Though I'm not sure taking the Polar Bear Plunge was really on any of my lifelong lists of things to do, I nonetheless checked it off today.
Five hours later, I'm still cold.
Admittedly, I have always thought it would be fun to join the hundreds of lunatics who throw themselves into Lake Michigan every Jan. 1, but that was usually as far as the idea went. This year, however, a few friends decided to go for it, and again my inner F.O.M.O. (Fear of Missing Out) reared its persuasive head.
Initially, I hoped to do the Bipolar Plunge, the bicycle-themed alternative to the Bradford Beach event. But I got overruled, and at 11 a.m., our group, consisting of Jen Lada, Sean Reti, Trenni Kusnierek and my wife, Velia (who was there for moral and warming support), rolled up to the jam-packed beach.
Waiting proved to be the hardest part, well, other than jumping in the lake. With an hour to kill, we watched hundreds of crazed revelers hoot and holler. Some dressed in super hero costumes, others pitched tents and built fires for warmth. Most were drinking -- a lot.
I opted for stone-cold sobriety, and at 11:55 a.m., we peeled off our coats and prepared do the unthinkable. Jen and Trenni went with the bikini look, while Sean stripped down to a Speedo (and left me with an unpleasant visual memory that will take years of counseling to erase). I wore my beaten up white dinner jacket with black lapels over an ironic T-shirt and a floral bathing suit.
Then, someone blew an air horn and we took off. I jumped into the water and sprinted about 10 yards. Then I dove underwater, splashed around for a few seconds and turned back to shore. While the water temperature was a balmy 34 degrees, the air temperature hovered around 22. The shock of being submerged literally knocked the wind out of me, and I felt more than a little disoriented when I popped up.
Maybe 20 seconds later, I ran back to the shore, my energy depleting with each step. I actually had a tough time getting out of the lake, but a stranger grabbed my hand and hoisted me out. I waddled back our base, where my wife threw some towels over me and snapped some photos of me in my misery (Some YouTube footage has emerged from the event; I'm in the scene below for about 30 seconds, starting at the 25 second mark).
The next few minutes are a little blurry. My toes got very cold very quickly, and I had a hard time taking my shoes off -- and a nearly impossible time pulling a pair of socks. I was literally steaming at this point, feeling about as awful as I've ever felt.
Screaming swimmers were now returning to shore, stripping off wet clothes without a hint of shame. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught more male full frontal nudity than I needed to see, but modesty was now out the window. Covering myself as best as possible in a bathrobe, I flung my steaming clothes onto the beach and began to regain my composure.
The freezing sensation went away fairly quickly but was replaced with exhaustion, some chest pain -- I think I must've stretched out my lungs gasping in the frigid air -- and ravenous hunger. I was home by 1 p.m., soaking in hot bath that didn't manage to warm me up at all.
The rest of group seemed to enjoy this ridiculous plunge more than I did, all vowing to return next year. For me, I'll pass. While I've got a good story to tell, once is enough and the rest of the day has become an exhausted write off of naps and lying around (like most New Year's Days, come to think of it).
But I did it, and I survived. If each of our 365 days each year is about new experiences, then 2010 is off to a fine start.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.