Readers of the A Taste For The Woods Facebook group might recall last year I’d posted about wanting to do a polar bear challenge. In brief, a polar bear event is when otherwise sane men and women jump, run, or otherwise enter a large outdoor body of water on January 1. The “polar” in the title implies the event takes place in an area subject to cold winter weather. So while my friends in Florida are out of luck, as a Pennsylvanian I have lots of cold places to jump into.

One such place is Riverfront Park in Pottstown, where for seven years running the town puts on a New Year’s Day celebration. This year registration for the plunge was from nine to ten, with the dash into the water a half hour later. For many people meeting this time isn’t a challenge. I’m not many people, as my ‘day’ job has odd hours and New Year’s Eve I traditionally work into the first day of the following year. In 2014 I skipped the plunge as I was too tired. In 2015 I’m determined to push myself harder than ever before, and so despite working till four AM I planned to jump into the Schuylkill River a few hours later.

After three hours sleep I awoke and began to dress – not that I was wearing much anyway. I look thrilled at the sub freezing weather.

As we neared the start time, Riverfront Park was both warming and filling up. 117 people registered for the run into the river, and at least a hundred people came to spectate. The local fire department was on hand to manage the post plunge bonfire, and divers and rescue crews were in and on the water. River temperature was 35 degrees, with the air a little cooler. I stripped down to a swimsuit, dri-tech shirt, and hiking shoes, and waited.

Finally the whistle blew and we ran into the water. Or most people ran. A formerly sedentary man rediscovering the outdoors discovered that negotiating the muddy river bank is difficult when you’ve removed your glasses. I eventually reached the water, the last one in, and stood thigh-deep in the Schuylkill. The divers asked me not to go any further, having seen my difficulty on shore, and knowing the river bottom becomes rocky further out.

I posed for a victory photo with Justin, another polar bear.

And received the certificate:

I’ll let the Pottstown Mercury fill you in on details of the plunge, and the Christmas tree toss, and bonfire, and other events.

Would I do this again? Probably. But perhaps not in Pottstown. Nothing against the borough but I felt awkward at the river bank, as I wrote above, and think I’d have no trouble running into the Atlantic from a beach. Still, I’m glad I plunged, and this kicks off a year of plunging into things.

Speaking of kicks, I think these shoes are officially retired now. I knew the Schuylkill was a mess, but I had no idea this much mud lined the banks.