Frosty receptions

It seems each winter the Enterprise’s front page features several lost hikers

This one’s lost on Marcy. That one’s lost on Phelps. Those ones are lost on Haystack. And so on and so forth, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation rangers being put to the test on one rescue after another.

All of which got me thinking: Was it like this Way Back When? From what I recall, it wasn’t.

Why is that?

Well, as with almost everything else in my life, I’ve got a lot of theory and darn little fact. But since that never stopped me from soliloquizing before, it ain’t gonna stop me now.

One obvious reason is now a lot more people hike here – all year around. It’s just a national trend – more people hike now than ever before.

The concept of lifetime sports and fitness is recent. In the ’50s and ’60s, people got exercise in sports, but most sports were in high schools or colleges. A guy sprinting down the road who was neither training for track nor outrunning the law was as rare as a safe car or a sobriety checkpoint.

Adults played tennis or golf, they skied and bowled, but I think it was more for enjoyment than hardcore fitness. In fact, Jack LaLanne was considered more a nut than a role model. So the idea of hiking up and down the ADK’s was for young people or hidebound eccentrics.

Fear of freezing

This all changed in the ’70s, when the leisure-time sports scene exploded. Suddenly, the landscape was clogged with hikers, joggers, runners, cross-country skiers, snowshoers, ice climbers – you name it. And as their numbers increased, so did the incompetents among them. With the boom in sports came an attitude that people should not only meet hardcore challenges, but that they could meet them as well. And thus people who’d get lost in the Plattsburgh Mall strutted off into remote wilderness areas with predictable results.

Something else – all our modern gadgets and gimmicks, and people’s faith in them. If you’ve got a GPS and things go awry, all you’ve got to do is look at it and stroll on back. And if that doesn’t work, hit 911 on your cell and the Mounties’ll saddle up and head out, hasto-pronto. Of course batteries die and cell phone coverage fades, and so another lost sheep bites the snow.

Finally, I think something else kept us safe – the old Adirondack winters. Back then winters weren’t just cold; they were brutal. We didn’t go into the woods in the winter (at least not very far into them) because we understood what being cold was in town, so we sure wouldn’t defy the ice gods on their turf. Walking to school on a January morning was something out of Jack London, and we did it on plowed sidewalks, in the bosom of civilization. Still, eyelashes froze, boogers turned to ice, and noses felt like they were going to fall off. Yeah, sure, we walked in it and played and skated in it, but we weren’t going to take chances in it.

There were guys who went into the deep wilderness – the hunters and trappers. But those guys had been doing it since they were hatched and knew what they were doing. The only thing about winter survival the rest of us knew was we didn’t know what were doing.

Mother’s little helper

My mother was a world-class worrier. But she never worried about winter dangers for my brother because she never had to. In fact, she warned us about only one thing – never lick metal.

Lick metal? Did I just say my mother warned me to never lick metal? Indeed I did.

And that raises another question: who licked metal?

Well, apparently a bunch of kids.

The first kid who did was a classmate at the Broadway School – he licked a parking meter in front of the school. His screams were heard by the custodian, Howard Marshall, who rescued him in the time-honored fashion, by pouring warm water over both meter and tongue.

But recently I took an informal survey among friends, and in one day came up with three winter metal-lickers.

One was Joe Conto. His episode was unique, in that it took place indoors: He was in a grocery store and he licked the metal rim on a frozen meat case.

Another was the Amazon Queen, who licked a metal fence.

A third example, my childhood friend Peter McIntyre, who on one fine February morning stuck his head out his bedroom window and licked the fire escape.

So much for who did it. Now the question is why?

All of them were in single digits, which when it comes to impulsive, inexplicable behavior, speaks for itself. But beyond that, there were reasons.

Joe said there was frost on the metal rim of the meat case and it seemed like a treat – a chrome popsicle, perhaps.

The AQ did it on a mutual dare from her brother. Luckily, they came from a large family and one of the other siblings set them free.

As for Peter? In his words, “No rhyme or reason. I opened the window and stuck my head out for an entirely different purpose (long forgotten) and then found a way to leave multiple layers of my tongue fused to the metal.”

My only experience came much later in life..

I was 11 or 12 and my mother and I had come back from the Grand Union. It was a frigid January night – if not 20 below, then 17 or 18, at least. My mother went in the house and I followed with the groceries, one huge bag in each arm. When I went to the back door (an aluminum storm door), it dawned on me that neither hand was free. So I did the “logical” thing – I used my mouth to open the door.

And as soon as I did – Zik! -? my tongue and the handle became one.

I might as well have been riveted to the door.

What to do?

The logical thing would’ve been to call my mother. She would’ve readily heard me, even though my plea would’ve come out, “Yelg, yelg, Ahhm uck oo ah oor,” or something like that.

But I didn’t do that. Instead, I took a deep breath and then snapped my head back, freeing myself from the door handle while leaving behind a couple million taste buds.

Did it hurt? Of course.

But only physically.

Remember, I was a pre-teen. At that age, embarrassment was my natural state. I was embarrassed by all the stupid things I did, I said and I thought, as well as all the stupid things I never did, said or thought.

So to have my mother unstuck me from a frozen door handle – a truly embarrassing situation? That wouldn’t have been humiliating – it would have been fatal!