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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, July 25, 2014

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These polar bear babes loved the attention.
These polar bear babes loved the attention.
Of course, "Elvis" was at the frigid freak show.
Of course, "Elvis" was at the frigid freak show.
Santa was there, too.
Santa was there, too.
Samurai guy loved splashin' around with his sword.
Samurai guy loved splashin' around with his sword.
Yikes, I'm actually doing the "rock on" sign? Must be the brain freeze.
Yikes, I'm actually doing the "rock on" sign? Must be the brain freeze.
Dudes, the plunge is over.
Dudes, the plunge is over.

Polar bear plunge: invigorating and insane

Four years ago, I stampeded into Lake Michigan with thousands of other wackos for the annual polar bear plunge, and after the experience, I was fairly certain I would never do it again. However, when a group of friends told me this morning they were going to do the dip, I found myself wanting to tag along and start my New Year with a splash of abandon.

I carpooled with a few ladies to North Avenue, where we parked, tugged off a bottle of whiskey and walked “down” to Bradford Beach.

We got there by 11:30 a.m., but it was already packed with shivering swimmers-to-be and morbidly curious people watchers. I remembered a few of the folks from when I dipped the first time, including the guy with the trombone who played “When the Saints Go Marching In” as we ran into the icy waves. Also, I saw an Elvis or two in swim trunks, a few Santas, tons of wig wearers and a gaggle of bikini-clad teenyboppers.

I wore just a black bathing suit and a black, feathery boa that now looks, sadly, like a duck drenched in oil. I wished I had remembered to bring sandals or flip flops, but since I wasn’t about to go in wearing my Sorels -- I would need those after the plunge -- I ran in barefoot.

Personally, I’m a firm believer that in order to truly be a member of the Polar Bear Club, you have to dive in and get your entire head wet. So, like the last time I went in for the dip, I stripped down at 11:59 a.m., ran into the frigid water after the air horn blasted at high noon, dove under a wave, and ran back to the shore screaming. My friend Renee was waiting for me on the shore with a thick beach towel.

I have never, ever been so thrilled to see a towel in my life.

Within two minutes I was dressed again. I threw my sweatshirt and sweatpants over my damp suit, followed by my hat and coat and Sorels right after that. Then, for the first time in a minute or two, my freezer-burned brain started to register thoughts.

“How was it?” asked someone whom I didn’t know, while she shoved a camera in my face.

“Somewhere between invigorating and insane,” I said.

Later, after a hot shower and with a cup of steaming tea in my hand, my son asked me the million-dollar question that I’ve heard many times: “Why would you want to swim in the freezing lake?”

I’m tempted to say because it’s ridiculous or it’s an intense way to start fresh in the New Year or that it’s a great cure for the New Year’s Eve hangover, but really, the best answer, I think, was already said in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy was asked why he thought the U.S. should send a man to the moon.

“Because it’s there,” he said.

Talkbacks

sandstorm | Jan. 4, 2011 at 10:22 a.m. (report)

well, this is actually what Kennedy said-
"Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said Because it is there. Well, space is there, and were going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.

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haup9 | Jan. 5, 2008 at 9:39 a.m. (report)

34412 They don't throw the special Olympians into the water. It is an event to raise money for the Special Olympics.

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rniam | Jan. 3, 2008 at 6:06 p.m. (report)

TosaJimBob, do you really think it's a good idea to throw Special Olympians in ice water?

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alba | Jan. 2, 2008 at 3:08 p.m. (report)

The only time I did it a few years ago it was my feet that were the coldest. That sand is like ice.

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college_dave | Jan. 2, 2008 at 11:11 a.m. (report)

36224 Awesome story! I have a new respect for the author - wow.

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