Editor"s Note:This story was originally published in the December 1978 issue of Cleveland Magazine. We"ve republished it as part of our Historic Read of the Week series, in which we revive classic pieces from the magazine"s archives. Read more about Dave Voelker"s walk as part of our "30 Myths That Define Cleveland" December 2019 cover package.
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3 p.m.: "Only the Good Die Young." For some reason, I couldn"t get that crazy Billy Joel song out of my head. This was the farthest I"d been from land. I could barely see East Sister Island (Canada) ahead, but knew I wouldn"t make it there by nightfall. The strong northwest wind was slowing my pace. The immensity of the lake was beginning to impress me, but the only analogy I could think of to describe how dwarfed I felt was "a piece of sausage sandwiched between two giant slices of white bread." Cold does funny things to the creative faculty.
6:30 p.m.: Darkness was imminent, and I was beat. Conditioned by years of experience in camping, I intuitively began looking around for a good place to pitch my tent, then realized foolishly that one spot is as good as the next. According to the positions that East Sister and Hwen Islands occupied on the horizon, I figured my camp to be right on the international boundary. It took me a half hour to erect my tent in the wind and, as always, crawling into my warm sleeping bag after an arduous day was a near-orgasmic experience. I fired up my small camp stove and supped splendidly on canned spaghetti with Vienna sausages, oblivious to the swirling, frigid wasteland that lay just outside my comfortable quarters.
7:30 p.m.: I thought I would give my walkie-talkie a try. Its normal range is only a few miles at best, but wide open places are supposed to improve reception and transmission greatly. "Breaker 19 for a northbound on this here Lake Erie. Anybody copy?" Fuzzy static. "I"m out here on the lake. Can anybody pick up my signal?" Still nothing. "Would it make any difference if I had a broken leg, internal bleeding and frostbite?" More static. So much for my precious radio link.
8:30 p.m.: I stepped outside the tent to relieve myself one final time, and met the scene that, more than any other on the trip, would become firmly imprinted on my memory. The wind had died down to a dead calm, and my thermometer read 20 degrees. The stars were out in full force, and I could see shimmering lights onthree shores. Except for the drone of an occasional invisible plane, the silence was complete and overwhelming. It was a peaceful, striking image, and as I beheld the rare beauty of a frozen lake in the dead of night, I felt possessed by a satisfying and impregnable serenity. For that feeling alone, the trip was worthwhile.
Back into my cozy sleeping bag I crawled, taking my water bottle with me so it wouldn"t freeze overnight. I fell asleep instantly.
There are some people who are trying to make it illegal to walk across the lake. But they"ll never do it, not as long as we have a Constitution. Hiking is a bona fide recreational use of the lake, certainly no less legitimate than fishing or water skiing.
Colin Fletcher makes the point much better than I in his book, The Complete Walker. To those who still wonder why anyone would want to walk across Lake Erie, this excerpt comes as close to an answer as you"re going to get:
If you judge safety to be the paramount consideration in life, you should avoid at all costs such foolhardy activities as driving, falling in love, or inhaling air that is almost certainly riddled with deadly germs. Never cross an intersection against a red light, even when you can see that all roads are clear for miles. And never, of course, explore the guts of an idea that seems as if it might threaten one of your more cherished beliefs. In your wisdom, you will probably live to a ripe old age.
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But you may discover, just before you die, that you have been dead for a long, long time.