Between a Rock and a Cold Place

The Polar Plunge started in the Rocky Broad River before moving to warmer Lake Lure. Today, the most adventurous participate in the Extreme Polar Plunge.

The Polar Plunge started in the Rocky Broad River before moving to warmer Lake Lure. Today, the most adventurous participate in the Extreme Polar Plunge.

The Broad River snakes through Eastern Buncombe, gathers spring water from Black Mountain, and becomes the Rocky Broad in Rutherford County — including rapids of IV-V-class whitewater — before finally feeding into Lake Lure. The result is a bone-chilling tributary: a boulder-studded stream whose winter temperatures flirt with freezing.

“It doesn’t ice over — it’s free-flowing,” assures Marcia Nicholson, manager at Geneva Riverside Lodging and Tiki Bar & Grill. But when the river eddies to accommodate all those big rocks or fallen limbs, things turn slushy: “And that’s when you know it’s cold.”

As part of Geneva’s Extreme Polar Plunge, a dozen or so bold swimmers brave the steely undertow each January. There’s the quick dip: a lily-livered wade into thigh-deep water. But then there’s the diehard dive. Participants fight the current, scramble on a flat rock across the way, and pose for photos.

Bikinis are common, and costumes are encouraged. There’s been a Colonel Sanders with his fried chicken bucket and a diaper-wearing Baby New Year.

No matter the swimming style, it takes a lot to give these adventurers goosebumps. Many participants backstroke in Lake Lure for the New Year’s Day Polar Plunge, an event sponsored by The Chamber of Hickory Nut Gorge, only to return to shore, towel off, and ask: What’s next?

But Lake Lure is afforded the chance to warm up. Sunlight heats the reservoir, and even last year’s overcast day allowed for balmy 45-degree water temperatures. The fast moving Rocky Broad sits just above 32 degrees, for comparison.

It’s all that water coming off the mountains, explains Nicholson. In harsher winters, it may very well be melted snow. “Most people have antifreeze in their bodies from New Year’s Eve parties,” she jokes. “I just try to stay on the dry side of the camera.”

The Extreme Polar Plunge happens January 1, 2pm, at Geneva Riverside (3147 Memorial Hwy. in Lake Lure). Attendance is free for those who participate in the Lake Lure New Year’s Day Polar Plunge, happening earlier that day at noon. For others, it’s $30. All money goes to benefit Lake Lure Fire and Rescue. For more information, see genevarivermotel.com or call 828-625-4121.

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