You don't often hear the Beaufort Sea mentioned in terms of fabulous beach getaways. That's probably because most of it is totally frozen for much of the year.
It's a portion of the Arctic Ocean, perched above Canada's Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Alaska.
I had reason a few years back to venture to Barrow, Ala., the U.S.' farthest northern settlement, well beyond the Arctic Circle. Specifically, I was there visiting friends on the week surrounding "the 13th day of June, 192002."
That's the way it's remembered on my certificate from the Barrow Polar Bear Club, anyway. Aside from signifying a need to update an office template, it verified that I had "willfully submerged in the Arctic Ocean" on a day in which the air temperature was 35 degrees, the water temp 28 degrees and the chill factor 25 degrees.
Basically, I paid a lady from the makeshift visitors' bureau $5 to walk me down from the small village of Barrow to the sea's edge, where I proceeded to strip naked (optional but hey, who wants wet undies on the way home?) and perform a running dive into the placid water, dotted with loosely broken ice and miniature floating icebergs.
I'm sure there's a word in the native Inupiat tongue that'd more accurately describe the ice and water that day. Of course, there'd probably be another word or two that might translate to: "Hey, did you just see that Lower-48 gringo asshole run into the ice bucket?"
When I hit the water and disappeared under its unforgiving surface, a few feelings simultaneously registered: the first, a sense that someone had punched me in the stomach and forced all the air from my lungs; the second, a prickly stabbing sensation over the entire surface of my skin even the tips of my hair follicles; the third, my testicles retreating into my oxygen-deprived gut, like the Germans into Europe after The Battle of Stalingrad.
Upon resurfacing to uncontrollable "whoop" sounds, I made for the shore just as a pack of adolescent boys arrived to point and laugh at the flat-chested, wet girl. (I have long hair.) I was unaffected.
Laugh all you want, boys the Polar Bear cares not, for he is mighty.
You see, the sea had departed a frigid gift of stoic pride and weatherproof, conquer-all courage. Besides, this wasn't really my first time into cold drink, though it was the coldest. I'd swum in high-altitude Colorado lakes and Montana, Wyoming and Idaho rivers. I'd jumped from various hot springs around the Southwest into frigid passing streams.
Long ago, I learned the value of playfully testing oneself against the forces of nature, inviting just enough discomfort into the body to bring awareness to how fortunate we are in our comfortable moments.
But you need not journey all the way to the Arctic to find cold water. (Unless you just want the patch and crappy certificate.) If you've never stunned yourself breathless for either no reason whatsoever, as a dare, or to find the core of your own wildness, look no further than some local destinations as your training ground.
Why, for instance, you could find out why the ducks at The Broadmoor, Memorial Park and Monument Valley Park are always so giddy with joy. (Though it may just be the bread crumbs ...) You could saunter up to Glen Eyrie's punchbowls or Rampart Reservoir.
You could drive up the pass to Eleven Mile Canyon or Lake George and let loose your own thunderous "Yawp!" over the waters. Hell, you could just fill your baby pool in the backyard and terrify your neighbors.
I'm not one usually to tell someone else they should do something, especially if, as in the case of The Broadmoor, it could get that someone arrested. But if at any point this winter you find yourself with a case of rotten cabin fever and want to liberate yourself from the doldrums, I say go to the water.
You'll return home fortified with something intangible, yet valuable. And don't worry: Your cullions, if you have them, will drop renewed, as well. Eventually.