Gosh, I know you have all just been on pins and needles waiting for me to post pictures from my Polar Bearing experience in Lake Michigan. Well, here’s the story…
I was supposed to go with a few friends- Lisa, Megan, and my new-ish friend Krissy (Chrissy?). Lisa was feeling pretty under the weather, so she cancelled. I was feeling pretty awful too, so I cancelled. But then I thought… wait, I’m already awake. My stuff is already set out and ready to go. Krissy is still going. FINE, I’ll go!
David and I went to George Webb for a deliciously cheap and greasy breakfast and then made our way down to the lakefront. We met up with Krissy, who had been trying to talk herself into it while having coffee at Altera, and staked out a spot on the frozen tundra of Bradford Beach.
It was cold and windy. And we got there early. I had about an hour and a half before noon, which was the “official” time that all the crazy people ran into the water. This was upsetting and cold, but it was worth it to get a close parking spot. Did I mention it was cold?
There are a lot of funny characters walking around. People get really nuts for this event. Not that I should talk, because last year I wore a tutu. I think my favorite (and the most vocal) was the RoFo Headgear samurai. He was dirty and profane and it was hilarious.
These guys were pretty awesome, however:
We tried to keep warm by laughing, jumping around, and drinking. I had a thermos of coffee liquor and butterscotch schnapps. Krissy drank Bailey’s straight from the bottle.
By 11:30 it was quite packed and the crowd’s excitement was palpable. At 11:45 we slowly started stripping off layers of clothing. At 11:50 I was standing there in my bathing suit and a robe, quite literally freezing my ass off. But mostly freezing my toes off. They already hurt. I knew jumping in the water was going to be painful. But I had come this far, I wasn’t turning back.
So at noon (or just about) we ran in.
And at about 12:01 we ran out.
(Yes, I wore my hat and scarf in)
It was just as bad as you are imagining. In fact, it was probably worse. My feet hurt so badly. Or rather, they didn’t. At all. I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t get my shoes off without help. My feet wouldn’t cooperate. It was awful. I’m going to have to see if there’s a way to avoid that next year. Yep, next year. It was stupid and insane but it was SO much fun!! And now I don’t really remember how terrible it was. So I guess I can do it again. That’s what they say about childbirth. I think it’s true here as well.
Things I have learned about successful polar bearing:
Drink. The night before, the morning of, during, whatever! Not only does it make you feel warmer, but a shot of ‘liquid courage’ is practically a necessity.
Go naked. Well, if you could, that is. Seriously, wear as little as possible into the water. Last year I wore a stupid outfit into the water, complete with stupid knee-high socks. I thought it was funny. It sure wasn’t funny when I had to try to take them off while they held freezing water to my legs. Remember that anything you wear into the water will be holding ice water next to your body until you get it off. That’s why the people in bikinis are actually pretty smart*.
Bring a buddy. If you can, bring a buddy who stands there and holds your towel and robe and blankets and slippers (etc) while you try to kill yourself in icy water. Running out of the lake is disorienting and the beach is lined with gawkers. Trying to make it to your towel 50 feet from the water is a daunting task.
Bring easy clothing. Bring something you can easily pull on over your clothing or something big enough (like a blanket or robe) to change underneath. I thought I’d take my swimsuit bottoms off, but I didn’t have the energy. I just pulled on two pairs of sweatpants over them. Another reason to wear as little as possible. Slippers are a good idea to try and quickly warm up feet. Err on the side of caution and bring more than you think you’ll need. Also bring a towel or blanket to put on the beach to mark your spot and to set your things down.
Be brave. It only hurts for a moment. Well, and until you warm up. Which could be an hour or two later. But it’s so worth it.
You can see my other Polar Bear pictures here. Be sure to check out the Monsters Inc guy, the hot dog, and the Barbie.
*Smart here is a relative term. In no way do I believe that any of us ice jumping fools are smart.