It is a day in late October. Not a particularly hot day—60 degrees at most; and I have made the deliberate and determined decision to pedal my bicycle to a local pond for a ceremonial polar-bear-plunge into what I know will be bracing autumn water—the kind of cold plunge that will immediately take your breath away. “But, why?” becomes an entirely reasonable question.
First, to do something rather silly and memorable to mark the changing season; and, second, because I know it will be my very last swim of the year, and thus will take on a poignant and melancholy meaning for me.
There is just something about that final swim that puts a fitting cap on all those many dozens of earlier summer swims, knowing it will be the very last one for many a chilly month to come.
Everything about a swim in late October feels different from one in mid-July, including even the bike ride to the pond: the sky is no longer azure, but now a deep cobalt blue, and yellow leaves from nearby aspen trees fluttering everywhere, like confetti, on the autumn breeze. And if these clues aren’t enough to let you know that this will be no playful mid-July pond-frolic, then a glance up toward the already snow-capped Horseshoe Mountain will confirm the fact.
In mid-July, you are reluctant to get out of the water; in late October, you are reluctant to get in!
In mid-July, you make an eager beeline directly into that welcome relief of cool, refreshing water; in late October, you stand at the water’s edge, counting slowly down from 10, hoping you’ll have mustered enough courage to jump by the time you get all the way down to one.
On this particular day, I do muster the courage, though it requires me repeating the countdown three separate times before I finally manage to hurl myself headlong into this less-than-inviting basin (since it doesn’t count if you don’t submerge yourself completely).
I swim underwater, frogman style, for maybe 30 yards, before popping up like a sea-otter, gasping for air.
I vow to force myself to remain in this frigid water for at least 10 minutes, like a robust and hardy Dane, intent on releasing stress hormones and invigorating my senses. This bold vow crumbles almost immediately, as I commence thrashing madly toward the shore. (While I definitely have some Danish blood flowing in my veins, it is, apparently, not quite enough.)
Thoughts of impending hypothermia incite a sudden panic, until I realize that I’m in only three feet of water, so finally just stand up and shamble my way to shore.
To avoid biking home in wet clothes, I’ve undertaken this polar plunge in my birthday-suit, which means my very first order of business, after emerging from the water, is to quickly throw on some clothes (since this particular pond lies well within view of a couple of nearby homes).
I then stretch myself out on top of a picnic-table to gaze up into that deep blue autumn sky, feeling exultant and alive. I roll off the table and count-off 20 brisk jumping-jacks, before mounting up and pedaling triumphantly away.
The ride home is swift and exhilarating, as I fairly fly my bicycle down the asphalt pavement.
I can tell myself that the cold water has significantly boosted my blood-cell count, and opened up my capillaries; that it has energized me by activating massive endorphins in my system. And, who knows? All of these things might very well be true. (The Danes certainly think so.)
But, alas… I also know that my homeward route is almost all downhill.
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