I think itís safe to say that Southerners donít have some strange hot climate tradition that puts them in tin foil suits in the hottest noon hour sun, baking in misery ó for funsies. It doesnít sound fun, even to those of us whose addresses include zip codes in Minnesota or Wisconsin, where itís become apparent that we do, from time to time, really enjoy pain.
There are plenty of odd proclivities of those of us who claim the Northlands as home. Iím sure theyíre circulated in e-mails to friends in the South: pictures of Joe Schmoe standing knee-deep in snow, grinning like a baboon and† wearing only checkered boxers, or renditions of snow golf, frigid snow angels and, Iíd guess, most of what we do outdoors in winter.
But the grand event, the most painful cold weather activity just about anywhere that can claim to make ice, has got to be the one that leads us tundra folks to dress up like goofs, cut a hole in the ice, and jump in. For funsies.
Call it the Polar Bear Plunge, call it the Goose Bump Jump, call it a symptom of cabin fever or the winter blues. Itís all the same ó pure craziness, and I can say it proudly because I have myself fallen victim to the winter blues, then quickly translated those feelings into an urge to jump into a frozen lake.†
Winonaís Goose Bump Jump is slated for this Saturday. For this momentous occasion, I will share my own story, one that occurred a few hundred miles to the west and long enough ago for me to use the excuse that I just didnít know any better.
But I encourage all of you to give it a try, Ďcause heck, you canít claim to be a true Minnesotan until you embark on this journey, and boy does it make for a good story.
It was my first year as a reporter at a newspaper in Glenwood, Minnesota, when news of the plunge began circulating around the office. In Glenwood, jumping into the lake, if thatís not crazy enough, is also supplemented with such activities as a minnow eating contest (Chad, Iím sure this could be arranged), turkey bowling (canít comment) and a Poor Manís Fishing tournament, all under the title of ďWinterama.Ē
For some reason, my inclination to participate in the frozen lake jumping felt rather, well, brave. That was likely due to the fact that I was jumping to represent our newspaper, and all of the macho men at work had made up excuses as to why they couldnít be the lucky one.†
I did not spend much time preparing for the jump. I did do a little survey of what proper jumping attire might include, and was inspired by the many strange costumes adorning past jumpers in the old photo files. I decided on a pair of bright red tights and a navy dress that was tight and stretchy and would likely stay put, then be easy to rip off in the heated ice house dressing room after it was soaked with freezing water.†
I watched jumpers and took photos for the first few rounds. It was reassuring that off-duty firefighters were on hand to yank folks out of the water after their muscles froze and they stood there, helpless, surprised, cold and paralyzed, a look of pure shock on every face.
Splashing onlookers alongside the hole in the ice is much more fun than it is inside a heated pool, and I quickly saw that a good, high leap would accomplish this. So I handed my mom the camera, took off my winter overcoat, and gave it a good running start.
Unfortunately, 24-year-old spry skinny Sarahís running leap did yield a particularly large wave, and the physics of moving that amount of water was not lost under the ice. I went all the way down, head and all, and the force of the water flying out of the icy hole pulled my entire dress up and almost off, finally sticking under my armpits. At this moment I felt my muscles cramp and an immediate near paralyzation.†
So hereís the scene: Me, paralyzed in the frozen water, my dress up so high that parts of me were exposed that didnít need to be aired in front of the crowd of hundreds gathered around the ice. My numbed fingers tried desperately to find the dress and cover myself. And then those strong firefighterís arms reaching down to save me from the cold, to pull me out, dress in the armpits and all.†
Thankfully, I somehow managed to shrug off those saving arms long enough to be at least partly presentable when I finally emerged, any feelings of bravery gone in the pure, unadulterated, cold.
Word to the wise: no matter how secure your outfit for the jump might seem, itís probably best to wear a belt. For funsies.
Winonaís Goose Bump Jump is on the horizon, set for Saturday, February 13, at Lake Lodge, with registration beginning at 12 p.m. The cost is only $10 per jumper, $16 per pair, and all the proceeds go toward programming offered by Winona Park and Recreation. You have to sign a waiver, and if youíre under 18 you must bring an adult to sign too.†