January 1: The celebration of a new year. Most people stay up to ring in the new year, then sleep the morning away. I discovered that there is another local tradition that involves taking a morning dip in the cold waters of Lucky Peak. The Great Polar Bear Challenge is a family-friendly fundraiser for Make-A-Wish that brings people together and encourages them all to jump, water ski, or wakeboard into the cold waters of Lucky Peak all to raise money for Idaho's wish children. On this morning, the temperature was 34. The sun was out and everybody was in good spirits. The polar bear mascot waved a friendly paw as people walked towards the sandy beach. A couple of soon-to-be-freezing participants showed off their prized shirts. Shirts were given to those raising more than $50 for Make-A-Wish.
As people continued to arrive, it became clear that everybody was there to have a good time. Costume-wearers were in big supply. A news crew interviewed the interesting characters who stood ready to jump into the frigid waters, while a young water skier waited for her turn to feel the crash of the waves beneath her skis.
Onlookers were treated to a costume contest and were able to cast their vote by cheering loudly. The cast of the Wizard of Oz, Hall & Oats (an 80s music group, for those too young to remember), and an array of individual costumers welcomed the applause.
When the contest was over, the countdown began. Coats and layers of clothing began to disappear. Looking out into the mass of people gave the impression that it was a hot summer day. The worried expressions, shivering bodies and visible breaths as participants exhaled told the real story about the temperatures.
I made the mistake of thinking that I would be able to photograph the participants coming towards me as they were charging the water but quickly realized that I had put myself between the participants and their intended target: the water. I tried to squeeze my way back, but it was too late. In that moment I felt like a pinball as I got bumped from left to right. Fortunately, I didn't get pushed into the water, and was able to capture some of the shock and excitement as bodies entered and exited the water.
The time spent in the water was short, and ended quickly. While some basked in the glow of the experience, others moved quickly to the warming tent. Smiles were in large supply as participants shared the experience of jumping into the 33-degree waters of Lucky Peak. It was a day to be celebrated. A new year. A new experience. And new wishes to be granted thanks to the fundraising efforts of today's donors.