Maine is an ice skating wonderland with a large number of lakes, ponds, and even bogs for enjoying nature without modern distractions like skating indoors with shopping center music and a herd of skaters going one-way in circles. I didn’t mention rivers or streams because even though they freeze over, only a fool skates over a moving current. Fall through and you’re headed downstream trapped under the ice.
One bright and sunny spring day in March around 1962, an older brother and I invented an ice skating game of chicken on the Piscataquis River in Derby, Maine. He threw down the challenge which I readily accepted, so make that two teenage fools tossing caution to the wind.
The river ice was receding as winter turned to spring, so on each side of the Piscataquis River there was perhaps 20 feet of crystal clear virgin ice that looked like glass. The middle was an open stretch of ice cold water perhaps 20 to 30 feet wide. At the shoreline the ice was thick enough for skating without any danger, yet from there to the middle the thickness gradually went from safe to razor thin at the edge of the moving open water.
Strapping on ice skates, the challenge was to take turns skating out towards the distant edge of ice and open water. Skate marks were easily seen in the glass-like ice, so the only rule was each turn required making a mark further out than your opponent until one quit. The one who quit was the chicken loser, and the last to go was the official winner, including post mortem if tragedy struck.
The first few rounds went out 2-3 feet each, so excitement grew as each outdid the other. From there it was enough to extend 2-3 inches and still see the mark to confirm a new record. From experience on ponds, we knew the challenge wasn’t utterly stupid because the thin ice might crackle a warning sound and perhaps an opportunity to retreat.
My last run sealed the contest because as my left foot glided over his mark I skooched down with all the weight on that foot and extended my right leg while stretching to scratch a wide arc in the ice with the tip of my right skate. The skate mark added two feet to the record. Tall and lanky has its advantages. Game over.