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Through the Ice

by Casey White
March 6, 2003

Through the Ice_Casey White- Once a year, for the past several years, I have lost my mind. That's what my friends think, anyway, when they hear what I have done for weekend retreat fun in Northern Minnesota. I didn't think I'd be going this year, but with a little opportunity, the 'Call of the Wild' was drawing me. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is known mostly - only to the adventurous. During the summer, it is great fun to canoe, portage, and tent-camp. During the winter, well, it's minus 24 some nights, like this past Saturday night. And after snow-shoeing and broomball-playing all day, it was time for a swimsuit-sauna and going out on the lake dock to climb down the ladder through a hole in the ice. I told you that I lose my mind.

After doing this for a few years, you get used to being super-heated in the wood-stove sauna, and then walking outdoors, surrounded by evergreens, a few snowflakes, and a slight breeze. With 2 feet of snow on the ground, you take the 150 foot trek onto the dock and out to the ladder. Just your swimsuit. No towel. No coat. The minus temperatures cause steam to immediately waft off your body. Accompanied by a friend and fellow spotter, you either wait in the breeze for your friend to take the plunge first, or you wait and watch them after you have gone first. I'm still not sure which is worse or better.

I dunked in three times. There's something about three. Down the ladder. Fully in. Head, too.

Each year, there are several who are trying this form of north woods craziness for the first time. A young boy of 8. A teen girl of 14. A woman of 45. And you know, it is always the same. In the sauna, just before, while warming up, these people all have the same look in their eyes. "Do I want to do this? It seemed like a fun idea. It suddenly doesn't seem so fun. Aw, c'mon. I can do it. NO I CAN'T. What will people think if I chicken out? What if my feet stick to the dock?" Yes, all that is in their eyes, and more.

And then, they summon the courage. In a moment of shear lunacy, they accept the challenge, partner up, and head out the sauna door. It takes about 2 minutes, altogether, before they are back to warm safety. But the moment of the plunge, just for a moment there, they are simultaneously moving in fast-motion and in slow-motion. They are chilled beyond belief, but not beyond their strength. They conquer their fears. They face the cold deep. And as they walk back to the sauna, feeling the ice form in their hair, they smile ear-to-ear, realizing they can do the impossible and survive.

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