How I’ve Survived — and Thrived — at the CCAN “Keep Winter Cold” Polar Bear Plunge

In Articles, HP Featured Recipe by Lori Hill0 Comments

I really hate the cold. I mean, really, really hate it. I’m at the “I’d rather walk barefoot over broken glass then spend time in freezing weather” level of hating the cold. This time of year, I think fondly of 95-degree summer days.

Yet for the past ten years, I get really, really cold at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s “Keep Winter Cold” Polar Bear Plunge to fight global climate change. I view it as mere seconds out of my life for the most important cause of our lifetime. It’s also really, really fun, inspiring and motivating.

I’ve learned a lot over the past ten years, so here are my tips for surviving and thriving at the plunge.

Dress Warm

The night before the plunge, I pick out everything I plan to wear during the Pre-Plunge Rally and after the plunge (see What to Pack below). My first layer is my bathing suit because it makes stripping down in the changing tents easier. I follow that layer with a camisole top and thermal underwear. A turtleneck and a pullover, along with a fleece vest and my winter coat round out the remaining layers (I told you I hate being cold). On the bottom, I wear thermal underwear, jeans, and my ski pants, warm socks, and winter boots.

What to Pack

This is what I pack for the plunge and post-plunge:

  • shoes for the water (I wear Keenes, but old running shoes work well, too. DO NOT WEAR FLIP FLOPS. They will come off as soon as you hit the water (I learned this the hard way my first year).
  • a beach towel to wrap myself in before and after the plunge
  • a bathrobe if I plan to hang out by the water before and after the plunge
  • a Chico bag that I place my wet suit and water shoes in after the plunge –#ReusablesNotDisposables
  • underwear (since my bathing suit is wet)
  • a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated and/or a travel mug for my hot beverage — #ReusablesNotDisposables
  • a handkerchief or two since my nose runs in the cold air

Dress Up

While wearing a costume to the plunge is not a requirement, it definitely makes the experience more fun! Five years ago, I decided to start dressing up in climate-themed costumes to attract more attention to the cause and help spread the message across social media. Fellow plungers and supporters ask to take pictures of me or with me and I’ve met great people this way, too. To see a history of my costumes, which are created by my friend and make-up artist Kim Reyes, watch my Polar Bear Plunge playlist on YouTube.

What am I dressing as this year? You’ll just have to wait until January 27th to see!

What to Consume Plunge Morning

I eat a light, healthy breakfast, pop some vitamin C and zinc (which I try to start taking a day or two before the plunge), and drink echinacea tea to keep my immune system strong.

Getting to the Plunge      

On a good day without traffic, I can drive to National Harbor in about 40 minutes, but I factor in an additional 15 minutes or so in case there is an accident or some other traffic mishap. Be sure to check Google maps NOW to see how long it will take you to drive to National Harbor on a Saturday morning with an arrival time of 10:00 a.m. Use McLoone’s Restaurant (141 National Harbor Boulevard, Oxon Hill, MD 20745) as your destination since the restaurant is next to the parking lot and is the location of the after-party.

By the way, you definitely want to arrive at 10:00 a.m. for many reasons:

  • If you are one of the first 50 vehicles to arrive, you’ll get free parking
  • You’ll beat the lines registration lines
  • You’ll have a chance to check out the free warm drinks from Chesapeake Bay Roasting Company
  • You’ll get to see other plungers and pose for photos. This is also a great time to begin posting photos on social media to help your fundraising efforts and to raise awareness about CCAN and climate change. Heck, you might even get more donations that morning!

An additional note on parking: If I’m able to park near the changing tents, I tend to leave my gear in the car and then grab it on the way to the changing tents. Otherwise, I keep it with me to save time.


Registration is divided alphabetically, so be sure to read the signs! If you didn’t sign your waiver, you’ll be asked to do that. You’ll also get a set of foot warmers and, depending on the amount of money you raised, you’ll also receive a voucher for a t-shirt and other great giveaways. Use this time to thank the CCAN staff and volunteers for all their hard work!

Pre-Plunge Rally

Every year great speakers get us pumped up for the plunge. They keep it brief (for the most part) because they realize we’re cold and just want to get going with the plunge! It’s a great time and you don’t want to miss it!

Changing Before the Plunge

After the rally, grab your gear, find a spot in the changing tent (there are male and female tents, and a smaller tent for those requiring more privacy), plop your bag, strip down to your suit, and put on your water shoes. Wrap a towel around you and head to the water! 

Getting in the Water

It’s always fun to have a plunge partner, but if your partner is using another tent, agree on a place to meet after you are dressed and ready to get in. The plunge site can become a mob scene and it is sometimes difficult to locate others.

Just before you plunge, drop your towel near the stone wall or ask a non-plunger to hold it and GO FOR IT!

My husband shoots video of my plunge so I make sure he is right next to me before I head into the water to ensure every moment is documented! If you can, have someone shoot video of your plunge or, if you have a GoPro, bring that into the water, but hold on tight. You don’t want to accidentally drop it in the Potomac!

Go into the water as far as you can. Keep in mind, there’s no required amount of you that you have to get wet. You can go up to your ankles, knees, waist, or further. It’s up to you! I usually get up to the top of my legs and then crouch down in the water to submerge up to my neck. I choose not to get my head wet, but other plungers dive right in. I make sure to not go too far out because my legs get numb and I want to be sure they are still functioning to get me back to shore!

Changing After the Plunge

On warmer plunge days (when the temperature is in the 30s or above) I find myself lingering after the plunge, but these also tend to be years I get sick! So I now make a point to pose for a few quick post-plunge photos and then change out of my wet gear right away.

Once inside the changing tent, I dry off, put all my wet gear in my Chico bag, and change into clean underwear and my warm clothes. Sometimes I feel that changing post plunge is worse than the actual plunge because my feet are so cold and it is hard to put socks on. If you haven’t already, this is the time to place the foot warmers in your boots. Your feet will thaw out much more quickly.

Important! Before I leave the tent, I check the area around me to be sure I haven’t left anything behind.

Attending the After-Party

I love attending the after-party at McLoone’s Pier House! We take over the entire place and everybody is in a great mood, high fiving each other for a job well done.

While here, I get a drink and a meal at a discount. This year, McLoone’s is offering all plungers 20% off their check if they order food. They will also have several vegan specials for us plant eaters!

Returning Home

When I return home, I take a hot shower and crawl into bed for at least a few hours and take it easy the rest of the day. I no longer make plans for Saturday night other than to be a couch potato. I’ve learned that since my body worked so hard to stay warm after being plunged into cold water, I need to let it rest in order to stay healthy.

Thanking My Donors … Again

Within a day or two of the plunge, I thank my donors again by emailing them a big thank you and sharing my plunge video. I also let them know if I reached my dollar goal. Since my 89 year-old aunt doesn’t have email, I give her a call and share the video later. I also post my plunge video on social media and encourage others to make a pledge, because they still can!

Fundraising Tips

Speaking of pledges, I ask just about everybody I know to donate to my plunge. It doesn’t hurt to ask and the worst that can happen is they’ll say no or take no action. But plenty of others will donate and I am shocked every year at who does.

The first year, I started by sending an email to most of the people in my email address book. Since then, I always start by asking the people who contributed in previous years if they will contribute again. Most always do. I have also gained new donors by reaching out to certain groups such as my neighborhood list serve and my church’s Facebook group. This past holiday season, I included in our holiday card a small strip of paper announcing my plunge and sharing the link to my page. Posting on Facebook has also helped and on Giving Tuesday, I gained brand new donors who I hope will turn into repeat donors.

After the first email, which I send in November, I send out reminder emails at the end of the year and then a few weeks before the plunge. I also post on Facebook around this time and include photos from my previous plunges.  

The donations I receive range from $10 to $300 and every year I am shocked by the generosity of donors – especially people I don’t know that well. You never know how someone feels about climate change until you simply ask. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Finally, whenever I receive an email notification that someone donated to my plunge, I send them a quick email thanking them for their support.

For more fundraising tips, check out CCAN’s Fundraising Guide.

I look forward to plunging with you on the 27th! 

Lori Hill

Lori Hill

Lori Hill is a plant eater, trash picker upper, climate activist, wife, and mom to 2 human boys, 2 cat boys, and 1 dog boy. On a mission to do all she can to take better care of the planet, Lori created Sister Eden Media, a green lifestyle company, to inspire others to give a damn and live more gently on Earth. She shares tips on her YouTube channel, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and also frequently appears on television.
Lori Hill

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