Cold Water Part II (Day 34)

The bay was calm and flat and the view was gorgeous as I arrived at the bulb for my morning swim with Angie, Sheila, and Kim. It looked tropical.

It did not feel tropical. 

Again, I marveled at how cold the cold felt. Hadn’t I been swimming in much colder water in Victoria mere days ago? As we later learned from Marcia, who has a thermometer on her buoy, I wasn’t imagining the cold: the temperature has plummeted in the last couple of days. Yesterday was 51 F (10.556 C) and today Marcia registered 48 F (8.889 C). Still not as cold as Victoria, which was around 7 C (44.6 F), but nevertheless cold. 

Which I love. I’ve become enamored of the cold these last months. There’s a fair bit of research backing up this obsession. Cold water immersion has been shown to help boost immunity, ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, increase well-being, and be beneficial to the endocrine system. Some research suggests that cold-adapted people (those no longer reacting strongly to the stress of the cold water), may also be less reactive to other stressors. At any point in the day after a cold water swim, I can close my eyes and return to the place of profound well-being that I felt in the water—even physically; like the sensation of inner warmth I feel when swimming in cold water, stays with me.

There’s one part of cold water swimming I don’t like: the after drop. In cold water, the blood vessels that lead to the skin constrict, reducing the circulation of blood to your cold outer edges and focusing it inward where it can keep your core warm. This is why after a few minutes in the cold water, you feel rather warm and lovely inside (even if your skin may still tingle with cold and your hands and feet ache from it). The loveliness continues for a few minutes after exiting the water. As my feet find solid ground again I continue to feel fabulous like all my synapses are firing, like I’m zinging with life. 

But it’s an illusion. 

Our bodies continue to cool after we get out of the water (this is what they call the after drop) and after a few minutes, I’m colder than at any other point in this whole endeavor. I start shivering. Shivering is good; shivering is your body’s way of warming up. But it isn’t a pleasant experience. It makes it hard to get changed. It’s all of the discomfort without any the thrill. We have perfected our after-swim routine: warm water in a jug, bucket to stand in while we get dressed, feet soaking in the warmth. Changing robes (or big towels, or just flashing everyone) to change out of the wet gear and into warm sweats and a coat as soon as possible. Sometimes it takes a very long time to feel warm again. It’s definitely the worst part of all of this. 

But totally worth it. 

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