My first encounter with the cold was in my first year at university. For some reason I decided to wear shorts — one complete year long. And in my home and study town of Dortmund, we have seasons, including a winter. Not too cold of a winter, but cold enough to make my daily 10k cycle to uni challenging. Still, all went well for about 10 months. Then, one day in December, the flu got me. I was more or less in bed for the better of 2 weeks, and I have been struggling with frequent colds ever since.
So what brought me back to the cold? What has driven me to even go on a five day expedition to Sweden to swim in ice water and hike for 2 hours through the snow covered wilderness south of Stockholm, with nothing but shoes, shorts and a woolen hat on me?
And even more, why did I feel reborn after these 5 days, instead of being in bed with a fever?
Actually, the experiences today and 15 years ago couldn’t be more different. Back then, I was driven by the weird desire to prove something, I don’t know whether to myself or to others. And my approach to enduring the cold was, fuck it, it is cold, I am shivering, I can’t feel my hands and legs, but yeah, I’m cool. Frozen to the bones? Fuck it, I am stronger than this cold and I’m gonna fight it. Well, that worked — until it did not. I did not listen to my body, I did not acknowledge that cold can be harmful, I did not listen to the signals that things might have been a bit too much.
And now? Swimming in a frozen lake is still fucking cold. But the Wim Hof Method has prepared me to embrace the cold instead of fighting it. Relax instead of clenching my teeth. And most importantly, to listen to my body and start the cold exposure gradually and safely, and increase it in small doses to let the body adjust.
But still, what fired up the idea in me to go to Sweden in first place, me, that guy who always has a cold and catches the flu if a dog three blocks away does a sneeze?
Since my first cold experiment 15 years ago, I had a few more, most times friendly encounters with the cold. Most notably probably a dip in the Baltic Sea in March, some 7 years ago. I was in visiting the adorable, life-loving Lena, who I had met and hosted a few days earlier during her CouchSurfing adventure to Paris. The weather was cold, but sunny, and since Rostock has beautiful beaches, what else would you do on a clear day than catching some sun at the sea?
After a while dark, rain-swollen clouds started appear on the western horizon and slowly drifted our way. In a now-or-never moment we skinny dipped into the ice-cold Baltic Sea. My body reacted to the extreme experience by emitting all endorphins known to men, creating a deep happiness. The sun still sent its rays through the clouds when thick drops of rain started falling, and a rainbow arched above our heads while we danced the warmth back into our bodies.
Fast forward to Amsterdam, 2016. I had just moved to a new town and started a new job, when a friend of our boss offered an “Iceman Workshop”. Who the heck would spend half a day to prepare for a cold bath, I thought, I can do that by myself without wasting my time! I couldn’t have been more wrong, but that I only learned 2 years later, after skinny dipping once more into natural water on my through hike in the Italian Alps. This time, for some reason, the bathing experience turned into a habit of cold showers (very easy to maintain on mountain retreats who’s limited hot water reserves frequently turn your morning shower into a cold experience).
Back home I remembered that weird Wim Hof iceman workshop thingy. I did my research and started to work with the online material. And finally in early 2018 I visited my first Wim Hof Workshop by the awesome Daniel Kluken. While I had built up a solid relation with cold water in the past years (I don’t kill you, you don’t kill me), the workshop again changed my perception completely. I was hooked. 2 months later I found myself swimming in ice-covered water and hiking half-naked through the Swedish wilderness. I signed up for the instructor academy.
And I realized that only a small part of the Wim Hof Method is actually about cold experience — but I leave that for another post.