I had resigned myself to be done – that after 15 years of jumping in Lake Michigan every month of the year, that my run of invigorating dives were over. And so, I began telling people that this October would be the first month in 188 that I did not jump in. I felt a deep loss saying it. And the more I said it the more painful it became. But, I reminded myself, the last two years were the coldest in 40 years and made my fun hobby feel like work. In February of 2013, I dove into Lake Michigan on the coldest day of the coldest year on record. It was -5 degrees and with the wind chill, it was -25. I remember the feeling – leaving subzero air to jump into 33 degree water and the piercing sting I felt when I climbed out made me hesitate and I almost dropped back under the ice because it was 50 degrees warmer in the water. This hobby is getting a little crazy when I find myself resistant to leaving 33 degree water!
Last year, would not be as bad, I hoped, and by a hair width it wasn’t. But it was the second most difficult year to find my way into the lake by a long shot. February had zero decent days to make my plunge on. For weeks, I watched the water waiting for the giant ice floes to leave Sleeping Bear Bay, and finally on a very bitter day, the ice floated out a micro inch and gave me enough open water to squeeze my body into. But that water was a slushy mess that scratched my skin.
October is nearly always the toughest month to jump in. It marks the first of 8 months of frigid plunges in a row. Some of the plunges over the winter will be in 6 foot waves. Some will mean bringing a ladder to the beach to lower myself over the big ice banks. Usually there is a day I need to chop a hole in the ice. But, here I was, just two days before the end of October, just two days away from letting my 188 month long streak end, and I am having second thoughts. It was a nice day – this 29th day of October and it would be an easy dive.
But I am already enjoying a new monthly activity. I am sleeping outside one day each month. I have already done 6 months and every outing has been fun. Plus, camping out is a much more family oriented activity.
But here I was in late October taking a detour in my truck on the way back to my office. It was lunchtime and nobody was expecting me. I headed to my favorite beach just east of DH Day Campground. I did my usual jumping jack warm up moves from the car thru the hardwoods, then white pines, then scotch pines, then by a few cottonwoods growing on the last dune, then onto the beach. I ran into the wind and I did some push ups. After ten minutes, I was warm. I stripped and waded out to waist deep in the crystal calm and 40 degree water.
The jump in was easy. The jump out left me smiling and yelling for joy. I stepped up on the beach and everything came clear and real again. I felt radiant and purified. My mind was erased and empty.
I stood wet staring thoughtlessly at the beach stones spread across the sand inches apart from each other like someone had set up a game board. I stared empty minded at the tree line growing up the side of the south manitou dune. I stared at the undulations of the beautiful yellow, green and brown leafed hills and noted how dark the white pines look during this time of year. I felt the cold sand on my feet and the crisp air against my skin. I was no longer watching nature, I was in it. I was no longer thinking about a moment. I was in this one completely.
I put my clothes on slowly and regretfully, but I would be shivering soon as it was 45 degrees with a breeze. I headed toward the car, but as I walked back up, things felt so much more beautiful and peaceful than when I came down, just minutes ago. I took a detour to be with the scotch pines, the little dunes, the bear berries and the grey sky and breeze for a few minutes more.
The rest of my day and the following days left me with a subtle and serene glow. I jumped in again on Nov 2nd. Ah, a few more jump ins won’t hurt anyone.