The Nordic Spa Isn't For Sissies
I did lots and lots of once-in-a-lifetime stuff in Quebec during Winter Carnival last February. I slept in an ice hotel. I got my groove on at a rave held at an ice castle. I went snow rafting and ziplining and to a Night Parade – all in temperatures hovering somewhere between 10 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit. And while it was all fabulous and more fun than I could have possibly imagined, for sheer, joyous insanity none of it could top my experience at Le Nordique, a Nordic spa located deep in the forest about 25 miles from Quebec City.
Nordic spas are all about moving from extreme heat to extreme cold. The dramatic changes in temperature are said to increase circulation, stimulating your body’s immune system, oxygenating the blood and eliminating toxins. And for sure, by the time I left the calming confines of Le Nordique, I was as relaxed as I’d ever been in my life. I was absolutely glowing with vitality. But how much of that was due to submerging myself alternately in fiery and frosty environments and how much was thanks to the post-rush that comes from avoiding certain death I will never know.
The idea at Nordique is to cycle through a four-step process two or three times over the course of three to four hours. I began with a 15 minute respite in the Turkish steam bath. After I became so hot I was sure my skin had begun melting off my body and my brain was about to explode out of the back of my skull, I moved on the outdoor Nordic pool. Taking a moment to note the snowstorm swirling around me as well as the ice forming on the pool’s metal handrail, I plunged into water cold enough to make me scream. In fact, I did scream. And then I ran into the relaxation room, where I reclined on a chaise lounge and waited for my teeth to stop chattering. Once they fell silent I made a beeline for the outdoor jacuzzi, a heavenly place where rising steam met falling snow and all was warm and wet and right with the world.
And then I did it all over again. Except this time I hit up the Finnish sauna. And when the time came to cool off after leaving that scorched-earth milieu, I decided to trek down to the banks of the Jacques-Cartier River and dunk myself into its frigid waters. I knew it would be crazy cold – so cold it would hurt. But I wanted the full Nordic spa experience, damnit. Fear doesn’t rule me, not this girl, no way, no how. I rule fear. At least this was what I was telling myself as I slipped and slid my way down path and stair, stair and path, toward the river. As I neared, I noticed a sign. Like everything in Quebec, it was in French. I don’t read French. But I’m pretty sure it cautioned “If you are unhinged enough to go into this river don’t come crying to us when your frozen ass drowns and sinks to the bottom, not to be discovered until spring thaw.”
But still, despite this worrisome placard, I remained resolute – until I took a gander at the Jacques-Cartier. This was no sweet little stream, no wee babbling brook. This was a massive waterway, wide and long with a no doubt surging current under the crust of ice that lay atop it. And it was getting dark. And it was still snowing. And I was one of three people left in the spa. And still, I continued down the dock, all the way to the rickety ladder that led to what, I was sure, was a gateway to hell.
Because at the end of that ladder sat a bathtub sized hole chopped into ice at least six inches thick. Through this hole was visible the blackest water imaginable, the kind of liquid that whispers of dark places of despair, of pain unimaginable. I stood, staring into it, mesmerized. I looked across the river, through snow blue in the gloaming. I glanced over my shoulder, up the stairs at the spa. I couldn’t see a soul. I slowly slid out of my robe, turned around and stepped backward onto the wooden ladder. And I continued down it until I was submerged up to my neck in that water. And it was awful. Like stepping into a vat of knives. The pain was immediate, the numbness less so. I cursed through my grimace and as I began to lose feeling in my extremities, catapulted myself back up the ladder. It took a good five minutes in the jacuzzi before it began to return.
And that’s why the Nordic Spa isn’t for sissies.
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