New Year’s revelers splash and gasp at annual Pilchuck River plunge in Machias

MACHIAS — The tradition started 36 years ago after leftover liquor was dumped it into a bucket and stirred.

The men at Doc’s Pilchuck Tavern drank. Then five or six of them got the notion they needed to dip into the nearby Pilchuck River.

At least that’s how Gordon Taylor remembers it. The Snohomish man said he was there that day and every New Year’s Day since.

“Now, look at what it’s become,” he said Sunday, an old-school majorette hat perched on his head adorned with the words “grand pupa.”

What it’s become is an annual event that draws a few hundred people ready to start a new year by plunging into the brisk river that runs just below the tavern.

Some come to watch. Others come with towels and bags of clothes, ready to get wet.

So many come that the two-lane country road outside the tavern is lined with cars for more than half a mile in each direction. A flock of muscular motorcycles is parked outside.

Machias is a small, tight-knit community and Doc’s has been a part of it since it was far smaller. The tavern’s owner, Jimmy Young, took over the bar from his parents in the 1950s.

The tavern is low-slung, perched just above the Pilchuck River. It’s dark and warm and welcoming inside, the kind of place people enjoy sipping beers and catching a game of football on the over-sized television. The bar is festooned with signs, knickknacks, a collection of straw hats, and posters of Budweiser horses and a buxom blonde in a bikini. Sunday, people are lined up five deep buying drinks. Sandwich fixings, canned jars of green beans and pasta salad cover the pool table.

Out back, people fill the sawdust covered yard and line the patio, pulling in smoke from their cigarettes and clutching plastic beer cups.

The plunge is scheduled to start at noon. Traditionally, Young leads the way down to the water and the first one in is supposed to be the Grand Pupa. This year, as in years past, there are a few who just can’t wait: One young man bypasses the long line to the jumping off point and takes a running leap, smacking the river belly first. He comes up dripping wet, his arms raised as if he’s Michael Phelps winning an Olympic medal.

Young comes out of the tavern and makes his way through the beer-drinking masses. He’s dressed in an ornate gold and white cape, looking almost pope-like — if it weren’t for the ski hat. He takes one long blow on a horn and the rest of the jumpers file into the water.

And what a fantastic procession. Many strip down to their skivvies and hop in wearing their beer jackets. One woman wears a wedding dress, another a Scarlett O’Hara-esque pink flouncy ball gown. One man is wearing a red Baywatch swimsuit and a blonde wig like the television show’s star Pamela Anderson. He enthusiastically mugs to those taking photos on the rocks.

Grandmas and bikers, and even kids, take the leap. Jared Fry, a 13-year-old from Monroe, has shown up with a giant 2012 painted on his belly for his first jump.

In all, dozens of people made the plunge.

The on-lookers above the river hoot and holler. Across the Pilchuck, neighbors have come out of their homes and walked down to the edge of the bank to take in the spectacle. Some of the dippers wade across the river to give out dripping-wet hugs which are gingerly received.

Young’s family always makes a grand appearance and this year is no exception. His son, Garry Young of Granite Falls, leads a group dressed as Mayans, in honor of the indigenous people’s prediction of the world ending in 2012. Except these Mayans are dressed with animal hides over multi-colored Speedo swimsuits.

“El Speedo,” Garry Young said with a slight belch. “That’s my Mayan name.”

More in Local News

Kamiak senior strives for career in acting and screenwriting

Paige Cox recently had an interview with Harvard. She’s the lead in both of this year’s school plays.

Suspect detained after attack with pick axe in Lynnwood

The assault Saturday at 196th Street SW. and Highway 99 reportedly did not leave serious injuries.

State Patrol trooper uses SUV to stop runaway truck on I-5

The driver thought it was parked until he got out and it rolled backward into traffic.

Vehicle hits pedestrians, killing one, hospitalizing another

A stretch of 196th Street SW. in Lynnwood was closed overnight during the investigation.

Swedish nurses, caregivers prepare to strike in Edmonds

The healthcare provider is flying in thousands of workers to fill in during the three-day protest.

Lawmakers renew attempt to reform Sound Transit car taxes

A Senate bill would bring some savings. Foes say it doesn’t go far enough and ignores will of voters.

Bill would eliminate most elections in odd-numbered years

Supporters say it would increase voting, opponents say it would limit the ability to file measures.

Looking back: 1974 road trip turns deadly

The Snohomish County sheriff, his wife and mother-in-law were killed while vacationing in Mexico.

Police looking for man who robbed gas station at gunpoint

The man acted like he was going to buy something. Then he pulled out a gun and demanded money.

Most Read