On December 2, 2020

Worth every chipping moment

By Merisa Sherman

We arrived at the boat launch with the best on intentions. It was Thanksgiving and we wanted to do all our favorite activities before settling down to eat as much food as humanly possible. The idea was to sneak in a quick lap around the pond on our way up to go skiing. But as I approached the shoreline, paddles in hand, I realized that quick was not going to describe our paddle at all: the launch site was frozen in solid!

As the BF continued to unload the canoe, I grabbed my sturdy wooden paddle and did what I had coached decades of flat water canoeists to never do: I slammed my blade into the water like a chisel in hopes that the ice would merely shatter into a millions pieces and allow us to launch our canoe. It broke into 3 pieces, which was enough to at least provide hope.

Up and down the paddle went, as I stood chopping away at the almost one-inch-thick ice. It wasn’t like earlier in the week where a big, strong kayak would have driven right through. No, this was study ice that oftentimes didn’t break off, but merely created that spiderweb crack like when a baseball hits a window. Bit by bit, I drilled my paddle into the water until finally, there was enough open water to gently place our deceptively light but strong canoe into the pond.

But we still had a long was to go. Now that we were seated, we had to battle the ice moving forward to even think about getting to the open water on the other side. In all my years of paddling, I had actually never had to chip into the water to get there! While it did inspire some laughter at the obscurity of it all, there remained the constant threat of one jagged piece of ice tearing into the hull like an iceberg to the Titanic. We were, in fact, living quite dangerously.

I crawled up into the bow as far as I could while remaining on my knees and relentlessly chipped our way through. Ideally, the ice would have separated to allow us through as I broke, but to no avail. Each side must be wide enough for the boat to pass and I continued chiseling away, trying different angles of the blade in an attempt to reduce the impact to my wrist, my arm and my brain.

Oftentimes, my blade would just bounce off the ice like nothing had just happened and I would get pushed backward with the resistance. At others, the force of the stroke would pull the boat forward, making a slow and eerie screeching sound as the bow pushed against the ice. We would pause for a second, hoping that water wouldn’t suddenly be rushing into the boat and us forced to make a rather quick and expensive return to shore.

We were at this task long enough that we finally developed a rhythm, the BF keeping the canoe from moving and I, continuing to chip away! It was not without a little stress, especially since we seem to be putting on a show for the couple seated at the infamous bench and another stopping by to walk his dogs. But finally, our bow cleared the launch area ice and we floated silently onto the perfectly still waters of the pond.

It was, indeed, worth every chipping moment as we sought to determine how late in the season we had actually paddled and realized this year might be it. We smiled, knowing that we could chip through all that again – and then grimaced when we realized the ice would probably move while we were paddling and we might have to chip our way back out!

From then on, we looked at the pond with a new angle — where could we safely launch the canoe from next time so we wouldn’t have to chip our way through?? Where would there be enough open water so that we could just head out and enjoy a paddle as long as they was even the littlest bit of open water. In this weirdest of years, there was at least one new greatness discovered: this has definitely been the longest paddle season in memory! We started in March and now it won’t end until … December? While we have no idea what that will entail, the excitement is building!

In the meantime, I’ll be working on a better chipping system ….

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