Polar bear dips set across North Olympic Peninsula
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With zinc oxide on his nose, Dan Powell of Nordland makes a dip in the icy waters at the Nordland Polar Bear Dip look like a float in a tropical lagoon on New Year's Day 2008. -- Photo by Jeff Chew/Peninsula Daily News

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

As an initiation into the Pacific Northwest, Vernice Harrison of Hazlehurst, Miss., will plunge into the chilly Port Angeles Harbor this morning, while others across the North Olympic Peninsula also brave cold water for the New Year's Day polar bear dips.

Peninsula plunges planned today are:

• Nordland Polar Bear Dip -- noon at the Nordland General Store.

• Port Angeles plunge -- 9:45 a.m. at Hollywood Beach.

• Lake Pleasant -- 10 a.m. at Lake Pleasant Community Beach County Park, accessed by driving on West Lake Pleasant Road.

• Neah Bay -- noon off Bayside Avenue near the Senior Center.

Harrison -- who hopes to move to Port Angeles with his wife, Carol, sometime in the next year -- said he's never done a chilly New Year's Day swim before.

He thought joining people who relish the ritual of running shrieking into water hovering around 41 degrees was a good way to embrace his adopted town.

"I really want to be a real part of the community, so I thought that the Polar Bear Dip was a way to start that out," Harrison said Wednesday, as he stopped by the Peninsula Daily News Port Angeles office for directions.

"This will be a step in the right direction."

The couple has been visiting Port Angeles in the summer for years, he said.

"We thought we should check it out in the winter too," Harrison said.

"And it's great."

Every year in Port Angeles, about 200 people run out into the water for the requisite three dips in the Port Angeles Harbor as a refreshing welcome to the new year.

Harrison said he hasn't tested the water before -- even in the summer -- except in a wet suit while scuba diving.

"I have, though, when I fell in," said his wife.

But because she's been feeling under-the-weather, she won't participate this year.

"I'll cheer him on though," she said.

Last year, freezing temperatures and snow tested the will of those going for a dip or two.

"There is no snow on the beach this year, unfortunately," Dan Welden said.

"But we do it rain or shine, or whatever hits us -- seaweed or sewage.

"We've seen it all. This year won't be bad at all."

Welden has participated in the Port Angeles dip most of the 22 years.

Although there is no formal organizer, Welden always prints and distributes certificates for those who take the plunge.

Port Townsend

Miss Behavin' will slap big, red kisses on those she greets at the Nordland Polar Bear Dip, while Chuck Easton and George Radebaugh will perform during the annual leap into Mystery Bay at noon.

Tom and Sue Rose, owners of the Nordland General Store, sponsor the dip, which last year drew more than 80 dippers.

The Roses first took their first leap on New Year's Day in 1995.

"This is our 15th year, so this year is some type of milestone," Tom Rose said.

As always, Miss Behavin' will make a special appearance in a pink tutu, wig, parasol, tiara and bright red lipstick.

Dippers will have access to a heated boathouse at the dock to warm up, eat and have beers or hot drinks.

East Jefferson Fire-Rescue volunteers on Marrowstone Island are expected to again tend to dippers on the dock in case they are needed.

No one has been seriously hurt during the plunge.

Water temperatures in the shallows range in the mid- to low-50s.

Donations will be accepted for the local food bank.

Lake Pleasant

Monica Henry has been diving into Lake Pleasant since the event drew just a few friends on a crazy whim four years ago.

The group plunges into the water fully costumed. This year Henry will do so as an angel.

This year the group will jump in at 10 a.m. at Lake Pleasant Community Beach County Park, accessed by driving on West Lake Pleasant Road.

"It is a fun way to welcome the new year," Henry said.

"It is such a shock to the system, it energizes you for the whole day -- for the whole year, actually."

The group grew to 23 people taking the plunge to start off 2009 -- and another 25 or so watching, Henry said.

"Last year it was insanely cold," she said.

"But it was a lot of fun."

The idea was that of Sonja Hirsch, a friends of Henry's.

"We hope a lot of people show up this year," Hirsch said. "Anyone is welcome.

"Once you do it, you'll know why it is the way to start the year."

Saying she is "a little superstitious," Henry said that she feels the cold dip means her New Year's resolutions will come true.

She hasn't yet firmed up what those resolutions will be this year, she said.

Neah Bay

June Williams of Neah Bay said she and at least a couple dozen friends and family will dive into the ocean water at noon off of Bayside Avenue near the Senior Center.

The only rule is that participants must go all the way in, wetting their hair and faces.

Williams checked out the water in the first year of the dip when she heard of other people doing it.

"I was really sick with asthma, and I didn't know what the outcome would be," she said. "I told my cousin that I didn't know why people did it, and I wanted to try.

"I didn't want to leave this life without knowing why."

Since then she hasn't stopped, save one time a few years ago when she was too ill to go into the water.

__________

Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladaily news.com.

Last modified: December 31. 2009 11:25PM
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