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Happy New Year! How did you spend the first day of 2011? Taking down the Christmas tree? Nursing a hangover from New Year’s Eve? My first adventure of 2011 was doing a polar plunge. I know it’s insane. I hate to be cold. Hate it. There are insufficient words to describe how much I hate being cold. Yet, every year I’d see the footage of some nearly naked nutballs jumping into an icy cold lake and emerging looking unbelievably happy and I’d think to myself “I really have to try that someday.” Well, someday was the first day of January 2011.

I had no intention of going through this experience alone. If I was going to freeze, I was taking someone down with me. Luckily, I have some friends who are as crazy as I am and when I suggested a polar plunge they didn’t just tell me to go jump in a lake, but they agreed to join me. My dear pal Heather even suggested we dress in costume, creating for us Baywatch Babe ensembles to make it just a little more fun to run on a winter beach. In our small group we headed to Boulder Reservoir around 11 a.m. The temperature gauge on the car read an appalling 11 degrees when we arrived and noticed (with disdain) a brisk wind blowing the fresh snow around. As we approached the check-in for the event two college-age guys were leaving, still conspicuously dry, discussing what they would tell everyone about the adventure they had just decided against. I started to fear that those guys had more sense than I did.

Still, we checked in and got in line, event t-shirts in hand, and braved the cold. I had hot chocolate spiked with a bit of Captain Morgan’s to help warm me to the idea of running into a lake where a chunk of ice had been cut away for easy access. The line moved slowly, and we watched the folks in front of us run in with warrior yelps and run out screaming and swearing. We began disrobing bit by bit to try to acclimate to the frigid temps. By the time we hit the front of the line, barefoot and in nothing but swim suits, we reasoned that the water would certainly feel warmer by comparison, right?

When the event monitor gave us the go ahead, we ran down the sand into the 34 degree water. Surprisingly, it wasn’t nearly as painful as I had anticipated. Perspective is everything. Our total time in the water was recorded at only 19 seconds, and it felt that short. But, the trek up the beach to the hot tub seemed to take ages as I shivered and walked on feet I could not feel. I wondered how long it takes before frostbite takes hold. I had seen the emergency vehicles and I knew that if I didn’t get into the hot tub soon I might be riding in one. For a split second, though, I thought that at least that ambulance ride to the hospital would be warm.

Yet, I survived the long trek to the hot tub. I briefly soaked until I felt burning in my toes and realized sensation was coming back to them, got into dry clothes, trudged back to the car, and cranked the heat to 80 degrees. On an adrenaline high and not ready for it to end, we went with our friends for margaritas and Mexican food at the Morrison Inn to beat away the last of the chill.

After we got home, I looked at the photos our friends had captured. Sure enough, in one of them I am emerging from the frozen lake with a huge smile on my face. And, even days later, I smile when I think about it not just because it’s over but because for a few minutes there I remembered what it feels like to be truly alive and not just living. All in all, that’s not a bad reminder at the beginning of a new year. In fact, I might just do it again in 2012.