TRAVERSE CITY — A moment of pure terror surged through Tom Bisbee when the ice cracked beneath his feet.
The cold came next as he plunged into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan nearly 1.5 miles from the nearest piece of dry land.
“There was a half-second where I was just terrified,” Bisbee said. “But I managed to catch my arms on the front-side of the ice pack. Once that panic passed, I realized I was fine.”
A daring trek across the frozen Manitou Passage almost ended there in tragedy, but Bisbee latched onto the ice and kept his head above the surface of the near-freezing water. He then pushed, pulled and rolled himself back to the relative-safety of the lake’s pack ice.
The other three men who set out March 6 with Bisbee to cross the eight miles of frozen water between Leelanau County’s mainland and North Manitou Island barely reacted before Bisbee crawled out of the water.
Bisbee peeled off his wet clothes and pulled on a dry set he packed for just such an emergency.
Then he, Bob Sutherland, Andrew Moore and Andrew Pritchard continued their long trek back to shore.
Sutherland, the owner of the Glen Arbor-based Cherry Republic retail chain, readily admitted to the danger inherent in their day-long hiking expedition; he and Bisbee, a distribution center manager at Cherry Republic, tried to walk to Manitou Island on separate occasions this winter but turned back because of safety concerns.
But Sutherland said completing the journey has been on his mind since his father and brothers attempted to do the same in 1975, when a stretch of open water forced them to turn back for the mainland about a mile from the island’s shore.
The bitter cold of this winter made a successful journey plausible for one of the first times since the 1970s, Sutherland said.