"Warning: Cold water swimming can produce injury and/or death." After reading the big bold print and a whole lot of more smaller print that included the word "paralysis," then signing away all my rights to file a lawsuit, I decided to go ahead and jump into the Animas River on a nice February morning.
My friends say the only reason I go on hikes is to find water to jump in, so it's no surprise that I've always found the pictures of Polar Bear Plunges intriguing. Unfortunately, I've never lived close enough to one to give it a try. Recently I found someone crazy enough to have taken the plunge before and who even wanted to do it again.
Cortez Journal Advertising Manager Mark Drudge and I began talking about starting a McPhee Polar Bear Plunge, but failed to get our act together to do one this year.
The Durango Polar Bear Plunge offered the perfect opportunity to go jump in an icy river. For some strange reason participants frequently wear costumes, so Mark and I purchased matching old fashioned men's swimsuits from a costume shop online.
Saturday morning turned out to be a nice sunny day, a seemingly perfect day for a swim. Looking out over the water, there was a thin layer of ice in the shady parts of the river. About 15 hearty souls stood in the snow, discussing how cold the water might be. I chose not to put a hand in the river to test the water for fear of chickening out at the last minute.
Amid whoops of dread and delight, the participants ran into the water as event organizer Andrew Lindbloom announced it was time.
My first remark was that it wasn't really too bad since the costume socks apparently kept the water out for a few seconds, but the extreme cold began to chill as the water reached above the knees with the next steps.
One by one the participants dunked under the water and came up with a gasp as the chill streaked through their bodies. Most quickly exited the water.
As my head sank below the water I could feel a sudden surge of cold racing through my veins. I also noticed someone run between me and the camera that my wife was using, so I took the plunge under a second time. After all, I am a photographer and I wanted a good picture.
Back on shore the 28-degree air temperature felt warm. I'd planned to change into warm dry clothes right away, but it actually felt good standing on the bank in the snow. Perhaps it was an adrenaline rush.
It turned out to be a good day for a swim. There should definitely be a local Polar Bear Club.