PORT ANGELES — It helped, before jumping in Tuesday morning, that Port Angeles Harbor’s water, albeit moderately polluted, was warmer than the air temperature of 7 degrees above freezing.
Or so I was told.
Driven to mark 2019’s first day with an odd impulse, I — along with more than 50 other slightly nervous souls — made my way to Hollywood Beach at 10 a.m. New Year’s Day for the 31st annual Polar Bear Dip.
Participants in “Freezin’ for a Reason” had plenty of reasons.
They began with entreaties by nearby Red Lion Hotel and Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County to endure wintry elements while donating to VHOCC, which offers end-of-life care free of charge.
A bonfire and free warm beverages helped.
Running into freezin’ water three times, dunking oneself three times and running out three times in unison with post-New Year’s Eve revelers is the exhausting requirement for a “Certificate of Achievement” for participation.
Plunge veteran Rick Goette philosophized, quoting a friend, that if you eat a live toad to start your day, nothing worse will happen.
“This is our live toad for the year,” Goette concluded.
We ate a knot of live toads New Year’s Day morning. Yes, a knot.
The air was 38.8 degrees, the water was 47.5 degrees.
Spending 30 to 60 minutes in water that cold would usher in exhaustion or unconsciousness, followed by death in one to three hours, according to the United States Power Squadrons’ matter-of-fact Hypothermia Chart.
As if that weren’t raised-eyebrow fodder, Clallam County Health and Human Services urged us to not to swallow the water in a health advisory issued Friday.
Thanks, enterococci bacteria — I can’t even pronounce you.
We were warned that getting it into our bodies through eye, nose, mouth or open wound could cause gastroenteritis, skin rashes and upper respiratory infections.
The bacteria comes from a foul place.
It is discharged from human and animal feces, causing millions of infections and is a “near-ubiquitous” presence in fecal matter, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“Moderate” levels of the bacteria were detected in the water Thursday, hence the advisory, Clallam County Environmental Health Specialist Sue Waldrip said Monday.
The level was 146 bacteria per 100 milliliters of water in a moderate range based on parameters of 104 to 276 bacteria per 100 milliliters.
The culprits were birds and mammals in the water, and runoff from city streets and streams near Hollywood Beach, once the site of a thriving Klallam village and now a downtown epicenter with a ferry landing, hotel, restaurants and Olympic Discovery Trail.
The area has been hit by storms, wind and waves stirring the water, Waldrip said.
“Current conditions are not suitable for recreational activities,” she warned, with advice for polar bear plungers.
“Protect your eyes, nose, mouth, that sort of thing.
“We are just saying if you are going to do it, take whatever precautions you feel are necessary to protect yourself.”
Try not tasting saltwater while running and dunking yourself three short laps in harbor water that already smelled, much less letting it get in your eyes, nose, or an open wound.
It did help that the water was warmer than the air.
Or, let’s say, not as cold.
Gasping and running in frigid water while huffing and puffing to the beach and out again affords little chance to think about precautions.
You just do it.
Then you feel good about it, unpronounceable bacteria notwithstanding.
Participants had a philosophical, sometimes zany, mindset before and after their mini-odyssey.
“It’s the year of the extra,” Jason Bessey, “18 years young,” said before charging into the breach, unidentifiable to even those who knew him.
He wore a full-face mask with bared, triangular teeth, slung a home-made polar bear championship belt over his shoulder, and expounded on life armed with non sequiturs that still made sense.
“This is the year of the avocado,” he said.
“I want to be the most extra person here.
“The world’s a crazy place.
“This is just being crazier.”
Engaging in her own personal test, Cindy Eaton, 58, was breaking in her “new knees,” wondering how such serious surgery would withstand running in water.
A labor delivery nurse, Eaton reminded herself what she tells expectant mothers about birth.
“They ask you what it will be like, and you can’t tell them. Everyone’s experience is different.
“It’s like going on a nice Sunday drive, going down a windy road, and there’s a turn ahead, and you’ve never been there, but you are going there,” Eaton said.
“I’m going there, and you’re going there.”
“I did not feel any discomfort,” a jubilant Eaton said afterward.
“I’m proud of myself.
“I did all three of the dips.”
Going back again and again, tests your stamina, she added, adding herself on New Year’s Day to a select few.
“We’re members of the polar bear club,” Eaton said, already looking for more, perhaps warmer, challenges.
“I want to find out if there’s a polar bear club in Maui.
“I might want to join that one.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].