BELLINGHAM - As the clock struck noon, there was a ground-shaking roar of frigid feet hitting the water, followed by the sound of screams.
Then, laughter. And as quickly as it had started, the Padden Polar Dip ended, with the shivering masses clambering for towels, blankets, robes and hot coffee.
Hundreds of Whatcom County residents got an icy, exhilarating start to 2013 on Tuesday, Jan. 1, at annual polar plunges at Lake Padden and Birch Bay. The plunges have become a tradition for many people who want to ring in the New Year with a bitterly cold baptism.
"It's an adrenaline rush," said Bellingham resident Jeremy Hendren, who was doing the Padden dip for the fourth year. "I'm a cold-water junkie. It doesn't get any better than this."
Organizers said that, despite the sunshine, this year's water temperature was a record cold for the event: a nippy 42 degrees. That was perfect for Bellingham resident Anthony Munn, who donned an eye-catching outfit that included bright pink leggings, a purple thong and a festive New Year party hat. Others dressed up as well, in tutus, polar bear hats, wrestler masks and more.
"I love the cold water," Munn said. "I go in and hang out. I don't just run in and jump out."
For Bellingham resident Mike Crocker, who was doing the plunge with his grandson, Zion Crocker, the plan was the opposite: get in and get out as quickly as possible.
"Getting in's not hard, it's getting out once you're frozen," he said.
Alger resident Allie Copeland had seen pictures of last year's polar dip at Padden and thought it looked like fun. It was, but it was also freezing.
"I thought, 'Maybe these guys know something I don't,'" she said. "Now I think they're just silly. This is probably a one-time-only thing. I'll spend next New Year's Day warm and toasty."
Levi Gose goes to school in Wyoming and was in town visiting friends for New Year's when the idea of doing a polar plunge came up. He blames poor decision-making skills for his agreement to participate, but he ended up double-dipping into Padden because it was so much fun.
"It was well worth it," he said as he shivered afterward. "The best worst decision I've made so far this year."
Reach ZOE FRALEY at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 756-2803.