Day 154 – National Polar Bear Swim Day (New Year’s Day)

OK 2017 – here we go.  Let’s make this year a good one.  Let’s have a little more fun and a little less worry.  Give us less of the bad stuff (disease, terror, pain – you know, all that crap) and more things to celebrate.  Yeah, give us more of the good stuff.  Let’s mark 2017 as a year of hope, joy and happiness and leave worry and sadness to the preceding years.  Sound good?  Make it so.

To start off my New Year, I thought I’d baptize myself in the frigid waters of the Sakonnet River.  It being National Polar Bear Swim Day, I thought it seemed fitting.  I could continue my quest of daily celebrations but also participate in a strange tradition that seems to be growing in popularity.  A dip in the river could possibly cleanse me of the ick of 2016, washing me clean so I can start the New Year fresh.  I’d wash away the burdens and look forward to the fresh, clean slate ahead of me.  Sounded like a good plan.

The New Year’s Day plunge traces it’s origins back to Coney Island in 1903 where a man by the name of Bernarr Macfadden led the Coney Island Polar Bear Club charging into the Atlantic.  It seems that Macfadden was a bit of a sensationalist and a showman so he was able to charge up a whole group of enthusiastic followers to take the plunge under the claim that a dip in icy waters would be invigorating and necessary for vitality.  The club would swim regularly throughout the winter but it was the New Year’s Day plunge that took off and grew in popularity spreading to other shoreline cities as well (including Newport in 1969).  Macfadden would later go on to invent the penis pump which any man who has ever jumped into cold waters will tell you was not a terrible idea.

Newport was again holding its annual Polar Bear Plunge and there was also a local event this year right down the road in Island Park.  I actually saw them setting up for the Island Park plunge on Saturday.  They were bringing three truckloads of empty palettes down to the beach which I assumed were for a bonfire to warm up the participants.  Both of those events were organized by separate groups and were fundraisers to help some local charities. (Island Park’s was for a dog park.)  However, I didn’t feel like being part of a big group of screaming crazies for this, especially when I had the same waters right outside our back door.  I did however get Lola to come with me as both someone to document the event and as someone to call 911 should my heart decide to quit.  We got ready.  Lola bundled up in her fluffy down jacket, her hat and scarf, mittens and sweatshirts.  I put on my bathing suit and flip flops.

Today was actually a fairly mild day for January 1.  Temperatures were in the mid forties, the sun was out and wind was at a minimum.  That bode well for my swim because had it been snowing or colder, I’m not sure I could have gone in.  We walked down to the water and the Sakonnet was nice and calm, almost inviting.  We could see the Island Park plungers (is that what we like to be called?) from the beach and the bonfire they had going was HUGE!  I was kind of jealous of the warmth they could find comfort in after their dip.  I thought about making a fire, but I felt it would take too long and then we’d have to wait until it went out.  No fire for us.  I took off the sweatpants and sweatshirts that I had worn to keep myself warm and then suddenly I was standing there in my bathing suit just like I would be on a warm July afternoon, except it was January.

Before I left the house I happened to catch a video on Facebook of my friend Mike who had just done a polar plunge in York, ME (water that was probably 20 degrees colder than the Sakonnet).  It was a good thing to see because his technique was to just charge in the water and get it over as fast as possible.  That seemed like a good plan.  A slow wade into the river would not be helpful.  So after a few jumps up and down and swirling of the arms to get my blood pumping, I told Lola I was going and I made my charge into the river.  My first thought was it’s really hard to run in water in flip flops.  The laws of physics are working against you.  The water pushes down on the flop while you are bringing your foot up.  It just makes you run goofy-like.  My second thought (when I was about calf deep) was this isn’t so bad.  I think the sun had warmed the surface of the water a bit and it was kind of mild.  But then I hit a part that wasn’t warm, and that was cold.  Oh boy.  Keep going.  My run had slowed down a little just due to the physics of running in deeper water but I was still too shallow to dive ahead.  I kept pushing and it was getting colder as I kept going.  I was about waist deep now.  I paused.  I got scared for a second about the possibility of this being a shock to my heart.  I pushed on.  Took two deep breaths and then lunged forward until I was completely submerged.

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I jumped up immediately with an interjection that expressed both accomplishment and an utter disdain for the cold.  I started to run back to shore (awkwardly as ever). By all accounts, my heart was still ticking.  The plunge into the water was cold, but once I was standing again in the sun it wasn’t too bad, with the exception of my feet which were feeling the chill.  They had been underwater the whole time and they weren’t happy.  I finally made it to shore and wrapped myself up in a warm towel.  I had done it!  Lola had it all on video and she could not have been more proud of me.

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I wanted to have a few pictures of me in the water too, so to do this, I went back in the water.  Not the brightest plan I have ever concocted.  This trip was a bit quicker and didn’t have the same feel of unknowing because I had already been there.  My toes were still freezing and when I went back under, it was still really, really cold, but it wasn’t bad.  I felt like I had gotten over the hump so another trip in was easy.  It was, sort of.  I came back out and wrapped myself in the towel.   I threw on my sweatshirt, sweatpants and hat.  I took some extra care to dry my feet and had some nice warm socks to put on.  Then we walked back up to the house.  I wasn’t that cold.  No shivers.  No chills.  But I felt good, like I did something that I never thought I would do.  It was a nice little feeling of accomplishment.

After a nice warm shower, I decided to relax and have a little lunch.  I made some bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches with some croissants I had picked up at Clements which I thought would be a good New Year’s Day treat.  That’s when I tackled my other dilemma for the day.  January 1 is also National Bloody Mary Day.  It’s a fitting day to celebrate the Bloody Mary, perfect for lazy days or hangovers, but my problem was that I hate Bloody Marys.  To be fair, I’ve never actually had one, but I just don’t care for tomato juice.  I like tomatoes in almost any form, except juice form.  It’s just not my jam.  So I’ve always rejected any offer for a Bloody Mary (and there have been plenty).  But, because of this quest, I figured maybe today would be the day.  I had picked up some Mr. & Mrs. T’s Bloody Mary Mix at the store, so I had all the fixings.  I filled a glass with ice, poured in a healthy shot of vodka, then topped it with the mix.  I added in some fresh lime for garnish. I know you can get creative with the bloody recipe adding in brown sauce, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, what have you, but I figured I’d just go simple.

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This was gross, just as I expected.  I just don’t like tomato juice and you can’t make me.  And if you don’t like tomato juice, you are not going to like a Bloody Mary.  So all you Bloody crazies out there, keep on doing your thing, just don’t bring me into it.  Yuck.

I’m starting out 2017 fresh having cleansed myself in the sacred waters of a chilly Sakonnet. There was something neat about having done the plunge today.  It was an accomplishment and any time you begin a year by doing something you never thought you would do, you feel pretty good.  You feel hopeful. I did it my way too.  Lola by my side.  No crowds or shouting lunatics.  Just a quick dip into the calm of a river that has brought us so much joy.  This past August I spent a lot of time in the Sakonnet, something I had never done before.  Lola and I would beat the heat of the summer by taking swims, even floating away afternoons there.  It helped me at a time when life was pretty confusing.  It calmed my anger and gave me hope.  So diving into her waters on New Year’s Day was especially fitting.  I feel hopeful in this moment of great things to come.  I am ready for 2017 (as long as they don’t serve Bloody Marys).

Next Up: National Cream Puff Day 

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