By Adrienne Perron
Photographed by Tara Rice
From our March 2023 issue
After Puranjot Kaur wades up to her shoulders into 36-degree water, it takes about 45 seconds before she hits “the sweet spot” — the moment when discomfort is replaced by euphoria. “Cold water is reorienting,” says the 43-year-old Mount Desert Islander. “It enhances self-awareness and resiliency.” Kaur’s a member of Cold Tits, Warm Hearts, a social club of mostly women that meets year-round on MDI’s freshwater and saltwater beaches for all-weather dips. The colder the water, the more the dippers learn to control their fight-or-flight responses as they submerge for up to 10 minutes at a time. “We’re hearty broads,” 28-year-old Mariah Reading says. “So many people come to MDI in the summer, when we’re like, ‘Boo, it’s too balmy. We want snow and to go dipping!’”
Acadia National Park rangers Gail Gladstone and Alison Richardson started the group in December 2019, then recruited compatriots, largely on Facebook. Today, CTWH comprises more than 60 regulars, from teens to septuagenarians, some of whom dip daily. The saucy name? Someone shouted it during an early swim, Reading says, and it stuck like an icicle on a ponytail.
In their bathing suits, beanies, and neoprene booties and gloves, dippers wade into chilly waters all around MDI, at places like Sand Beach, Somes Pond, and Long Pond, sometimes using sledgehammers to break up the ice first. No running in and out like those polar-plunge dilettantes — the CTWH dippers wade in slowly and calmly, welcoming the intense sensation. The practice replaces fear of the cold with respect for it, says Gladstone. “You remove the cold as a factor that stops you from doing things,” she says. “It’s not a killer thing you have to hide from.”
Dipper Joanna Fogg, the 38-year-old cofounder of Bar Harbor Oyster Company, hopes that cold-water swimming will prep her body for if she should ever go overboard while fishing alone. Kaur, an open-water marathon swimmer in the summer, joined to extend her swimming season. Other CTWH soakers are in it for the benefits to the immune and circulatory systems. And nearly everyone appreciates the sense of connection — with other swimmers and with winter itself. “We are part of the changing seasons, as opposed to resisting them,” Reading says. “We embrace the frigid beauty of this beautiful place.”