Lewis Creek has frozen over, don’t forget your balaclava

Marvin Fishman, Charlotte correspondent

Lewis Creek has frozen over. No it hasn’t. Yes, it has. Which is it? Both, actually. Neither one, actually. Okay, I’ll explain.

The creek was still running into mid-February, at least here in East Charlotte, until it iced over during the recent sub-zero cold spell. Iced over very thinly; nothing you’d want to walk on. Now we have this “tropical” 40-plus degree warming and the creek is running again. Okay, but does this really matter to anyone? Yes, it does. It matters to me, because I love to cross-country ski on the creek. And now I can’t.

I usually step down onto the frozen creek just west of the covered bridge over Roscoe Road and ski westward toward the covered bridge at Spear Street. Sometimes I’d go all the way, sometimes part way before turning back. It’s a glorious ski, mostly pancake-flat, especially for those of us who don’t like steep climbs. That’s me. Gradual climbs up and down rolling hills are among my favorite skiing terrains, but at my age I no longer have the stamina of a mountain goat for precipitous climbs and descents. Now-a-years I avoid steep narrow mountain trails through forests where running into a tree is not as pleasant as running into a neighbor at the local supermarket.

I’ve been warned many times not to go out skiing alone. What if you fall down and break a leg, or even just break a ski pole or a ski? Now-a-years I carry a cell phone, but what if there’s no signal at the spot where catastrophe strikes? One learns from experience, or should anyway, especially bad experience. I always carry an extra pair of gloves, a balaclava, and an extra jacket or sweater wrapped around my waist. My fanny pack holds small tools, a hand warmer, ski waxes, all-purpose knife and several other items for that just-in-case situation.

I’ve had my what-if incident on the creek. On February 13, 2007 while cruising back from a pleasant outing in 15-degree weather, I crashed through the ice and sunk up to my knees in the frigid water. Without skis I could have climbed out easily; with the skis on it became an adventure. I couldn’t reach down to release the skis, so I twisted and turned until I maneuvered one ski into a position where I could drag it out onto the surface. After taking that ski off, I extricated the other ski from under a sunken tree limb. My pants, long johns, socks and shoes were now frozen stiff. Both legs were numb cold. Back then I didn’t have a cell phone.

Luckily my skis weren’t damaged, but they were covered with ice. One pole had broken. I hacked, scraped and chipped away the ice with a scraper and other tools from my fanny pack. I pulled the icicles from my beard, mustache, even my eyebrows. I put on dry gloves and, shivering, struggled back to where I had entered the creek and to where my car was parked. The only lasting damage was frostbitten fingertips on my right hand. They still tingle a bit when I’m out in very cold weather.

Notwithstanding that one nasty incident, my trips up and down the creek are invigorating, good exercise, aesthetically pleasing and usually bring me at least one pleasant surprise. Sighting small animals crossing the creek from one bank to the other, or at least their tracks. Then there are the deer tracks at their favorite crossing spot.

I only have one gripe. If I’m the first one on the creek after a snowfall, I’ll set the ski tracks in the snow. If someone else gets there first, I’ll usually follow in their tracks, though I may veer off now and then. It doesn’t matter to me who sets the tracks first, but it does annoy me when others come along, especially if they’re on snowshoes, and trample down the set tracks.

If February 13 was a day I won’t forget, then the next day, the 14th, is one we may all remember. Why? On February 14th 2007 Vermont was inundated with over 3 1/2 feet of snow, the biggest 24-hour snowfall in the state’s history. After a day of shoveling, and another day of resting my weary arms, I was back on my skis and back on the creek. Yes, it was heavy going that first day, bushwhacking a trail through the deep snow, but once set, it was excellent skiing for the rest of the season.