Lake Superior, also known as Gichigami (meaning “be a great sea”), is a lake of extremes. It is capable of producing waves as high as 30ft, has water temperatures as cool as 33 degrees, and has, in its history, pulled many great ships down to rest on its floor.
Growing up in Duluth, I learned to both love and respect the lake. My family and I lived just one block away and we would spend countless summer hours at Brighton Beach throwing rocks, swimming, and walking along the shoreline. We competed to see who could collect the greatest number of rocks with “angel tears” – sea glass. As I grew older, I would head to the lake during big storms to take pictures and experience the raw power of the waves at that time – they rise up as if smacking a brick wall, then suck back out, pulling the sand and the rocks and any debris with them. It’s quite breathtaking.
Over time, the more I traveled and spent time away from home, the more my love and appreciation for the lake grew. In fact, the more physically disconnected I was, the more emotionally connected I became. It was that realization that inspired me to make a pact with a friend of mine, Andrew Beeman: we agreed to jump into Lake Superior –to immerse ourselves in its waters – every month for an entire year. We’d capture each month’s submersion with a creative photograph; in that way we would reclaim our connection to the lake.
And so, it became tradition. Every month, we grab towels and an ax and put on all our snow gear, then head down to Lake Superior. We prefer to find open water to jump into, but last month, in February, the lake was completely frozen over so we were forced to improvise. We took turns with the ax, chopping a large hole into the lake. After forty-five minutes of hacking, we had created an “ice bath” three feet deep that was just long and wide enough for us to submerge into.
Taking off all of our gear is the worst part of the process; the wind bites at our skin relentlessly. The anticipation builds. What is it going to feel like as I submerge below the icy waters? How cold is the wind going to feel as I get out? Our hearts race as adrenaline surges through our veins. We check to be sure that the camera is in focus and then 3… 2… 1…
In an instant, we drop and submerge below the surface. Our breath is taken away as we hit the frigid water but then, just as quickly as we dove in, we’re up and out. Andrew describes the feeling of coming out of the water best, saying, “I feel euphoric as my body jumps into hyper-drive to warm myself back up. I feel refreshed and revitalized.”
Eventually summer will come, the ice will recede, and warmer days will be upon us – days that will again remind me of the times I spent at the lake with my family as a child; days that will also allow for more creative photo opportunities (finally, hypothermia won’t be something to worry about!). For now, though, we will continue to mark our love for the lake by chopping holes in the ice and dipping in – and hopping out – as quickly as possible. That experience, in and of itself, demonstrates the power of the sea.
If you’re brave enough, you should take the plunge, too! Get some friends together and start something in your community (and be sure to share the photos with the rest of us!). The following principles/rules to guide your experience (we always make sure to follow these):
1. Always go with another person.
2. Check water depth before you jump.
3. Keep as warm as possible beforehand.
4. Have dry gear on hand to put on after you get out.
5. Have one person jump in at a time.
6. Respect nature; understand its power. Things can go wrong and you should always be cautious and take the necessary precautions. Leave the area better – cleaner – than you found it so that others can also experience the beauty of the place.
7. Capture and enjoy the moment!