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I live near a decent-sized lake where you can skate about 4 km from one end to the other. I initially bought these for a worst case scenario like many of you, and wore them for 2 seasons before needing them on my third (winter of 2019).
This breakthrough happened in December and I made a lot of dumb mistakes leading up to it. For one, it was really early in the morning and still dark, so no one would have seen me go down through the ice, especially 2 or 3 km into the lake. For two, I was alone. No one would come to my rescue if anything happened. It would all be up to me (and these picks). For three, it was too early in the season to be trying this. The ice was still too thin, but I saw that smooth inviting layer and no patches of water, so I couldn't help myself. I had skated on similar ice in past seasons and nothing happened, and the feeling of fresh natural ice under my feet is so euphoric, so why not? How wrong I was.
The lake is more long than round, and it starts out thin, kind of like a beer bottle. Maybe only 100 m from side to side at the top. This part always freezes first and has regular skaters even when the wider back half of the lake is thawing and the water beneath starts to show. I started here and things were going great. I was getting my ice legs back after a couple of months of inline skating. The ice looked and felt like the top of a pancake. It was singing a bit but that was to be expected from previous experience. I was only going to stop if I started to see actual cracks forming. This thought was another mistake.
After about 30 minutes skating at the top of the lake, I had a strong (but false) confidence. I wanted to explore the frozen water further. I had been skating with my phone camera out and the flashlight on, and I had not seen anything in the glossy ice to deter me. So I pressed on, with the ice singing louder and louder, echoing across the wide open lake between the hills. Maybe it was trying to scream at me to turn back before it was too late. I had been skating for another 20 minutes and gotten quite far into the lake. This is where the video comes in.
When I re-watch it, I can see that there was no time to turn back between the first sign of a crack and the ice breaking open to swallow me. My right leg went in first, and my left foot came up to try and catch my fall, but there was no solid footing to be had. The left leg went in too. It felt like I was falling in slow motion as the top half of my body followed into the chilly waters. I instinctively threw my phone (which was also my light) out onto the ice so that it wouldn't sink with me. I had not been swimming in probably 10 years, but immediately I was kicking to stop my descent and keep my head above water. I got lucky in that my head did not submerge. Maybe it was because I fell while gliding forwards instead of just dropping down, so I fell more horizontally than vertically.
The next thing I know, these picks are in my hands. I don't even remember grabbing them. I had them hanging around my neck outside of my coat. The cord was tied in with my hoodie strings, which is probably why I didn't lose them in the plunge. I had seen videos of what to do, but never actually tried to put it into action. I was so pumped full of adrenaline, and the ice at this part was so thin, that the first 4 or 5 stabs broke completely through the ice. My mind told me to keep trying, even if I have to break the ice like this all the way back to the shore. Every break provided more water to swim to hopefully thicker ice.
Finally, the strike lands. Another and another. My legs kicked me up and out while my arms pulled on the secured spikes. After getting out of the water, I continued striking and pulling my way across the ice, sliding on my belly like a penguin. My clothes had absorbed so much water, I was probably 20 pounds heavier. So I would have to be even more careful on this thin ice. I made my way to my phone light and looked for the white ice that I saw earlier. Once I found it, I stood up and cautiously skated to the shoreline. I then followed the shoreline back to the top of the lake, figuring that if I fell through again, it would only be knee deep. The ice's singing that was once beautiful was now eerie to listen to.
I managed to make it back to the dock without a second incident. It was a 5 minute run back to the car where I had a warm sleeping bag to strip into. It was then I saw all the cuts on my shins from the initial breakthrough, and the swelling of future bruises on my forearms from striking the picks through the ice until I could get a solid hold. But it beats being dead.