Why I Jump in the North Atlantic on New Year's Day
It started, as most unlikely things do, with a great deal of hesitation. But it was the gut-instinct strain of hesitation, the kind that morphs into gusto, not the kind of reluctance that’s grounded in reason, which could make you think instead of act. It was four years ago at a New Year’s Eve party in Brooklyn at my friend’s house, we’ll call her Celeste. Her friend, we’ll call her Gretta, went home early because she was meeting her Cross Fit group in the morning to go to Coney Island for the annual Polar Bear Plunge. She wasn’t going to jump. She was going to join the thousands of onlookers whose respect—or schadenfreude, depending on their sensibility—was enough to draw them out of bed and to the chilly shore of the Atlantic on the one day it’s acceptable, if not endorsed, to sleep until noon.
The Coney Island Polar Bear Club meets once a week to go swimming in the ocean when the weather gets cold. It was founded in 1903, but their big day is January 1. I wanted in. Was it too late to join Gretta's Cross Fit team? Absolutely not, she said. She’d meet me there at noon. Immediately after midnight, I said my farewells, and headed home to excavate my bathing suit from one box or another. I bought fleece-lined leggings at the 24-hour CVS on the way.
I have never skydived, run a marathon, or been within spitting distance of a wild animal on a safari. I have never ridden on a motorcycle, set off a firework, or attended a Black Friday sale. I eat kale, workout a great deal, and I cross to the other side of the street when I see a discarded mattress on the sidewalk. I don’t jaywalk. I make it a priority to keep my body out of harm’s way. But despite Celeste’s objections, throwing myself in 33-degree ocean water on a 24-degree day did not seem like a peril, it seemed like an inevitability.
Any of my friends will tell you that I hate summer. No, really. Getting overheated just by walking two blocks or roasting in the sun while lying in sand as a sport is simply not my thing. Sand is just a classy version of dirt, the way I see it. If I must go to the beach, I’ve always enjoyed the chilly waters along Maine’s rocky coast to tepid, mellow Caribbean waves. I was born in November and I have a theory that people who take their first breath when it’s cold outside have a natural proclivity for winter. Vice versa for summer babies.
Not sure if my theory is right across populations, but it’s true for me. At the launch of 2018, I’ll head to the beach at the southernmost point of Brooklyn and throw myself into the frigid Atlantic. For the fifth time. Please don’t tell my mother.
A WINTER TRIP TO THE BEACH, VIA SUBWAY
There are 45 stops on the F train, which runs from the center of Queens through the island of Manhattan and then on to the southern tip of Brooklyn, culminating at the Coney Island station. Each January 1, as the train rolls through Manhattan and its eastern borough, people with varying combinations of layers (ski parkas and shorts, wetsuits and sweaters, lycra pants and knitted sweaters) trickle onto each car. Most carry oversized bags filled with blankets and towels. Some tinker with their Go-Pro. People appear one of the following ways: eyes-down with controlled anxiety; visibly panicked; wide-eyed and grinning; blissed out and at one. Sometimes strangers talk to each other. (“How many is this for you?” a first-timer asked me last year. “My fourth.” “Does it hurt?”)
Coney Island is everything you imagine it looks like in vintage imagery. The Cyclone roller coaster, the Wonder Wheel, the spires of the old Luna Park are all visible as you approach. They are thrills on pause, as they’re all shuttered for the winter, reminders that Coney Island would be deserted any other winter day. The original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand is one of the first things you see when you hit the boardwalk. Rather, the line is the first thing you’ll see, as people wait on a final jolt of fortification.
Several ambulances are positioned in the parking lot, which took me by surprise my first time. I choose to ignore them. And, for whatever it’s worth, I’ve never seen them in action during or after the plunge. Each year, as I make my way through the crowd to register, it’s a dependable mix of hipsters, jocks (typically in sports team garb), burly men speaking Slavic languages or Russian, septuagenarians and even a few octogenarians, petite Asian women, women in mermaid regalia or Playboy bunny costumes posing with the aforementioned jocks and burly dudes, and the leather-jacket-clad Staten Island chapter of Hell’s Angels. Stern cops stand on, looking jaded.
The Polar Bear Plunge is a fundraiser, but the first time you do it, it will likely be a bit of a revelation to learn the extent to which it is a thoroughly organized event. In the past the fundraising has been for Camp Sunshine, a facility in Maine for sick children and their families, but the cause changes occasionally. You wait in line to give your money (at least $25 is suggested), sign a waiver just in case, get a colored bracelet, then move along to the T-shirt station where you shout out your shirt size. I’ve learned that you need to be slightly aggressive. And hope I’m there in time to get one of the mediums. While on line everyone chats with one another, largely to psych each other up.
PLUNGERS, TAKE YOUR MARKS
A large banner indicates the jump time of each of the five colored wristbands. They’re spaced in 15-minute blocks. As the beach fills up, groups stake out their turf, spread blankets, and cluster together. Flasks are passed around. People strip down to bathing suits and take a deep breath, feeling the frigid air inside and out. Jubilant announcements come over a loudspeaker. A bona fide club member welcomes us invited interlopers, rattles off safety measures, and calls the green bracelets, the first group. They line up a few hundred feet from the water, surrounded by onlookers on both sides, cameras ready. A horn sounds and everyone runs down the beach, stampede-style. Some dally and wade to their ankles, their knees, their thighs, some charge in. I am not one to understand thermodynamics, but the reason I tell people this isn’t as drastic as a cold shower is because your skin is already cold. The temperature differential is not as dramatic.
There is truly nothing like the sensation of lining up with fellow revelers and waiting for the horn. Having done it several times, I know exactly what to expect: the initial clash of giddiness and wariness, a flash of will-I-or-won’t-I. Reason tries to intrude, but it’s hushed by the buzz of the crowd. Cue: the adreneline-fueled fight-or-flight sensation, it’s do-or-die. The horn blows. Showtime. I go in slowly: ankles, knees, hips, deep breath, dunk. My group is nearby but I don’t hear them. The cracking shock that takes hold of my body is like a glacier’s icy embrace. Everything is scrambled, until it isn’t. Survival mode kicks in, reality returns, every cell in my body is working overtime, and a feeling of invincibility washes over me. This is what it is to be alive.
People rush out of the water faster than they ran in. Strangers high-five one another. It’s a team victory. It’s a personal triumph.
And as I dry off, all of a sudden, every one of my better-living resolutions for the New Year seems like a cakewalk. If nothing else, the plunge makes you understand that perspective matters.
Locals Know Best: Telluride, Colorado
Mention Telluride to anyone and chances are they’ll immediately think of an elite ski town full of second homes and all the things hedge fund dreams are made of. But there’s far more to this picturesque village nestled at 8,800 feet above sea level in the Colorado Rockies. Old Western fanatics will tell you that Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank here. Architecture junkies will tell you it’s chockablock of Victorian homes and it was illuminated by streetlights before Paris. Entertainment historians will tell you that Lillian Gish played shows there. And scholars of American history will tell you that at the turn of the 20th century, there were more millionaires per capita there than Manhattan. By the 1960s, however, due to the slowdown of the local mining industry, the boom started to go bust. Thanks in large part to entrepreneurial developer and hotelier Joseph Zoline, who leveraged the area’s exquisite mountains and built up the local ski industry in the late 1960s, Telluride underwent a renaissance and got its glitzy groove back. But beyond the allure of its ski runs, Telluride is actually just a small town of about 20 by 15 blocks. In the off-season its population is around 3,000 and it draws all sorts of artists, festival followers, nature lovers, and culinary-minded vacationers, giving it an energy that suits travelers of all stripes. We recently checked in with Eliza Gavin, owner of and chef at 221 South Oak since 2000, to learn a bit about what goes on in town today. She’s the chef owner at 221, a restaurant she’s owned since 2000, but you might recognize her from season 10 of Top Chef, which aired in 2012. As a native of Telluride for 20 years, she's seen the town change and grow. Here's where she recommends you go when you visit. TRAILS FOR STROLLING, HIKING, AND SKIING Telluride is essentially located in a canyon surrounded by southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, which are as high as 13,000 feet. Waterfalls abound. There’s a tangle of trails across mountains and flatter lands that lure hikers, bikers, and anyone else who loves spending time outdoors. With so many different paths to take, it helps to have someone familiar with the landscape to offer tips. Eliza, who’s done her fair share of exploring, has the low-down on what to expect on different trails. Beginners and anyone just wanting a casual stroll would be best off on Bear Creek. It’s not strenuous, Eliza says, and it’s manageable to go off-trail if the urge to wander strikes. Anyone seeking more intensity should try Jud Wiebe, a three-mile loop that’s pretty much a straight shot up and a straight shot down. And for a completely different experience, hop in a car and head to Ouray, about 40 minutes away. Those who travel will be richly rewarded with hot springs and waterslides. And, of course, there are the famous ski trails, which offer world-class terrain regardless of your experience or ability, not to mention different options with regards getting to the top of the mountain via lift or hike. In addition to the slopes, though, Eliza raves about Terrain Park, a veritable winter playground of man-made jumps where kids flips and spins. Yes, Telluride’s reputation is built largely on adrenaline-fueled afternoons, but plenty of people here snap on skis for a cross-country expedition. It’s so embedded in the local culture, in fact, that there are Nordic tracks in the town park as well as an area known as The Valley Floor, a giant swath of land cut through by a river. Very generous donors paid nearly $50 million to have it condemned so that nothing can ever be built on it. In 2017 it celebrated its ten year anniversary as a public space that locals love for mountain biking, cross-country skiing, and elk-spotting. OFF-SEASON DELIGHTS The one thing to know about Telluride before you go is that when people refer to it, they're generally referring to the adjacent towns of Telluride and Mountain Village. Mountain Village is the ski-hub and Telluride is more of the town. A 14-minute free gondola ride shuttles people back and forth between the two. There are also free buses if heights aren't your thing. A visit in the spring or summer is rewarded with all kinds of outdoor spaces above and beyond the hiking trails, like skate parks and bike trails along the river. "There's so much freedom in the summer," Eliza says. "Everyone walks everywhere. It's really safe." And then there are the festivals. There's pretty much something every weekend, she says. Among the arts and music happenings, the Bluegrass Festival brings in up to 12,000 music lovers each June. Then there are other events that can't really be classified, like the Nothing Festival, a summer occurrence when everyone bikes through town without clothes. Seriously. EAT YOUR HEART OUT In addition for being known for its elegant and creative seasonal New American dishes, 221 South Oak, Eliza’s restaurant, is popular for the appetizer and wine and pairing classes she offers on a regular and by-request basis. It’s quite an extravaganza: over the three-hour session, she prepares up to 14 dishes and pairs them with eight or 10 wines. Or cocktails. The options are endless. She explains the different varietals and the philosophies behind which wine compliments what food. But don’t expect your familiar dishes. Eliza prefers to use what she calls “weird ingredients,” like kaffir lime leaves and nutritional yeast. So where does this topnotch chef eat in her off-time? No town where creative people dwell would be complete without tacos. The go-to here is Tacos del Gnar, which Eliza loves for its creative concoctions, like the sloppy joe taco and tater tots with queso. For sushi, it’s Pescato, which, in a quirky turn of events, spotlights Indian food each Wednesday. Even chefs at the world’s highest end fine dining restaurants knows how to appreciate pub grub. In Telluride, Smuggler’s Brew Pub is the name of the game. The staples at this gastropub (which happen to also be Eliza’s top picks on the menu) are the pulled lamb sliders, crawfish mac’n’cheese, and fried pickles. They brew their own beer, she’s quick to note. She also recommends hitting Last Dollar Saloon (AKA: “the Buck"), a “local, lovely corner spot on Main Street with a cozy retro look," she says, complete with lacquered wood, a pressed tin ceiling, pool tables, and foozball. More importantly, though, it boasts the city’s largest beer selection, offering up to 60 beers. Eliza appreciates all those assets, but most impressive of all is the fact that each night, one of the three owners—Moussa, Jay, Michael—can be found working the bar, giving it a truly neighborhood feel. Speaking of beer, Telluride Brewing Company is a must for anyone who loves beer. (And chances are, if you’re the type of person who plans a vacation to Colorado, you likely love beer. There are, after all, 348 in the state as of May 2017. That’s roughly six breweries for every 100,000 people) It’s eight miles outside the city, and more than worth the trip, Eliza ensures. But if you don’t take her word for it, consider the many awards they've won over the years at the annual Great American Beer Festival. They don't have formal tours, she notes, but they always welcome visitors. "You just go in and they're like, 'Hi! You wanna look around? You want a tour?' They’re just very friendly and fun." As further evidence of their obsession with fun, they participate in the Telluride Blues and Brews festival each September. Right about now it’s worth noting that Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 (with Washington) and its dispensaries have been a tourist attraction since that went into place. When Eliza sees tourists wandering through town staring at their phones, chances are they’re looking for the weed stores. There’s six dispensaries and though Eliza doesn’t partake, she says it’s not hard to find someone in town who can recommend which has a better inventory than the rest.
Cool Towns for Holiday Shopping
Budget Travel loves celebrating America’s coolest towns as much as we love celebrating the holidays. So when Expedia mined data across social media platforms to see which local shops and holiday markets were getting the most buzz, we were psyched to learn the results. Here, five of the cool communities where you’ll find unique holiday gifts, a vibrant downtown, natural beauty, and an overall great travel experience. FLAGSTAFF, AZ: A SHOPPING PASSPORT WITH PRIZES The Flagstaff Holiday Shopping Passport is an appealing idea for nudging holiday shoppers to discover the bounty that local shops have to offer, rewarding shoppers who hit at least five stores (or spend at least $250) with the chance to win prizes. Flagstaff’s varied local businesses offer enough variety to check everybody off your shopping list, with outdoor and camping gear, books, home decor, candles, honey, personal care products, fine art, flowers, upscale clothing and much more. MYRTLE BEACH, SC: CHRISTMAS CRAFTS BY THE SEA Sure, you think of Myrtle Beach as one of your favorite summer destinations. So do we. But when the holidays roll around, the coastal community's ocean views and famous hospitality make for a beautiful backdrop for shopping and revelry. The Holiday Bazaar on Saturdays at Market Common, an annual Myrtle Beach tradition, offers seasonal craft vendors and fresh food. Plus, holiday events will be happening all over the Myrtle Beach area throughout the holiday season, including Crazy Country Christmas music and comedy shows, Motown Christmas Tribute concerts, and the Nights of a Thousand Candles at Brookgreen Gardens, a gorgeous arboretum and sculpture garden. MISSOULA, MT: EUROPEAN-STYLE FOOD & FUN You might not expect to shop at a traditional European-style Christmas market in the heart of the Montana Rockies, but Missoula’s Little Red Truck Vintage Market European Christmas, at the fairgrounds (with heated barns), is a pleasant cultural juxtapositions. Hand-crafted gifts, antiques, exquisite European-style baked goods (and bratwurst), live music, and a visit from Santa Claus in his sleigh make this one of the West’s unique holiday events. And don’t miss Missoula’s Hip Holiday Market, sponsored by the Lowell School PTA and featuring the work of 50 local artists. BOWLING GREEN, KY: A FRESH MARKETPLACE We love Bowling Green’s SoKY Marketplace, a year-round outdoor farmers market that offers not only fresh, locally grown produce but also handmade holiday crafts, baked goods, meats, cheeses, and an array of other locally sourced products. Downtown Bowling Green also boasts a holiday ice-skating rink and an annual Christmas parade. MUSKOGEE, OK: CHRISTMAS IN A CASTLE Castleton Village, in downtown Muskogee, will enchant visitors with thousands of lights (you can drive or take a hayride or train, or take a pony ride). Inside the Castle Christmas, families will savor the holiday shopping, ornament-decorating, cocoa and snacks, and a visit with Father Christmas.
5 Things Budget Travelers Are Thankful For
When my family sits down to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, we have a tradition that I actually look forward to even more than the food: We first take a moment to go around the table and share something each of us is particularly thankful for. From the youngest at the table to the eldest, it's a mindful way to take stock of the past year and share our hopes for the future. At Budget Travel, we have a lot to be thankful for, and we hear from our audience regularly about the travel trends and experiences that you most appreciate. We want to share our thoughts with you, our extended family: TRAVEL MAKE US MORE TOLERANT Despite the latest wave of bad news around the world, more people are traveling than ever before and we are, of course, firm believers in the power of travel to break down the barriers between cultures. Once you’ve walked the streets of a foreign city, tasted the flavors of its food, and listened to the language, songs, and laughter of its people, you return home with something more valuable than any souvenir, something that can’t be taken away: Empathy. TRAVEL MAKES US HAPPIER Don’t take our word for it. Numerous studies have suggested over the years that spending money on experiences rather than on possessions makes people happier. The anticipation of planning a trip, the experience itself, and your memories (even the memories of travel fails!) all combine to boost your sense of well-being. We take this research very much to heart when recommending not only big annual vacations but also three-day weekends, road trips, and girlfriend getaways that pack the anticipation/experience/memories into a smaller package. SOCIAL MEDIA BRINGS THE WORLD TO YOU Yes, we know, we know. Your feed is sometimes cluttered with political rants, questionable "news" items, your friends' pets, and unappetizing dinner pics. But at their best, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest deliver the world to us when we’re looking for trip inspiration or up-to-the minute news, and, in turn, allow travel media brands like Budget Travel to deliver the world to you. PHOTOGRAPHY IS MORE ACCESSIBLE THAN EVER While we understand there’s no substitute for a great camera and a pro photographer (and our photo essays and slideshows certainly prove that), we are extremely thankful that smartphones and tablets have put the means of taking great pics in the hands of so many people. Like the social media platforms where photos get shared, the abundance of fabulous images is making the world a smaller place. FOOD IS WAY BETTER THAN IT USED TO BE It wasn’t too long ago that traveling meant a strange balancing act between sublime new tastes and bland or flat-out awful food. But restaurants, airports, airlines, food trucks, and a nearly worldwide focus on nutrition and taste (thanks to the pioneering work of food activists such as Alice Waters) have raised the culinary game across the U.S. and Europe and beyond. And while we're on the subject of giving thanks, please remember that it is easier than ever to help those who don’t have enough to eat by donating to Oxfamamerica.org.
"Road Soda" Delivers Tasty Cocktail Recipes for Travelers
It’s happened to the best of us: you end up in a hotel room or on a plane or at a campsite and you’ve spent what seems like an entire day getting there. A cocktail would be really nice at that point, but you don’t want to take out a mortgage on your home to buy the micro-bottles from your minibar and a gin and tonic from a harried flight attendant just won’t do the trick. In this situation, the trick is resourcefulness. In “Road Soda,” Kara Newman, spirits editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, talks to bartenders around the country to create a compendium of clever techniques, practical hacks, and surprisingly simple recipes that can ensure a well-made cocktail is never as far away as your destination. We sat down with her to talk about "Road Soda" (one of Budget Travel's "Holiday Gifts for Cocktail Enthusiasts"), fancy ice, Ziploc bags, and how to make a cocktail at 39,000 feet. YOUR HOTEL MINI FRIDGE HAS MORE COCKTAIL INGREDIENTS THAN YOU THINK BUDGET TRAVEL: You note in your book that an epic delay in Mexico while you were en route home to New York helped kicked this book into gear. What happened there? KARA NEWMAN: It was a ten hour flight delay and I was with some colleagues who suggested we grab a hotel room so we could rest, work, refresh. All I had was my carryon, which included a bottle of tequila, so I grabbed armfuls of Squirt, the grapefruit soda that’s mixed with tequila in Mexico to make palomas, and the weirdest corn chip flavors I could find. I called everyone and said, ‘Paloma party in my room!’ I was in a foul mood, and it made me feel more civilized. The delay was less like a chore and little more like an adventure. It’s this kind of attitude adjustment that I hope people are able to take away. BT: In all your conversations with bartenders, was there anything you learned that particularly surprised you? KARA: I was really surprised by Julie Reiner’s [owner of NYC’s legendary Clover Club and Flatiron Lounge] machinations to bring an entire daiquiri on board a plane—fancy ice and all. It came my way through social media, someone posted a photo on Facebook of Julie shaking daiquiris onboard a flight to Hawaii. She told me she brings all the ingredients and, of course, purchases the rum on board. She had a cooler of dense Kold Draft ice—the kind serious bartenders like to use because it doesn’t dilute quickly—and her own shaker. It surprised me that she’d be so willing to go to these lengths to have that kind of experience on board. She was even considerate by wrapping cocktail shaker in a blanket. She was in first class, so she had some elbow room and wasn’t knocking into neighbors if she’s shaking. You have to know your constraints. BT: Knowing your constraints seems like good advice for anything in life. KARA: I was also amazed by Atlanta bartender Tiffanie Barriere’s suggestion to use a scooped-out half lemon or lime as a jigger. It’s a watertight vessel, nature’s nifty jigger. It never even occurred to me as a possibility, but it works. It’s so crazy. It won’t always be precise ounce or half-ounce, but if you use it every time you’ll get the right proportions. I also liked that another acclaimed New York bartender Pam Wiznitzer gave me her mom’s tip to pack arm-floaties—those things kids use to learn how to swim—to keep bottles safe while you travel. Pack them deflated and blow them up and stick a bottle in it. Insta-packaging! PLANES, TRAINS, BEACHES, AND CAMPSITES: THERE'S A DRINK FOR THAT BT: Your book is organized in chapters. I really enjoyed the one about how to make the most of your hotel mini-bar, but I was struck by the three chapters that each focus on a specific vessel--flasks, bottles and cans, bags. Some of that would never occur to me—like plastic bags??! KARA: I was amazed by how many drinks could be made in bags. That was a shocker. I can’t believe I did an entire chapter on drinks in Ziploc baggies and Capri-Sun pouches. But it’s just really nice to have an alternative to a glass if you’re going to a beach. And as for bottles, that’s great when you don’t have a shaker. Then a lot of bartenders seemed to be into hiking and outdoor sports. Among bartenders who like to climb mountains, I had a lot of conversations about flasks and packing metal or plastic instead of glassware. There are practical reasons for taking drinks in flasks or Bota bag. BT: “Road soda,” you note, is actually a traditional term for an alcoholic drink consumed in a vehicle. (Presumably not by the driver!!) How’d you uncover that history? KARA: I was at a cocktail conference in San Antonio and touring through the Anthony Hotel, a historic, luxurious hotel built in 1909. Outside there was a place where cars pulled up and handed their “roadie,” a drink to take on the road. BT: Wow, times sure have changed. KARA: I was astonished. Who’d do that now?? It sounds so luxurious, in a way. Of course, I am NOT encouraging drivers to drink. Far from it!! BT: I realize it’s hard to pick favorites, but….what's your favorite cocktail from the book? KARA: I’ve been digging the ones in flasks. When I want to take something with me, I’ll take the Pendergast (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Angostura bitters) or the Rebanack (rye, orange curacao, Strega liqueur, Peychaud's bitters). They’re nice easy sippers that are especially good when you want to just show what the whole idea is about. Plus they’re in easy-to-pour in containers, so they're easy to share. We asked Kara to pick a few drinks from her book and recommend a trip to match. Here are her suggestions. FOR HIKING, CAMPING and MOTEL-HOPPING: Under My Skin (makes 10 drinks) 10 ounces Calvados 10 ounces Bigallet China-China Amer10 ounces Noilly Prat Ambre Vermouth Funnel all ingredients into a 1-liter bota bag or bottle and shake gently to combine. To serve, pour into rocks glasses, each with one large ice cube, using 3 ounces of cocktail per serving. FOR CONCERT-GOING, OR ANY CROWD-HEAVY OUTING: Rebennack (makes 1 drink) 1.5 ounces rye whiskey .75 ounce orange curacao .25 ounce Strega liqueur 2 dashes Peychaud's bitters Funnel all the ingredients into a flask and cap tightly. FOR LAST-MINUTE CARIBBEAN ESCAPE: Jungle Bird on the Wing (makes 1 drink) 2 sugar packets (2 teaspoons)2 teaspoons water 1 mini bottle (50 ml) rum, preferably an aged rum.75 ounce Campari 1.5 ounces pineapple juice3 lime wedges In a small cup, stir the sugar and water together until sugar dissolves to form a simple syrup. Fill a large plastic cup halfway with ice, then add the rum, Campari, pineapple juice, and simple syrup. Squeeze in the juice from 2 of the lime wedges and stir until chilled. Pull the peel off the remaining lime wedge and use as garnish.