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.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.