A Perfectly Painful Polar Plunge

By: Sarah Gallo

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Photo: Horacio Lion

It was when I realized that snowflakes were settling on my head that I began to question my decision. Did I actually want to polar plunge? Or was I okay sitting on the sidelines watching others participate in a unique, questionably insane experience? Who was I kidding: Of course I wanted to. The question was whether or not my good sense would physically let me. It was Christmas Day on Antarctica, after all, and I knew that I had to do everything in my power to stick to my guns. As an adventure-seeker, I couldn’t bear passing up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; I had the ability to polar plunge in truly polar conditions.

We wandered around Deception Island for a bit pre-plunge, exploring the volcanic black sand beach. The wind whipped around us and the snow shrouded our path in a thick veil of white. I wondered how I could possibly justify allowing myself to get wet while out in freezing temperatures. I tried to distract myself – I “ooh-ed” and “ahh-ed” at what was left of the historic Antarctic whaling station; it was here that, for many decades, whalers set up shop to process whale blubber into whale oil. In fact, one can not only see the remaining boiler tanks once used to store the oil, but also the run-down houses and graves of those who once lived on Deception Island (particularly around Whalers Bay). I was really wishing I had had some whale blubber myself to keep warm at that moment…

Forty-five minutes and ten freezing toes later, it was time. We were given a “it is now or never” pep-talk and then it was up to us whether or not we had the guts to go for it. I knew that the more I thought about what I was about to do, the harder it would be to physically remove my clothing. I let my heart overtake my mind for once and began stripping (into a bikini, of course), one layer at a time. As snow crunched beneath my toes, the reality of my actions was overwhelming; I ran over snow-laden grounds into the (literally!) icy cold Antarctic waters. Seconds later the water enveloped my toes, followed by my knees, hips, torso, shoulders. It was like a torturous, freezing version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes!”

There wasn’t time to think about it: I was going under. Submerging myself, the freezing water filled every crevice of my body. Surfacing, my brain kicked in, overpowering my heart. What, are you crazy? The pain began and became all encompassing; it felt as if someone were slowly taking a sharp knife and cutting off each and every toe. I stumbled in shock, going under yet again. Get the f#@% outta here, Sarah! I ran forward toward the beach.

I felt the crunch of snow underfoot yet again. Heat, I need heat! But first, I had to manage to gather my belongings and board a zodiac to get back to the ship. Shaking. Shivering. The sand and snow began to stick to my wet skin. Chafing. Knowing that clothes wouldn’t be an option in this state, I threw on my lovely red outer layer and wiggled my sandy feet into the gumboots. Legs barely moving, an expedition leader lifted me into the zodiac. A few minutes later I was running through our ship, the Vavilov, in a string bikini, desperately searching for a sauna. At last, I found it. Ahhh sweet relief! We piled 17 people into that tiny sauna, each body begging for warmth and renewal.

Despite the momentary pain, I knew that I had made the right decision. I could look back on my time in Antarctica with no regrets, having followed my heart and indulging my desire for one-of-a-kind adventures. It was a very merry Christmas indeed.

For those crazy enough to polar plunge and journey to the White Continent, I highly recommend checking out One Ocean’s ship, the Vavilov!

Biography: Sarah recently graduated early from New York University with honors in Media, Culture, and Communications (and a minor in the Business of Entertainment, Media, and Technology). She has been to over thirty countries spanning six continents and lives life to the fullest with utmost zest. Her travel highlights include paragliding through the Swiss Alps, ringing in the New Year on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, trekking through Patagonia, seeing sea lions bathe their newborn pups in the Galápagos Islands, hiking from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee, rafting through Class 5 rapids in Victoria Falls, and polar plunging on Christmas Day in Antarctica. To read more about her adventures, follow her at www.thefivefoottraveler.com.

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