Running on Ice: The Incredible Lake Erie Winter of 2014

Most of us thought the winter of 2014 was bad. Really bad. But for the anglers, snowmobilers and a few crazy runners who took to Lake Erie, it was the adventure of a lifetime. 

“We May Never Pass This Way Again”

A high school English teacher recounts the run he and his buddies took across the ice last winter in the winter of 2014.

Editor's note: This essay was written after the winter of 2014.

by Ty Roth

 In the middle of last year’s brutal winter, my friend Seth looked out across the frozen expanse of Lake Erie off of Port Clinton, Ohio, and asked, “What’s to stop us from running to Put-in-Bay?” I answered, “Other than falling through the ice and drowning, I guess, nothing.” So, along with eight friends, we planned the 10-mile run: 6 on the frozen waters of the South Passage between Catawba and South Bass Island and 4 on the island itself.

 Local “old salts” rolled their eyes and warned that, “there is no such thing as safe ice.” An admonition, by the way, that remains true, and I would share with anybody who wishes to duplicate our adventure. They did, however, add that it’d been years since they’d seen the ice so thick. The trek wouldn’t necessarily be safe, but it was never going to be safer.

 The night prior to running, second thoughts began to haunt me, but I concluded that if all I ever did was what was entirely safe and without risk, I wouldn’t accomplish much. I’d certainly have never played sports, asked a date to the prom, fallen in love, had children, changed jobs, written books, etc. As a high school teacher, I often challenge my students to “do something extraordinary.” Our ice run would be my opportunity to follow my own advice. I had to go or else come to uneasy terms with my own hypocrisy.

In the end, the experience of running through ankle-deep snow over uneven ice in wind chills approaching zero degrees was ungodly awful. The life experience, however, was priceless. I’ll never forget the bewildered looks on the rugged ice fishermen, covered head to toe in Carhartt products, as we ran past their shanties; or on the snowmobilers, rolling into Tipper’s in Put-in-Bay like bikers at Sturgis in their helmets, boots and state-of-the-art cold-weather gear. They stared dumbfounded at us in our running shoes and clothes. “You did what?” was their near-unanimous response to our declaration of “we ran here.” Among the three groups — fishermen, snowmobilers and runners — it was like Larry, Curly and Moe staring at each other and trying to figure out who was the “stoogiest.” I’m pretty sure we won.

 Seals and Crofts once sang, “We May Never Pass This Way Again.” Although the 10 of us drive along the Lake Erie shoreline nearly every day, I think we all somehow understood that the stars might never align nor the ice congeal again in such a way as to allow another such epic adventure. With that understood, how could I have not ventured out onto the ice with great friends for a once-in-a-lifetime experience?

Ty Roth is an English teacher at Port Clinton High School in Port Clinton, Ohio, and the author of novels “So Shelly” and “Goodness Falls.”

 Stay on top of everything Lake Erie has to offer — all year long — by subscribing to our free The Splash newsletter. It’s your guide to the best food, drinks, parks, beaches, shopping, festivals, music and more. Click here to subscribe.