Monday, August 12, 2013

The Polar Bear Dip: swimming in the Arctic Ocean

 Well, of course it was cold.

They don't call it the Polar Bear Dip for nothing. It was a warm 9°C outside, but the sea temperature itself was 3°C, so that was pretty chilly water...although probably the warmest that the Arctic Ocean was going to get all year. But it was for a good cause - the building of a new community facility in town - so I'm glad I took part.

Getting ready to run in. 
You can't tell from the photo, but all the spectators are wearing jackets and coats.

I've had the opportunity to swim in the Arctic Ocean a couple of times now, every time with a wetsuit, and even with a wetsuit it's freaking cold. Because there are parts of me that weren't covered with a wetsuit, like my head and my hands.  Apparently in waters this cold, it takes less than fifteen minutes for the body to shut down and for you to lose consciousness. Which makes me wonder what happens when only part of you are wet? Because there have been times when I really felt was though I was losing feeling in my hands.

The first time I was immersed was when I tipped over my kayak and fell in.  On purpose, as part of a kayak exit test I had to do.  I swear, it was on purpose.  The shock of the cold hit me quickly, and oddly enough, the first thing I thought was: If I open my eyes underwater, will my eyeballs freeze?  

running in (photo by Jeannie Evalik)

It was a question I had pondered before and had determined that I was going to figure out, but once in the water, all I could think about was getting my head out of the water, not opening my eyes in it. I will probably never find out.


Now it was time to run in! No wetsuit! No drysuit! Nothing between me and Mother Nature except my swimsuit!

photo by Brent Boddy. Just look at how pale we all are.


There was a point where I thought, Gee, it's not that cold after all! And then I realized it was because I had very quickly lost feeling in my body.  I was no longer feeling the shock of the cold water; instead, I was just feeling tingly.


It was a fun event.  Unfortunately I had to go back to work right after, and I didn't have enough time to shower, so I ended up working at the office - meeting clients, talking to other lawyers, fight with the fax machine, doing lawyery stuff - smelling like saltwater, my hair still wet with the ocean.  Ah, the life of an Arctic lawyer.

Our MLA Keith Peterson, looking ever so prepared

Have no fear, Cambridge Bay; 
that flash of white was just my pasty untanned body that hasn't seen any sunlight in a long time

Thanks to everyone who sponsored me! Check your mailboxes soon for a handwritten thank you card from me!