Taking the Plunge

One writer embarks on a journey to complete one of Dartmouth’s coldest traditions.

by Connor Allen | 2/16/22 2:10am

2-16-22-polarplunge-nainabhalla
by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth

In relative terms, this year’s plunge should have been easy: more of a Baltic Plunge, as was evidenced by the dripping, increasingly unwieldy ice sculptures lining the path of my long, still-anxious walk from Collis to the point of no return. In Dartmouth winter terms, our Friday plunge happened on a balmy, 45 degree day — so balmy it inspired me and others to don flip flops and t-shirts. I had volunteered at the Mirror section’s previous week’s meeting on a whim — in the fullest capacity of the word — to brave Occom’s icy depths for the sake of journalism. I was now fairly pleased by the ski-day-ruining weather that had spoiled my mood all week. At last, the day of atonement for my past arrogance (“it’s just water! It’ll be fine!”) had arrived, and the warmish weather provided only a slight psychological boost. 

I value preparation. Like a good number of us, I study, and do not enjoy the feeling of being caught off guard. That said, in the week leading up to the plunge, I was at a loss as to how to prepare. Should I just try to be colder? Wear shorts around, maybe? But that carried its own set of risks, namely becoming “that guy who wears shorts in the winter.” Living in my beloved Mid Fayerweather Hall had given me months of involuntary cold water training in the shower, but as of the last few weeks, my showers had been too hot, by way of my floormates practicing some amateur plumbing (cranking down the cold water pipe attached to the wall). Was I to revert back to olden times and lose the hot water we had worked so hard to earn? I decided to give up on my hopes of preparation for the plunge in favor of raw, spontaneous experience: The plunge was not some house pet to be tamed, but a wild beast to be battled.

Finally, I pranced out of math class with direction and magnitude, grabbed a swimsuit that certainly did not expect to be grabbed and made my way to the spot of my martyrdom. I was greeted by throngs of like-minded people making this silly decision and caught glimpses of jittery bodies hopping around on the ice through the brush. Immediately, the crowd improved my spirits; the collective nervousness, hum of shivers, barely-foggy exhalations and body heat of the packed, wide line carried me forward to the waiver table.

I signed my waiver, promising not to sue Dartmouth, Hanover, Occom Pond — or something along those lines. At this point, we were shuttled like cattle down a long, treacherous plank, and I felt all the fear that must have accompanied mutineers to Davy Jones’ Locker, except colder. This also brought a full vista of the pit below, with clothes strewn across picnic tables and people cycling in and out of a rectangular pool with ruthless efficiency. Still, the animated crowd around me buoyed my spirits, and my fear was more excited and nervy than ominous and dreadful. I should also repeatedly clarify that, at this point, and for all future points of this reflection, I felt cold. 

Or so I thought. I had felt luke-warm all my life compared to the instant my bare feet touched the thin tarp lining the ice. Removing further articles of clothing was highly counterintuitive, with my nerve signals eagerly reminding me that my body did not feel good and should instead feel warmer. But, as my waiver-collector had forebode, all who went onto the ice were to jump; fate itself then pulled off my shirt and rushed me into a line for another, even more consequential plank. The conversations around me at this stage revolved around a few particular topics, the first being the coldness of our feet. This was about 80% of the dialogue, with some switching it up by explaining that they had actually gone numb and ceased to feel anything at all. This was a microcosm of what makes Dartmouth winter so special: a widely varied group of incredibly accomplished students are reduced to one singular, shivering amoeba, fully embracing type two fun (that which is fun only in hindsight) and so reduced by the elements as to only be able to discuss our cold feet — frozen unity. 

My time had come. I looped the safety rope around me and splashed into the murky depths. My first thought was ‘I don’t want to be in this water,’ at which point I had essentially already exited the water. Like that, it was over. My mind redirected itself to a new task: ‘Get towel,’ which was accomplished with the same ease. Putting my shoes back on was the real game-changer, though, and I will stoutly recommend wearing footwear for any readers planning pedestrian ice trips. In a euphoric blur I was wrapped in my towel, marching back up the plank, looking at my awaiting fellow plungers with relief and a full, tangible sense of community. There is something primal about jumping into a really cold body of water with your peers, something that conjures the same feeling of connectedness the first cavemen who made a fire probably felt. Not to fully broadcast party-line Dartmouth College propaganda, but it was a moment that made me very thankful to be a student here, and somehow, not somewhere warm. 

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