The snowshoe commute to work across Lake Monona is one of the most gratifying opportunities afforded by Madison's lakes in winter.
On a breezy February morning, the experience affords a buffer of quiet and solitude that stands in sharp contrast to commuting in traffic.
As you pass Yahara Place Park and the mouth of the Yahara River, you enjoy a perspective on the east isthmus that is shared by few others.
The most audible sounds are the wind in your ears, the whistle of a distant train and the soft kooshing of your snowshoes in the snow.
These can be heard in a video clip that follows below.
Approaching the end of this snowshoe commute to work, I follow along the outside of the snowfence that outlines Lake Monona's effluent zone -- the area between B.B. Clarke Beach and Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, where the power plant in the background discharges warm water, rendering ice conditions sketchy and unpredictable.
But as I note in this second video clip, ice can never be considered 100% safe. Its thickness and stability can be inconsistent from one meter to the next, and a variety of factors -- including expansion, contraction and pressure cracks -- can render the thickest ice as unpredictable as the earth's crust in an earthquake zone.
I've gone through the ice a handful of times in the last 35 years, once on Lake Mendota and three or four times on Lake Monona. It's a mighty cold experience, and a risk you assume any time you venture out onto the ice.
As these brief videos suggest, I consider the rewards of venturing out onto the ice greater than the risks -- provided I exercise common sense, am alert to conditions and keep my wits if I should once again fall through the ice.
In my experience, a good scissors-kick will launch me back up onto the ice, where I lie flat and roll away from whatever hole I've created. Next, I loosen the laces on my boots or skates before they freeze. And I carry a loud whistle with me, in case I need to summon help.
But there may be situations when none of this is enough -- when conditions leave me stuck in the water, unable to get back out onto the ice.
For a tutorial on what to do in such a case, I recommend consulting the tips given by Dr. Gordon Giesbrecht. Known as "Professor Popsicle," Giesbrecht operates the University of Manitoba's Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine. Once on his site, scroll down to "Meet Professor Popsicle" and click on Outside Magazine's link to a series of Discovery Channel Canada videos in which Giesbrecht skies into a break in the ice and demonstrates a series of strategies for surviving an unexpected ice bath -- or scroll down to the next section and download the videos in low or high resolution. Watch and learn.