by Peter Wiarda
Aggie BluePrint contributor
In the dead of winter, in the dead of night, in the seasonally dead resort town of Garden City, Utah, nine men and women defy the odds and remain alive after what may be considered a near-death experience.
Polar-bearing. The Polar Plunge. Insanity. It goes by many names, but at the end of the day, all who have tried it agree that there is nothing quite like diving into a near-freezing body of water in the coldest part of the winter. It is a tradition sustained throughout the years, decades even. It is a rite-of-passage, an ancient ritual through which only the strongest may prevail. And on Feb. 25, 2012, a new generation stepped up to meet the challenge.
Every year, a handful of daring students makes the slippery trek up Logan Canyon to the frosty shores of Bear Lake and its accompanying resort town, Garden City. There they congregate to pursue their single-minded mission of epic, nay, mythic proportions.
It is 9:55 p.m. and all is calm along the star-lit shores of Bear Lake. The temperature hovers around zero degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill dropping it down to negative 12 degrees. Sporadic flurries of snow drift across the empty beaches and dissipate into the blackness of the night. All is calm but for the silent breath of the breeze … and the sound of running feet. Lots of running feet. Bare feet. Crunching in the snow and growing ever louder as they approach the water’s edge. Light fuzzy shapes begin to materialize in the distance. A roar of elation pierces the silence and oh, what a sight! A stampede of bare-skinned bodies clad in swimsuits thunders toward the lake! As one unit, they launch themselves with a fury into the frigid water. What shock, what ecstasy, what terror appears on their faces the instant they experience this baptism by immersion! The victory cheer of one giant mass turns to yelps and squeals and at once the formation is broken; each man and woman returns to his or her own consciousness and books it out of the lake and back to the welcoming warmth of their cabin. Thus another generation of Polar Bears enters the long-standing Hall of Straight-Crazy Fame and claims the prize of all prizes: bragging rights.
“AAAAUAUAAUUAUGGHHGHGHHGHH,” Stewart thoughtfully remarked.
Seeking more of an answer containing words, our reporter asked him again at a later, warmer time.
“It was cold enough to remind me through my adrenaline that this was a really bad idea,” he said with more fond nostalgia than remorse.
Stewart also added that peer pressure and mob mentality played a dominant role in his decision to take the plunge.
Bear Lake, Utah. Famous in the summertime for its raspberries and water sports, famous in the winter for possibly the most powerful set of bragging rights an Aggie can earn.