“The sea was angry that day my friends. Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.” All you Seinfeld enthusiasts out there get this reference. It’s one of my favorite quotes from one of the best sitcoms of all time. And while the Chesapeake Bay wasn’t exactly angry on Saturday, it did seem rather vengeful. I mean why else would it be so cold? It’s not like it’s the middle of winter or anything…oh wait…
I woke up Saturday and I was cold already. Probably not a good sign considering I was indoors, fully clothed, and dry…none of which would be the case in about 5 hours. Despite my efforts to shame as many people as possible into joining me for this event, team 30 Before 30 totaled 4 members. 3 brothers-in-law (Jen’s 2 brothers, Jeff and Jeremy, and my sister’s husband Paul) and myself. Quite a motley crew if I’m being honest. We met up at Jen’s parents’ house where we said goodbye to our loved ones (you know, just in case) and headed to the beach.
The beach I’m referring to is Sandy Point State Park. A beautiful view of the bay from the western shore with the Bay Bridge for a backdrop, this place almost made this ridiculously crazy event seem inviting. Thousands of participants and spectators (the smart ones) showed up and the park was transformed into an all out party, complete with DJ Pauly D. That’s right all you Jersey Shore fanatics; Pauly D was there in all his helmet-haired glory. I was unable to snap a picture since the flash on my camera couldn’t cut through the aerosol cloud of hairspray that surrounded him. Anyway, with an hour or so to waste before the actual plunge, the four of us strolled from heated tent to heated tent doing our best to keep warm.
From what I can tell, participants in the plunge fall into one of 3 categories. “Bucket-listers” like myself who want to be able to say, “I did the Polar Bear Plunge!”; people who care deeply about charity or know someone who participates in the Special Olympics (the charity that this plunge benefits), and people who are CRAZY. After surveying the crowd, I feel confident in saying that the crazy people made up at least 80% of the plunge pack. Choices of plunging apparel ranged from suits and tuxedos to swimwear that had no business being worn by the people wearing them.
The areas designated for changing clothes and warming up after the plunge were essentially giant tents on the far sides of the beach; one for men and one for women. Though as it turns out, when sprinting to a warm tent after jumping into 33 degree water, people don’t care which tent they change clothes in. Our small group staked out a corner of the men’s tent to leave out towels and clothes and we stayed there for a while watching people prepare themselves for what was to come. Some chose to strip down to their plunging attire right away and acclimate themselves to the cold temps and snow-covered beach. Others huddled together, shouting motivating chants at one another like they were about to run out onto the field for the Super Bowl. I chose to remain in my layers until the last possible minute, or so I thought.
After snapping a couple of photos down by the water for the sake of the blog (and memories I suppose), we headed into the tent and waited for some signal that it was time to begin. It seemed we got that signal when a large group of police officers who were plunging, lined up in the tent and all headed out to the beach at once. We took that to mean it was about to begin so we shed out clothes and shoes (big mistake) and left the warmth of the tent. If you live on the east coast, you likely have snow outside your window right now. Well, the same goes for beaches in Maryland as it turns out. Apparently, sand doesn’t stay warm and toasty all year long as I mistakenly assumed…it collects snow just like any other cold surface. So we trudged, barefoot, through the snow and half-naked people and made our way to the front line. I felt like I was about to take the first round of shots from the British army and was unlikely to make it out alive.
After a few minutes of what felt like pins, needles, shards of broken glass, and any other sharp, painful object you can think of digging into my feet, it became clear that we were early. A waterproof watch would have been a good investment I suppose as it turned out we had left the tent about 10 minutes prior to plunge time. So there we stood, on the freezing ground in the freezing temps (29 degree air temp, 33 degree water temp), waiting for the signal to go. I could feel the momentum that I had built up, along with all feeling in my extremities, slowly leaving my body. Finally, the police officers that had pulled the short straws and were designated to stand waist-deep in the water in case of emergency, waded into the freezing bay and I knew it was nearly go time. I was expecting some sort of countdown, a starting pistol or even the release of a flock of doves; anything that would signal the start. Instead, I looked to my left and all of a sudden one overly eager plunger took it upon himself to get the show on the road.
He broke from the line and dove headfirst into the icy waters. That was all it took. We took off down the short stretch of beach towards the water’s edge. It must have looked like a scene from Baywatch: Alaska. Since my feet had lost feeling about 5 minutes prior to plunging, I really didn’t feel the water until I was at least knee-deep. I purposely stumbled forward as I hit the water so that when my body realized I was insane and tried to back out, it would be unable to stop gravity. The plan worked like a charm and I dove forward, going under as I had promised I would. I emerged from the water like one of those jumping sharks you see on the National Geographic channel and ran like the wind out of the water. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever attempted to run in water, you know that your top speed is usually no faster than a turtle so it took much longer than I would have liked to get to land.
Here’s the problem with being the first one out of 20,000 people to go into the water. As you make your way out and towards the warmth of a heated tent, there are 19,999 people in your way! After what seemed like an hour, but was probably no more than a minute or so, we made it through the crowd and back to the tent. My swimsuit felt like it had been starched which made it difficult to get off but I quickly made the change into warm, dry sweatpants. Here’s where things got interesting. It seems that a quick dip in icy cold water makes a person trade any bashfulness they may have for total self-confidence. I make this observation based on this. If there was ever a time when a guy would feel confident about exposing his man parts to a tent full of other men…this would NOT be the time. I mean c’mon, we’re not talking about swimming in a luke-warm pool here! Despite this fact, it didn’t stop the warming tent from turning into a sea of naked humanity. Thankfully, we were able to get dressed and out of the tent before things got too weird.
It took the shuttle ride back to car and most of the trip home from the park before my feet started to feel like feet again instead of two skin-colored blocks of ice. We spent most of the trip back making fun of Paul who was the only one of us not to go all the way under. I suppose that makes him the smarter one, but we chose to call him names instead. People have asked if I would do the plunge again. The truth is, the water was about what I expected, no better but no worse. If I were to do it again however, I would plan it a little better. Maybe some water shoes and a watch next time around.
So the plunge is behind me now and another item gets crossed off the list. I feel like I am making some progress now as several other items are in motion. I’m 50 pages or so into Anna Karenina, which unfortunately is only about 6% of the book. I’ve started running again and Wednesday is my first guitar lesson. The 30 Before 30 list is well on its way to completion and I thank you all for supporting me. Keep spreading the word and I’ll keep entertaining you with more stories of my antics, as there will undoubtedly be no shortage of them to come!