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I was so glad that it was not snowing this time around…

January 31, 2011, 9:28 PM

This past Saturday, January 29, was the date of Plungefest, the 15th annual Maryland State Police Polar Bear Plunge. This was the third polar bear plunge that I had attended overall, and the second time at the Maryland event specifically.

Compared to last year, the basic event was structured the same way, but there were a number of details that differed significantly from last year. While the main sponsor tent was in the same location, the back end was different. Last year, the back of the tent featured live entertainment. Not so this year, as carnival games and multiple moon bounces filled that space. They also had one of those inflatable dancing men dancing up a storm back there:

The outdoor stage was in a slightly different spot as well, and there seemed to be more individual sponsor tents this time around, most notably a spa tent, if you can imagine such a thing.

And then of course, this year, it wasn’t snowing like crazy. Last year, the snow, while adding a certain ambiance to the whole affair, certainly did wreak havoc with the planned event, leading to the cancellation of the 3:00 plunge and thus sending everyone to the buses early in order to get going before the storm got worse. The snow also caused me to do most of the photography for that event with Duckie. If you look at the photo set from last year, you will notice that all of the photos in the tents were taken with the Canon, and all of the exterior shots look like they were shot using Duckie. This year, since the snow came a few days ahead of the event, the snow was already on the ground, providing the “wintry” look but letting the event go on unimpeded, rather than having the snow delivered during the event and having it gum up the works.

However, the most notable change this year was this:

MSP POLAR BEAR PLUNGE IS AN ALCOHOL-FREE EVENT

Whoa! It’s a dry event this year! I’m not much of a drinker myself, and would never think to drink alcohol at this kind of event in the first place, but it still surprised me. The way the event’s organizers explained the change, it makes perfect sense. According to the organizers, “the large majority of the medical calls on Plunge day were the result of exposure and alcohol.” Whether that specifically means exposure plus alcohol, or whether it includes the cases where it is only one or the other is unclear (though I suspect the former), but it seems a sound enough idea to ditch the alcohol in any case. After all, exposure, albeit in a controlled, carefully supervised environment, is the name of the game. Add alcohol to it, and all bets may be off, since that warming effect that alcohol has is a bit of a smokescreen, hiding the fact that you’re actually going to get much colder than you think as a result of the combination of the alcohol and the exposure, and possibly not realize it until it’s too late. As a result of the change, though, the beer tent was gone, replaced by additional food vendors.

Going around the area early on, I found a few interesting sights:

A black Ford Mustang - an unmarked police car

This is a black Ford Mustang, and note the police lights. Maryland State Police own and operate this beast, and you should have heard the state troopers I spoke with bragging openly to me about how many people they nail with that car vs. a Crown Victoria, because people don’t realize they’re a police car until it’s too late, and aren’t they so silly for falling for it. I was highly offended by that kind of attitude about the driving public, but I didn’t say anything (you get more out of them when you pretend like you’re on their side). So, yeah, Mustangs should definitely go into the list of cars you should slow down for, along with the Crown Vic, the Chevy Impala, and the Dodge Charger. After all, we don’t want Maryland to get any more of our money than they already do, and if they do want to get my money, make them tax me for it rather than letting the State Police do the fundraising. I’m sure there are more important things for state troopers to do than to raise money.

Then otherwise, there was also this:

This is the "Art Car", which was parked near the police cars. This was a very ornately done vehicle, decorated pretty much everywhere they could and still keep it street legal. I can't imagine how much time and effort this took to do. It's quite a car, that's for sure.

This is the “Art Car”, which was parked near the police cars. This was a very ornately done vehicle, decorated pretty much everywhere they could and still keep it street legal. I can’t imagine how much time and effort this took to do. It’s quite a car, that’s for sure.

Then there was this couple:

I saw them, and I was like, "Chad? Chad Vader?" Let's admit, the costumes are the same, and I can relate to Chad Vader more than to Darth Vader. And his female companion even bore slight resemblance to Maggie McCall from the Chad Vader series. Unfortunately, however, neither one of them had ever heard of Chad Vader before then. Drat...

I saw them, and I was like, “Chad? Chad Vader?” Let’s admit, the costumes are the same, and I can relate to Chad Vader more than to Darth Vader. And his female companion even bore slight resemblance to Maggie McCall from the Chad Vader series. Unfortunately, however, neither one of them had ever heard of Chad Vader before then. Drat…

Then one thing I noticed was a large amount of abandoned footwear on the beach, near the water. Basically, people tended to lose their shoes when running into the bay, and as a result, these kind of got tossed back to the beach. I got a lot of photos of abandoned footwear, believe it or not.

Then one thing I noticed was a large amount of abandoned footwear on the beach, near the water. Basically, people tended to lose their shoes when running into the bay, and as a result, these kind of got tossed back to the beach. I got a lot of photos of abandoned footwear, believe it or not.

Then we had a little bit of "Madison pride" going on here, as I saw a group of people wearing JMU shirts. As it turns out, the three women to the right all currently attend JMU, the blond woman to the left is a community college student who wants to transfer to JMU, and then the woman second from left is a JMU mom, who is bankrolling her daughter's education in Harrisonburg.

Then we had a little bit of “Madison pride” going on here, as I saw a group of people wearing JMU shirts. As it turns out, the three women to the right all currently attend JMU, the blond woman to the left is a community college student who wants to transfer to JMU, and then the woman second from left is a JMU mom, who is bankrolling her daughter’s education in Harrisonburg. All of us spent a bit of time discussing JMU, since after all, I spent four years there from 1999-2003, and they were doing the same thing a decade later. And JMU certainly has changed since then. Back in my day, Shenandoah Hall was a converted house across South Main Street from the Quad. Now, the Shenandoah Hall name is on the long-awaited third dorm next to Chesapeake Hall and (my personal favorite) Potomac Hall.

Then at 1:00, it was time to plunge, and plunge they did:

As you can see, these people were definitely having fun in the ice cold water. Also listen to some of the things people said that made it onto the clip. One person even said, “I can’t feel my private areas!” Oversharing, perhaps?

I also enjoyed seeing some of the expressions on the people’s faces. I think this sums it up:

They say that the cold water will take your breath away. This pretty much sums it up, making the omigoditscolditscolditscold face, while at the same time celebrating the accomplishment of running into the Chesapeake Bay in the middle of winter.

They say that the cold water will take your breath away. This pretty much sums it up, making the omigoditscolditscolditscold face, while at the same time celebrating the accomplishment of running into the Chesapeake Bay in the middle of winter.

Then the 3:00 plunge was a far more intimate-feeling event than the 1:00 plunge. For that plunge, they didn’t enforce the plungers-only rule for the plunge zone itself, and so all of the spectators were amongst the plungers while they ran into the plunge. Thus I was able to get better photos, and better video:

One thing that I saw a lot of at the 3:00 plunge, but not at the earlier plunge, was people going as far out as the line of support personnel in drysuits, and giving them high fives before returning to the beach:

One thing that I saw a lot of at the 3:00 plunge, but not at the earlier plunge, was people going as far out as the line of support personnel in drysuits, and giving them high fives before returning to the beach.

And there were also more holy crap, what did I just do? expressions coming out of the water:

And there were also more holy crap, what did I just do? expressions coming out of the water.

So in the end, a fun time was had by all. And getting out of the event afterwards was quick and painless this time around, compared to the painfully cold and long wait for the buses last year. I mean, look at this:

Of course, people were able to leave on their own terms this year since the event ran to its planned conclusion, rather than having to stop the event midway through due to worsening weather and get everyone to the buses all at once. They were prepared for a mass exodus (and they may have had it after the 1:00 plunge), but after the 3:00 plunge, it was smooth sailing.

Meanwhile, in reviewing the photos for this Journal entry, I think I’m probably going to do another Photography set for the Maryland Polar Bear Plunge. The way I covered this year’s event was different enough from last year’s that I think I can present a different story, plus since I used the Canon throughout, the photos will likely be better, too.

Web site: Plunge Maryland

Song: Video footage of last year's plunge, in the snow

Quote: Meanwhile, I think I'm starting to warm up to the idea of actually going in and taking the plunge myself next year. I think I would likely go in for the climate change plunge, since I'd rather fundraise for climate change issues than Special Olympics (though nothing against the latter - I just am more passionate about climate change work), plus I think I'd still rather be "media" for the Maryland event. So show of hands for a moment: Who would be willing to donate fistfuls of money to fight global warming to see me jump into ice cold water in winter?

Categories: Events