AMHERST – It’s a picturesque spot. Down a back road on the way to Wentworth. The river, pretty with its white banks. A restful place on a quiet day.
But this was not a quiet day. New Year’s Day at the home of Carson and April Dares is a time when brave (foolhardy?) souls submerge themselves in the Wallace River: a polar bear dip, and one with a history dating back decades.
Colby Keating, 15, said it was his fifth year. His mother’s been doing it for 15. He described the thought that goes through one’s mind when one enters a Canadian river in winter.
“Oh no, this isn’t good,” he said.
Eight-year-old Megumi Ozawa wasn’t sure why she’d decided to do the polar bear swim, but she had a good-sized cheering section regardless. Her mother and father, and relatives from Japan were on-hand to cheer on the youngest participant.
The group of perhaps a dozen gathered for a photo, then tromped down rough stone stairs to the riverbank. At the end of a countdown, they plunged in en masse. It was over quickly for most. The host, Carson, and the teenager, Colby, lingered.
Ozawa’s comment after the swim was succinct.
“That was very cold,” said the girl.
Back in the kitchen, some participants absorbed heat form a large woodstove. The hosts stood behind the kitchen’s island counter.
The couple said the event was started by Larry and Karen Rhindress, but moved to their place in the early 1990s. Last year was the most participants they’ve ever had, with 20 or more.
According to Carson, April’s father said he could have her hand if he a) helped move the older man’s camp, and b) did the swim three times. Carson fulfilled his swimming promise most of two decades ago.
“Bring the new year in with a splash,” said April.
It was agreed among some of the participants that imbibing spiritous liquors was an important tactic for tackling the icy waters.