Here in Ontario, our winters get pretty cold. Even now in November we’ve already seen a little snow and subzero temperatures and we haven’t even started winter officially yet.
Toronto is situated on the edge of Lake Ontario, the 13th largest lake in the world. When you stand at the shore of it you can’t see the other side though from higher up you can just see the lights of Niagara Falls on the other side. In the winter the lake gets pretty cold.
When the temperature drops quickly you can even see fog forming above the water as it turns to ice.
And still, every New Year’s Day, hardy individuals head down to the shore, put on their bathing suits and when a whistle is blown, everyone runs together in to the freezing cold water for a dip before heading back out of the water in to the even colder air. It’s called the Polar Bear Dip and it’s a tradition in many cold places around the world. In some cases it’s even used as a charity fund raiser: “Sponsor me and I will jump in icy water!”
In 2013, I and two of my friends joined them. The ground was covered in snow though the water was mostly free of ice that year. I believe the temperature outside was about -5 and the water was about 4 degrees.
What’s it like? We all came in with warm but baggy clothes on: sweatshirts and sweat pants that were easy to remove with our bathing suits underneath. Warm boots were traded for water shoes.
There’s an air of excitement as we all get ready and take off our warm outer garments. There’s music playing to keep excitement up. As the time nears for us to swim, everyone gathers at the edge of the water and a countdown begins. The whistle blows and there’s a collective scream as we all run in to the water. I go out with my friends to about my waist and figure that if I’m going to be crazy enough to do this at all, I’m in it all the way. I dunk myself fully under. And then, as quickly as I got in, I run back to shore. My heart is beating very quickly and my skin is almost burning with the cold. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel as shocking as I expect. My adrenaline is pumping, though. I think on some level my body is aware that had I stayed in even for only a few minutes, I would not survive. I dry off quickly and put my warm clothes back on over my wet bathing suit. We waste no time getting back to the car where we can turn on the heat. However, it will be a few more minutes before we can leave. My hands are so numb with cold that I don’t feel as if I have fingers – just lumps of ice that I can’t really control – certainly not enough to steer the car. And so we all wait and warm up with the heater blasting until we can leave.
I’ve done this one more time since – the following year it was even colder outside than the first year. I was going to do it again this year but unfortunately (or fortunately – depending on your perspective) they considered the weather too cold and they had to cancel it. It was -20 outside and there was too much ice, apparently. I admit I was a little bit relieved. I may be crazy enough to do it again this year. It’s a great way to start off a new year with a big challenge. I view it as almost symbolic: pushing through something that is intimidating and overwhelming to get to the other side. It sets the tone for the year to come.
All that said, this is not my preferred beach experience. If it’s all the same to me, I’d rather make all of my splashes here:
Inspired by the latest Lens-Artists Photo Challenge on the subject of “Splash“