I sat down to watch this Channel 4 show with some bias in that I simply don’t get this whole ‘adrenalin junkie’ thing. I don’t understand, for instance, why someone would hurl themselves out of a perfectly good plane just for the fun of it.
I similarly don’t understand – and find it a tremendously selfish act – that someone would want to climb Everest, risking their own lives and those of any rescuers who may be needed to save their obsessive butts…
My question is always, “What’s the point?” I know the multitude of answers to that question; it’s proving I can do it, it’s defying nature, it’s the thrill of it… but again, to what end?
So as the extremely odd tale of Wim Hof, a 50 year old ex-postman, began, and we learned that he intended to run a 26 mile marathon in subzero temperatures north of the Arctic Circle, my question again was, “What’s the point?”
And his plan was not only to run that marathon, but to do it wearing only shorts and sandals. His obsession with challenging the cold to kill him has put an enormous strain on his marriage to Carolina who, yet again, had to simply sit back and hope he didn’t die of exposure on his latest crazy endeavour. For me, she was in large part the true star of this show.
I have to say though, it all made for fascinating viewing as we watched Wim prepare for his marathon by meditating in freezers, swimming in icy canals and hanging out in ice blocks, as you do. But the footage of him launching himself under the Arctic ice and swimming seemingly effortlessly and without discomfort was a sight to behold.
The scenery was likewise breathtaking; it was a vista that contained the best icy paradise that nature could offer. But that beauty belied the savagery that could be inflicted upon a person – in this case, Wim – who, for reasons that never did become fully clear to me, chose to pit his wits and his body against the treacherous cold.
Wim though, I have to say, was a singularly uninteresting man, despite his extraordinary passion for his weird pastime, and only really became something more than two-dimensional towards the end of the programme. Prior to that, there was a sense that he was being defensively hostile, as though he was awaiting the words, “You’re a bloody nutter!” to utter forth from someone.
Nobody did say that to Wim though, nor did anyone ask too many questions about his obsession with fighting the cold, and wisely so, for I fear otherwise they’d have received a two-word answer, the second of which would have been “off”.
This defensiveness became most obvious I thought when we heard how he uses the Tibetan Buddhist practice of ‘Tummo’ in order to mentally have control of his homeostasis rather than have the ambient temperatures control it.
However, what Wim lacked in personality and charm, his wife Carolina more than made up for. She’s the dictionary definition of ‘long suffering’ and despite her evident weariness of Wim’s obsession, her love for him overrides her wish that he’d just stop being a fruitloop who has to prove something to himself about conquering cold.
Even after Wim had in fact completed the marathon – and was, for the first time, animated – complete with iced up beard and red and blue bits, his elation was only in small part shared by Carolina who remarked, “It’s not a final thing.”
So what will be his next Me vs Cold challenge? Where could he possibly go subsequently to outwit nature’s icy side again? Well, wherever it is, you can be sure Carolina will be there, and you can also be sure, she won’t want to be.