Dear Mr. Rawles:
I recently had an experience that allowed to me confirm a basic lesson: Start with good boots and warm socks.
The weather forecast for my north eastern city was for 2-4” of snow. Anyone with half a lick of common sense knows that this means anything from blue skies to a foot of ice. By the time I left work at the end of the day, the snow was falling very heavily, but the warm-ish temps quickly converted it into wet muck.
My usual commute involves the combination of a subway ride and then a bus, but the local station was brought to a halt by a disabled train. The major downtown terminal is almost two miles away. Instead of standing on the crowded platform waiting to be rescued, I went back to work to prepare for the walk to the station. I pulled a pair of thick hiking socks out of my bag, put then on over my thin dress socks and then tucked my trousers into my boots. I added a silk long undershirt and filled my extra platypus water bottle. My standard winter garb always includes a long, warm coat with a waterproof finish (and an insulated hood), thick gloves, a scarf and water-proof boots.
The trek was uneventful, but the main station was chaos. Rush hour had just started and trains were already 1-½ hours behind schedule. Not wanting to get stuck in town, I managed to catch a bus that would get me half way home. While in the station I looked around and was surprised by how few people weren’t prepared for a cool, dry day, let alone the freezing slush were experiencing. After watching fashionably dressed people trying to walk out of Manhattan after 9/11, I seriously changed how I dress for work. High heels and a trendy pocketbook have been replaced with “sensible shoes” and a small backpack. I always dress for 10 degrees colder than the forecast and all my outerwear is water proof and has a hood. And I carry a very small number of “just in case” goodies.
After a long trip across town through clogged streets we reached another major station. It was more chaotic than the first. Busses that usually run on scheduled loops were stuck in traffic and not returning to the station. The tiny coffee shop was out of food. Inappropriately dressed people were cold and wet. Most people were not wearing boots and their feet were drenched. The station was not heated. It was clear that if I wanted to get home in the near future, I would have to walk.
By now, the temps had dropped and under the ankle deep slush there was a growing layer of ice. And the wind had picked up. I carry a simple, homemade pair of gaiters made out of sil-nylon. They’re lightweight and not meant for wilderness backpacking, but they’re perfect for emergencies. A little duct tape about the bottoms and I was waterproof up to my knees. A pair of Yaktrax came out of my bag to keep me upright on the ice. Gatorade powder was added to a water bottle and I surprised myself by drinking it in just a sip or two. It’s easy to forget to hydrate when it’s cold. I’m not a big fan of sugar, but it’s a good way to boost your metabolism and keep yourself warm.
The four-plus mile walk was mostly uneventful. A quick pit-stop to add some moleskin to the balls of my feet prevented a blister. An energy bar helped keep me from getting too cranky or too cold. I tightened my headlamp around my arm and set it to “red-blinking” to help the cars and snowplows see me.
By the time I arrived home, it was clear that the power had been out for a bit. The temperature inside had dropped to 55. A small generator was fired up and the pellet stove, frig and freezer were soon humming. I keep my JetBoil camping stove handy and was able to enjoy a cup of hot tea just minutes after arriving. (Reminder: never use camping stoves indoors.) And Mountain House freeze dried beef stew has never tasted so good!
Quite a few of my fellow commuters never made it home. They had to deal with burst pipes, hotel bills and unhappy pets. A few just crashed in their offices. Just a few common-sense items allowed me to get home. No big survival knives, no emergency fishing gear, no extra magazine of firepower. Just good boots and dry socks. Thank you for your work. – Scout