Winter Carnival ’12: A Few Minutes as a Polar Bear

Two ’15s brave Occom Pond

Although the lack of snow and mild weather has cancelled many of the usual Winter Carnival events, one benefited from the relative warmth.

This morning, enthusiastic Dartmouth students donned bathingsuits under their winter coats and waited in the sunlight alongside Occom Pond.  After four hours of sleep, I was one of the really excited ones in line at 9:36 AM.  I was by no means close to the front; it was a fantastic turnout for that early after Winter Carnival’s first night.

It was a little too regulated and organized, but the plunge was nonetheless a blast. The perfect square in the ice was cut, the two ladders were set up, the mats were installed on the ice to prevent slipping, adults supervised at the entry and exit points, and, of course, waivers were signed. I have no problem giving up some of the responsibilities of diving into a freezing pond and having an adult there to pull me out, but really? No cannonballs? It also gave the affair more of a feeling of a Splish Splash ride, where lifeguards clear the pool before the next people can use the slide, rather than a spontaneous, reckless student event.  Professors have stories of impressive dives into the frigid waters, but apparently it’s now too dangerous—two belly-flops would cancel the entire event. I’m no diver, but just the fact that if I were so capable, my graceful flips would be repressed is a bummer.  I’m not new to the rush of lung-crushing cold, but the safety rule of no diving (is this the shallow end of a tiled pool?) dampers the excitement of the danger.

As I stood waiting for 10AM to arrive, the line grew longer and longer.  When the first pair went in for the plunge, everyone was cheering and screaming.  The excitement died down after that; it’s hard to keep up a group’s energy when two people go at a time.  Everyone waited for his turn and wondered how cold it would be.  Carnival committee members wore extravagant flair, passed out waiver forms and pins, and directed the dripping and shivering students back to their clothes.  By around 10:15, I was being instructed to shed my clothes as quickly as I could and get ready to go.  Something about standing in 30 degree-weather on ice as the sun beats down on the bathingsuit that hasn’t seen daylight since September floods you with excitement and adrenaline.  My toes were begging for wool socks, but I was begging for my turn in the water.  As the pair in front of me jumped, I couldn’t help jumping up and down and squealing.  Whether from the cold or the sheer joy of it all, it doesn’t really matter.  I was next, and despite almost slipping as I ran a bit overeagerly to my little launch pad, I was ready.  Although there were two hundred or so onlookers from above at that point, it was just me, the loose rope around my waist, and the jump.  And, of course, the banshee shrieks let out by the friend who jumped in with me. 

And then, the exhilarating collision. The coldest swim ever; a few yards to the ladder while every nerve blazed. As I climbed out with quivering arms and waited with wobbly legs to be released from my rope, I could feel nothing but the thrill of the chill.  Then pride, a grin quite probably frozen onto my face, and my Toy Story towel making my skin tingle as it came back to life.  People were exclaiming, “My body disappeared! I can’t feel it; it’s gone!” and “OH MY GOD THAT WAS AWESOME!” (okay, that last one was probably me).  The best thing about the polar bear dive is that you feel so hardcore and accomplished afterwards that it suddenly feels like you’re strutting around in 70 degrees.  We walked past the crowd, by then a line going all the way up the road, off to well-deserved hot chocolate and peanut butter Oreos at the Roth Center.  One girl asked, “Is it warm?” My friend Perrin Brown ’15 replied, “Oh, yea.”  The girl said, “Really?”  Yes.  It was a nice dip in the Jacuzzi.  Exactly right.

Meghan Hassett