We know never to drink and drive; however, many people don’t give a second thought to drinking when they are out in the cold weather. I hope Charlie’s story will help anyone thinking of drinking alcohol while out in cold weather will think twice about it and leave the alcohol at home.
Lake Champlain forms the border between New York and Vermont and extends for over 125 miles right up into Canada, south of Montreal. In January of 1993 there was a blast of arctic air that lasted for 2 weeks. The lake was frozen with ice 2 feet deep. Charlie went fishing for Walleyed Pike; he drove his pick up truck out onto the ice to his shanty. Inside the shanty there was a small wood stove and a small supply of firewood. Charlie meant to load a supply of firewood onto his pickup before he left home, but he forgot.
Charlie was anxious to go fishing. It was 15 degrees outside and he was really cold, so he started a fire. Now he was ready to go fishing. Walleyes are predatory game fish that prefer to feed under low light conditions. They see very well at night and they generally don’t feed much in direct sunlight. Dusk until dawn is their favorite time to feed, and the fishermen that pursue Walleyes are often successful in catching them.
He set his lines late in the afternoon. Directly, he caught a nice 28 inch long Walleye and 2 smaller ones that were about 15 or 16 inches long. He was passing the time with a bottle of Jack Daniels, and when that was gone he started drinking a pint of ginger brandy. The alcohol numbed him and he passed out, oblivious to a change in the weather.
The temperature dropped to about zero degrees and a Nor’easter blew in dumping 15 inches of snow, which was accompanied by high winds. The snow drifted 4 feet deep around his truck and shanty. He never knew the difference; he was warm, drunk and comfy in his shanty and did not know the danger he was in.
He was alone, in a secluded bay away from anyone else. There was nobody to come and check on him. While he was asleep, the last of his firewood burned out and when he woke up he was suffering from hypothermia. Although the alcohol he drank warmed him up long enough for him to get cozy and fall asleep, it robbed him of body. It was 3 in the morning, or rather in the dead of night, in the middle of a blizzard with no firewood.
Snow was piled up against the door of the shanty. Fear gripped him. He tried to get out of the shanty but it was held fast by the snow. Sheer panic set in and the flow of adrenaline gave him barely enough strength to force the door open. Charlie’s truck was nearly buried in the snow. He made his way to his truck, cleared the snow away enough to get in. He fumbled with his frozen fingers to retrieve his key to start the engine. If he could just get the engine started and turn the heat on he could get warm.
He turned the key; the engine coughed and sputtered, but the battery and the engine was so cold that it wouldn’t start. What could he do to save himself? There was no firewood left, and since the truck wouldn’t start, there was only one option left. He had to start walking on the frozen lake.
The blizzard conditions in the darkness meant there was no visibility at all. He could see a few feet, but no further. The physical exertion soon warmed him so the danger of hypothermia passed, but the deep snow soon tired him. He stopped to rest, but then the cold and wind made him extremely cold again. He had to continue on his trek or die.
At 6 in the morning he saw lights about 100 yards from him shining through the snow flakes. He was near shore and there was a farmer’s barn. He walked in looking like an abominable snowman, and the farmer took him into his house to warm up and weather out the blizzard. In the blinding snow he had wandered over to the Vermont side to the town of Addison, which is in the opposite direction of Crown Point, New York, where he had started out his fishing ordeal.
The man’s wife fed him hot chicken soup, coffee, oat meal and he said that was the best meal he had ever eaten. After milking the cows, the farmer drove Charlie back home, and several days later he and some of his friends retrieved the truck and his frozen fish, which they ate that afternoon.
Charlie doesn’t drink anymore. He said that he was at the end of his endurance, and he would have died if he had not found the shoreline and the lights when he did.