Somehow, the stars aligned to make the whimsical and uniting annual Sutherland family walk to school happen in the middle of winter.
We hiked on Tuesday and planned to take a shortcut across Big Glen Lake. I excitedly thought we would set a new record time for this seven-mile trek. And our secret would be skateable ice on Big Glen Lake.
Colebrook, Hawthorn, and I did it as a threesome last year and the year before. This year, we had a new participant — Stephanie. I can’t tell you how excited I was to share this family adventure with her.
We needed light to skate, so we got up at our normal time and during breakfast announced the walk to school adventure to our boys.
“Yay!” yelled Colebrook, our eight year old, who loves to be out of doors.
“Can we sign in and then sign out and go home?” asked Hawthorn, our six year old, who likes nothing more than to be out of school.
After the announcement, I gathered the things that we needed for the hike across Glen Lake. It became a pile rather fast, and a bigger pile after Steph added a few things. I grabbed our biggest backpack and started loading 4 pairs of skates, rope, hatchet, water, snacks, knee and elbow pads, and more.
We headed out the door at 8:45. It was later than I had hoped, but the upside was that the sun had warmed up the morning to a survivable 13 degrees. Our goal was to be at the school for lunch!
It was fast going as we headed south on Lake Street to Big Glen Lake.
The sun did a great job of keeping our bare hands warm while we tied up our skates.
That sun did a great job too, of keeping the boys warm. Fifteen minutes into our skate, they were begging for permission to take off their coats, even though the temperature read 15 degrees. We agreed and they happily skated the next hour in their long sleeve t-shirts and life vests.
It was stunningly beautiful out on the frozen Glen Lake. As I looked down at the snow and ice, I was continually amazed at how many ways white and blue could mix.
The ice was eight inches thick, and was safer than anytime we could ever be out on the lake during summer. And I’d been skating on Glen Lake already this winter. But still, the zillions of crack lines in the ice, the creepy dark black color out in the middle, and the moans and groans and snapping noises it makes left Steph uneasy for much of the skate. We stayed close to shore and close together.
We zigzagged to avoid the many hard packed snowdrifts. We passed several fisherman and a few empty ice shanties.
We took a few snack breaks.
We stopped to investigate coyote tracks and poop. And whenever we came to a great patch of clear ice, we skated around like ice dancers.
Needless to say, we were moving slowly. Family records would not be broken this year and making school by lunch looked improbable.
Eventually we ran out of skateable ice and put our boots back on. I hoped that hiking in boots would speed up our pace.
We walked along the ice just a frog jump from the beach. Steph and I studied the cottages, while the boys played on the ever-changing line where lake meets land.
There were creeks that caused open water, there were places where the ice piled up, there was thin ice, and ice so clear you could see fish swimming below. Needless to say, every change caused a worthwhile stop to investigate. We were going to miss lunch and there was even a possibility that we were not going to be to the school before it closed!
We reached Old Settlers Park at 12:45 and headed inland in as straight a direction to the boys’ school as possible.
By 1:45, we were walking by the school playground. Some of Colebrook’s friends noticed us walking and soon Colebrook was telling them what he did today. He was glowing as he told them, and his buddies seemed genuinely impressed.
There are so many reasons this hike has become important to me — family time, building family traditions, my kids truly understanding time and distance by the 28,000 steps they took on their way to school, building connections and familiarity to their community — but the best one is that humble authentic sense of accomplishment.
There is no prize or award with this walk to school, but the way Colebrook glows and smiles, I know it means something to him deep down inside in that little place called character.