March 15, 2008
Saturday afternoon the fine weather lured me out on the crust with snowshoes. As I marched along, camera in hand, surrounded by exquisite March beauty, I kept yearning for a good freeze. If this snow were hard I could drive the golf cart in a straight line all the way to Kingston.
Alas, I have a fatal attraction for crust, starting in my early years in Westport with expeditions on mountain and lake, and I’ve never lost the urge. It’s a magical time of year when the whole world turns hard and you can travel anywhere, over lakes, fences, thickets, beaver ponds – it’s all under a heavy layer of crust.
It was a particularly fine March afternoon when Don, Bob, John and I borrowed a ski-tow rope from Ansley Green, tied it behind my old VW Beetle, and went skiing on the Little Rideau.
I was first up because they were my skis and I had had one lesson. Don Goodfellow drove. The Beetle would only do forty-five on the crust, so after a round of the bay I tried to get a bit more speed by cutting side to side behind my tow. I found I could jerk the light car sideways if I came up beside the driver, braced myself and pulled.
The vibration from the rough surface made it feel as though every bone in my feet had come loose and was pinging around inside the boots, but apart from that it was a thrilling ride on the vast, icy surface. I swung to the right, checked on Bob Conroy in the passenger seat, ignored John Wing making faces at me through the narrow back window, then whipped all the way around to Don’s side and gave a massive tug. The rope broke.
I still can’t believe I did this, but I kept my balance in that sideways slide for a very, very long time, until I stopped. After that I didn’t want to ski anymore, and no one else wanted to try it either.
Next weekend John had access to his dad’s favourite toy, a very fine military-surplus Ford Jeep. Again it was a cold March day, but the series of thaws and freezes during the week had reduced the snow pack to an asphalt-hard crust, while smoothing the landscape out just enough that we thought we’d try to explore the Upper Mountain by Jeep. There’s a campground on the site now, but at the time it was just granite and brush, and the Jeep picked its way over the large mounds with little difficulty. There’s no thrill quite like driving on the crust.
Then we hit the frost hole. It was just a small flat area of snow, but John’s Ford dropped through into this big puddle and sank to the axles in a heartbeat. It didn’t stop there, but slowly oozed its way down into the mud until the goo topped the seats. We’d been stuck before, but never anything like this. Now what?
I remembered hearing a local tale about a crew who had laid railway track across a sink hole filled with gravel back in the railroad era. The chief forgot to move their locomotive to harder ground overnight. All that was left in the morning was bent track on both sides of the hole. They never saw their engine again. We needed to do something fast.
I’d remembered seeing Floyd Snider and his bulldozer at the dump as we drove by, and Floyd was the sort who would help us out, so we hiked the half-mile across country to ask him what we should do.
“O.K., Boys, I’ll just finish up this little bit. Then I’ll come over and give you a hand.” Surely enough, Floyd soon left his work and walked the dozer back on our tracks to the stranded Jeep. “You dropped into a frost hole, Boys,” he chuckled heartily. Floyd positioned the dozer and sent John into the muck with the heavy winch cable.
Fortunately the Jeep still had all of its military towing equipment in place. John felt around in the waist-deep mud until he snagged Floyd’s cable onto the nearest hook. The three of us leaned over and with some effort dragged John free.
The dozer stretched the cable a bit, but then the Jeep reluctantly slurped its way free of the massive suction of the mud. It was one sorry looking Ford sitting there in the muddy slush when Floyd reeled up his winch cable, left us two shovels, and returned, singing, to his work.
He had made it clear that we had to clean the mud out of the Jeep’s running gear before we started it. We appreciated the help and the advice, and worked frantically to get the engine compartment clear before everything froze into a block. Then the tough little beast started right up, apparently none the worse for its adventure. Another hour with a hose in Wing’s garage and it was as good as new.
We stayed on the roads for the rest of our explorations that spring.