2011 will go down as another year when the “ice road” between Bayfield and Madeline Island was only open about a week. A long time resident of the Island has kept a calendar for the past fifty years on how many days he could drive across the famous “Ice Road.” It started with over 90 days of an open road, and steadily dropped until that infamous year not long ago when the ice road was never opened.
Going across the ice is a great novelty for visitors and sheer good fun, but for local residents who live on the island it’s a big deal. Not having the ice road means the Island residents are always at the mercy of either the ferry schedule or that of the “ice boat”…a propeller driven boat that can go across the unreliable ice or on water. They must be back for the “last boat.” They cannot attend their children’s evening sports or other extra curricular events unless they stay overnight on the mainland.
I remember the time a couple went to drive across the ice road. It was early March. They were a Japanese couple who came to stay at the inn. They spoke broken English. They asked if the road was open and I told them I didn’t know, as it was near the end of the season and that they would have to go down to the Pier Restaurant, which served as the unofficial road condition info source. They said they wanted to go after they checked out and I told them they should go earlier than that, as the melt water from the warm March sun would cover the lake, making it look like open water… a scary picture.
Right after breakfast they drove off, leaving their things in their room to pack up when they returned from their joy ride. Some time later the fire department brought them back to the inn, as their car went thru the ice and was being fished out by local divers. The good news was that the car went down in only 50-60 feet of water, as the center trough is 250 feet deep or more. Amazingly, when the car was retrieved, they were able to start it almost immediately! The couple decided to stay another night and drove home on soggy seats….. but happy to have their car, and happy they left their clothes at the Inn!