The Ice Commute: Riding to Work on a Frozen Lake

The last two winters were really cold here in Central Pennsylvania. While the frigid temps got old after a while, they did provide some interesting riding conditions that normally wouldn’t be available, such as riding on the local 8,300-acre Raystown Lake.

During the winter of 2014, my now-husband and I were living in a small cabin near the lakeshore, and our places of employment were also within reasonable riding distance of another part of the lake. It was about a 10-mile commute on roads, and a similar distance (with fewer hills) on the lake.

We were intrigued by the idea of riding to work on the frozen lake surface. Finally, the stars aligned and conditions were perfect. It had been cold enough for many days in a row for the ice to be plenty safe, and a thin dusting of snow covered the slick surface, providing traction with minimal rolling resistance.

Lake commute
There isn’t much better than making tracks in fresh snow.

On the morning of the planned lake ride, I woke up and looked at the thermometer on the porch of our cabin. 3 degrees, it said, which meant that it was even colder away from the protected alcove of our dwelling. “Do I really want to ride this morning?” I thought to myself.

I seriously considered bailing, but I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do something this cool (no pun intended). So I bundled up, resigned myself to cold feet, and headed out. We met our friends Jake and Tony down the road. They wanted to join us for this early morning adventure.

ice mascara
Ice mascara?

Once on the lake, the early morning sun made it seem just a little bit warmer, and the steam rising from a patch of open water in the middle of the lake made for a beautiful sight. The snow-covered ice was perfect. We carved tracks in the thin layer of fresh powder, grins plastered to our faces.

Despite the cold, the ride seemed too short. Before we knew it, we were rolling up to the boat launch on the side of the lake close to town, and riding the last few miles on pavement. My feet were freezing, and ice covered the men’s beards and my eyelashes.

That evening, we rode back home, with a detour to check out the open water from where we had seen the steam rising earlier that morning. Here, the frozen lake sang to us, making haunting ringing noises created by the liquid water colliding with the layer of ice. We stood (carefully) near the edge of the ice for a while as darkness fell, mesmerized, listening to the sounds of the frigid world around us.

No wake zone.
No wake zone.

When we began to get too cold, we started moving again, riding back into the cove that led to the end of our road, and then up the hill to home.

The next day, the skies dumped almost a foot of snow, making the ice rides nearly impossible. I’m glad I didn’t bail that day!

This year, it’s beginning to look like we won’t have cold enough temperatures for long enough to create the conditions for ice riding that we’ve had the past two winters. But maybe we’ll be surprised.

Wheelie into the sunset.

Your turn: Have any of you ever ridden to work on the ice? What other crazy MTB commute stories do you have?