Lake Effect Fear
“Come on, don’t be a wimp, Mike!” Fritz chastised me.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to go down to the lake when it’s frozen. You know as well as I do our parents would freak out if they found out we were down there without an adult,” I pleaded.
With a stern look of displeasure through his foggy Coke-bottle glasses, Fritz was unsatisfied with my response, “Whatever, dude. I’m going down there. I’m tired of sled riding.”
I was finding it difficult to persuade him to stick with sledding down the hill of Scotland Avenue, which is what we were doing for the past hour and a half. Fritz’s addictive nature was taking over him and getting the best of me. Despite my fear of getting in trouble, I found Fritz’s enthusiasm for adventure to be overwhelmingly convincing. Besides, I couldn’t afford to be a wimp. Could I?
Fritz dashed towards the metal gate that was the last standing symbol of protection for what was about to happen to Fritz and me. “Last one down is a rotten egg,” he challenged as he blew past the No Trespassing sign on the gate. Every time I close my eyes I see the sign, haunting me to this day.
Due to his head start, Fritz made it to the frozen lake first, thus designating me the rotten egg. I got over it, though, because my eyes swallowed the scenery of the frozen lake. I was amazed at the site. It looked like some seen out of a movie containing footage of Antarctica, or the North Pole. Everything was white, laid out in front of us like an arctic Disney Land. The site of the white, vast frozen landscape with its snow dunes and ice caverns captivated my spirit. I soon forgot that it was forbidden ground.
After twenty minutes or so of climbing around and sliding down snow hills, Fritz prompted me to join him in the ultimate task of sliding down a cliff into a pit that led to the water’s edge. I watched Fritz position himself on his belly on the edge of the cliff as if preparing to descend a latter. He plunged as I listened to the whisk of his snowsuit against the ice and a thud to let me know he landed. I looked over the edge at him. “Come on, slide down,” he urged.
The cliff hugged the edge of the iced-over water and left me looking at Fritz ten feet below me. Spots on the ice at the base of the cliff were thin in certain areas, so thin that you could see the water pulsating under the translucent ice.
“Here goes nothing,” I said as I crawled onto my belly and slid to the bottom.
“Isn’t this awesome?” Fritz marveled.
“Yeah, this is very cool,” I replied yet a thought had occurred to me. “How are we going to get back to the top of this cliff?” I contemplated.
“Easy,” Fritz said. “We’ll just climb back up…nothing to it.”
I was skeptical, “Are you sure about that? Look at how steep this cliff is and how firm and slippery the ice is. We can’t even dig our boots into the ice to get a grip, let alone our hands with these gloves on.”
“Don’t worrrrrrryyyyy…..aaaahhhhhh!” Fritz took a huge step backwards onto a sheet of ice that snapped, crackled, and popped like a bowl of Rice Krispies from underneath his feet. Luckily Fritz had escaped the emerging waters of Lake Erie, leaping to safety next to me on the snow-covered ground that lined the outer edge of the snow pit.
“All right, I said, “ this is enough! We’re going to drown or freeze to death if we don’t get out of here. So what are your bright ideas for getting us out of here, Einstein?”
Fritz mounted the icy wall of the cliff, but to no avail. He slid down the cliff, falling into me, nearly pushing us both back into the broken ice.
“It’s useless. We are never going to be able to get back up this cliff,” I whimpered.
“We’ll just yell for help,” Fritz replied matter-of-factly.
“Hello? Idiot! Nobody knows we’re down here and we’re at least a half a mile from the bottom of Scotland Avenue, and we’re probably the only ones stupid enough to be down here!” I was getting irritated with Fritz. In fact, I started to hate him. I started to hate him for luring me into this trap. I started to hate his steamed Coke-bottle glasses and his dumbfounded look.
“HELP!” Fritz bellowed at the top of his lungs. The only response was his echo that seemed to ricochet off of every ice cavern that lined the bank of Lake Erie.
“SOMEBODY…HELP…US…WE’RE….TRAPPED!” I decided to join in. Fear was creeping into my mind. I could feel my Adam’s apple expanding in my throat like it usually does when I’m anxious, nervous, or scared. I didn’t see us surviving. I began to picture a slow, icy death. My mind began to race with cannibalistic ideas of having to eat Fritz if he were to die first from the cold. Then I realized that I would probably die first because Fritz had more fat on his body. I wondered what my parents were doing, and how long it would take them to realize that I was missing. I desperately longed for the warmth of my house. I wanted my mother’s arms around me, yet feared the hand of my father if I were to survive.
Suddenly the fog in Fritz’s glasses cleared and I could see the light bulb go off in his head. His eyes widened and he bit his lower lip, “I’ve got it!” He started scraping loose snow and packing it at the bottom of the cliff to build a mound for us to stand on.
“Fritz,” I contested, “this cliff is 10 feet tall and we are nearly five feet tall ourselves.
“Exactly. This mound will give us enough height to get started,” Fritz declared.
“And how do you expect us to get to the top?” I asked.
Fritz laid out his plan. “Well, I will crouch on the mound and you will get on my shoulders, and the two of us should be tall enough to get to the top. So help me pack this mound so we can get out of here.”
We worked diligently to get every particle of loose snow at the base of the cliff until the mound was about two feet high, enough to compensate for our lack of combined height. Fritz squatted down and I climb onto his shoulders and up I went. I felt the top edge of the cliff, but I couldn’t get a grip into the ice. I removed my gloves and dug into the ice like a kitten snagging a ball of yarn. I pulled, grunted, and strained until I was able to swing my right leg to the top, this momentum carried me to the top. My lungs wheezed for breath as I made it to the top of the cliff.
Then the thought occurred to me, “How was I supposed to get Fritz up to the top?” I knew that this would be a challenge. I couldn’t exactly pull Fritz to the top because he was heavier than me, and the last thing I wanted was to fall back into the pit. However, that was Fritz’s brilliant idea.
“Grab my hands and pull me up!” he demanded.
“Are you crazy?…you’re too fat,” I spat.
Fritz would have nothing of my argument, “Just do it!”
Fritz climbed onto the mound, and I grabbed his hands and tugged with all my strength. He was kicking, digging, and scraping the wall of the cliff with his boots, yet we made no progress. We took a break and tried again.
My anger, fear, and what little strength I had left combined into my efforts of pulling Fritz to the top. I growled as I tugged at the nylon of Fritz’s snowsuit, feeling every tiny muscle in my body tighten. The feeling of adrenaline was like an electrical surge through my body. For a split second I felt like a super hero with undeniable strength and courage. With a grunt and my final tug, I pulled Fritz to the top.
We both lay there watching our breath evaporate in the still, cold air. With chests heaving, we were panting like dogs in the summer heat. A light snow began to fall and tickle our faces. I licked at it in hopes that the flurries would wet my parched throat. I didn’t want to move. I couldn’t move. My body was still warm and tingly with traces of adrenaline.
Fritz and I had a silent walk back to the bottom of the hill of Scotland Avenue. We grabbed our sleds and went our separate ways home, only saying, “good-bye.” There wasn’t much else to say. We both realized that we were spared, and that we were both extremely lucky. Our good-byes seemed to be a silent confession that we knew we should not have been down at the lake by ourselves, and a vow that we would not be foolish again.
Seventeen years later, Fritz and I still recount the day we were trapped in the snow pit, and we are cautious in our reminiscing, because we learned our lesson. Every time we recall that day Fritz always ends our conversation by saying, “I should have listened to you. We had no business being down there.”