Cold, wet, and crazy
Jan. 3, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

There comes a time in life when one realizes there are certain things one is just never going to do.

It seems that every year, I discover more items to add to that list.

I try to look ahead as I celebrate New Year’s Eve, and one of the things I look at is new things I might try in the year ahead.

Some things, even though I may want to give them a whirl, seem to have passed out of reach. Appealing they may be, but the window of opportunity has slammed convincingly shut, guided by the hand of time.

There are other things, however, that I have never done, and have no intention of ever doing.

One of these is taking what is commonly known as a polar bear plunge, or polar plunge for short.

The concept is insane, but simple. One simply cuts a hole through the ice of a frozen lake, and jumps in.

I can’t help wondering how an activity like this got started. I suspect it involved a couple of guys sitting around drinking adult beverages, and there was probably a dare or a wager of some sort involved.

I recently read a news article about such an event that was to take place New Year’s Day in Wayzata.

More than 1,000 people were expected to participate.

First-time divers are called guppies, and seasoned plungers, with 10 or more dives on their resume (the real slow learners) are called sharks.

Participants even pay $25 for the privilege of diving into the frigid water with an equally crazy partner.

The proceeds, according to the organizers, go toward supporting various non-profit organizations. It seems to me it would be a lot less painful and equally beneficial to hand the money directly to one’s charity of choice.

Events like these take place all over Minnesota, and in fact, all over the world, in places where the weather is cold and the people are foolish.

I hesitate to mock people for doing something I have not tried myself, but I am willing to make an exception in this case.

I don’t need to get hit in the coconut with a brick to know that I wouldn’t enjoy getting hit in the coconut with a brick.

Morbid curiosity has compelled me to watch many of these polar plunge events, both on television and in person, and I am confident that this is not an activity for me.

I acknowledge, after standing next to people who have just emerged from frigid water into even colder air, that the experience seems to stimulate them.

I recall watching some young women in bikinis on the ice of Lake Superior on such an occasion.

Their skin was a bit blue and their teeth were chattering quite considerably, but they did look stimulated.

Polar bears are comfortable around the ice because they have an extra layer of insulating protection. These girls were quite fit, and had hardly any insulation at all.

I can’t help thinking that one could get the same kind of stimulation one gets from a polar plunge by licking one’s fingers and grabbing a live electrical wire.

It would certainly have about the same effect on one’s heart.

I have heard many people complain that Lake Superior is too cold for them to take a dip in the middle of summer, and I can attest to the fact that it doesn’t get any warmer in the middle of winter.

I have kayaked on this same water just after ice-out, and practiced rescue techniques in the water when there were still numerous blocks of ice floating around.

I was dressed for the occasion in a neoprene wet suit, and even so, I can confirm that the water was quite refreshing and invigorating, but to jump in through the ice just for the fun of it seems just plain silly.

I have also had the experience, following the tradition of my Finnish ancestors, of sitting in a sauna until I was good and hot, and then having a roll about in the snow to cool off, and even that makes more sense to me than a polar plunge.

For those who enjoy jumping through the ice, I wish them well.

I won’t be joining them though. This is one activity for which sitting on the sidelines bundled up in proper winter clothes, and enjoying a warming beverage seems the right way to go.

I will keep watching them, however.

One thing of which I never tire is watching other people do foolish things. It can be infinitely entertaining, and there is no age limit or statute of limitations on that kind of fun.

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