Man Walks Across the Bay
By Liam McKenna
With The SandPaper, there is no shortage of different, interesting stories. This piece about a man walking across the frozen bay received thousands of views within days, and stirred a ton of controversy among readers.
This story came courtesy of one of my favorite guys to interview: Mark Temme. He is an adventurous man — far more than myself — and a phenomenal storyteller. Those are two nice traits for a source to have. I interviewed Temme the previous summer, and felt comfortable having the most honest and blunt conversation possible.
I was immediately taken out of my comfort zone: these photos were snapped as we stood about 100 feet from shore. That ice could have been 20 inches thick, and I still would have freaked.
I knew some folks would think walking the bay was an awesome idea. A portion of those folks would have no clue how dangerous the act could be. So, before writing I wondered, “Is this responsible journalism?”
I let that question drive the story:
3.4.2015 — Many swim in the bay. Few walk on the bay.
The New Jersey State Police’s Marine Law Enforcement Bureau said the act is legal. However, this does not mean it’s advisable.
That said, Mark Temme walked across the frozen Barnegat Bay on Feb. 21 and back again to his house on 23rd Street in Surf City.
“Say we have some 15-, 20-year-old kid who says, ‘oh, wow, this is a really neat idea,’ do you look at yourself and say, ‘I don’t want to set that example,’” this writer asked Temme.
“I tell you what: I did think of that,” he said. “I did think that. I thought, ‘Do I even want to post photos on Facebook?’ And I thought, ‘Goddamn, 30 to 40 years ago, people would do this and it wouldn’t be ‘ohhh God, you’re crazy!’ It would be ‘Wow, the bay’s frozen. I hope you’re careful and know what you’re doing. That’s the world I want to live in, and I’m not going to cower to this politically-correct, nanny-state mentality.”
Temme added that he was concerned about a kid following his example and falling through the ice and freezing. Yet he compared it to swimming: If someone gets caught in a rip current and drowns, that doesn’t keep everyone from swimming — some do know how to get out of the rip current.
“If I set a bad example and someone else walks across the bay and dies, should I not live my life to the fullest because I’m worrying about someone else who can’t think clearly or has poor judgment?” Temme asked. “No.”
Back in January, he walked some of the bay, as he had done as a kid with his father. That was the point when the thought occurred to him: “It would be really cool to walk across the bay.”
“It was like climbing a mountain. It’s sort of like a tangible goal — clear-cut, black-and-white,” he described.
He knew more planning had to go into the thought. But if the bay was going to freeze again, he would make the trek.
Enter the week of Feb. 18, when, for many people, it became too cold to venture outside. On Saturday, Feb. 21, Temme got home from work a bit before sunset and decided to execute his plan.
“I thought, ‘Man, this is going to be great,’” he said. “I can finally do this.”
One could easily be overwhelmed with the safety aspect of this story. Since coming up with the idea of making the journey, he was thinking through different precautions. A lifejacket: check. An ice pick: check. A charged cell phone: check. A flashlight: check. A walking stick: check. Notifying someone: check.
Prior to his crossing, Temme said, “I did take a drill to see how thick the ice was to make sure it was safe.”
He went about 150 feet out in the bay, and the ice was over 5 inches thick.
“I called my friend who lives on the bayfront and I told him, ‘Hey, I’m going to walk across the bay,’” Temme recalled. “I was like, ‘You want to come with me?’ He was like, ‘No.’ But, I said, ‘OK. I’m going. If you don’t hear from me in three hours …’”
Another factor presented itself on that Saturday: snow. When the snow came down, particularly strong at times, he had some minor reservations. He would peer to his left, right and behind him and think: “Do I really want to do this?”
Temme’s answer: “There are risks in life, and to me, that’s part of what makes life worth living.”
Could he have been stopped? As he walked out on the bay, he saw a pair of headlights at the edge of street. He was about 500 yards out. The lights blinked. He wondered if it was a cop. Moments later, he heard the fire siren go off. He attributed this speculation as paranoia, and opted to move forth.
“I did think of Sir Edmund Hillary with Everest. I thought about Columbus. I just thought of people who everyone questioned,” Temme said.
“So, do you compare yourself to the likes of Christopher Columbus,” this writer asked.
“No,” he replied with a chuckle.
Fascination took over at times during Temme’s walk. The snow and the air temperature (around 20 degrees) made him feel as though he was trudging across Antarctica.
Halfway through his walk, Temme was beside a channel marker. Paranoia crept up again. He thought of how bad falling in would be. His biggest concern in this worst case scenario: wetness and coldness. He was dressed really warmly, and had brought the necessary equipment to help survive a fall through the ice, should that occur.
“If I thought I was going through the ice, I wouldn’t have gone,” Temme said. “But I needed to have that contingency.”
Around the same time, his phone randomly died. He quickly compared the walk to some of the big-wave surf he took on in Hawaii when his “autopilot” would kick in.
“If you’re going to out and surf 20-foot waves and say, ‘well, there’s lifeguards’ — no. You go out if you know what you’re doing and you know you can swim if you lose your board,” Temme said.
He made the decision not to doubt himself.
“I proceeded with caution, but I knew it was solid,” Temme said. “If I came this far and it’s this solid, then I can make it.”
Upon returning to land, he was tired and sore. He had covered 2 to 2½ miles in his roundtrip adventure that took over an hour. Above all, though, he felt good due to senses of accomplishment and satisfaction.
“It was sort of like stepping into another dimension and then coming back,” Temme said.
He recalled seeing the bay frozen in its entirety back in the mid-’70s when he was with his grandparents. However, his father fostered his fascination with walking on frozen water. Growing up, the pair would walk the bay in a northerly or southerly direction, never going too far from land.
Temme gained an added appreciation of the bay from his walk. So many people know, experience and appreciate the bay in a liquid state. With the walk, he was able to experience the bay in a new way: its frozen state. The walk was tranquil for him, and he furthered his understanding of the bay.
So, now that Temme isn’t at the bottom of the bay, are there any other journeys on the horizon for him? Nothing. Tomorrow, that may change. At the moment, Temme just wants to keep appreciating nature. He pondered using his adventures to help raise environmental awareness.