Float on the chilly waters of the Portneuf River this weekend in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho.
If the recent spell of unseasonably warm weather has you all hot and bothered, the folks in Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, may have the answer.
Head to the small town outside Pocatello this weekend, get yourself an inner tube and join the other adventurous spirits competing in the annual Polar Bear Float on the chilly waters of the Portneuf River.
“It’s exciting and invigorating but I don’t think it requires all that much courage,” said Randy Hunsicker, a float veteran and, tellingly perhaps, a retired Navy SEAL. “Crazy is more like it.”
Questions of sanity aside, the float is part of the town’s Fire and Ice Winter Fest (Feb. 3–5), which takes advantage of the area’s abundant geo-thermal activity. It’s also a big reason the festivities earn Overhead Bin’s coveted Weird Festival of the Month award for February.
According to Mark Lowe, executive director of the Lava Hot Springs Foundation, the festival was born five years ago. “It was six weeks past Christmas but still another six weeks or more until spring,” he told msnbc.com. “We were looking for a way to get together and beat those winter blues.”
The result is a series of activities that range from the usual — wine tasting, casino night, a carnival for the kids — to others that are anything but. Among the latter is the Running of the Bulls, in which contestants don swim suits, jump into a pool at the Lava Hot Springs Inn, grab their flip flops, run (dripping wet!) several blocks down Main Street and jump into the water at the town’s hot pools complex.
Lava Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce.
In the Running of the Bulls, participants dash down Main Street in their swimsuits.
“There are no bulls involved,” said Lowe, “although we have toyed with the idea of backing up a cattle truck and dropping the tailgate. Wouldn’t that surprise everybody?”
But when it comes to frigid frivolity, it’s hard to beat the Polar Bear Float, in which some competitors show up in Speedos and bikinis and others in costumes ranging from superheroes to Santa Claus. The event only covers one-quarter of a mile but it’s not without its challenges.
“The initial contact is pretty intense,” said Hunsicker. “For some people, it can be hard to breathe.”
As for Lowe, who has yet to take the plunge himself, you’ll likely find him back on the riverbank, along with several hundred others who have gathered together in a winter-defying display of community spirit.
“It’s the spectators that make it such a special event,” he said. “Hey, if it was fun to do with no one around, people would be doing it all the time.”
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Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.