January 1, 2014

Piercing plunge on New Year’s Day, the sequel

Misty Watson

— I was prepared this year.

Or so I thought.

I had plunged in the piercingly cold waters of the lake at Fort Mountain State Park last year on New Year’s Day. So I knew I could tackle the second annual Black Bear Plunge this year.

I knew what it was like to run across the icy sand and into the water. I knew that the cold water slows down your muscle movement and makes your breathing shallow so swimming is a challenge. I knew what it was like to swim numb.

Yet, I was confident I could do it again. This year I knew what to expect.

However, this year the mountain was was several degrees colder. I don’t know how much colder, but it was definitely colder.

“I enjoyed (the Black Bear Plunge) last year and it was a challenge,” said participant Rhonda Bryant. “It’s colder this year, and the wind wasn’t a factor last year.”

The water temperature was estimated to be about the same. No one had a water thermometer this year, but during the plunge in 2013, it was 38 degrees.

Others around me who had participated last year echoed the same thought as we wrapped towels around us to guard our cold, wet skin from the wind.

Last year when I thought I was about to hyperventilate because of the shallowness of my breath — a result of the combination of the cold and my excitement — I looked over to see my childhood friend Melinda Flood swimming beside me, and I knew I was OK. I reached the yellow barrier that separates the beach area from the rest of the lake then turned back to shore.

This year, Melinda turned back a few feet from the barrier.

As it turned out, I couldn’t reach that line without her at my side. I swam about two strokes beyond her, realized I was on the verge of hyperventilating and turned back to shore, toward my warm towel and terrycloth bathrobe that awaited me.

“I was planning to go all the way,” said Melinda, an organizer of the event and secretary of the Friends of Fort Mountain State Park who hosts the plunge. “I didn’t make it.”

Same here. I had planned to reach the barrier, but I just didn’t make it. As my husband, Chris Wheeler, pointed out, I made it further than him. He stood on shore snapping photos, bundled in a warm coat and gloves.

There were 46 people who swam with us Wednesday morning. Some participated last year, but there were  new participants as well.

“I face-planted first thing. I was in flippers,” said Tara Bates, of Rocky Face, laughing at herself after the plunge.

This was her first attempt at the cold waters.

“That was fun,” she said. “It took my breath first thing. I couldn’t breathe.”

Bates said she plans to attend next year’s plunge as well.

“I always wanted to do something like this,” she said. “It is definitely a challenge.”

Bates convinced her son’s girlfriend, Raven Hughey, of Dalton, to join her.

“I said OK,” Hughey said. “It will go on the list of the stupid things I did in life. It’s a new year — why not jump in?”

Participant Brian Trout, of Chatsworth, decided “twice is enough.”

As I continue the fight to bring feeling to my toes, three hours after I exited the water, I’m wondering if twice is enough for me too.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Citizen.