45. Go For a polar Bear Dip – done!

            My 32nd birthday really snuck up on me this year. Time has been flying by and I have started to get concerned about my ability to complete the items on my 40 Before 40 bucket list – and my left over 30 Before 30 list items. Already two years into my 10 year limit, I started to feel the pressure to scratch something, ANYTHING, off my list. With Spring in the air, and the ice showing signs of pulling away from the shore, I knew it was finally time to do a polar bear dip.

Proof of my dislike of cold water. Me on the rocks while the rest of my friends are already swimming in the cold waters of the North Atlantic off the Isle of Mull, Scotland.
Photo by Andy Tait.

            Now, I am a huge wimp when it comes to cold water. If I know I am going to be uncomfortable, it takes me forever to get in. Running into ice cold water is never something I would have decided to do on my own. Unfortunately, when I put out a call for friends to suggest tasks for my 30 Before 30 bucket list, a polar bear dip was mentioned more than once. Not wanting to reveal myself to be the coward I was, I begrudgingly added it to my list. Only giving myself a year to complete my 30 Before 30, I ran out of time to do everything on the list. I thought that I had gotten out of jumping into a frigid lake, but when I decided to do a 40 Before 40 list, a very helpful friend mentioned that I should add on my left over tasks to my new list. Thanks. I really don’t like to back down from a challenge, so the polar bear dip became #45 on my new list. 

            I did attempt to do the dip last spring. I was waiting for a nice warm day while still having enough ice on the lake so it would work for the challenge. My mom and I had been making regular trips out to our community’s swimming spot, Cedar Point, to hike, bird watch, and keep an eye on the lake ice. One day we saw that the ice had receded substantially, and I decided that I would go for my dip 2 days later. Well, 2 days later was a beautiful sunny day, and when I arrived at Cedar Point, there was no ice. Not one speck of ice left on the lake. I ended up jumping into the lake with a 2mm shorty wetsuit on, but without ice, I could not scratch the dip of my list. 

Even without ice and with a wetsuit, the water was still cold!

            This year’s lead up into spring has been a strange one. With milder temperatures, most of the winter’s snow had melted, but we still got colder days with snow and sub-zero temperatures. This was perfect for maintaining the lake ice for a bit. I was so worried I would miss the ice again, but on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon, my mom and I drove out to Cedar Point, me all ready to go in my bathing suit. Surprisingly, there was only about 20 feet of ice-free water from the shore. That was all I needed. Though it was the warmest day of the year so far, the stiff wind off the lake made me shiver. I really did not want to run into the cold water, but I was determined to get it done. Not giving myself any time to chicken out, I quickly stripped off my cover-up dress, and put on running shoes. After destroying a toe on a rock running through the water last year, I was not going to be doing this barefoot. I psyched myself up a bit, then ran. 

            The first few steps into the water had me thinking that maybe it wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. After getting up to my waist however, I realized that I could not be more wrong! I ran as far as I could then quickly dove into the water. Far from elegant, I rose from the water, all of my skin feeling like it was burning. I ran as quickly as I could back out of the water, but it felt as if my legs weren’t working properly. I laughed and gasped as I made my way back to dry land. Finally out of the water, I quickly removed my water-filled shoes in an attempt to stop my feet from cramping. For a minute or two I made all sorts of noises to describe the feeling of having been in the lake, but finally, the warmth of the sun made it’s way through my skin. I turned to my mom and exclaimed, “I feel amazing!” As unpleasant as being in the cold water is, there really is nothing like the exhilaration that you feel afterwards. The experience instantly improved my mood and energized me – something I hadn’t felt in a while.

            As I sat on a picnic table, drying off in the sun, I felt such satisfaction. Finally I could mark something off of my bucket list! And though, I really didn’t want to jump into an icy lake, the incredibly uplifting aftermath was more than worth it. One down, only 44 more to go. 

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