Run on Water

On February 28, 2012 · 4 Comments

Occasionally I’ll come across something really interesting, at least to me, and I’ll save it away for a more appropriate time. That’s great when it works. It’s much less impressive when other factors conspire to take away its very reason for being. Sadly, the 2012 "Run on Water" will be the "Run by the Water" due to unseasonably warm weather this winter. That’s unfortunate. I’d been stalking it on my calendar for several months.

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Let’s start with a little background information by focusing on northern Wisconsin. The twenty-two Apostle Islands extend from the northeast corner of the Bayfield Peninsula into Lake Superior. I was lucky enough to travel there a few summers ago and I had a great time. I’d love to return in the winter for a completely different experience.

All but one of the islands is included within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore so it’s not feasible to live there except at that one place. Madeline Island has about 250 permanent residents and most of them live in or near its only town, La Pointe. It’s only a couple of miles from Bayfield on the mainland but it’s not cost effective to build a bridge across the straight for a handful of residents and summer visitors. Rather, people take a regularly-scheduled ferry (my visit).

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Something magical happens in the winter. The gap between Madeline Island and the Bayfield Peninsula freezes over, making La Point a part of the mainland. Ice thickens progressively over the winter until it’s strong enough to support automobile traffic. Then ferry operators take a rest. Frozen Lake Superior waters become an extension of Wisconsin County Highway H. It’s marked and monitored to keep the route safe during weather variations until it melts and the ferry can ride again. I’ve checked various sources and I believe this may be the only formally-designated Ice Road in the Lower 48 of the United States. Someone please correct me if one exists elsewhere.

I’ve long wanted to drive County Road H as it makes its frozen crossing above Lake Superior. Someday I’ll do that. In the meantime I’ll have to remain content with various YouTube videos of those who have been lucky enough to experience the phenomenon in person.

Residents of the Bayfield Peninsula and Madeline Island embrace winter. They don’t remain indoors for months at a time. Instead it’s a celebration, a Winter Festival in early March including a variety of outdoor activities such as ice fishing, dogsled rides, cross-country skiing, and tubing. The Run on Water is a Winter Festival highlight. This is a running race with a course that traverses the ice road, an impossibility at any other time of year. It’s not just runners, either. Other race categories include bike, skate, ski, skijor, snowshoe and walk. I’d probably enter the "walk" category if I were ever to participate. I can’t think of many other opportunities to race across a solid sheet of ice.

This year it’s scheduled for Saturday, March 3. However:

Due to an unusually warm winter in 2012, there is not enough ice to safely cross the lake over to Madeline Island. As an alternate course, we are offering a 4 mile “Run by the Water” on the Brownstone Trail… as the course follows the shoreline of the lake, with views of the bay and Madeline Island. The course will be an out and back with a turnaround.

The Winter Festival sounds like a great time and I know everyone will enjoy themselves. I’d really want to race that ice road, though. I guess it’s a good thing that I hadn’t made any definite plans. Maybe some future year.

On February 28, 2012 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Run on Water”

  1. Phil Sites says:

    Both Angle Inlet and Warroad, MN are home to plenty of ice fishermen, but I have my doubts there is any formal road between the two – which would be about a 30-mile trip via the ice. However, a “road” was marked out in the lake by pylons for quite a distance. I didn’t see those pylons in Warroad however, so I’m guessing they led a route to either Elk Island or Penasse.

    According to some chatter I overheard in the bar, there have been people who have made the icy trip to-and-from Warroad. As for me I don’t think I’d be brave enough to test the ice for 30 miles…

  2. Joe says:

    According to wikipedia (insert needed disclaimer about wikipedia here), “In Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac, seasonal ice roads also connect Mackinac Island and Bois Blanc Island with the mainland.”


    I’m not sure this quite qualifies as “formally-designated”, but figured I’d pass it along.

  3. Craig says:

    This year was the first year in fifteen years where Europe has been almost cold enough for the Elfstedentocht, the century-old ice skating tour/race of the eleven Frisian towns of the northern Netherlands to take place. Unfortunately, the ice didn’t get thick enough everywhere, so it was cancelled again.

  4. Wikipedia has an article on various ice roads throughout the world:

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