that day than any other day. Ever.
Sunset over iced over Mile Lacs Lake in late January