Then…things…got…boring. Really boring. Day after day brought more cancellations and cabin fever took hold in a fierce kind of way. The pristine outside conditions kept calling to us. “Come experience this on the trail,” Mother Nature beckoned to us. “Search for animal tracks. Try your snow gear. Come to my Winter Wonderland.”
When the media announced schools would go ahead and close for the rest of the week, we dropped Ozzy off at grandma’s house for some fun, and we were off. We were headed to cross of an item on our bucket list: building an igloo and spending the night in it. Gathering the appropriate gear, building tools, and cold weather safety items we loaded up the truck and slowly made our way to Hoosier National Forest. The main highways were safe enough and we took our time navigating the clearest open roads on our way out of town.
Our tire tracks were the first to break the untouched snow as we pulled in to the Indian-Celine Lake of Hoosier National Forest. The parks were open and our plan was to park near the main road and hike back in to an open campsite and start building. The temperature hung at a mere 15 degrees and ice crystals caught the sunlight like crystals projecting prisms in a window. The pine trees were weighted down and stood like sad sentinels guarding the forest. As I exhaled, my breath swirled in a cloud in front of me and my nose happily dripped in the chill.
Our dog, a chocolate English Labrador retriever, pounced through the snow banks in front of us, leading the way down the trail. She had been our hiking partner on much of the Dozen Dozen and was energetically in her element in the snow. She rolled in it and tossed her snout to the sky flipping the fresh powder. In her backpack, she carried her own food stash and was well-trained at the hiking routine after dozens of overnights on the trail with us.
We weren’t going far- there wasn’t much of a need to get much more secluded than we already were, so we set up our gear about a quarter mile from the truck and got to work. Clearing out an 8 x 8 pad for the foundation gave us a solid start for a tent size igloo. 1 x 2 plastic totes served as our block forms and we eased into a routine of gathering, packing, and placing the forms much as one would build a sand castle on the beach. The snow was a dry, hard pack and worked well without crumbling as we went around and around staggering the snow blocks. After hours of work we had made our way to our shoulder height. Maggie was puzzled at exactly what we were up to, but busied herself following us around and fetching sticks to chew on.
We lashed a tarp for the last of the roof as the sun began to set and we were losing daylight. The temperature was dropping quickly as the sun dipped and we decided it was time to cook our dinner and hunker into our sleeping bags for the night to deal with the chill. Just then, Maggie began barking unexpectedly. A man’s deep voice yelled, “Get your dog or I’m going to shoot her!” Stunned and alarmed, we flew out of the igloo and saw a park ranger, gun drawn staring down our dog. Maggie stood, in guarded stance, between us and the officer and I quickly grabbed her collar and kneeled down next to her.
The officer had seen our tire tracks in the snow, and not expecting anyone to be out here had followed our path to the truck. When he saw no one in the truck, he got concerned and decided to follow our trail of footprints. He eased up slightly as we eagerly explained our reason for being here and his eyes adjusted to the dark and he confirmed our intentions noticing the stunning igloo behind us. Needless to say, he was pissed off. Our bucket list adventure did not resonate with his original plans of staying warm in his vehicle as he fulfilled his shift obligations, expecting a slow night and empty park.
He barked orders at us, lecturing us on the dangers of a night out in this weather with trees still snapping under the weight of the snow. We assured him we had set up our igloo in an open area free of any ominous looking hazards, but he was not convinced and proceeded to verbally abuse us for our irresponsible decision making. No, he said, we were not breaking the law, in any violation of the park regulations, nor banned from our current activity or location….BUT he scolded us on the risks and reminded us that it would be he who would return in the morning, find our crushed bodies under the weight of the trees, and have to call our next of kin and explain how we had died.
He gave one more menacing look at our dog, pointed his flashlight into our eyes, and turned and disappeared silently down the trail he had come, leaving us to stew over what to do. In the amount of time it took him to give us the shakedown, our hunger and the evening chill had settled in and we stewed over what to do. We didn’t feel at risk and are very conservative decision makers in general, but his guilt ridden lecture had given us just enough time to get cold feet- figuratively and literally, So we begrudgingly packed up, turned our eyes on our epic igloo one last time, and walked- heads hung- back to the truck and the safety of home.