Susan C. Anthony

Swimming at 40 Below

December 20, 1990

Liard Hot Springs in winterThe temperature was -40 degrees Fahrenheit. We'd driven til 2:00 a.m. the previous night on our journey down the 3000-mile Alaska Highway to reach Liard Hot Springs south of Watson Lake. Dennis wanted to go swimming.

It seemed a crazy idea. As I dressed in swimsuit, long underwear, jeans, sweaters, snowsuit, several pairs of socks and heavy boots, I wondered how it would feel to take all those cozy clothes off and jump into water! It might have been the only liquid water out of doors within a thousand-mile radius. The worse part would be getting out of the water afterward, toweling off, climbing into frozen clothes, and walking a quarter-mile back to the car.

I mustered my courage. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and it was fantastic! Sunlight glittered from frost-laden trees against an ice blue sky. Every individual hair on our heads and bodies gathered a distinct delicate coating of frost. Things are sharp at 40 below. They have sparkle and crispness. Sounds ring in the air.

In places, the water was too hot to bear. No one else came along. We swam, floated and soaked for over an hour in glorious silence. Even our bones heated up, so getting out was no problem. Our bodies radiated the heat we'd absorbed, even as Dennis' mustache turned into icicles.

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