A visit to the ice caves at the Apostle Islands National Seashore on Saturday, Feb. 22.
We had to see what all the fuss was about.
You would think that during a winter as long and cold as this one, people wouldn't go out of their way to see natural ice sculptures. You especially wouldn't think that they'd trudge over a mile atop a frozen lake through a foot of trampled snow amidst 30 miles per hour winds -- all just to see big icicles at the Apostle Islands Sea Caves.
But that's exactly what Dianne and I and our friends Andy and Nancy Kosseff did on Saturday. A foot of snow had fallen the previous day, and the ensuing white out had forced the National Park Service to close the caves. So when we got up on Saturday morning at the Kosseff's place in the Upper Peninsula, we weren't sure if we'd make the trip.
But at mid-morning, through the magic of Facebook, we learned that the caves would be opened. So, we drove three white-knuckle hours to Bayfield over snow packed roads. When we got to Meyer's Beach, which is at the far western end of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, we found a line of parked cars along Highway 13 that was maybe a mile or more long.
We put on our warmest clothes and walked to the stairs leading down to the frozen beach. Thousands of people were walking along the ice- and snow-covered shoreline, one line headed to the caves and the other passing them on the way back -- like ants building an anthill. Dianne pointed out that it was like a scene out of Doctor Zhivago. I've never seen the movie, so I had to take her word for it.
I looked into the faces of those coming back, searching for signs of pain and fatigue. After all, they already had done two miles of trudging through the snow and the return trip was being made into the face of a nasty headwind out of the north. But all I noticed were lots of smiles, even from the little kids all bundled up on sleds. I thought I even noticed smiles on the faces of the many dogs who were along for the adventure, even though a stern and very much unsmiling woman had scolded us at the beachhead for bringing along the Kosseff's dog Yooper. The woman didn't work for the Park Service, whose many rangers at the scene gave us no warnings about dog safety. I think she was just fulfilling her life's mission as a curmudgeon and busybody. The dogs were fine.
As were the people. And here's the amazing thing about it all. A little ice crippled Atlanta. The East Coast media complex is howling about the polar vortex. Even a lot of my fellow Midwesterners, once hardy, are fleeing to Florida vacations or just whining endlessly about the cold. But here were maybe 20,000 people who visited the ice caves on Lake Superior over the weekend in single digit temperatures, walking a mile each way in blistering wind. And for us it was a party.
When we actually got to the caves, they were spectacular and well worth the trip. As I looked around, I thought to myself that it all looked even better because we had earned it. Earned it by making the long, hard trip, but also earned it by not complaining about any of the journey. Life rewards those who stick it out.