Survival Mode December 18, 2009

Earnst Shackleton

It seems like only a week ago that I was replacing the pumpkin in our window display with non-secular holly boughs, but when I left the shop last night at 8:30, it was an unseasonable  15  degrees (its still fall after all) with a nasty northerly breeze -  quite a change from the 60 degrees we had in the first week of December.

While I pride myself on always dressing for the weather, my gloves, which have been otherwise good when the mercury drops below freezing, did not cut it this time. Halfway into my fifteen minute ride home I began to consider my options: I could go for it and risk my fingers actually falling off; I could try to get my pit zips open and try to warm one hand at a time as I continued riding with the other frozen to its respective brake hood; or I could stop and build a little fire to warm myself before going the rest of the way. Option number one seemed like the least likely; but when I realized that my frozen fingers could not find the tiny zipper handles under my arms and that I didn't have any matches, I just put my head down and kept riding.

Its times like this that I think of Ernest Shakleton and his 1914 expedition to be the first known human to reach the South Pole. After getting stuck in the ice a mere 80 miles from the land, Shackleton and his crew of twenty braved it out for almost two years on a frozen ice field, trying not only to survive, but to simply reach solid ground. There was no Gortex. There were no goose down sleeping bags (reindeer hide). Long story short, Shackleton and all of his men persevered under the brutal conditions and a diet of penguin meat and seal blubber, sleeping in canvas tents and wearing nothing but the best rubber and wool available at the time.

In weather like this it is best to dress in layers of polypropylene or wool under a well-ventilated windproof shell of some kind. While bicycling-specific clothing is best most of the time, its about survival out there right now so dress as warmly as you can in whatever you've got while minimizing the sweat factor. If you're reading this, you are probably lucky enough to be basking in the warm glow of a computer monitor, so when you think you've got it bad out there, think of Shackleton or the people sleeping outside tonight and how bad it could be and it just might be enough to get you through.