Finney, a born-and-raised Minnesotan in his mid-30s with long, wavy hair, and a scraggly beard, did his best to reassure me. We’d been good friends for 10 years, and I had no reason to believe he’d put us in a dangerous situation, especially because he was a new father. Plus, we were doing the ice fishing equivalent of glamping. He rented an ice house that would be waiting on the lake for us, complete with pre-augered holes. All we’d need to do is show up with bait and lures. Rummaging through supplies, Finney held up a cable that looked like it had two Jeopardy buzzers on either side.
“Besides, if anything goes wrong and it looks like we might fall in, we’ll have these,” he said.
“What are they?” I asked.
“Ice picks. You wear them like this and keep ‘em on the insides of the sleeves of your jacket.” He draped the device around his neck, holding each end in his hands to demonstrate. “If you fall in, you use them to stab onto the ice and pull yourself up.”
This didn’t make me feel any safer. Lingering thoughts of what could go wrong began spinning around in my head again. What if his truck fell through the ice? What if the weather took an unexpected turn? What if we were sleeping? How would we escape the ice house if it was submerged?
“Don’t worry, only a few people fall in a year.” He took a beat, reading the concern on my face. “We’ll be fine.”
I was worried about getting good sleep on the lake, but didn’t anticipate spending half of the night before our trip watching YouTube videos about how to survive ice accidents and Googling statistics on ice fishing deaths in Minnesota. (4.6 deaths per winter season from 1987 through 2022, most of which were the result of people being reckless on unsafe ice.)
Finney and I had recently gone through some seismic shifts in our lives. My marriage to my partner of almost 20 years had just ended in divorce. Finney and his wife had just given birth to a beautiful baby girl. As I drifted off to sleep, I began to realize that maybe, subconsciously, we planned this trip not just as an exciting getaway, but to give us something different in life to be scared about.