Vancouver is so different from the rest of Canada in terms of climate and geography that it almost doesn't seem as if those of us who live here are actually Canadian. Instead of flat prairie or muskeg and lakes we have mountains and the ocean and, instead of cold blizzards and snow, we have warm, gentle rain. I think it's because we feel so guilty about living in an evergreen paradise we feel compelled to enact an annual ritual of suffering in the cold that lasts all of 20 minutes at best.
Of course what I'm referring to is the annual Polar Bear Swim that takes place in English Bay every New Year's Day once the revelers of the night before have had a chance to wake up. If they aren't sober before they go into the water they certainly are when they come out. But even a water temperature of between 45- 50 degrees Fahrenheit (7 - 10 Celsius) is nothing compared to the ice choked waters elsewhere in the country.
Actually it's the air that's colder than the water at this time of year but, when you are stripped down to nothing or next to nothing, there isn't much comfort in the difference of a degree or two. Dealing with the water and air temperatures on a daily basis doesn't make it any easier for me either so, except for special occasions like the next century or millenium, I leave the ocean on this day to all the folks in costumes. The seals also tend to go into hiding once they see what's happening.
According to the Coast Guard's 50-50-50 rule you only have a 50% chance of surviving in 50 degree water if you are in it for more than 50 minutes without proper gear so the swim is cut short for all those warm blooded animals who think they can be polar bears just for one day. Of course some people think if they dress up as penguins, Elvis, Superman, or anything else with a supernatural connection to the cold it may give them an advantage, but it doesn't. In less than 20 minutes they come out of the ocean with their costumes ruined and their dignity in shock as they frantically try to find a dry towel and get warmed up.
It's all in good fun of course and, while the rest of Canada still has 80 days of winter to get through, Vancouverites can go right back to sitting outside with their Starbucks coffees. Snow in Vancouver belongs on the local mountains where anyone feeling the need to play in the cold stuff can simply go skiing. As for the real polar bears in Canada, oh what a refreshing feeling it is at this time of year, what a rush.
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