I always thought my dad was crazy.
Not crazy in all things, most things or even some things. Crazy in one thing — Lake Michigan fishing.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved fishing Lake Michigan. Sandwiches and cookies from my mother. A rare opportunity where the consumption of soda was allowed. Getting away from the wretched heat and humidity of a Wisconsin summer out on the breezy, cool lake. And maybe even catching a Brewers game on the radio and a few salmon from the deep.
My problem was always with the time we had to wake up to make all this happen.
My dad would usually give four or five days notice that a Lake Michigan trip was coming. At that point, he would start a complex process deciding what time we would be leaving.
Weather and marine forecasts were consulted. He would spend nights in the boat in the garage, making sure all tackle and machinery were in order and listening to guide chatter on marine radio to see how many miles we would have to motor to find the fish. He’d consult many years of experience to see how much of a crowd we would face at the boat launch.
Then, the crazy part. No matter how early in the day the matrix of facts dictated that we leave, we were leaving at that time.
Fish were a few miles away? Wind building from the east late in the morning, sure to result in dangerous waves? A weekend crowd expected early at the boat launch due to these factors? Well, we could beat that crowd if we were out the door by 4 a.m.
Never did he run the numbers, decide they were just too disruptive to the circadian rhythm, and opt for a late morning of disc golf at Vollrath Park followed by an afternoon barbecue.
I thought of all that on a recent morning when I hiked 3 miles up Snug Harbor Road in Cooper Landing with skate skis, betting on and finding a perfect crust covering Cooper Lake that allowed me to ski around the mountain-embedded jewel for three hours.
Just like my dad, I’d started planning this trip days in advance.
Had the snow hardened to perfect crust yet, or was it breakable crust or even just glare ice? I scoured other people’s adventures on Strava and on the Crust Ski Alaska Facebook page to try and figure out how much snow was at Cooper Lake’s 1,200 feet and how it was behaving.
But were the weather factors right for crust? I ran the modeling on Windy.com, checking recent precipitation patterns, temperature, dew point and cloud cover. I made similar use of wunderground.com and a National Weather Service site with data from various points around the peninsula.
What time would I have to leave? The drive would be 1 1/2 hours from my house. If I got up by 6 a.m., I could eat breakfast and do some warmup mobilizations to get my old bones ready to ski, getting on the road by 7 a.m. and starting my hike at 8:30 a.m.
I followed the plan to a “T” but all morning it felt like I was late. The sun cranked down from the sky early in the morning, making me think I’d be arriving to a lake of mush.
In those first electrifying, completely jubilant strides on the lake, I knew I’d nailed it. Just like my dad pulling the rod from the downrigger at the first salmon strike of the day.
Call me crazy, but that’s a feeling that makes getting up early worthwhile.