Valentine’s Day in February is a bright light in the middle of Maine’s long winter. As seasoned Coldwater Swimmers, the winter has been transformed into one of our favorite seasons. In winter, we turn pretty much everything into a fun coldwater gathering.
Caitlin had been background scheming the idea of a “Don’t be an ICE-hole Day” with her friend, Rheanna Sinnett, who is the managing operator of Otyokwa (and owner of these amazing houseboats you can rent), an old summer camp turned retreat/event space situated on Pemaquid Pond in Bremen. We have gathered together at frozen lakesides a few times to break from our regular ocean dips and smash a hole in the ice, but this one would take the cake. About this same time, Greta Rybus, a Maine-based Photojournalist, reached out with the idea to do a story on groups coldwater dipping in Maine. Greta seemed super pumped about Don’t be an ICE-hole Day and would join us.
If you have never gripped a sledgehammer and bashed through ice, well, my friend, you have not discovered how incredibly wild and wonderful, exhilarating and powerful, and absolutely thrilling it is! As women, in particular, we tend to shy away from being loud, showing our power, and taking up space. BUT, working together to carve through ice and come up with creative ways to haul out the huge ice chunks (with cookies and THREE types of hot cocoa with marshmallows ready and waiting) is not only the perfect way to celebrate LOVE, it’s also a liberating and bonding experience.
Just before Valentine’s Day last February our dipping and shore support crews spent four hours cutting through 12 inches of ice to make a massive heart-shaped hole to dip our bodies into. While some of us sawed away carving the ice into rough chunks others worked to get them out of the heart shaped hole so we’d have a place to dip. Another group sloshed the ice chunks around to keep them from re-freezing and undoing our hard work all the while Rheanna was building a fire for us to warm up by on the shore. The water was 34° and we hopped in the ice for about 10 minutes, donning only Summer colored swimsuits, neoprene booties and fuzzy bobble hats. After photographing us Greta took a turn in the ice heart, too!
For us, coldwater swimming is not about hitting certain benchmarks, performing, or chasing endorphins (those endorphins are a bonus, though). It is about getting all the way into our bodies and experiencing the sense of capacity and strength that lives there. It is about taking up space. It is about being playful, joyful, and supporting each other through an experience that makes us feel ALL THE WAY ALIVE!