Granted, this is not a common thought to those of us living in a civilized modern world, but if one were to think on such a plane, one would consider the secret of survival in the Arctic Ocean to be to stay in the boat and not go in the water. Right?
Well…given a challenge and the opportunity (and being just a li’l ol’ visitor from the aformentioned civilized world), I decided TO go in the water; to plunge into the 38 degree Arctic Ocean from the northernmost point in the United States, Point Barrow, Alaska. Barrow is the nearest bit of American mainland to the North Pole and when Amazing Journeys took our Jewish singles group there in 2007 after our annual Alaska cruise, we had the opportunity to join the real and official Polar Bear Club. Membership into The Polar Bear Club in Barrow is authenticated by Club member witnesses from a nearby host restaurant who accept a $15 fee for the right to freeze your butt off. The do provide the towel, however. They also provide authentication of such prowlness. The feat must include full submersion into the water and all successful plungers receive a certificate of authenticity and a Polar Bear Club Patch.
For Barrow visitors, going in the water is something of a tradition, a ritual for the young at heart and the easily bored. But swimming is not Barrow’s sole attraction. There is the novelty of 24-hour light in summer and 24-hour darkness in winter. There are traditional Iñupiat Eskimo festivals—Piuraagiaqta to celebrate spring and Nalukataq for the whale harvest. There is the land itself, flat ground and subtle hills rendered treeless by the permanently frozen soil. There are Iñupiat carvings and handmade fur gloves. There are polar bears.
But we were there to see a land rarely seen by most people from the lower 48. We were there to meet the people who are mostly isolated from the rest of the US. We were there to taste a remote culture where entertainment includes blanket tossing and whale meat festivals. We were there to swim (well, I was)….because I could. Although it stung like a thousand needles, inside, I felt exhilaration as I reveled in the idiocy of my actions.
Cold water swimming is not new for me. Not anymore anyway. It was a rare feat to submerge in the Arctic Ocean, but less than three years later, in February of 2010 I had the chance to say that I could be in rare company. First to swim in the Arctic Ocean and now, the even colder (35 degrees) Southern Antarctic Ocean. I had two friends join me in the Barrow swim, but this time I also had two friends…who didn’t really take the word “submerge” so seriously. Antarctica doesnt’ offer an authentication, so they got certificates too – but your’s truly took the plunge yet again.
Sure there is no way to jump into this icy water and be manly about it (yes, we all came out screaming like little girls) – another thousand needles poking my skin….but I am now a swimmer of both poles.!
How utterly cool…in so many senses of that word!