As we arrived at Deception Island and all its marvelous volcanic otherworldliness, there was another milestone awaiting us. Prior to our voyage to Antarctica, there had been occasional chatter about the opportunity to take a polar plunge. That is, to briefly immerse in ice cold water for a “refreshing” experience.
Since I’m typically on the cold side, it was obvious that I would never do this to my body, so I ignored any further discussions. During the first part of the voyage we were also told that a plunge would indeed be a difficult undertaking, given the various restrictions for going on land, and of course it would all be highly weather and site dependent. I shrugged my shoulders.
Then we heard it over the ship-wide loudspeakers, “Pack your bathing suit or any other suitable clothing for this landing.” For a second, I wrestled with myself. I had packed no bathing suit, but most folks said thermal underwear was s good option, and I was going to wear it for our outing anyway.
Upon our landing, we took our walk up the ridge that so completely engaged my heart and soul. Nobody was thinking of ice water — until we arrived back at the beach. The expedition team had put some tarp out for our bags and clothes, and the first women were already eagerly changing by the time I arrived. Soon there were about a hundred women laughing and chattering and busily moving around like a penguin colony while getting ready. Group after group of women walked or ran into the icy sea knowing that it would hurt but that it would also bring togetherness and clarity.
Everyone cheered loudly as the freezing folks marched in and out of the shallow Antarctic water. While doing so, a dozen penguins suddenly arrived. They were porpoising around the women and probably wondered what had come to their turf. This brief wildlife encounter was both as unbelievable to witness as it was charming.
In that moment, I realized I hadn’t come all the way to Antarctic to miss a once-in-a-lifetime experience regardless of whether it was pleasant. And no, the penguins were long gone by the time I was ready. The cold that plagues me all too often scared me, so I decided to just scream my way into the 0.6 C (33 F) water. On our other landings, with penguins and birds around, were were advised to keep quiet but there were no colonies in Deception island.
Freely screaming to the other side of this crater lake and it being totally fine was wonderful. It helped with the cold and it cracked me open just a bit. We all take in so much all the time. Every day, every year — and usually with no good outlet.
Antarctica lifted a little bit of my burden in that moment. But only to send me to despair in the next. Standing on the snow and volcanic sand beach in my ice cold knitted socks was excruciating. My feet were hurting like never before, and my iced legs followed suit seconds later. Getting out of layers of icy dripping clothes in Antarctica — well, that was another special experience, followed by the ship running out of hot water while I was in the shower.
Taking this plunge, and doing something daring and out of the ordinary, was a clear statement for many of us that we are ready for the new and unexpected — not alone, but together, and in sync with nature.