Some people toast the New Year with champagne. Others might dance away the waning hours of the year.
But Michelle Forseth and her husband Jeff, from Eden Prairie, prefer something a little more, well, bracing.
The Forseths were among about a dozen people standing at the riverbank in Hidden Falls park in St. Paul on New Year's Day, pushing canoes and kayaks to the thin edge of the river ice and out into the current.
For about 15 years or so, kayak and canoe enthusiasts have gathered on New Year's Day to ply the open water just below the dam beside the Ford plant. It's a haven for Michelle.
"The landscape is beautiful. The birds are beautiful. We often see eagles when we're down here. It's peaceful and quiet," said Michelle Forseth. "It's an adventure. It's something other people don't do. So we have fun."
And get cold. The boat landing just across from Minnehaha Creek was locked in ice, and the river was frozen from bank to bank for much of the reach between the dam and Fort Snelling. There were actually more people walking onto the river than paddling in it.
And while it did warm up to a relatively balmy 23 degrees when the sun came up, the river was hardly any warmer than that. Experienced paddlers think you might last just three or four minutes if you fell in.
"The water, when it's open, is 35 degrees. And we dress for the water. We wear dry suits, we wear neoprene mukluks, we wear neoprene gloves, wool hats, layers underneath," said Michelle Forseth. "If we do go in the water, we can stay warm for 10, 20 minutes. Maybe half an hour. We are very safety conscious and we do know our limitations, too."
Most people hit that limit some time about, oh, four months ago. Paddling is a cherished summertime ritual for many.
But Jeff Forseth says it hasn't always been that way. He's president of the Inland See Kayakers, a Minnesota paddling club. He says people have made their living, literally, with a paddle in hand for much of human history. And for people near the Arctic Circle, like the Inuit, cold water is simply a fact of life.
"it's always cold in the wintertime for the Inuit. They don't know how to swim. They have no swimming pools, and they have no warm water to practice their swimming in. So they have to stay in their boats," Jeff Forseth explained. "They have to know how to roll and upright themselves in adverse conditions. There's more than 37 types of rolls, so they have to be prepared for all different types of situations."
Which isn't to say that it's all serious for the New Year paddle. The tradition actually started more than a dozen years ago, when a few paddlers saw another New Year's ritual, a water ski run down the Mississippi in St. Paul, and decided to get in on the action.
For some it's a matter of pride to be ready and willing to be on the water at least once a month, for years on end.
Or, even in the water.
Bob Brown is the dean of canoeists in the Twin Cities. A retired lock and dam operator from Apple Valley, he was one of the original New Year's Day paddlers. Unlike the splashing and eskimo rolling kayakers, though, he puts a premium on staying dry.
He's a "flannel shirt and wool pants" kind of paddler, even in the dead of winter.
"I did swim over here one day, New Year's Day, a couple years back. All the water skiers were down here, and they had about 200 spectators up on the shore and I went for a swim. A kayaker pulled me ashore. I crawled ashore like a wet dog and everybody was applauding me. The thing that hurt worst was my ego," said Brown.
But he was back at the river for the new year anyway -- sort of.
The park gate was locked and the entrance road wasn't plowed this year. It might not be too cold to be on the water, but there was a little too much winter to even drive from the top of the river bluff to the edge of the ice.
"It's a long walk. It's a long walk back. Going down isn't bad. But going back uphill, you have to drag the boat all the way. My boat stayed on top of my car," said Brown.
But there'll always be next New Year's.