TAKING THE PLUNGE
By Anne White
Reprinted from Adirondack Guest Informer, Winter 2012, pg. 14
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Polar Plunge 2011
First Day, the Polar Plunge, a fresh start. Whatever you call it, it’s an unforgettable way to kick off the new year. To some, it’s an annual rite of passage, an adrenaline rush, a ritual cleansing. To others, it’s total insanity.
Lake George Village, our popular upstate New York tourist destination, is gearing up for a repeat performance of one of its premier events. On January 1, 2012, hundreds of intrepid souls will gather in Shepherd’s Park in the heart of the Village to welcome the new year. When the cow bell clangs at 2 o’clock, the bravest of them (or perhaps you’ll say the most foolhardy of them) will cast aside the parkas or blankets they’ve huddled under and tiptoe, creep, dash or dive into the lake’s frigid waters for the annual Polar Plunge.
Why would they do this? It’s mighty cold on New Year’s Day here on the fringe of the Adirondack Mountains, more than 200 miles north of New York City. Sure, Lake George, set like a jewel in the Adirondack foothills, is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, but it’s spring-fed, and the water which feels refreshingly cool on a hot summer day registers around 38 degrees by January 1st. The lake won’t freeze solid for a few more weeks, but early arrivals that day will have to break up the fringe of ice along the shore. The air temperature, not to be outdone, will probably hover well below 32 degrees.
No matter. It’s a new year and those taking part see themselves making a new beginning. And of course, well over 1000 people will have gathered to cheer them on, not to mention the great parties afterward. Let’s not forget those pluses. The plungers, including the reporters and TV newscasters who’ve come to cover the event, may have to be divided into two groups and assigned two different start times.
At least 850 people have already signed up for the 2012 Plunge. Those who decide at the last minute to take part can join the long lines waiting to register on New Year’s Day and pay the $10 entry fee—no increase this year. They’ll get a keepsake and bragging rights. Of course, they’ll be expected to get more than their feet wet. A dedicated plunger gets wet all over—although there’ve been cases when some didn’t quite manage that and embarrassed themselves by dashing out of the water very quickly.
Some plungers add to their enjoyment of the day by dressing in costume. Over the years, participants have included characters from books and movies, knights in shining aluminum foil armor, clowns, even a guy in an Uncle Sam hat and a patriotic red, white and blue bikini. The more traditional plungers often wear polar bear shirts or carry toy polar bears.
Wedding Coordinator Debbie McNairy, now a resident of upstate New York, plunged twice in her former hometown, Olympia, Washington (not as cold there, she says), before making her first plunge in Lake George last year. She shares her technique. “Bring a large ice chest that you can sit on to take off your clothes. Put your dry clothes inside along with a couple of dry towels and easy-to-slip-on dry shoes.”
It’s a great experience to share with friends, Debbie tells me, and one I should definitely add to my bucket list. I love her upbeat style, so I promise I’ll give that some thought and get back to her.
Maybe I can consider writing about the plunge as the first step. When I decided to set my 5th Lake George Mystery in winter, I knew I wanted to call it Cold Winter Nights and include the plunge. Although my protagonist, Loren Graham, mayor of the lakeside town of Emerald Point, questions the sanity of the plungers, she agrees to drive her 17-year-old friend, Josie Donohue, to Lake George Village to take part.
Unlike some plungers who’ve failed to diet or work out before their unveilings, Josie looks fit and trim in her itsy bitsy, teeny weeny yellow bikini. As she heads toward the water, she explains her decision to take part. “Lor, if you’re going to live in this part of the country, you’ve got to take advantage of what it offers.”
At this, Loren is even more shocked. The young friend she’s often considered a scatterbrain is starting to make sense. How has this happened?
In Anne White’s 5th Lake George Mystery, Cold Winter Nights, (Hilliard and Harris, c2009), her characters take part in cold weather activities like the plunge, a ski trip to Gore Mountain and a Mardi-Gras-type Carnival on the Ice, complete with a masked murderer. Other titles in the series include: An Affinity For Murder, Oak Tree Press, c2001 (Malice Domestic Unpublished Writers Grant, 1999, Malice Best First Mystery Nominee, 2002); Beneath The Surface, c2005; Best Laid Plans, c2006; Secrets Dark and Deep, c2007. (Also published by Hilliard and Harris). All five Lake George Mysteries can be purchased from Amazon and Kindle and as book club selections from Harlequin Worldwide.