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Bob's Cherry Republic Plunge


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.