When I heard about the snowmobilers falling through the ice on Oneida Lake, it brought back not-so-pleasant memories of the time I fell through ice on the Miles River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
I was 13 or 14 years old, out hunting rabbits and squirrels with a .22 pump-action rifle handed down from my grandfather.
I was alone.
The wind was blowing; the temperature was somewhere around 20 degrees.
While the center of the brackish river was still flowing, all along the shoreline the water had frozen. The ice was pretty thick; we had just been ice skating on it the previous day.
In what could have been a much-more-fateful decision, I decided to take a short-cut across a frozen cove.
When I got to the center of the cove, where the water flowed as the tide came in and out, the ice was thinner and I fell through.
Much of this cove was shallow, but not this part; the water was over my head and cold.
There was likely nobody for miles to rescue me. I was on my own.
As you can imagine, once you’ve fallen through ice, it isn’t easy to climb out. When you grab the edge of the hole, the ice breaks right off. I did this quite a few times.
I knew I was in trouble, and could feel myself beginning to panic. But then I remembered something from science class about distribution of weight.
I was still carrying the rifle. I slid it out on the ice about two feet from the edge of the hole. I pushed down hard on it and put my other hand on the ice, too, again as far out on the ice as I could reach. I finally managed to get one of my boot-covered feet out of the water and placed it as far from the hole as I could. Then I sort of rolled out of the hole, being careful not to push on the edge of the ice.
Amazingly, it worked the first time.
I still had a good hike home through the bitter wind, soaking wet, but I was one happy kid. I was alive and I had a good story to tell.