“Never lick the metal”
There are things you mustn’t do at -12 degrees. But the things that surprised me are the things you can.
You can swim in the sea without your heart stopping.
You can walk on an ice rink wearing no more than plastic bags to stop you slipping.
And you can skate on a frozen lake and not face death if you fall right in.
It was the final one that terrified me.
I had always imagined that falling into a frozen lake would be disastrous. I envisioned getting trapped under the ice unable to break back through, lost in a freezing prison.
“If you fall in, all you have to do is unhook these little pegs and dig them into the ice. Then you can pull yourself back up.” It reminded me of the instructions I was given about what to do if I fell in when white water rafting – none of which had calmed my fears, but rather spun me into a cacophony of ‘what ifs’ and ‘how the hells?’.
But I really wanted to skate. The romance of gliding around a frozen lake, surrounded by snow-covered forest was an opportunity too sweet to miss.
Our guide, Benjamin, went first to test the ice. A massive crack reverberated across the lake as he bashed the surface with his ski pole. “That’s it,” I thought. “The ice mustn’t be thick enough”.
“Perfect” said Benjamin. “We can skate.”
I wasn’t the only one who looked quizzical. This was the first day of winter that the ice had frozen. At the minimal thickness needed for safety, we’d be enacting the well-trodden idiom: we’d be skating on thin ice.
That’s when our emergency instructions were given, along with full waterproof suits to protect us if we fell. The only thing exposed would be our faces.
It was my seventh layer. I looked like I was wearing a sumo suit, complete with 100 extra pounds. I thought: ‘If I fall, I’m going straight through’.
By now, some of the others were already skating, whizzing around the ice like pros, occasionally screaming at their companions not to come close. We all knew that more than one person at a time in one spot would increase our chance of falling.
Finally, I made it, tentatively pulling myself along the ice with my ski poles, nervous to glide in case I fell. As time went on, my confidence picked up and I found myself lifting my feet to pick up speed, wobbling and wavering to keep my balance. I was doing it. I was skating on thin ice and it felt glorious.
My fears frustrate me. I look around at others and sometimes envy their gung-ho. But at moments like this, when I taste the adrenaline and face what seemed preposterous, I thank my fears. They make me question the seemingly impossible.
They give me faith that I can.